Lonna Upton

It’s no small task figuring out how God fits into life’s decisions, disappointments and joys. In these four novels, with protagonists of all ages and in every stage of life, God is both elusive and ever-present as a giver and taker of life and a wellspring of hope. Questions are posed; answers are proposed. The truth lies in the heart of the reader.

In Cara Wall’s thought-provoking debut, The Dearly Beloved, the lives of four characters become interwoven as they navigate the rough terrain of maturation on their way to lifelong friendship.

Lily and Charles meet in college, as do Nan and James. Strong yet scarred by tragedy, Lily has difficulty fathoming Charles’ faith and his call to ministry. Nan, a preacher’s daughter, finds herself relentlessly wooed by James, who is unsure of his call to be a minister. When the men are assigned to the same church in New York City in 1963, the couples meet. While the men fall into a natural symbiosis (James’ social activism matches Charles’ skills in ministering to the needy and heartbroken), difficulties between the women stir up feelings of loneliness and isolation.

But the true tests come when these new ministers struggle to find answers to questions of faith for themselves, their wives and their congregants. Why do good things happen to bad people? How do we handle grief and loss as people of faith? Does God have a plan for our lives? Does that plan include doubt? How should the church handle social activism? Wall doesn’t answer these questions, but she deftly explores the possibilities, honestly and beautifully drawing readers into the hearts and souls of these four characters, in whom we may find a little bit of ourselves.

In Rachel Linden’s third novel, The Enlightenment of Bees, she offers a gentle push for readers to realize that small things can make a big difference.

Mia West, devastated and rejected by her boyfriend, makes a quick decision to do what she believes are great things in a world that is hurting. Guided by dreams of bees, she goes on a humanitarian journey from the slums of Mumbai to a refugee camp on the Hungarian border. Her desire to change the world is crushed but renewed many times as she finds her way through heartbreaking situations outside her comfort zone. Mia’s past experiences have made her believe she must compromise what she wants in her life, that in order to effect change, she must deny her own heart. Her trip, as well as a budding relationship with a team member, helps change her mind.

Linden’s own experiences as an international aid worker add credibility to every description and expression of Mia’s frustration and joy. This honey-sweet story reveals the power of staying open to possibilities.

Father-and-daughter authors Ted and Rachelle Dekker deliver a suspenseful story of light and hope in the midst of a dark and fearful world in their first joint writing adventure, The Girl Behind the Red Rope.

A religious community called the Holy Family Church, hiding in the hills of Tennessee, is shaken to its core when a few members question why their group is sequestered. Then two “sinful” outsiders threaten to tarnish the followers’ “purity” when they arrive with what may be answers. The church leader, Rose Pierce, follows her own spiritual guide, believing that he has their best interests at heart—but is the guide an angel or something darker?

Questioning Rose’s possibly misguided authority as well as their own faith, brother and sister Jaime and Grace are determined to make the right decisions for themselves and the others while following Christ’s teachings. It’s not until a child leads Grace to see the light—in every way—that the tide begins to turn against the shadows that surround the Holy Family Church.

The Dekkers skillfully bring into focus the depth of supernatural evil that lurks around this faithful group and how easy it can be to fall prey to that evil. But ultimately, love conquers all fear, all darkness and all fury.

Award-winning author William Kent Krueger explores struggles and strength of faith during the Great Depression in This Tender Land. Four young orphans—white narrator and storyteller Odie, his brother Albert, a girl named Emmy and a mute Sioux boy named Mose—guide readers through a beautiful landscape after escaping abusive caretakers and horrendous conditions in a Native American boarding school. Krueger’s painstaking research allowed him to explore the lives of the poor, who existed on little means and lots of hope in 1932, and to open a window into Christian missionary-run boarding schools, which cruelly forced assimilation until the 1960s.

Reminiscent of Huck and Jim and their trip down the Mississippi, the bedraggled youngsters encounter remarkable characters and learn life lessons as they escape by canoe down the Gilead River in Minnesota. They meet a farmer grieving the loss of his family, a healer in a traveling revival show and a downtrodden family unable to get out of a makeshift Hooverville. These three pit stops underscore diversity of faith and beliefs, charity and hardship, and all three propel the four vagabond children to a new level of understanding how God works in their lives and in the lives of others, even in times of despair.

Four novels find God both elusive and ever-present.

In her third novel, America Was Hard to Find, Kathleen Alcott writes with pulsating, intense prose, delivering an account of how lives can be meshed and torn apart, tangled and devoured by each other and by the times in which they play out.

For almost three years in the late 1950s, Fay and Vincent are diversions for each other in a carefree affair. His life is regimented and delineated by the Navy and aeronautics and underlined by a miserable marriage. Her life is free and clear of any ties to the American wealth into which she was born or the rules on which her parents insisted.

Nine years later in Ecuador, Fay and her son, Wright, do not watch as Vincent becomes the first man to walk on the moon. Fay has joined Shelter, a violent, underground activist group protesting the Vietnam War. The same group, along with many Americans, believes that the space program was created by the government to divert attention away from wide-sweeping poverty in the U.S. and war crimes in Vietnam.

Vincent retreats into solitude after his exploits; no more programs, calculations and problem-solving. Fay’s focus becomes more violent as she finds herself the leader of Shelter and a woman on the FBI’s most wanted list. Wright, on the cusp of manhood, grows more disheartened by his mother’s chosen lifestyle and soon finds himself alone to face her mistakes and determine how he feels about himself and his country.

The voices of Fay, Vincent and Wright are marvelously crystal-clear, their thoughts are sometimes believably jumbled, and their actions are often self-destructive. Alcott has a powerful ability to separate these three characters into equal and opposing forces whose stories collide for 31 years. Her extensive research into the Apollo program, the Weatherman underground protest group and the AIDS crisis in America serve her well as she intertwines facts with fiction.

America Was Hard to Find leaves readers wanting more of this story and everything else Alcott has written.

In her third novel, America Was Hard to Find, Kathleen Alcott writes with pulsating, intense prose, delivering an account of how lives can be meshed and torn apart, tangled and devoured by each other and by the times in which they live.

In his ninth novel, Courting Mr. Lincoln, Louis Bayard dramatically re-creates the months after Abraham Lincoln’s 1840 winter arrival in Springfield with delicious detail and diligent diplomacy. Alternating between the disparate voices of Lincoln’s future wife and Lincoln’s best friend, Bayard offers an insider’s view of just how much the two may have influenced the awkward, often ill-mannered country lawyer as he began to inch his way up the political ladder.

Mary Todd is a debutante who has been told she needs to find a husband, and quickly. While visiting her sister in Springfield, Mary is not at all impressed by Lincoln in their first meetings, and besides, her family believes that Springfield’s societal rules restrict Mary from allowing the man a spot on her dance card, much less a courtship. Lincoln soon discovers that Mary is not the average young woman. She is educated and passionate about politics, something he doesn’t usually encounter in young women, if he ever even notices them. Mary eventually becomes drawn to Lincoln’s intelligence, humor and respect for her boldness. When Lincoln and Mary begin their relationship, albeit clumsily, they are forced to hide their courtship from everyone, including Lincoln’s roommate, Joshua Speed.

Joshua rescues Lincoln as he arrives in Springfield with only the clothes on his back and a few other items in saddlebags. With no money and no legal work yet, Lincoln agrees to Joshua’s suggestion that they share a room with only one bed. The two become inseparable, historically rumored to have been lovers, and bonded together by mutual respect and a great deal of admiration. Joshua guides Lincoln through Springfield’s waters, which can quickly become raging if proper customs regarding attire, table manners and the like are not observed. Joshua is not looking for a woman to share his life with, and he really doesn’t think that Lincoln should either—hence the crux of the problem and the book’s main thrust. Will Lincoln sacrifice his relationship with Joshua to court Mary? Better yet, should he?

Although readers know Lincoln eventually marries Mary, Bayard does an exceptional job of keeping readers engrossed as he weaves fact and fiction in this intriguing tale of intimacy between Lincoln and his two closest confidantes.

In his ninth novel, Courting Mr. Lincoln, Louis Bayard dramatically re-creates the months after Abraham Lincoln’s 1840 winter arrival to Springfield with delicious detail and diligent diplomacy. Alternating between the disparate voices of Lincoln’s future wife and Lincoln’s best friend, Bayard offers an insider’s view of just how much the two may have influenced the awkward, often ill-mannered country lawyer as he began to inch his way up the political ladder.

In each of these inspiring novels, undaunted heroines navigate tumultuous pasts to find joy in the future, as they discover that faith has the power to take them further than they ever dreamed possible.


A year after her debut novel, Missing Isaac, struck a chord with readers, Valerie Fraser Luesse once again directs a symphony of characters, charming readers with her storytelling expertise and captivating dialogue. Set during World War II in Blackberry Springs, Alabama, Almost Home finds Dolly and Josiah Chandler struggling to make ends meet and renting out rooms in their fading family home to folks seeking financial opportunities at a nearby munitions plant. Dolly is the quintessential Southern hostess, whose cast-iron skillet is always serving up delicious meals and whose heart overflows with her faith in God, especially when it comes to guiding her boarders through hard times. The disparate souls who come to Dolly’s boardinghouse share impoverished circumstances and the pain of war, but they discover even more in common as their bonds of trust grow. A sisterhood blooms among the women as they connect the dots of a mysterious love story between a preacher’s daughter and the river pirate who built the family home. Old trunks and journals, abandoned shacks and river caves, speculation and surprise take center stage as the women search for the truth—and in the end find themselves, healed and whole.

Award-winning novelist Kristy Cambron weaves a tale of faith and resilience in the newest of her Lost Castle series, Castle on the Rise. Ireland’s struggles for independence in both 1798 and 1916 provide the background for this modern-day story that hinges on the secrets of Ashford Manor, a castle left to brothers Quinn and Cormac. The brothers, along with Quinn’s wife and her best friend, follow intriguing clues whose answers are revealed in chapters that alternate between the three time periods. The 1916 story, set during the Easter Rising, is vivid and fast-paced, filled with a rebellious spirit and heart-pounding suspense as a photojournalist named Issy battles cultural norms to become a valued member of the rebellion. The 1797-1798 story finds noblewoman Maeve resisting expectations that she cannot become involved in the family estate, even in the midst of uprisings and a strange encounter with an injured stranger. All three stories are laced with love, pain, faith and forgiveness as the characters fight their way to freedom, not just for Ireland but also for themselves.

In The Glovemaker, historical novelist Ann Weisgarber beautifully paints the harsh, lonely environment of the Utah Territory during the winter of 1887-1888 while creating tense moments and life-altering revelations for her heroine, Deborah. While awaiting her husband’s return from his work as a wheelwright, Deborah is visited by a stranger of her own Mormon faith. She knows he is running from the law, and she knows why: The U.S. government has ruled polygamy to be a felony. Although she does not agree with his personal choices, she knows he is a persecuted brother of her faith, so she decides to help him and risk her home and well-being to do so. When the lawman tracking the stranger appears at her door, Deborah has both religious and ethical decisions to make. Is it a sin to lie if a life is in jeopardy? Should the reality of these life-and-death situations outweigh her faith? Through the snow and wind, Deborah balances precariously between the tenets of her faith and her newfound courage. Weisgarber’s strong grip on suspense keeps the pages turning until the last storm passes and Deborah finds peace within herself.

With a masterful dual narrative, subtle romance and spine-tingling suspense, acclaimed author Jaime Jo Wright navigates the lives of two young women seeking a sense of identity in her third novel, The Curse of Misty Wayfair. In the early 1900s, Thea Reed, abandoned at an orphanage at age 4, travels as a post-mortem photographer while searching for her birth mother. Her journey leads her to Pleasant Valley, a small community that is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered woman. When given the chance to photograph asylum patients, Thea begins to solve the mysteries of her own past—and she may also unravel the ghostly legend. In the current day, Heidi Lane has returned home to Pleasant Valley, a place she never felt she belonged. Her mother’s dementia has created even more of a chasm between them, with cryptic questions and answers from her mother that insinuate that Heidi is dead. Everywhere Heidi turns, she sees what the townspeople believe is the ghost of Misty Wayfair. Heidi’s search opens long-closed wounds and leads her to the same asylum where the haunting began years ago. Both women are driven by a passion for the truth and a desire to know that their lives have meaning. By accepting that God created them with a plan in mind, the two women are then able to find that purpose.

In each of these inspiring novels, undaunted heroines navigate tumultuous pasts to find joy in the future, as they discover that faith has the power to take them further than they ever dreamed possible.

Four works of inspirational fiction propel readers into the stories of four remarkable women. Each heroine is a pioneer of sorts, finding her divine purpose while also claiming ownership over her own life.

Melanie Dobson weaves a mysterious time-slip tale in Hidden Among the Stars, entwining the evil of the 1938 Nazi invasion of Austria with the quiet life of a modern-day bookseller.

Max Dornbach, a wealthy Austrian who refuses to accept the Nazi assertion that Jews are not human, helps his Jewish friends by hiding their valuable possessions on his family’s estate. He trusts only one person to help—the caretaker’s daughter, Annika, whose unrequited love for Max has blossomed since her childhood. When Max brings Luzia, the Jewish woman he loves, to hide on the estate, Annika’s devotion to her friend is tested. Her faith guides her to make decisions that will have repercussions 80 years later.

Four decades later in America, Callie Randall, blogger and bookstore owner, finds her world disrupted when a mysterious copy of Bambi, filled with handwritten lists, appears in the store. When Callie finds a connection between the copy of Bambi and an old friend’s past, curiosity leads her into research, genealogies and treasure hunting in Austria. While unraveling history, Callie reaches a deep understanding of how God’s love can conquer evil through the sacrifices that individuals make for each other.

HEALING WATERS
Bestselling author Cindy Woodsmall teams up with her daughter-in-law, Erin Woodsmall, for As the Tide Comes In, a story of characters moving from loss to hope while struggling with why bad things happen to good people.

Tara Abbott’s childhood was spent in foster care, but she now handles the responsibility of caring for her two half-brothers with grace and grit. After a devastating storm rips through their North Carolina cabin, leaving Tara with a traumatic brain injury, a trip to the Georgia coast seems to be an ideal respite. In the midst of tragic circumstances, the Glynn Girls, a group of older women with all the charm of biscuit-making, casserole-cooking Southern moms, provide comic relief. Along with a handsome fireman, these women offer Tara a chance to see the truth of her past and her future. Although Tara’s injury causes her to move back and forth between being a confused damsel in distress and an independent woman with flashes of stubbornness as salty as the sea, she finds her faith renewed in this story brimming with the kindness and prayers of strangers.

From rappelling in the mountains to watching the tides ebb and flow on sandy beaches, Tara covers miles while undergoing heartache and healing in this tender novel.

WESTERN REDEMPTION
In Everything She Didn’t Say, bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick expertly captures the indomitable spirit of a woman who is just as comfortable reveling in her pioneering adventures as she is maintaining the composure of a Victorian lady. Based on Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, a memoir written by Carrie Adell Strahorn in 1911, Everything She Didn’t Say is a fictionalized look at how Carrie might have dealt with the realities of 25 years spent trailblazing and traveling with her husband, investor and railroad promoter Robert Strahorn.

Carrie’s struggles as a married woman in the untamed West are not tied to a time and place. Her desire for a permanent home and her longing for children are lifelong needs that go unmet. The lack of respect she receives from men along the way, including her husband on occasion, is a persistent hurdle. Carrie realizes that being a good wife to a husband who often slants the truth should not prevent her from being true to her own values. Although her boldness and bravery may not be what society considered befitting of a turn-of-the-century lady, Carrie’s faith keeps her grounded while she seeks fulfillment in a life that does not follow the path she had imagined.

WORTH FIGHTING FOR
England’s preparation for World War I provides an intriguing backdrop for mystery and romance in An Hour Unspent. Although the novel concludes Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series, the story is a page-turner in its own right. White deftly synchronizes the lives of the hero, Barclay Pearce, and the heroine, Evelina Manning.

Barclay, previously a top-notch thief in London, is now a skilled assistant to a high-ranking official in the Royal Navy. He is also learning about the power of prayer. Evelina, an independent suffragette, is shocked when her wealthy British fiancé ends their engagement, but her new circumstances allow her time to contemplate her future.

With perfect timing, Barclay becomes a friend to Evelina after he saves her from a possible mugging and begins working with her father, a clockmaker who has developed a device that could prove to be a military advantage for England. Unfortunately, Germany knows the clockmaker’s secret and will stop at nothing to obtain both the plans and their creator.

Evelina finds herself falling for Barclay, a man outside her social class, but she also finds herself in a role that’s far tougher than suffragette. In an attempt to rescue her father from behind enemy lines, she goes undercover with Barclay—but they both realize that they will need the help of the Divine Clockmaker.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Four works of inspirational fiction propel readers into the stories of four remarkable women. Each heroine is a pioneer of sorts, finding her divine purpose while also claiming ownership over her own life.

God’s plan is often difficult to see, especially in our darkest moments. By examining their hearts, the characters in these inspirational novels discover that life is so much better when they renew their spiritual beliefs and follow God’s plan rather than their own crooked paths.

In the same thought-provoking style that propels his previous novels, James L. Rubart takes readers on a journey of self-discovery and renewal through the story of husband, father and rejected NFL player Toren Daniels in The Man He Never Was. Upon waking in a strange hotel with no memory of his nine-month disappearance, Toren finds himself in a vulnerable position, yet for some reason, he is at peace.

Since Toren disappeared, his wife has moved on to a new man, and his children don’t miss his angry tirades. Toren slowly begins to remember the days of his absence, a life-changing experience that holds important lessons he must continue to follow in order to find the love and joy that God intends for his life. He faces a daunting task: prove to himself that his spiritual renewal can last and prove to his family that he is indeed a new man, one worthy of their love and respect.

With parallels to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and its exploration of the good and bad in all of us, The Man He Never Was challenges readers to examine themselves. How do we change the worst parts of ourselves into something of which God would approve? Toren’s struggle reminds us that the trials may not be easy, but with honest self-examination, we can experience the good life that God plans for us all.

SECRETS AND HEALING
With help from her helicopter-flying heroine, bestselling author Colleen Coble pilots readers through The View from Rainshadow Bay, the first book in her new Lavender Tides series. Filled with the suspense for which Coble is known, the novel is rich in detail with a healthy dose of romance, allowing readers to bask in the beauty of Washington state’s lavender fields, lush forests and jagged coastline.

Pilot Shauna McDade, who has been a single mother since her husband was killed in a climbing accident a year earlier, finds herself engulfed by grief once again when her mentor and his wife are both found dead. Suspicious about their deaths, Shauna turns to Zach, her husband’s best friend and the man she blames for his death. It appears that Shauna may be the killer’s next target, so she and Zach begin their sleuthing, fitting together pieces of a puzzle that implicate townspeople they know and love, including Shauna’s father, a less-than-forthcoming alcoholic whose secrets about Shauna’s childhood could have devastating implications.

As they search for clues and try to prevent further loss of life in their tightknit community, Shauna and Zach also seek an answer to why bad things happen to good people—and along the way, they work together to mend their fragile hearts.

PATIENT SPIRIT
A Passionate Hope by Jill Eileen Smith retells the biblical story of Hannah’s faithfulness, offering readers inspiration and encouragement to never stop singing praises to God. Fourth in Smith’s Daughters of the Promised Land series, the novel takes readers deep into the suffering Hannah endured and the patience she practiced while waiting for her prayers to be answered.

The love shared by Hannah and her husband, Elkanah, is not enough to sustain them when the two discover she is barren. Pressured to produce an heir, Elkanah marries Peninnah, a jealous woman who makes Hannah’s life miserable. Although the polygamous marriages depicted in Scripture were often practical and acceptable, Hannah’s situation is almost untenable, with a sister-wife in constant competition for Elkanah’s attention.

The larger canvas of the book depicts the faithful followers of God, who are concerned about corruption among the priests and pray that someone will clean up the tabernacle, returning it to its purpose as the House of the Lord. Could Hannah be part of God’s plan to restore the tabernacle?

Hannah’s heartfelt prayers come from a place of honesty and true surrender to God’s will, and she never gives up on her family or her faith. Her story will inspire readers to keep their own faith in the midst of despair and trust that God will find a way.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

God’s plan is often difficult to see, especially in our darkest moments. By examining their hearts, the characters in these inspirational novels discover that life is so much better when they renew their spiritual beliefs and follow God’s plan rather than their own crooked paths.

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