Here are reviews of some great novels. Enjoy!



candleCandle in the Darkness (Book 1, Refiner’s Fire)

Author: Lynn Austin

As a writer, I know I’ve only got a few short lines to capture an editor or an agent’s attention. A book only has a few lines to capture a reader’s attention, too. Entire writing workshops are devoted to first pages, first paragraphs and even to first lines. And how to get them right.

So when I read the first two lines of Candle in the Darkness, I knew author, Lynn Austin had hooked me:  The first scream jolted me awake. The second one chilled my soul.

And those first two lines did not disappoint.

Candle in the Darkness is the first book in a trilogy centering on the Civil War. This book is written from the point of view of the daughter of a Southern plantation owner. The second book, A Fire in the Night, is written from the point of view of a Northern woman. The third book, A Light to My Path, is written from the point of view of a slave. Each book’s story stands alone, but it’s definitely worth your time to read all three.






chopChop, Chop

L.N. Cronk

The latest series I’m reading that started free is the Chop, Chop series by L.N. Cronk. Chop, Chop introduces us to the characters we’ll get to know in the rest of the books. It starts with the main characters as kids and ends at high school. The first three-quarters of the book is light and funny and engaging. Then suddenly—if you’re like me—you’ll be sobbing.

That first book was free. Our book club read it, loved it and we all bought the second one, Day-Day. Day-Day was funny in parts, heart wrenching in others. Great writing and storytelling throughout.

I went through nearly an entire box of Kleenex reading this one. That’s a good thing.

When I swiped my last Kindle page, I saw that there are a total of eight books in the Chop, Chop series. I have a feeling I’ll need to invest heavily in Kleenex.




promiseA Christmas Promise

Author: Tamera Lynn Kraft

Need a sweet read to start the Christmas season? Don’t have a lot of time to sit in a chair? Try A Christmas Promise (A Christmas Holiday Extravaganza), by Tamera Lynn Kraft. It’s a short little novella about a family in the 1700s who share the Gospel with a tribe of Lenape Indians.

This novella gives the reader a lovely idea of what life was like back then. It is filled with interesting Christian traditions enjoyed by the group of Moravian Christians, which had its origins in Eastern Europe as an offshoot of Orthodox Christianity, becoming—some sources claim—the first Protestant church.

The interesting Christmas traditions of the Love Feast, decorating a “tree” (basically a wooden frame with cut evergreen boughs placed upon it) with hand written Scriptural verses and candles, and the various sweet treats eaten on Christmas day, enhance the simple story of trust in God’s promises. The characters are well developed and Kraft’s writing is strong.

There are multiple books with the title, A Christmas Promise but only one by Tamera Lynn Kraft. The cover is neatly tied with a red ribbon on top.


joyDaughter of Joy (Brides of Culdee Creek, Book 1)

Author: Kathleen Morgan

When I read Daughter of Joy, my thinking was that I’d do a little book review for my readers here. And, in fact, I enjoyed reading this book very much. But what I loved most about this book was one little line from smack-dab in the middle of the story.

Abigail Stanton, the heroine in this first book of the Brides of Culdee Creek series by Kathleen Morgan, recently lost both her husband and her young son. She struggles to maintain her independence—and her faith—in the hard life of the 1800’s Colorado highlands.

At one point, Abigail suffers through a succession of crises. The notion of being born again suddenly takes on new meaning for her. Yes, she was born again when she accepted Jesus, she says, but she comes to realize that the term has another meaning in her life. Every time Jesus brings us through a crisis or a trial, Abagail realizes, we have a new opportunity to be reborn in him. We have an opportunity to start again with our new understanding and our new ability learned through our faith in Christ.

When I read through that chapter in the book, I set down my Kindle and processed it for a few minutes. I nodded and smiled because, although God doesn’t give us do-overs, He does give us second, third and fifty-third chances—opportunities to do things differently or better; chances to be reborn in our understanding again. And again. And again.

Thank you, Jesus for that. And congratulations to Kathleen Morgan on a nice series.



41ev5suhvxL._SY346_Deadly Aim

Patricia H. Rushford

Deadly Aim  isn’t the type of mystery I usually read. This one focuses on a murder (or two) with the main character—a police woman in a small town in Oregon—under investigation for killing an unarmed, black youngster who had been aiming a toy gun at her. It’s a story about returning to faith and having courage to live a life after everything you’ve loved is gone.

While writing the book, Rushford worked with people who understand police investigations and forensics. Both the police setting and investigation felt believable and logical.

Written from the point of view of both the policewoman under investigation and the investigator, readers can identify and rally behind both characters.  And with both a male and female lead character, this book would appeal to men and women alike.

The book also has a twist and a little surprise of an ending. That’s always fun.




Doesn’t She Look Natural?

(The Fairlawn Series, Book 1)

Angela Hunt

While sorting through my Kindle this month, I found oodles of books about Amish women; pioneer women and women in various periods in history.

Then I found a book I hadn’t even remembered buying. Doesn’t She Look Natural? (The Fairlawn series, Book 1) by Angela Hunt is a contemporary Christian novel about Jennifer Graham, a newly divorced woman with two young boys. She is facing life without a husband or a job, struggling to make sense of her future and trying to listen for God’s leading.

What makes the book unique is its setting. Early in the story, Jennifer moves her young family away from the fast political pace of Washington DC and into a small Florida community, taking up residence in a funeral home she had inherited.

Stay with me here. The idea of a book setting in a funeral home didn’t appeal to me either. But Hunt’s writing had captured me enough to stick with the book. I was intrigued to see what the character would do with her bizarre circumstances.

What impacted me most was how Hunt explored the important work of funeral homes. Society’s distaste of everything having to do with death, gives us preconceived ideas of the mortuary business and the people who work in it. The gift of this book was to explore the issue of death as a natural part of God’s plan for us on this earth. It showed the people who work in the mortuary business as having a ministry, showing compassion for grieving families by giving them a final, often healing visual image of their loved ones.

I’ve been a fan of Angela Hunt’s writing for many years. This book added to my respect for her. In fact, I’m heading out now to pick up book two in the 3-book series. I recommend this book, but as you might expect, I also recommend you grab a box of Kleenex before you begin reading.



51rdeze738LFaith, Hope & Love

Author: Kimberly Rae Jordan

The last couple of books I’ve read “for fun” have been pretty heady stuff. Great reads, but I was ready for something light that I could read while on the treadmill, not worrying about having to take notes and keep track of intricate plot lines. I certainly did not want to read a book that I would not being able to put down before getting to “The End.”

So I picked up Faith, Hope and Love, described as an inspirational romance. A nice Christian chick lit, I thought. I had read a previous book by Jordan, Marrying Kate and it was just the kind of book I had in mind to read now.

Faith, Hope & Love is the story of happily-married Cassie and Quinn, young missionaries in Columbia. The story begins dramatically with Quinn’s kidnapping, before Cassie has the chance to share the news of her pregnancy. The story then takes up with Cassie and their six-year old daughter learning of Quinn’s release. The book focuses on the reunion, happiness threatened by the emotional scars Quinn carries from his imprisonment, the anger he feels toward God and Cassie’s internal conflict over her desire to reunite her family or release Quinn, no longer the same man, from their marriage.

This book wasn’t just a light read. I dug into the Kleenex box more often than I expected and found myself thinking about this book even when I was forced to put it down and focus on other things, such as, well, life.

Jordan did a wonderful job fleshing out the characters and giving her readers insight into the emotional upheaval that involve people whose lives have been torn apart . She also did a good job exploring the way people of faith either lean into their faith for strength or abandon it entirely. The novel was well-structured and felt realistic in the setting, relationships and outcomes.

If you’re looking for a light read, this may not be it. If, however, you’re looking for a book to curl up with for a long night of sobbing into soggy Kleenex…enjoy. I did.





Florian’s Gate

Davis Bunn

I like T. Davis Bunn. I like his mysteries. I like the way he incorporates history into his novels. And I liked his novel, Florian’s Gate. 

Florian’s Gate is a story of international intrigue and how circumstances continue to affect generations after they initially occurred. The book takes us into one family’s history and international antiquity business as our main character, Jeffrey Sinclair begins working with his reclusive uncle, buying and selling high end antiques.

As Sinclair learns more about antiques, his uncle relinquishes more business control to him and reveals more about the sources of the exquisite antiques he purchases. Through that, we readers learn about the suffering during World War II and how lives that were affected then continue to suffer to this day.

We also learn how God has been at work through it all. We get to watch Jeffrey Sinclair grow in his faith as he also grows in his knowledge of antiques and his understanding of his uncle’s life.




If the Shoe Fits

Author: Sandra D. Bricker

I so wanted to take off my shoe and whack Julianne over the head!

Julianne believes in fairy tales and has spent her life looking for her real life prince charming. Naturally, her prince perfect-for-her is sitting in the office next to her. And naturally he’s given up on her ever recognizing that fact, so he’s set off to help her find and catch the latest guy she thinks is surely Mr. Right.

And yes, he is very nice. But is he meant for Julianne?

This is a lighthearted romantic novel with a heroine who means well in trying to follow God’s leading but—like many of us—doesn’t always get it right. Fortunately God and everyone else has a lot of grace and patience while Julianne figures it out.




51mLSif7Y6LIn the Shadow of Lions (Chronicles of the Scribe, Book 1)

Author: Ginger Garrett

I loved this book. And I didn’t expect to.

I enjoy historical fiction and was drawn to this luscious book cover. But frankly, it took some doing to get past the first chapter which introduced the Scribe—an angel who appeared at the deathbed of a modern day editor and who then sent her back in time to write the stories of the historical Anne Bolyn and a fictional Rose in 16th century England. Basically I had to get over the idea that the book genre was labeled historical fiction, when the presence of an angel with a startling appearance and demeanor along with out-of-body time travel, places the book also into fantasy.

But once I accepted the premise, the book captured me with both the story of the two women’s lives as well as the historical struggle surrounding the Tynsdale Bible—the first Bible translated into English. During that time in history, the Church professed that to read the Bible in any language other than the “divine language of Latin” was heresy and punishable by death.

The lasting effect on me was that In the Shadow of Lions helped me appreciate what others before me went through in order that we modern folk could read Scripture on our own, in a language we understand. What a powerful message and reminder.

I went on to read Garrett’s second book in the series In the Arms of Immortals: A Novel of Darkness and Light. This second book returns the reader to modern day, at the point where the first book ended. It then takes the reader back in time to the plague (Black Death) in Sicily. To date there is no third book in the series although Garrett has left open the possibility.

I’ll probably read that one, too. And recommend you do also.



51ASx9KIxfLLeota’s Garden

By Francine Rivers

In this novel by Christian writer, Francine Rivers, we meet elderly Leota Reinhardt. At one time, Leota’s beautiful garden had been a sanctuary where she had escaped pain brought by war and family secrets and where she had prayed for her children. Now Leota is alone and her garden is neglected. She struggles between keeping past secrets and reconciling with her adult children who didn’t know or understand the sacrifices she had made.

Finally, Leota turns to God for guidance. A college student who cares only about using Leota as a “case study” and a granddaughter Leota had not known come into Leota’s life. Because of their interaction, Leota is urged to try to repair her family relationships. But Leota’s health is declining quickly and she wonders if she will be able to repair the damaged relationships before her time on earth is over.

The book is an encouragement for those of us who struggle with painful relationships among our family and friends. The symbolism of the garden provides a nice visual enhancement to the book’s theme of ruin and restoration. Discussion questions at the end of the book make this a lovely selection for a book club or for an individual who likes to apply the story points to their own life.

I’ve never read a Francine Rivers’ novel I didn’t love. This one does not disappoint.


***51s0xP19r8L 51rxmA8SWHL._SY346_ 51Kf8HB5nHL._SY346_  

Mark of the Lion (Trilogy)

Francine Rivers

I enjoy historical fiction—if it is well researched and gives me a sense of being in the time and culture. Francine Rivers does this well with her Mark of the Lion trilogy.

This trilogy is the story of the spread of the early Christian church. The setting begins after Christ’s resurrection when the city of Jerusalem was fairly destroyed by Rome. The trilogy then takes the reader to Ephesus and on to Germany. The main character of book one A Voice in the Wind, introduces Hadassah, a young Jewish woman near death by starvation, who is taken to Rome as a slave. The subsequent two novels, An Echo in the Darkness and As Sure as the Dawn continue the story of characters introduced in each book.

This series is not for the feint of heart. The first book graphically depicts the horrifying destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent treatment of the Jews taken prisoner. It also depicts the moral state of the Roman society of the time, in a way that is memorable and meaningful, focusing on the faithfulness of the early Christian church.

I first read this trilogy 15 years ago as a selection in a Christian book club. One woman’s comment then was that she nearly could not get through the first book because of the violence of the gladiator scenes. But 15 years later, this same woman recently told me she had never forgotten the character of Hadassah and the powerful story Rivers told in those books.

More recently a local book club I am now part of also selected this trilogy to read. I found new things to ponder; new ways to see the faith of those characters and new questions to ask myself about how to share my own faith. The women of this present book club had many of the same comments we women had 15 years ago—the story was bloody and violent, but wonderful and uplifting as well.

One women summed it up saying, “It’s important that we know how things were, so we can understand the faith of those early believers. They made it possible for us to live our faith today.”

So, if you’re up for a hefty series that is not just a bit of fluff and giggles, this series is great. If you like learning about history, this series is great. If you appreciate stories about people’s struggle and how their faith got them through, this series is great.

Rivers provides questions at the end of each book, suitable for personal use or book club discussion. She also provides a helpful glossary to aid in understanding some of the terms, items, locations and clothing used in that historical context.



Marrying Kate

Kimberly Rae Jordan

When Kate’s sister and husband were killed in a plane crash, Kate dropped everything—quit her job, lost her home, moved across the country—to take care of her nieces and nephew. She loved those kids and would have sacrificed everything for them. She had even started proceedings to adopt them officially.

Then Jared showed up.

Jared was her brother-in-law who supposedly had been killed in a car accident just days after her sister and husband had died. But here he was alive.

And he had legal custody of the children Kate had grown to love as her own.

Kate was ready to relinquish the children though because she knew she wasn’t proper “mother” material—couldn’t cook; wasn’t organized; didn’t know “kids.” All she had was love for them. Jared, on the other hand, could financially support them and he had the law on his side.

But when the court questioned a single man taking on three small children, both Jared and Kate feared the court would not let either of them have custody. So Jared suggested that he and Kate marry—not for love, but to provide a stable home for the children they both loved.

The problem was that Kate had Jared secretly since they were young. How could she marry a man she loved but pretend she didn’t?

The book is a Christian romance about honoring marriage and finding your way back to God.



91OoxBn0bdLPassing Strangers

Author: Angela Hunt

Our Christian women’s book club just finished reading Angela Hunt’s novel, Passing Strangers.

It is the story of three people whose lives are a mess. They meet casually while taking an Amtrak train tour.

It’s the story of how their relationships form and grow; how people can step out of their personal problems and help someone else in need.

It’s the story of friendship and grief, forgiveness and faith. And it’s a good read.



51B4UCQ+syLRedeeming Love

Author: Francine Rivers

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is the story of a young prostitute during the gold rush days in California. The plot is loosely based on the account of Hosea and Gomer in the Bible. But be forewarned: this is not a light story. It is definitely not a book you can read while sipping your afternoon tea.

In fact, when our book club first began reading Redeeming Love, one woman asked, “Are we supposed to be reading this kind of book?” The book’s subplots touch on the disturbing subjects of rape and incest. There are no graphic details though. Rather, Rivers uses the characters and plot to deal with issues of hatred, fear and shame.

Many times you want to smack the character Angel upside the head and urge Michael to leave her behind. But keep reading. Rivers calls this book her “statement of faith,” because ultimately Angel’s underlying need is the same need we all have—healing, unconditional love and redemption though Jesus, the only One who can truly provide them.

I first read Redeeming Love over 15 years ago and never forgot Rivers’ strong characters and Jesus’ message told through them. Neither will you.




51KahpXCozLSearching for Sara (Heart of the Blessed, Book 1)

Author: Nona Mae King

One of my favorite cyber friends is launching a new book. And lucky me—I’ve had a chance to read it already. And fall in love with it.

Nona Mae King’s Searching for Sara, is a historical romance about a young woman, overcoming grief and hardship to set upon a new life in a new country. Outwardly, Sara Little is timid and weak. But inwardly she is strong because she relies on God who has brought her through her trials and blessed her in the process.

When Sara meets the grieving widower, Christopher Lake and his 5-year old daughter, her strength is again tested as she tries to help him face and then move through his pain with God’s help and a mutual love of art.

King uses faith, prayer and artistic growth to masterfully create a story that is both memorable and stirring. King had me in tears a half dozen times as she let me experience what both Sara and Christopher were going through. I loved the characters’ simple breath prayers and their example of looking to God at any moment of the day, reminding us that—whatever our prayers—God can handle them.

Searching for Sarais a lovely and memorable read. It’s also the first in Ms. King’s latest series, Heart of the Blessed. At the front of the book, King has quoted the Beatitudes—Jesus’ blessings given during his Sermon on the Mount. In this first book in the series, King addresses Jesus’ blessings of the meek and those who mourn. I’m looking forward to seeing how she addresses each of the blessings in turn.






Kristen Heitzmann

Do you like a good mystery? Here’s one—Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann.

It’s not so much of a who-done-it as a what-are-we-looking-for and where is it?

We meet and follow Lance Michelli from New Jersey to a convent in Italy and then to a villa in the Napa countryside of California, where he’s been sent to find “something” his dying grandmother wants him to find. Who or what, even he doesn’t know. His only clue is a villa once owned by his family.

When he arrives, he finds that a young woman has bought the villa and is renovating it, with plans to open it as a bed and breakfast. Lance must move fast to locate whatever his grandmother wants him to locate before the villa is opened to the public; or worse, before the secret is uncovered during reconstruction or hidden under new construction forever.

Along the way, we learn that the young woman, Rese, has secrets of her own.

Secrets has some interesting cuisine play; a little romance; a little about Italian wine making in the Napa Valley—all round out this story about God’s love and redemption.

Enjoy with a glass of California wine. Preferably Italian.



testimoniumThe Testimonium

Author: Lewis Ben Smith

The Testimonium, by Lewis Ben Smith, is a fast-paced, exciting novel about a team of archaeologists who discover a scroll written by Pontius Pilat that had been hidden on the island of Capri for over 2000 years. The discovery of what Pontius Pilate had to say about the trial and execution of Jesus could shake the world of faith—either confirming claims of the Gospel or disproving them once and for all.

A terrorist was taking no chance that it would confirm the Gospel.

Smith’s characters were well developed and their personal growth was well thought through. The reactions from various segments of the world community felt real and probable as he dealt with the question of how religious factions would react to either a confirmation or change in our understanding of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

With a page-turning plot, The Testimonium is a great read.





coverAn Untamed Land

Author: Lauraine Snelling

If you like historical novels you will like this one. Set in the Dakota Territory, Untamed Land is the story of Norwegian immigrants who come to America to make a home in the harsh, wild land of North America.

This story is not for the light of heart. It tells the story of the backbreaking and harsh life in the wilderness as settlers cleared the land, built log and sod single-room houses with dirt floors and spent their lives surviving with whatever extra time was left over to tame the land and build a future for their families.

In this story, Ingeborg survived the miserable travel on ship from Norway to America. She was stronger than her sister in law. A survivor. But ultimately when tragedy struck her family, she was only as strong as her faith. And her faith proved as fragile as life in the bitter land of the Dakotas.

Untamed Land is the story of Norwegian immigrants in America and the story of how their faith helped them withstand and triumph over the struggles they faced and endured.

Lauraine Snelling is an award-winning author of over 60 books.