Melissa Brown

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A knock at the door can change everything. Such a small, everyday act can have enormous power to set off a chain of events one would never have considered possible.  

Long Island by Colm Toibin revisits Eilis Lacey more than 20 years after the events of his 2009 novel, Brooklyn, which introduced readers to this self-possessed, elusive young woman. She now has a daughter and a son who are almost grown, and sends their pictures to her mother in monthly letters. Then, a knock at the door upends Eilis’ marriage to Tony Fiorello. The revelation of his indiscretions drives her back to Enniscorthy, Ireland, to avoid the coming fallout and also to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday. While there, she inevitably crosses paths again with Jim Farrell, the love she left behind all those years before. Jim is still unmarried, though he is secretly courting Eilis’s friend Nancy, who is now a widow. The last time Eilis left Brooklyn for Ireland, after her sister Rose’s death, Tony was so worried she wouldn’t return that they married before she sailed away. Now, Tony must wonder again if she’ll come back to him. As in Brooklyn, Eilis makes her own decisions and thus makes her own life. 

A close observer of human nature, Toibin writes with great depth of longing, teasing out even the smallest interactions so that the reader feels the moment’s wistfulness or indecision keenly. No gesture or sigh escapes his notice. Toibin’s dialogue captures a wealth of feeling, but often it is what is unsaid, contained in the pauses, that grips the reader’s attention. We hold our breath as Eilis and Jim and Nancy make their plans and promises. Long Island is purely character driven, which may not thrill readers who prefer a faster pace. In its compelling interiority, though, there is plenty of beauty to savor. 

Long Island revisits Eilis Lacey more than 20 years after the events of Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel, Brooklyn, which introduced readers to this self-possessed, elusive young woman.
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Sisi and Gertie meet as children in the 1940s. They come from different strata of their Haitian society, where skin color, hairstyle and city of birth can all mark a person’s worth, depending on who is judging. These two fast friends are often confused but not truly bothered by these distinctions until Gertie’s meddling sisters conspire to separate them. Ignorant of significant truths about their families, Sisi and Gertie don’t realize how intertwined they really are. Then their budding connection is suddenly severed, and misunderstandings and mistrust lead to alienation that lasts for decades until life finally draws them back to each other. 

Told from both girls’ perspectives, Myriam J.A. Chancy’s Village Weavers homes in on the intricate, nuanced lives of women—as sisters, friends, lovers and mothers. With interjections in French, Spanish and Kreyol throughout, the novel also covers historical ground, incorporating some of the spirituality, art, activism and politics of an island that has been divided between Haitians and Dominicans for centuries. The losses they endure eventually drive Gertie and Sisi away, like migrating birds, from their land and their memories. Against the backdrop of these weighty issues, Village Weavers unfolds somewhat slowly at first but finds a rhythm halfway through, where the pace picks up. 

Chancy takes the reader from the 1940s and the World Expo marking Port-au-Prince’s bicentennial through the 1970s, when both women are living in America, and ultimately to 2002, when Sisi and Gertie have both grown old. “Not all sweetness is sweet at first,” and these two women must be willing to “dive into the depths” of what they do not understand to finally heal. Village Weavers is full of vibrancy, wistfulness and even playfulness, capably portraying the enduring tenacity of women in uncertain times. Reading Chancy’s portrayal of Haiti is a memorable experience—rich with contradictions and complexities, visceral and ever-changing. 

Village Weavers is full of vibrancy, wistfulness and even playfulness, capably portraying the enduring tenacity of women in uncertain times.
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“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful village inside an ancient forest on the slope of a mountain that looked down upon the sea.” As the protagonist, Irini, repeats this refrain throughout Christy Lefteri’s latest novel The Book of Fire, the words start to feel like an omen of tragedy instead of a fairy-tale beginning. One scorching summer day, Irini’s idyllic Greek island village is irrevocably transformed when a fire set by a man greedy to build property burns out of control. Irini, her husband, Tasso, and her daughter, Chara, survive the hellish experience with scars both visible and painfully unseen. In the fire’s aftermath, Irini begins to record what happened in a journal that she calls “The Book of Fire.” She cannot bring herself to play her beloved music, much like how Tasso, an artist, cannot lift his paintbrush. Her village—the village of her great-grandfather—is mourning the beauty and innocence it has lost along with the people who died. The villagers focus their collective grief and anger into hatred for the man who started the fire. And yet, in her confusion and pain, Irini wonders about a broader shared responsibility for the devastation, asking, “Could there be something destructive and barren in all of us that bleeds out onto our land?” 

Much like she did in Songbirds, which elevated the voices of migrant domestic workers, Lefteri draws on real events in this new novel, having traveled to Mati, Greece, to speak to locals about the fire they endured in 2018. In The Book of Fire, Lefteri turns her sensitive gaze to global climate change and how increasingly prevalent deadly fires have become. Her zealousness in warning of the dangers posed by our neglect of the land and its needs occasionally veers into overt preaching, yet this sense of urgency does propel the plot forward. Her language, as always, is evocative and precise, and her story remains heartbreaking even as it inches toward healing and the hope of restoration. Irini observes that the “fire has burnt our souls, our hearts. It has turned to ashes the people we once were,” but this stalwart community, like the ancient chestnut tree that figures prominently in the story, is “still alive . . . and its branches reach up to the sun.”

Christy Lefteri draws on real events in this new novel about an idyllic Greek island village that is irrevocably transformed when a fire set by a man greedy to build property burns out of control.
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One hot August in the well-to-do community of Kitchewan, New York, an act of violence tarnishes the veneer of security and shine. The insular suburb may have “great schools, upscale people, and gorgeous river views,” but just like a body of water, the surface never tells the whole story.

Indian American immigrant Babur Singh and his daughter, Angie (formerly Anjali), are making their way in a very white world, neither of them knowing the rules that others seem to intrinsically grasp. In a traumatizing instant, Angie is thrust into the very spotlight she wants to avoid: Walking home from swim practice, she finds handsome, popular jock Henry McCleary stabbed on the football field. Biases reveal themselves as public opinion solidifies in predictable ways, and soon all fingers point to Chiara Thompkins, one of the only Black students at Kitchewan High School, who has disappeared.

From this bang of an opener, Vibhuti Jain’s debut novel is marked by crime and prejudice, building to a story of human nature at its most vulnerable and manipulative. The lives of Chiara, Henry, Angie, Babur and Didi (Chiara’s cousin) grow more and more entwined in the aftermath of the incident, which is not as straightforward as everyone believes. The characters’ tumultuous minds are captured in arresting detail, although the chapters that incorporate multiple perspectives and points in time are a bit muddled. Still, Jain excels at developing multidimensional characters and an atmosphere of intrigue while also calling attention to the complicated web of class and race dynamics. 

Everyone in Our Best Intentions carries a secret shame: something they want to conceal or protect, even as they also wish to be free of it. Angie especially is looking for absolution in the midst of all her tangled teenage emotions about what really happened between Henry and Chiara. Babur is looking for the light in his daughter’s eyes and the laugh in her voice to return. And although the authorities may be looking for Chiara, not enough people in Kitchewan are searching for the truth. But eventually the truth will out, as it always does. 

Crime and prejudice mark Our Best Intentions from the beginning, building to a story of human nature at its most vulnerable and manipulative.
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The adage “two’s company, but three’s a crowd” rings awkwardly and painfully true in Ore Agbaje-Williams’ debut novel, The Three of Us, which examines the inner workings of both a friendship and a marriage. There’s hardly any unselfish love to be found in this triangle formed by a prickly husband, a chameleonic wife and a manipulative best friend. Be aware that the proverbial third wheel may not be who you’d expect.

In three distinct parts, each character describes their perspective on both the past and present moment. Over the course of a single day, the wife, husband and best friend drink up and face off, each presenting the truth as they each see it. Agbaje-Williams’ dark wit and wry observations keep it all interesting. She slowly and slyly builds the tension between her three characters until it fairly sparks off the page. 

The novel’s trajectory is foreshadowed early on by the wife (who is never named) as she notes that a fight between her husband (also unnamed) and best friend Temi isn’t out of the ordinary: “Usually those moments occur when an exorbitant amount of alcohol has been consumed.” The wife and Temi share a complex history and intimacy, and they both roll their eyes and laugh at the husband in equal measure. But that afternoon, Temi’s discovery of a pregnancy test in a bathroom trash can causes her to overreact, first comically and then calculatedly. The novel unfolds almost like a play as Temi and the husband exchange passive-aggressive (or outright aggressive) barbs within the confines of a posh house in a posh neighborhood. Society and culture and their conventions get skewered right alongside the characters. 

At fewer than 200 pages, The Three of Us makes for a quick and thought-provoking read that can elicit a cringe one minute and rueful laughter the next. The tightly wound plot drops a few revelations along the way, calling into question what the characters—and the reader—think they know. When two people vie for the attention of a third, who will win? How far will each go? Agbaje-Williams keeps readers wondering until the end.

At fewer than 200 pages, The Three of Us makes for a quick and thought-provoking read that can elicit a cringe one minute and rueful laughter the next.
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Magnets push and magnets pull. Will White and Rosie Winters, schoolmates who barely know each other, are unexpectedly swept up one night and talk for hours at a bonfire. Focused Rosie is full of future plans and listens to her mother’s voice in her head; her goals are getting good grades and practicing her music and leaving Norfolk for university at Oxford. Will, branded the bad seed of their school, drives a motorbike and worries his grandma but helps Rosie’s twin brother, Josh, with math. 

Then one night, another party, alcohol, a cliff edge—the unthinkable happens to these teenagers, simultaneously tearing them apart and bonding them forever in shared grief. “The worst thing, the most not-okay thing in both of their lives, occurred, because the world is cruel and unpredictable and things just happen, sometimes, and their understanding of this is what brings them back together, over and over, in spite of it.”

No opposites-attract love story is without conflict and tension, and Talking at Night certainly has the lion’s share of youthful desire as well as hidden pain. Debut novelist Claire Daverley’s descriptive powers make even the ordinary seem significant, as things often do when life is emotionally charged. 

Half-truths and concealed feelings throttle Will and Rosie’s relationship from the start. Over the years, they fight, grow apart, show up for each other and almost decide to go for it many times, occasionally talking or texting at night when they can’t sleep. Their lives diverge and intersect throughout their 20s and 30s, and Daverley teases out their attraction to its climax, capturing all the perplexing contradictions of people in love. The lack of quotation marks is a perennially controversial structural choice for dialogue, likely as it is to cause confusion, but it lends a sense of urgency to the plot that suits and reflects the nature of Will’s and Rosie’s tumultuous thoughts.  

As much as Talking at Night is a love story between two people, it is also a meditation on family and the vagaries of grief when bonds are broken. Daverley’s sensitive novel evokes a line from the Edmund Spenser poem “The Ways of God Unsearchable”: “For there is nothing lost, that may be found if sought.” Through all their losses and misfires, Will and Rosie keep looking, and readers will keep turning pages, hoping that these two characters will find each other at last.

As much as Claire Daverley’s debut novel is a love story between two people, it is also a meditation on family and the vagaries of grief when bonds are broken.
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Thirty-somethings Lewis and Wren fall in love in a promising meet cute as he endures a bad date with someone else and she watches and eavesdrops upon it all unfolding. Idealistic Lewis is an aspiring actor and playwright turned teacher, and careful Wren, born to a teenage single mother, works in finance for stability and security. In due course, Wren and Lewis get married, and like any couple, they share and grow together while keeping some thoughts to themselves. 

The “normal” trajectory of their relationship is interrupted by a startling diagnosis: A Carcharodon carcharias mutation has befallen Lewis, causing him to transform into a great white shark before their first anniversary. As her new husband morphs more and more rapidly, Wren buys scuba equipment and installs an aboveground pool. Lewis eats cans of tuna and boiled shrimp around the clock while still trying to teach and write for as long as he can.

The knowledge of their imminent separation forces decisions and conversations they didn’t plan to tackle so early in their marriage. As Shark Heart winds through both their pasts (Wren’s especially), poignant and meaningful moments abound as they search their memories and experiences to help them navigate an uncertain future. 

Debut novelist Emily Habeck has crafted a story that is surprisingly moving, oddly heartwarming and deeply contemplative beyond its tragicomic premise. Habeck, who has a background in theater and theology, has a real dramatic flair, capturing her characters’ conflicts and buried longings in the face of undesired transformation. The “ever illusory margin between human and animal” is a key element of the novel’s world, one where people can become pregnant with birds or turn into zebras or Komodo dragons.

The short chapters and stylistic changes (some sections are formatted with only dialogue, while others are just a few sentences) do occasionally distract, but the depth of visceral emotion helps offset any affectation. Interspersed with Wren and Lewis’ story is the history of Wren’s mother, Angela, revealing much about who Wren is and why this parting with Lewis is so hard for her. 

This story of love and connection—between mother and daughter, husband and wife, and friends that are like family—vividly explores both the fragility and tenacity of humanity. Shark Heart’s questions are universal: How do we let go of the ones we love? How do we move on after loss? And how do we—can we—open ourselves up to joy again? Like Wren, we survive, exist and begin again in the “terrifying and sublime journey” that is life.

Debut novelist Emily Habeck has crafted a story that is surprisingly moving, oddly heartwarming and deeply contemplative beyond its tragicomic premise: a new husband’s transformation into a great white shark.
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After inviting readers into a small world of everyday people with his first novel, A Little Hope, Ethan Joella sets his second novel in a similar ​community​, one full of folks whose uniquely challenging lives eventually intertwine. 

A Quiet Life is indeed quiet, in that there’s no cross-country adventure or mysterious plot, just a snowy Pennsylvania winter and endless ruminations. It is quiet in the way of ordinary life, yet even this small domestic sphere contains shocking moments of tragedy and chaos. A dead wife, a missing little girl, a murdered father—difficult losses and sudden fractures swiftly disrupt previously enjoyable ​lives. But in the time it takes to have a few drinks at a bar or stop at a gas station, love can be found, friendships discovered and hope renewed. 

Once again, Joella’s characters are as real as they come. With an observant eye and poetic sensitivity, Joella captures poignant moments and intense feelings, leaving the reader with a sense of recognition and comfort. There’s widower Chuck, who receives daily visits from his well-meaning friend Sal. Grieving 20-something Kirsten might be falling for both her divorced boss and handsome co-worker, and distraught mother Ella waits in agony for any news after her ex-husband took their daughter and disappeared. 

As these stories come together, Joella extols what is common to all of humanity: We need each other, both in celebration and in mourning. One of the most meaningful things a person can say is simply “I’m here,” and this is the level of profound connection that Joella evokes without ever straying into cliche.

A Quiet Life reminds readers that all of us are “victorious in a small way for having lived.” 

One of the most meaningful things a person can say is simply “I’m here,” and this is the level of profound connection that Ethan Joella evokes without ever straying into cliche.
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How do you discern whether a vivid dream is a holy vision or just someone’s own desire? Haven, the latest novel from celebrated Irish Canadian writer Emma Donoghue (The Pull of the Stars, The Wonder), hinges on a monk’s ascetic dream of an island set apart for God’s glory. 

Artt, a famed traveler and scholarly priest, selects timeworn and experienced monk Cormac and an awkward young monk named Trian to sail west and establish a new community for Christ. Their trinity seeks a place far from civilization and temptation, since Artt plans to withdraw from the world entirely. 

Finding two remote islands after a week’s journey fills Artt with zeal and confirms God’s call upon him. But as Artt intones early in the novel, “Monkish life is one long war against the devil.” As he leads his two reluctant followers in an increasingly erratic and unyielding manner, questions abound: Will this haven be a true refuge? Did Artt hear God rightly? Or has he lost his way?

Inspired by the true history of an early Christian monastery founded on Ireland’s Skellig Islands, Haven explores the mix of superstition, lore, faith and basic need that accompanies humanity on a mission. As in her hit bestseller, Room, Donoghue’s powers of description expand small, confined spaces until they contain worlds of universal depth. 

Haven sensitively considers hubris, humility and selfishness, who God is and how he might interact with his creation. Artt, Cormac and Trian grapple with this relationship as they face hourly trials in a new world that’s as solid and real as it is mysterious. Much of the action takes place in the hearts of these men, so the story’s pace is a slow, intriguing burn, building enjoyably until a somewhat jarring climax and disappointing denouement. Shock-value shift aside, Donoghue’s talent for storytelling captivates. 

Thoughtful and thought-provoking, Haven captures the gulf that can grow—especially during times of hardship—between what we say we believe and how we live.

Inspired by the true history of an early Christian monastery founded on Ireland's Skellig Islands, Emma Donoghue's Haven explores the mix of superstition, lore, faith and basic need that accompanies humanity on a mission.
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A Ballad of Love and Glory rides the waves of war and the bloom of lovers’ passion, intertwining real events of the Mexican-American War with a vividly imagined relationship between a forlorn Irish immigrant soldier and a grieving Mexican curandera, or folk healer.

In her fourth novel, Mexican American author Reyna Grande explores a little-known aspect of the Mexican-American War. After the annexation of Texas in 1845, hostilities between the United States and Mexico approached a boiling point due to a land dispute near the Rio Grande. At the time, foreign-born soldiers, primarily from Ireland, Germany and Italy, made up nearly half of the U.S. Army. After the American invasion of Mexico, many of the soldiers deserted the army in favor of Mexico’s cause as they resisted further land takeover and domination by the U.S.

In Grande’s detailed and well-researched novel, Irish Catholic immigrant John Riley, who is based on a real figure, deserts the U.S. Army in 1846. Enticed by the promise of better treatment, more pay and acres of land, John joins the Mexican Army, leading a growing battalion of deserters under Saint Patrick’s banner. They become known as the San Patricios.

Meanwhile, after Texas Rangers murder her husband, Ximena Salomé uses all the healing skills her grandmother taught her to bring comfort and relief to the many soldiers felled by each brutal battle. Her fate becomes inextricably bound with John’s while saving the life of one of his fellow soldiers, and in time, longing leads them to each other’s arms.

Grande’s novel highlights the abuses that American immigrants suffered at the hands of Yankee soldiers, in addition to the atrocities of war and all the maddening political and military machinations that go along with it. Although A Ballad of Love and Glory lags in pace or falls into cliche at times, it also often excels at making history palpable and real, not dry and unimpassioned but lively and full of the emotions the people of the past surely felt.

A Ballad of Love and Glory lives up to its title as it pays tribute to the heroism of everyday people called upon to defend their honor as well as their lives.

A Ballad of Love and Glory lives up to its title as it pays tribute to the heroism of everyday people called upon to defend their honor as well as their lives.
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“Life, this up and down life” is on full, multifaceted display in Ethan Joella’s debut novel. A Little Hope begins with a family facing one of life’s greatest tests: a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer within white blood cells. Greg Tyler and his wife, Freddie, are caught up in worry and fear. How do they tell their daughter, Addie, that Greg is sick? What will the next looming doctor’s appointment reveal? The calendar year may be sliding into fall and then winter, but it is just the beginning of a long, unknown road that neither of them wants to take. And they are not the only ones questioning and wrestling. They are so very far from alone.

The small, fictional town of Wharton, Connecticut, is a well-connected community of characters who feel like people you know or people you could be: mothers and sons, wives and husbands, lovers and friends, parents and those soon to be. The cast of characters—Freddie and Greg, Ginger, Luke, Iris, Alex and Kay, Suzette, Damon, Ahmed, Darcy—are honest as they move through the vagaries of love, illness, infidelity, death or disappointment as best they can, searching for a foothold in the midst of all that is happening. Their unceasing thoughts and fickle feelings all strike a familiar and fully human chord.

Joella’s poetic side shines in his moving but never maudlin novel. He captures loneliness, sadness, happiness and anger in all their fleeting hues. He has created a truly intertwined world around the Tylers, portraying their neighbors truthfully yet kindly. From beginning to end, A Little Hope finds the grace of the everyday and homes in on the surprises (both heavy and light) that each day can hold.

Life is both painful and hopeful, but in Joella’s world, it is blessedly more of the latter.

Life is both painful and hopeful, but in Ethan Joella’s debut novel, it is blessedly more of the latter.
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At its best and most engaging, Christian fiction wrestles with issues of belief in a way that resonates with the reader, encouraging self-reflection and growth. These three novels present life in full, shining a light on its heartaches but also its opportunities for redemption and renewal. The truths the characters in each story learn, oftentimes painfully, can be applied to readers’ own journeys of faith.

In The Sky Beneath My Feet, Lisa Samson introduces us to Beth, a mother of two teenage sons and wife of a men’s pastor at a stereotypical megachurch.

Beth’s first-person narration, filled with questions and stream-of-consciousness shifts that at times resemble journal entries, indicates that all is not well. Beth is looking for more and not finding it. Her husband Rick is, too, but he’s decided to spend his one-month sabbatical from church duties holed up in the shed behind their house waiting to hear from God, rather than go on the beach vacation that Beth envisioned.

Left alone to navigate the challenging lives of her sons and her own heart’s questions, Beth struggles to reconcile who she was with who she is. As in her novels Quaker Summer and Embrace Me, Samson assembles a motley cast of supporting characters for Beth to interact with on the way to finding God and herself again. I alternated between laughing and cringing at Beth’s onslaught of unexpected encounters: from watching an eccentric artist neighbor use Rick as her muse for a church mural, to joining up with peace marchers, to rescuing a girl from a drug overdose in an inner-city halfway house.

Besides entertaining the reader, Samson does an excellent job of relating the feeling of being stuck in place with the wheels spinning—something both believers and nonbelievers can relate to. As the novel draws to a close, Rick and Beth find themselves where they were desperately seeking to be, though it wasn’t achieved through their efforts after all.

SOUTHERN CHARM

Denise Hildreth Jones’ Secrets Over Sweet Tea revels in its Southern setting of Franklin, Tennessee. Much like her popular Savannah from Savannah series, this book is peppered with endearments and occasional outlandish “Southernisms” that will make anyone who’s spent time in the South—including this native Alabamian—feel welcome. 

Southern charm aside, the pain Jones’ three main characters are dealing with is real and universal. Grace, an early morning news anchor, is devastated by her broken marriage. Zach, a divorce lawyer, has lost direction and meaning in his life—and risks losing his twin daughters and wife because of his costly attempts to fill those voids. And Scarlett Jo, the lively pastor’s wife who loves to get up close and personal with everyone she meets, seems like the most open book of them all, until her secret surfaces at last. Jones unfurls each person’s story one piece at a time, revealing the fractures in her characters’ lives, the friendships they build and the steps they must take to reclaim their hearts.

As an author’s note attests, Secrets Over Sweet Tea grew out of a time of great pain and a journey to healing in Jones’ personal life. Her characters’ lives are not neatly sewn up or perfectly polished (as is too often the case with inspirational fiction), another reason to appreciate this redeeming story.

CHANGED BY GRACE

One Sunday by Carrie Gerlach Cecil also has a Southern setting—and is also partly drawn from the author’s experience. The story’s broken protagonist, L.A. socialite Alice Ferguson, is struggling to adjust to life in Nashville following a one-night stand with a Southern doctor that results in pregnancy.

Agreeing to have Burton’s child, and to move in with the good doctor, uproots Alice from a lifestyle of drinking, drugging and reporting on celebrity exploits via her online tabloid, Trashville. With her new husband on call more often than not, Alice turns to her neighbor Tim, a former pro football player turned pastor. Boredom and a hunger for his wife LeChelle’s fried chicken are her initial reasons for striking up a friendship with this conservative couple, but it becomes something more. Eventually she accepts Tim’s invitation to church, and we learn more about Alice’s past, via flashbacks, as she alternately smirks at and soaks up the worship service. 

Cecil writes in a fast-paced style that cuts from scene to scene like a movie, rifling through the fragmented memories of her displaced protagonist and bringing them into focus. (Her previous novel, Emily’s Reasons Why Not, became an ABC television series.) Pop-culture references abound, and Alice’s biting commentary is always at the ready. At times, the snark is a bit much, but as Alice sifts through her past, she starts to respond to the pain she’s bottled up and lets her façade slip. Cecil writes movingly about believing and trusting in God in prose that will touch the reader as the message sinks deep into Alice’s heart. This is a riveting story of profound change. 

At its best and most engaging, Christian fiction wrestles with issues of belief in a way that resonates with the reader, encouraging self-reflection and growth. These three novels present life in full, shining a light on its heartaches but also its opportunities for redemption and renewal. The truths the characters in each story learn, oftentimes […]
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Belief in a higher power has been part of the human experience across time and cultures, and it can permeate fiction as well. In a small town or during a world war, within both romantic attachments and friendships, Christian faith forms the framework and the core of these inspirational stories.

Set in Holland during World War II, Snow on the Tulips finds Cornelia de Vries and her 20-year-old brother, Johan, swept up in the action as Dutch Resistance fighters push back against Nazi occupation.

Cornelia has sworn to keep Johan from being rounded up to fight for Hitler, but protecting him becomes more difficult when the conflict enters her home in the form of a half-dead Resistance fighter named Gerrit. He’s a threat to their carefully constructed neutrality—and to her heart, long shuttered since her husband’s death on their wedding night.

In an adventurous tale that reads like a movie script, Liz Tolsma weaves faith in seamlessly, moving the reader with her characters’ convictions to create a captivating debut novel. Their heartfelt prayers show that faith can grow even in times of unspeakable hardship and fear.

GOTHIC CHARM

The first in a planned trilogy, Jessica Dotta’s Born of Persuasion blends all things Gothic and romantic into a winding tale of intrigue in early 19th-century England.

The fortunes of young Julia Elliston, orphaned after her mother’s suicide, depend upon the charity of men. Some may be villains and others saints—but the novel is slow to reveal who is which.

Julia’s position in society is fragile, and her naiveté and vulnerability contrast sharply with the novel’s foreboding setting and the hazy motives of those she meets, including her mysterious guardian and the brooding, charismatic Mr. Macy, who seems to know all but shares little. Julia has been betrothed since childhood to Edward, who complicates matters further when he takes orders to become a vicar—Julia’s father was a well-known and ardent atheist who passed his beliefs on to his daughter.

Though verbose at times, Dotta’s style is clearly influenced by the Brontës, and manages to keep the reader engaged through every twist and turn.

A SOUTHERN JOURNEY

Competition for oil-drilling rights collides with an eclectic artists colony’s vow to hold onto their land in Sweet Olive, a Southern tale by Louisiana author Judy Christie.

Camille Gardner finds herself exiled (in a manner of speaking) to Sweet Olive, Louisiana, after botching a previous job for the oil company owned by her uncle. It’s painfully near the town where her father left her and her mother behind years before, never to return—a fact that brings this old hurt to the surface.

Christie writes in an inviting, colloquial style, full of great turns of phrase that make her characters’ speech feel true to life. It’s Camille’s job to get these artists to sign over the rights to drill on their land, but once she meets them and sees their work, she’s drawn in. As Camille falls for the beauty around her—and the lawyer who opposes her at every turn—the journey leads her somewhere surprising.

A LOVE THAT LASTS

A sweet story of enduring love and faithfulness, Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis shares the unique romance of Pearl “Huck” Huckabee and Gabe Alexander. For decades, Gabe sent his beloved a weekly postcard inscribed with a simple poem extolling his devotion.

Lewis, a playwright, paints a convincing portrait of the couple, and their voices are spot-on and beautiful. Seeing their relationship evolve on paper is almost like watching it unfold in real life. Hope and faith are the hinges of all their plans, from the night they meet and fall instantly in love in 1926 and through the years as they grow old together.

The narrative moves between Huck and Gabe’s relationship at different stages and 2006, when Adam Colby discovers the postcards while handling their estate sale. Colby studies the archive, hoping to find healing after his divorce. As he immerses himself in their story, he begins to find his way.

While the religious thread of the story is kept in the background, the love between Huck and Gabe is the heart of Forever Friday, and their steadfastness, though fictional, will inspire.

Belief in a higher power has been part of the human experience across time and cultures, and it can permeate fiction as well. In a small town or during a world war, within both romantic attachments and friendships, Christian faith forms the framework and the core of these inspirational stories. Set in Holland during World […]

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