For readers of Christian fiction, two novels offer a bounty of hope, love and redemption.
Historical novels from Joanne Bischof and Valerie Fraser Luesse masterfully tell stories of strong-willed women who venture into the unknown.
As winter approaches, Juniper Cohen is struggling to earn enough to sustain her and her young daughter in the barren ghost town of Kenworthy, California. Though it has been months since she last saw her husband, John, who left after the town’s mine closed, Juniper holds onto the hope that he will return to them. She writes him letters even though she is unaware of his location or whether he is even still alive. More than a century later, Johnny Sutherland buys Juniper’s house to begin a new life after separating from his wife, and there he finds Juniper’s letters.
In The Gold in These Hills, Bischof’s immersive storytelling captures an immense amount of detail, especially characters’ private thoughts and emotions. As Juniper reflects on her life in Kenworthy with John and waits for answers about his disappearance, her pain is palpable, and her desperation is heightened by the dwindling population and abandoned buildings that surround her. In the modern-day timeline, Johnny clings to the unpromising remains of his marriage like a crutch, refusing to face the inevitable.
Bischof’s characters are flawed and easy to like. Juniper’s friend Edie is secretive but fiercely loyal, and she also longs for her lover. She faces painful circumstances and leans on Juniper during such times. The town’s schoolteacher is a discreet woman who becomes a wonderful help to Juniper and her daughter. As Johnny discovers the uncanny similarity between his circumstances and those of Juniper’s husband, he sees an opportunity to redeem his life and move forward. Hope and friendship provide all these characters with the strength to carry on, despite day-to-day heartbreak and fear of the unknown.
In Under the Bayou Moon, lively and creative Ellie longs to live authentically. Hoping to achieve her goal, she leaves her community of friends and family in Alabama to take a job as a teacher in rural Louisiana. In the town of Bernadette, Ellie feels unwelcome from the start, but the town’s physician convinces her to give the job a chance. She gradually wins the hearts of the townsfolk through her warmth and respect, and she soon finds a home in Bernadette.
A lovely romance blossoms between Ellie and Raphe, a Catholic man who is surprised by her appreciation of his Cajun culture. Raphe is taking care of his nephew, whom he is determined to raise despite the incessant pressure from an evangelical Christian preacher to place the boy for adoption.
Christy Award-winning author Luesse peppers her latest novel with funny, engaging conversations and situations. Readers will enjoy vibrant portraits of 1949 Louisiana’s sights and scenery, as well as descriptions of Cajun culture and cuisine. Local politics provide an exciting backdrop to the story, including discussions about teaching French alongside English in school. There are also powerful, corrupt figures looking for oil in the bayou, unconcerned about the Creole and Cajun people or protecting the waterways.
The story is also enhanced by the legend of a white alligator that is said to inhabit the swamps. Sightings of the majestic animal add thrilling scenes to the story, although political and religious forces use the legend to support their misguided and self-seeking agendas.
Under the Bayou Moon is a charming tale of romance, culture and history, filled with characters who will fascinate readers.