Sign Up

Get the latest ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.

All Inspirational Fiction Coverage

Feature by

In Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, the titular character, who’s a successful wedding planner, and her brother, Prieto, who’s a congressman, are both prominent members of their Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn, New York. The two were brought up by their grandmother after their mother, Blanca, deserted them to become a political activist. Their lives are turned upside down when Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and an unexpected family reunion ensues. Gonzalez enriches this funny, stirring story with themes of loyalty, honesty and forgiveness, and reading groups will find plenty to talk about in her provocative novel.

Kimberly Duffy’s remarkable mother-daughter tale, The Weight of Air, is set in the intriguing world of turn-of-the-century circus performers. It’s 1911, and Mabel MacGinnis, known as Europe’s strongest woman, is a member of the Manzo Brothers Circus. After the death of her father, Mabel decides to find her mother, an aerialist named Isabella Moreau. When the two finally meet, Isabella must come to terms with herself, even as she and Mabel adjust to their roles as mother and daughter. Past and present collide in Duffy’s fascinating chronicle of circus life.

In Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa, Anna, a middle-aged woman living in London, decides to find her father, whom she has never met. Anna comes across his diaries among the possessions of her late mother and learns that he pursued politics, becoming president of a tiny West African country. After discovering that he is still alive, Anna sets out to find him in what turns about to be the quest of a lifetime. Filled with humor and compassion, Onuzo’s novel is a rich exploration of race, identity and the nature of family.

Set in Quebec, Joanna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls is a moving portrayal of family dynamics in the 1950s. When English-speaking Maggie Hughes falls for a French-speaking boy and becomes pregnant, her parents insist that she give up the child: a girl named Elodie. Although she comes of age in a miserable orphanage, Elodie’s spirit and intelligence blossom. Maggie eventually marries, and when she decides to locate Elodie, her life is changed forever. Discussion topics such as motherhood and the meaning of home make Goodman’s novel a great choice for book clubs.

These unforgettable novels explore the drama and devotion bound up with family ties.
Feature by

To continue in the face of doubt and despair, three women draw on their Christian faith in these immersive historical novels.

Code Name Edelweiss 

Stephanie Landsem’s transfixing Code Name Edelweiss is peppered with rich descriptions of Los Angeles in 1933. Amid widespread unemployment and poverty, few people in LA are fully aware of the growing threat of Nazism following the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany. Like many, Liesl Weiss is preoccupied with her own troubles; she has just lost her job but must take care of her children, brother and mother. 

Jewish lawyer Leon Lewis is concerned about the growing threat of the Nazis and believes they plan to infiltrate the Hollywood film industry. To stop them, he is enlisting spies for a dangerous mission. Liesl finds Leon’s fears absurd, but she needs the cash, so she signs on as a spy. The more information she uncovers, the more alarmed she becomes, and she soon realizes she cannot remain neutral and must choose a side. 

From its suspenseful start to its exciting ending, Code Name Edelweiss commands attention. Landsem sustains tension throughout as Leon’s team works to outpace the Nazis. Liesl, along with the elusive Agent Thirteen, spies on members of the German American community, hoping to find clues and deter the Nazis’ plans. The central characters all have fascinating backstories, though Liesl is crafted particularly well. She is sensible and dependable, and her lovely friendships add depth to the story. The novel is also enlivened by a subtle yet vital strand of romance.

The Metropolitan Affair 

Award-winning and bestselling author Jocelyn Green kicks off her new series with a captivating, multilayered mystery in The Metropolitan Affair, set in New York City at the height of American Egyptomania. 

In 1925, Americans’ demand for forged Egyptian art reaches a fever pitch after the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb and the Egyptian government’s subsequent efforts to block the exportations of antiquities. Detective Joe Caravello believes that investigating the forgeries will lead him to criminals responsible for other crimes, so he enlists the help of his longtime friend Dr. Lauren Westlake, the assistant curator of Egyptology for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Lauren’s previously absent father has recently returned to her life, and she struggles to connect with him. Even though he offers her a chance to join him on an expedition to Egypt, the past cannot be undone. She wonders, though, whether there is still a chance for their relationship in the future. 

The Metropolitan Affair offers a full sense of its main characters, including their inner struggles and processes of personal growth. Lauren and Joe are dynamic and realistic, and secondary characters are also well defined. The mystery itself is gripping, with exciting clues and shocking revelations, and the plot maintains a great balance between the investigation and Joe and Lauren’s relationship. 

This is an uplifting story of faith with many intriguing twists and ever-raising stakes, all leading to an unexpected conclusion. 

The Maid of Ballymacool 

Jennifer Deibel (A Dance in Donegal, The Lady of Galway Manor) has done it again with The Maid of Ballymacool, a hopeful historical romance novel about unrelenting faith and new beginnings with just a pinch of mystery, set in Donegal, Ireland, in the 1930s.

For as long as Brianna Kelly can remember, Ballymacool House and Boarding School for Girls has been her home. She has labored there since she was a child, though she’s never been able to meet Mistress Magee’s unending demands. But Brianna believes that there is more for her beyond the tight confines of the boarding house.

The plot takes an interesting turn when a young man named Michael Wray arrives to keep an eye on his cousin, another Ballymacool boarder. A friendship develops between Michael and Brianna, and he becomes her much-needed ally against the vicious Mistress Magee. But despite their connection, a future together is untenable, since Brianna knows Michael will soon return to his high-society life. 

When Brianna finds a piece of silver in the nearby woods, a suspenseful mystery ensues, building to a rewarding ending as long-held secrets come to light and Brianna gets a bright new start.  

With rich language and historical detail, Deibel brilliantly emphasizes the story’s central themes of love, faith and redemption as her characters surmount formidable challenges. Although heartbreaking at times, The Maid of Ballymacool is inspiring and encouraging, and Brianna’s journey is one of hope and strength.

In inspiring historical novels from Stephanie Landsem, Jocelyn Green and Jennifer Deibel, early 20th-century women find the strength to face any fear.
Review by

Susie Finkbeiner (All Manner of Things) invites readers along on the inspiring journey of a young baseball player who dreams of playing for the first women’s professional baseball league in the adeptly crafted coming-of-age novel The All-American.

To the disappointment of her mother, and despite her home economics teacher’s warnings against future spinsterhood, Bertha Harding has no interest in mastering domestic skills like the other girls. Bertha’s true passion is baseball, and the 1952 season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) is about to begin. Bertha can hardly wait to see the Workington Sweet Peas play, but she fears that her hopes of playing for the team are crushed when her father is accused of being a member of the Communist Party. Her family flees Detroit to her uncle’s home in a small town in Michigan. Still, Bertha remains hopeful, and in time, her journey with the Sweet Peas begins. 

Told through the voices of Bertha and her sister, Flossie, The All-American offers an intimate glimpse into their lives and the challenges they face. Fitting in at school is tough for both of them, thanks to Bertha’s lack of interest in marriage and Flossie’s struggle to make friends. But their lives expand through the bonds they forge: Bertha’s love of baseball is supported by the Sweet Peas pitcher, and Flossie learns true friendship and empathy from her friend Lizzie. 

Captivating historical details contextualize the story and add conflict and tension. The Red Scare casts a shadow over everyone’s lives, straining relationships and fomenting fear of tarnished relationships. Finkbeiner also includes fascinating background information on the AAGPBL, offering a beautiful celebration of the women who broke barriers for other girls and women in baseball.

Led by relatable characters, The All-American is a moving novel, fit for inspiring any reader to dream big and believe that anything is possible.

Susie Finkbeiner offers a beautiful celebration of the women who broke barriers for other girls and women in baseball.
Feature by

A Beautiful Disguise

Roseanna M. White begins her Imposters series, set in Edwardian London, with the soul-stirring historical romance A Beautiful Disguise, which features a gentle, engrossing love, an eccentric cast and many surprises.

Known for her exaggerated gowns, Lady Marigold Fairfax manages to convince her peers that she is just another member of the elite. But behind her facade is a brave woman who is desperate to save her family’s impecunious estate, so she and her brother, Yates, are working as anonymous private investigators known as the Imposters. Years ago, the Fairfax mansion was host to a traveling circus, and retired circus lions and monkeys still roam the grounds. The circus performers also now live with the Fairfax siblings and are considered part of the family. Lady Marigold and Yates incorporate circus skills gained from this found family into their investigative work.

Sir Merritt Livingstone, an officer working in the War Office Intelligence Division, seeks the services of the Imposters when he suspects possible espionage that could jeopardize a soon-to-be established intelligence branch and, consequently, weaken England’s position against Germany. Along with this central political mystery, A Beautiful Disguise includes many suspenseful scenes and unexpected twists as the Imposters gather information for their various clients.

Lady Marigold struggles to balance her true persona with the false image she projects to protect their secret operations. Although she wishes to show her real identity to Sir Merritt, she is aware of the risks involved in such a disclosure. With Yates’ encouragement, she learns to let down her guard and allow her real self to shine, and soon a romance develops between her and Sir Merritt. A dramatic, rewarding finale concludes this fascinating novel.

He Should Have Told the Bees

In the triumphant contemporary Christian novel He Should Have Told the Bees, Amanda Cox explores the importance of facing childhood trauma and finding family in unexpected places.

Beckett Walsh’s idyllic life is rocked by her father’s sudden death. In addition to dealing with this powerful grief, Beck discovers that her farm, including her treasured apiary, has a new co-owner—Callie Peterson, who learns she was named co-trustee of a farm by a man she never knew. Callie is determined to build her own life while supporting her mother through her substance abuse issues. Although unsure how to proceed, she believes money from selling the farm could help her avoid plunging into debt while paying for her mother’s rehabilitation process. Cox handles difficult topics—including childhood trauma from parental neglect and substance abuse—in a gentle yet realistic way. The characters’ struggles are considered in depth: For years, Callie has grappled with her mother’s broken promises and the effects of growing up in an unstable environment, and Beck has her own painful childhood memories of waiting for her mother to return. Secondary characters have moving stories too, and readers learn more about Beck’s father’s past.

For every difficult emotion in He Should Have Told the Bees, there are just as many uplifting moments. Beck builds a friendship with Fern, a young neighbor who shares Beck’s fascination with bees. Two subtle romantic relationships also infuse the story with compassion and warmth. The facts given about beekeeping are fascinating, and family secrets add a few twists.

Cox’s hopeful, heartwarming novel touches on complicated relationships, the value of friendship and the impact of trauma with great heart and kindness.

The Wings of Poppy Pendleton

Melanie Dobson’s captivating dual-timeline novel The Wings of Poppy Pendleton chronicles the disappearance of a young girl from a castle in New York’s Thousand Islands and, years later, the investigation into her disappearance.

In 1992, Chloe Ridell is determined to safeguard the privacy of her island and protect it from public scrutiny. Eighty-five years earlier, Poppy Pendleton disappeared from a castle that still stands, albeit in ruins, on the same night that her father, Leslie, mysteriously died. Both incidents remain unsolved. When a girl named Emma with connections to the Pendleton family shows up at Chloe’s doorstep, Chloe decides to look into the castle’s past. With help from a reporter named Logan, Chloe works to unravel a baffling mystery that could save Emma’s life. Chloe’s bond with Logan also helps her to navigate difficult childhood memories and financial issues that could lead to the closure of her candy shop. Meanwhile, Logan grapples with his own past experiences, some of which have been devastating, but he stays committed to doing what is right.

The 1907 island setting comes to life through evocative descriptions of Poppy’s world and that of her parents, Leslie and Amelia, who aspire to be recognized as members of New York’s gilded society. On the night of Leslie’s death and Poppy’s disappearance, the elegantly decorated castle bustles with activity as guests await President Theodore Roosevelt’s arrival. This central mystery is layered and exciting, tracing the story as far back as Amelia’s childhood in England. After Poppy disappears, Amelia tries to build a life for herself, but her past continues to haunt her.

Dobson’s characters find redemption, discover their own strength and experience the power of family relationships to pull us down—or lift us up.

You can go home again with these heartwarming novels, in which the complexities and joys of familial relationships take center stage.
Feature by

From the Greek isle of Corfu to Washington’s Whidbey Island, hope can always be found in friendship.

Where the Wandering Ends

The latest novel from bestselling author and three-time Emmy Award-winning producer and journalist Yvette Manessis Corporon is a work of incredible depth, brimming with turmoil, compassion and remarkable historical detail.

Set on the gorgeous Greek island of Corfu, Where the Wandering Ends is a multigenerational, decades-spanning story that begins in 1946, when Greece appears to be on the verge of civil war. Despite the brewing unrest, life in Katerina’s village of Pelekito remains calm. She even has the opportunity to go to school, unlike provincial girls in older generations. 

As the conflict between communists and monarchists escalates, the war eventually reaches Pelekito, and the villagers are forced to flee. Katerina is separated from her best friend, Marco, but they both promise to someday return.

Corporon’s characters are indelible and authentic. Katerina’s father, Laki, is horrified by the divisions in his country: “Greek killing Greek. Cousin killing cousin. Brother killing brother. . . . Laki never would have imagined that his own people would turn against each other the way they had.” Meanwhile, Marco’s mother, Yianna, holds fast to the stories told by her own mother, who was a maid to Princess Alice, wife of Prince Andrew, both of whom were exiled from Greece after the Greco-Turkish War of 1922.

Written with a perceptive eye, Where the Wandering Ends considers the challenges faced by people during wartime and highlights the determination to survive despite painful circumstances. Corfu’s beauty, which Corporon describes in sumptuous detail, is juxtaposed against the turbulence and devastation caused by war. Fascinating historical facts and references to mythological Greek tales intertwine with moving scenes, tension-building plot points and surprising revelations to create a powerful, soaring story. This is a spectacular novel about the enduring devotion of family and the steadfast loyalty between friends.


Bestselling author Sandra Byrd blends romance, laughter, community and family secrets in her novel Heirlooms, a delightful story of uplifting female friendships.

After her husband’s death, Choi Eunhee, a Korean woman living in the United States, turns to Helen Devries for help. It’s 1958, and both women are Navy widows. While living together in Helen’s farmhouse on Whidbey Island, Washington, the women assist each other through their losses and develop a lifelong friendship. 

In the present day, Helen’s dying wish is that her granddaughter Cassidy Quinn will pack up the attic at the Whidbey Island house with help from Eunhee’s granddaughter Grace Kim. While going through Helen’s hope chest, Cassidy and Grace discover a family secret. 

Meanwhile, Cassidy must work to save her grandmother’s property from foreclosure, so she turns to her ex-boyfriend Nick for help. Helen’s house was the setting of many beloved summers for Cassidy, and she dreams of reinstating her grandmother’s garden to its former glory. 

Helen and Eunhee’s friendship is much like the garden, tended with loving care over many years. As the women draw faith and strength from each other, their bond becomes akin to sisterhood. From this foundation grows Cassidy and Grace’s own connection, and the two young women learn to lean on each other throughout Cassidy’s fight for her grandmother’s house and garden and as Grace begins to doubt her chosen career path.

With warmth and sensitivity, Heirlooms examines the challenges faced by immigrants living in the United States, and the difficulties for women seeking health care and financial security for both themselves and their children throughout American history. As friends become family, readers will marvel at the strength found in community and the deep connections that can exist between generations.

Authors Yvette Manessis Corporon and Sandra Byrd intertwine past and present in two stories of love, courage and survival.
Feature by

The Lady of Galway Manor

Set against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence, Jennifer Deibel’s second novel, The Lady of Galway Manor, springs from the fascinating legend of the origin of the Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish band that features two hands clasping a crowned heart, symbolizing friendship, loyalty and love. 

In 1920, Lady Annabeth De Lacy is the British daughter of the new landlord of Galway Parish in Ireland, and she is excited to begin her jewelry apprenticeship with the descendants of the creators of the Claddagh ring. Although jeweler is an unusual pursuit for an aristocrat, Anna takes on this new opportunity with great enthusiasm. 

However, Anna’s trainer, Stephen, resents the British and is irritated to have her around. He’s also lost his faith in the ideals and promises of the Claddagh ring’s imagery, especially the love it symbolizes. But as Anna and Stephen work together, their bond grows, and they begin to recognize the misconceptions in their beliefs about each other.

Deibel beautifully re-creates Galway’s sights and sounds, from the allure of the Claddagh area in Galway to the magnificence of its famed Spanish Arch and the locals’ appreciation of traditional Irish music. She also couches the bitter enmity between the Irish and British in the personal struggles of her characters. Stephen is unwilling to let go of his pain caused by past events, including atrocities committed by the British. And Anna is conflicted, torn between following her heart, which would risk alienation from her family, and accepting an advantageous marriage proposal devoid of love.

In their divided world, the characters of The Lady of Galway Manor become open to each other’s cultures, soon making way for acceptance and love.

Count the Nights by Stars

Much like privileged Anna, Priscilla Nichols, the daughter of a wealthy and influential railway investor in Michelle Shocklee’s fifth novel, Count the Nights by Stars, enjoys a cushioned life, shielded from the plight of people who are disadvantaged. In 1897, Priscilla travels with her mother to Nashville to attend the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. They stay at the Maxwell House Hotel, where she meets an Italian immigrant named Luca Moretti. Priscilla appreciates Luca’s poise and confidence but is aware of the strict societal rules that dictate who her “appropriate” partner would be. Meanwhile, she must decide whether to accept a proposal from another man who comes from a wealthy background similar to her own.

After meeting Luca, Priscilla is introduced to a new world where she learns about the challenges facing destitute young women and children who are lured into a prostitution ring run by powerful forces. She quickly becomes an inspiring lead character who fights for the rights of the underserved and advocates for raising the legal age of consent. 

The impact of Priscilla’s actions is heightened by a parallel story. In 1961, Audrey Whitfield, the daughter of the Maxwell House Hotel manager, finds Priscilla’s scrapbook. Audrey, who had previously dismissed the eccentric and now elderly Priscilla living in the hotel, is captivated by the woman’s earlier life. She draws encouragement from Priscilla’s lifelong work of activism for women’s rights.

Along with the historical intrigue of both storylines, Count the Nights by Stars also includes appealing mysteries and delightful romance. In 1897, Priscilla and Luca face danger as they try to solve the disappearance of Luca’s sister. In 1961, Audrey welcomes a striking young man into her life, and together they embark on an investigation into Priscilla’s stories and photographs—but it’s clear that someone else is set on having the scrapbook destroyed.

In Shocklee’s novel, the important lifelong work of a daring woman inspires another to follow her dreams. It’s sure to stir such feelings in the reader as well.

Across the ages, it’s always inspiring when women speak up for what is right. In these Christian novels, two affluent women endeavor to understand and rectify disparities within their societies.
Behind the Book by
Christmas found me on a hot, sweaty day in July. My husband and I drove four hours in July of 2000 to see a friend sing in concert in Knoxville, Tennessee. We parked at the back of the arena and ran inside the loading dock where we were greeted by our friend Eddie. The opening act was finishing on stage and he was moments from going on, but we asked what he’d been up to and he told us he was writing songs for a new album. He looked at me and said, “I’m actually thinking of putting a Christmas number on it as a bonus cut.” He rattled off a two-sentence premise (the opening act was closing) and asked if I thought that would make a good Christmas song. I said, “I actually think that’d make a good book.” The crowd liked the opener and cheered as they left the stage so Eddie leaned close to my ear. “Then get to writing it,” he said, yelling above the noise. “You’re the one with the computer!”
Plenty of people over the years have told me they have a great idea for a book (a complete stranger talked at length about an idea this week. It didn’t matter that my 3-year-old had to “go potty really, really bad” and was bouncing up and down with each plot point), but for whatever reason, those ideas have never struck me as a good idea. Maybe it was because Eddie didn’t present it as a good idea for a book that something clicked in me. Maybe it was because the set-up for the idea was so short and we didn’t have time to whittle it down to nothing that the plot came alive in my head. Eddie finished the lyrics and by that time I was already deep into the writing of my untitled book. “I’m wondering,” he said, after playing the song for me. “Should we call this Christmas Shoes or The Christmas Shoes?”
“The Christmas Shoes,” I said.
I sent my outline of The Christmas Shoes and several chapters off to a literary agent in NYC. I was painting the walls in my husband’s new office when she called a few days later. “When can you have this finished?” she asked.
I put down the roller. She sounded, dare I say, interested! “When do you need it?”
“Yesterday would be good,” she said. I finished painting the office and stayed up late each night to write the remaining chapters.
Christmas found me again sometime around Easter. I had begun work on a novel I’d been writing off and on since college when my editor called. “Have you thought about writing another Christmas book?” I hadn’t. She called again a few weeks later. “Have you thought any more about writing another book to follow The Christmas Shoes?” I hadn’t. When she called a third time I knew something was up.
“Do you want me to write another Christmas book . . . because you keep calling.” She did—and so I did! It was a good call on her part. I had thought I was done with the Christmas stories, but now realize I would have missed several great journeys along the way. I have managed to write non-seasonal books in between the Christmas novels (I’m currently working on another non-seasonal novel set in Morgan Hill, Tennessee, where The Angels of Morgan Hilltakes place) and I enjoy the process for both.
A reporter recently asked me if I liked writing books set at Christmas—five books in, with the release of The Christmas Secret, I’d say the answer is obvious. Even if you don’t believe in miracles, somehow the most hardened cynic suspends his disbelief in that season of goodwill toward men. Christmas is difficult for so many, but it brings out the best in so many others. I started work on The Christmas Secret with that in mind. . . life can be hard, but people can be infinitely good. In The Christmas Secret, Christine Eisley is a single mom with a jerk of an ex-husband. I have an ex-brother-in-law who makes Christine’s ex look like Santa himself. Somehow, single mothers juggle kids, work, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, paying bills and even going to night school without spousal support. It has to be the most difficult job on earth, yet no reality series is dedicated to following them around. Christine encounters one roadblock after another but comes across people who won’t sit on their hands while she struggles to get around them.
A friend told me last week that if I kept this up I would start to be known as “The Christmas Lady.” I suppose there are far worse things to be known as; for instance, “The Gastric Bypass Lady” doesn’t conjure up images of coffee and scones on a wintry day and the “Scary Cat Lady” culls up visions of long, waxy fingernails, harsh make-up and incessant meowing. Who wants Scary Cat Lady to speak at their book club or annual convention?
CBS picked up both The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing and turned them into “movies of the week.” When CBS ditched their movie department, Lifetime picked up the third novel, The ChristmasHope, which will air this year. I never imagined any of that on that sweaty day in July 2000, by the way.
I’m grateful that Christmas found me. I just hope I’m leaving a body of work that will leave readers grateful as well!
Donna VanLiere is the New York Times best-selling author of the Christmas Hope Series. The Christmas Secret is her 10th book. Lifetime will air movie adaptations of her books on Sunday, December 13. The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing will be followed by the world premier of The Christmas Hope (starring Madeline Stowe).
Photo courtesy of Sheri O’Neal Photography.
Christmas found me on a hot, sweaty day in July. My husband and I drove four hours in July of 2000 to see a friend sing in concert in Knoxville, Tennessee. We parked at the back of the arena and ran inside the loading dock where we were greeted by our friend Eddie. The opening [...]
Behind the Book by

St. Louis writer Michele Andrea Bowen made a splash in the inspirational fiction world with her Church Folk series, which followed the loves and losses of a tight-knit church community in Durham, North Carolina. Her latest release, Pastor Needs a Boo, launches a spin-off of that series, the Pastor’s Aide Club, and matches reader favorite Denzelle Flowers—a former FBI agent turned pastor—with the woman who will be the making of him. In a behind-the-book essay, Bowen explains why she chose Reverend Flowers to kick things off.

I always have a hearty “laugh out loud” moment when I think about how this book came to be. Pastor Needs a Boo is the book behind the books Up at the College and More Church Folk. The main characters in this story (and in the forthcoming books in the Pastor’s Aide Club Series) are the secondary characters readers were immensely interested in throughout the original series of Church Folk novels.

Every time I wrote a new novel, my readers would ask: “Sooooo, what about Denzelle Flowers?” They wanted to know things like “Is Denzelle ever going to settle down with a good woman?” “You know, I always thought he had a thing for . . . what’s her name . . . yeah, Marsha Metcalf.” “What happened to that pastor where the women in his church went wild, like ‘Church Girls Gone Wild’ during one of his Friday night services? Wasn’t that brother Denzelle?”

My readers wouldn't stop asking, “Is Reverend Denzelle Flowers ever going to settle down with a good woman and leave those hoochies alone?”

And “Is Reverend Denzelle Flowers ever going to settle down with a good woman and leave those hoochies alone?”

Who knew that my characters would touch the hearts and funny bones of my readers to the point of them having that good old “church folk” community connection with Denzelle and the other supporting characters like they were their cousins or something? And honestly, I was beginning to ask myself what was going on in Denzelle’s world. I always liked this character—he had a lot of “old school swag” and was very funny with regard to his approach to life.

Denzelle Flowers was the kind of man that a woman writing about love and the perils of the heart could explore, analyze and investigate. Why would a man with such a deep secret desire for true love run from it like it was some kind of sci-fi concocted nuisance? I also wanted to know what kind of woman would make this man stop running. In asking that question, I became more and more intrigued by another supporting character, Marsha Metcalf.

It was so much fun to get all up in Denzelle’s “grille.” Or, to be more exact, I had a good time digging in the brother’s history, finding out what happened to make him so jaded, and how a woman could be the inspiration to turn his life around. I wanted to know why men in a certain age group ran from the very thing that would actually give their hearts the joy they craved in all of the wrong ways. Well, what I really wanted to know, was why would a handsome, smart, smooth and savvy FBI Agent/preacher like Denzelle Flowers always found himself lookin’ for luuuuvvvv in all the wrong places.

Funny thing—that was the secret question on the hearts, minds and lips of my readers. They just didn’t “get” Denzelle Flowers. They couldn’t understand how he could be such good friends with the happily married Rev. Obadiah Quincey and his wife, Lena, and not believe that love really existed, that there really was a “Ruth” out their waiting to connect with her “Boaz.”

Yes, Denzelle Flowers definitely wanted to connect with a Ruth. He didn’t want the modern-day version of a Queen Esther, or a Rahab, or even Lazurus and Martha’s sister, Mary. Denzelle wanted that sweet, dedicated, smart, hard-working and good-looking Ruth. And just like Boaz, Denzelle needed the chance to watch and observe from afar, to act like he wasn’t thinking and feeling what the readers all knew he was thinking and feeling, and to stay safe while his heart did a soft whirring motion every time he witnessed his Ruth—Marsha—laboring in the field of activities created by his church’s Pastor’s Aide Club.

I had so much fun working with these characters and figuring out how to get this pastor from “needing a boo” to grabbing that boo close to his very fragile and needy heart.

St. Louis writer Michele Andrea Bowen made a splash in the inspirational fiction world with her Church Folk series, which followed the loves and losses of a tight-knit church community in Durham, North Carolina. Her latest release, Pastor Needs a Boo, launches a spin-off of that series, the Pastor’s Aide Club, and finds reader favorite Denzelle Flowers—a former FBI agent turned pastor—the woman who will be the making of him. In a behind-the-book essay, Bowen explains why she chose Reverend Flowers to kick things off.

Behind the Book by

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest was inspired by the two well-known stories: Robin Hood and Swan Lake. It was also partially inspired by the summer I spent in Germany, in a medieval town next to the heavily forested Harz Mountains.

I spent the summer of 1992 in Hildesheim, Germany. I immediately fell in love with the medieval buildings that were all over the town. The town square, or Marktplatz, was especially enchanting; in fact, it looked as if it was out of a fairy tale. The half-timber guild houses and stone town hall were from another world. The centuries-old churches were maybe even more impressive. I was in awe. I couldn’t stop thinking about how these churches had been standing for hundreds of years before the United States was even a gleam in Christopher Columbus’ eye. They were much older than any building I’d ever seen before. There was also a medieval wall around the town, some of it still standing, and an old medieval tower. Many streets were still made of cobblestones. Everywhere I looked, the past was right in front of my eyes. I was delirious with history and romance.

One day we took a short road trip to another town, Brandenburg, which was on the edge of the Harz Mountains. Being from Alabama, I’d been around thick forests all my life, but these forests were different somehow—older, and just more mysterious. Yes, this was a land of fairy tales, an enchanting place of story and once upon a time.

So in 2005, when I got the idea to write a story based on Sleeping Beauty, I knew immediately where I wanted to set it—medieval Germany.

Fast-forward a few years. I’d written five fairy tale retellings set in my fictional town of Hagenheim. Now I had an opportunity to come up with a brand new series for a new publisher, a series that would be set in medieval Europe and would be based on fairy tales, just like my other series—the same but different. I had already decided it would be fun to make these new stories a mash-up of two fairy tales, instead of just one. I just had to come up with three different ideas for books to put into my proposal.

I had a list of fairy tales  that I liked, but I still had not thought of an idea for a book. I remember lying across my bed and thinking that I’d really like to come up with a Swan Lake retelling since that story has such potential for emotion and romance. And then my mind wandered to Robin Hood. Since I like to twist things a bit, I started thinking of a female Robin Hood. At some point I hit upon the idea of having a heroine who poaches deer and a hero whose job it is to put a stop to all poaching.

Then the Swan Lake aspect came into play. How could I make my heroine a “swan” by night and something else by day? Of course, if she was a Robin Hood figure, that could be her secret identity by night, while she was a well-known lady of the town by day. The ideas just started falling into place.

To be honest, it’s extremely difficult to remember how my book ideas come about. One idea leads to another to another to another. I don’t usually remember the evolution of it. But I was quite excited when I hit upon the Swan Lake/Robin Hood combination. My agent loved it and so did my publisher—and I hope my readers will too.

Melanie Dickerson is a two-time Christy Award finalist for her inspirational fairy-tale retellings. She lives near Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband and two daughters. 

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest was inspired by the two well-known stories, Robin Hood and Swan Lake. It was also partially inspired by the summer I spent in Germany, in a medieval town next to the heavily forested Harz Mountains.
Behind the Book by

Author Katherine Reay really loves Jane Austen and her contemporaries. She has written multiple novels that draw from Austen’s novels and Recency classics, and her latest is a fun tale of friendship and falling head-first into history.

In The Austen Escape, Mary Davies is an engineer in need of a holiday, and she receives the perfect offer from her childhood friend Isabel Dwyer: a two-week stay in an English manor house. But then Isabel loses her memory and becomes convinced she lives in Austen-era Bath. Reay’s latest is a charming romp full of dancing, misunderstandings and romance.

Reay can’t get enough of Jane Austen—and neither can we. Here’s five reasons why.

Why we (still) love Jane Austen
By Katherine Reay

1. Austen introduces us to ourselves—and we are well dressed.

Austen shows that human nature is static—all while moving through life in silk dresses, cravats and shoe-roses got by proxy. From Pride and Prejudice alone, Austen shows we will always get things wrong, carry prejudice, look out for our own interests, demonstrate beautiful loyalty, stand firm when pressed and often rise above it all with the truest sacrificial instincts. In her fiction and in our lives, we see that sibling love is powerful and a gift, sibling rivalry undeniable, and families, good or bad, are for life. We interact with Wickhams, Caroline Bingleys, Lydias and Marys, and if we’re blessed, we count a few Lizzys, Janes, Georgianas and Charlottes among our friends. We not only meet these people daily—we are these people.

2. Austen wrote unlike anybody else—and exactly how we think.

We are taught to use active verbs when writing. Run! Slay! Dart! Use “ponder” rather than “think long and hard.” And never load up the adverbs—that’s clearly and noticeably weak. Yet, we think that way. We think in gradations of an unspoken, often even subconscious, standard. Comparisons are in our nature—likes, winks. Austen writes just this way. She describes Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility as “still handsomer . . . so lovely . . . though not so correct” as her elder sister, Elinor. She employs a prodigious number of very-s, most-s and much-es throughout all her novels. She continually compares because we understand it. We instinctively understand her.

3. Austen reminds us everyone is flawed—even our beloved heroines—but they, and we, can change.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen introduces an unlikely heroine:

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.”

It’s a delightful way to begin a story, and reveal a truth. We can change, learn, think and grow. We can become the heroes and heroines of our own stories. Human nature writ large may be static, but we as individuals are not. Her most beloved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, backs this up:

“But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”

Now, Catherine and Lizzy don’t overturn their presuppositions and refine their thinking all at once. Austen’s books are carefully drawn journeys of self-discovery. Her young heroines learn who they are, where they stand and who they want to be over time—and if that comes with love, all the better. Catherine constantly sparred with the quixotic Henry—her education was challenging and slow going. She had to break old patterns and expectations—her thirst for good gothic drama, for one. Lizzy needed to recognize she was fallible. Her education was almost the opposite of Catherine’s. One came at the world with wide-eyed naiveté, and the other with a cynical belief in her own complete understanding. Like Catherine, we too can see mystery, pain, subterfuge and drama where only a laundry list exists. And like Lizzy, we often don’t pay attention to what’s around us and make discerning judgments. We judge on what we think we know.

Emma is also a delightful example of this. Austen, in an ironic play, exposes Emma’s self-absorption and arrogance by naming the novel after her—solely Emma. Yet Austen also gives Emma a remarkable capacity for understanding, empathy, sacrifice and selfless love. This novel is a beautiful story of transformation, and as often is true in own lives, it takes a little outside correction to get Emma there. No one will ever forget Mr. Knightley’s “It was badly done, indeed!” He could say the same to us, many times over.

4. Austen calls out what we know to be true: It is vital to pay attention to life right around you.

As I alluded to above, we often go with what we know, rather than paying attention to the truth around us. Austen opens her most famous book, Pride and Prejudice, with that immortal line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged. . . .” But she cautions readers to not be fooled. She is not going to dazzle the reader with a “universal” story, a sweeping saga with adventures across continents, great mysteries or international intrigue. Instead, Austen expresses the very small truth: A woman with five daughters believes that every young man must be in want of a wife, because all the Mrs. Bennets of the world have daughters who need to marry them. Austen’s characters stayed in their villages—or complained about a 50-mile carriage ride outside them. In those close quarters, her men and women moved through kitchens, ballrooms and life. She didn’t need more canvas. Nor do we. Although the concerns of the world do and should draw us to the larger stage, our actions close to home are paramount. How we love those nearest us will determine how we help and love those far away.

On that note, in Mansfield Park, Austen created Fanny Price—an often overlooked heroine, but one who confirms this point. Fanny is not a character many readers love. She is not a heroine who says much or even seems to feel much. But Fanny does much. She takes care of her indolent Aunt Bertram, continually assists her cousins, even taking part in a play she dislikes because it is their wish to continue it, and works time and again towards their welfare rather than her own. Fanny serves her family. She shows love through doing—on a very small stage—and she changes lives.

5. Ahead of her time, Austen recognized the multifaceted benefits of exercise.

I loved playing with this in my new book, The Austen Escape. One character pulls another up from a park bench with the truth, “When there are serious matters to discuss, Austen women walk. And it has the side benefit of keeping our figures so light and pleasing.” (Thank you, Mr. Darcy, for that visual.) Time and time again, Austen reinforced what we know to be true—a good long walk is always a good idea. Need to clear your head? Take a walk outside. Need to gain some perspective or relax? Again, go for a walk. Need exercise to get your heart rate up, purge some anger or avoid an unwanted guest—go walking. Exercise clears the mind, helps sleep, improves your mood, strengthens your bones and muscles and helps prevent disease. What more could we want? Lizzy was Austen’s most famous walker, but Catherine, Emma, Marianne, Fanny and Anne all walked as well. And another benefit? Good things happened on walks. Don’t forget it was during a walk Mr. Knightley proposed to Emma; Darcy to Elizabeth; and after one that Captain Wentworth handed Anne into a carriage and, I say, fell in love with her all over again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little traipse into Austen with me. Bottom line: I contend we still love Austen because Austen is still relevant.

Author Katherine Reay can’t get enough of Jane Austen—and neither can we. Here’s five reasons why.

Review by

edding bells are ringing in Mitford It’s been more than a decade since Jan Karon made the leap from an award-winning career as an advertising executive to try her hand at writing. What a wise decision! Since then, her heartwarming, best-selling series about the delightful North Carolina town of Mitford has enchanted the hearts of millions of readers.

The first book, At Home in Mitford, introduced Episcopal rector Tim Kavanaugh and the village where he lived. Subsequent books followed Father Tim in his daily task of balancing parish and community obligations. His continuing romance with his lovely neighbor Cynthia was also well documented. Karon’s fans know every detail in the lives of Mitford’s colorful cast of characters. There are Web sites devoted to Jan Karon and Mitford, a regular newsletter for fans, and there’s even talk of a television movie. Just one tiny detail has been left out of the stories until now.

We know how Father Tim and Cynthia met and fell in love, and we’ve seen them living the blissful life of a happily married couple. But what happened at their wedding? Karon addresses this consuming curiosity in a new installment of the Mitford story, A Common Life: The Wedding Story (audio, $24.95, ISBN 014180274X), due in stores this month.

Taking her readers back in time, Karon describes of one of the most anticipated weddings in literary history.

The whole town turns out to help Father Tim and Cynthia tie the knot. Esther is making her famous orange marmalade cake, Uncle Billy is practicing his best jokes and young Dooley is to sing the wedding solo. Of course, there are the inevitable wedding-day glitches along the way that will leave readers in stitches by the time the ceremony takes place.

While A Common Life is the shortest book in the Mitford series (at just under 200 pages), it is, as always, a celebration of love, laughter and joy. Devoted fans will be ecstatic to know that a special five-volume boxed set compiling the previous Mitford novels, titled The Mitford Years (Penguin, $64.75, ISBN 0147715962), will also be released this month as a part of the celebration of this series’ phenomenal success.

So get out your hankies, and get ready to laugh and cry as this much-loved duo walks down the aisle.

Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer in Wichita Falls, Texas, who loves a good wedding.

edding bells are ringing in Mitford It’s been more than a decade since Jan Karon made the leap from an award-winning career as an advertising executive to try her hand at writing. What a wise decision! Since then, her heartwarming, best-selling series about the delightful North Carolina town of Mitford has enchanted the hearts of [...]

Review by

Locusts with teeth like lions, breastplates of iron, and a sting whose pain lasts for five months. Two hundred million horsemen riding horses that have heads like lions and breathe fire and sulfur. The latest offering from Stephen King? Not exactly. These are scenes from The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession, the seventh installment in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Left Behind is currently the hottest series in Christian fiction. The first installment, Left Behind, sold one million copies in 39 months. The Indwelling sold one million copies in pre-sales four months prior to publication. Scheduled to total 12 books, the series is enormously popular because it can be read and understood on different levels by many people, from those interested in page-turning suspense to those interested in biblical prophecy.

The series focuses on the lives of the Tribulation Force, a small group left behind to face the Tribulation after the Rapture occurs. The series follows the lives of pilot Rayford Steele, his daughter Chloe Steele Williams, her husband Cameron Buck Williams (a journalist), and Tsion Ben-Judah, a former rabbinical scholar who goes into exile upon his public announcement of Jesus Christ as Messiah. The Indwelling, to be released later this month, picks up where Assassins ends, with the assassination of Nicolae Carpathia, the charismatic leader of the one-world Global Community, who is known by members of the Tribulation Force to be the Anti-Christ. Readers familiar with biblical prophecy can predict some of the events that will occur in The Indwelling. What they can’t predict is how the authors will go about creating the chain of events that ultimately leads to the fulfillment of certain prophecies. LaHaye and Jenkins are masterful storytellers who have managed to translate biblical prophecy into a story that keeps readers intrigued. Were I a prophet, my prophecy would be that The Indwelling will continue the success of the Left Behind series.

Jeff Morris, CPA, is often mistaken for Al Borland of Tooltime fame.

Locusts with teeth like lions, breastplates of iron, and a sting whose pain lasts for five months. Two hundred million horsemen riding horses that have heads like lions and breathe fire and sulfur. The latest offering from Stephen King? Not exactly. These are scenes from The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession, the seventh installment in [...]

Review by

The modern-day nation of Israel is 52 years old this year. That may not mean much to those in the pre-50 age set, but it’s astounding when we consider the lapse of time since the previous Jewish state and the constant boil of ethnic and religious fervor in the region.

Jerusalem Vigil by Brock and Bodie Thoene (prononced Tay’nee) opens on May 14, 1948, the day Israel’s statehood was declared. The novel covers a period of only five days, exploring those first difficult days from the angle of each different ethnic group involved. Jerusalem Vigil initiates the Zion Legacy series, projected to be six titles, each of which will delineate another few days or weeks in this dramatic birth-of-a-nation story. This follows two earlier series, Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant, begun in 1986 and now numbering 32 titles and 6.5 million books in print. The Thoenes’ fiction has garnered seven Gold Medallion Awards from the Christian Booksellers Association over the years.

How did the Thoenes get started on this epic writing venture? The two grew up together in Bakersfield, California, married when they were sophomores in college, and after graduation, went to work in Hollywood as researchers and screenwriters for John Wayne’s Batjac Productions. Their first book together, Gates of Zion, originated as a screenplay to be produced with the makers of the movie Chariots of Fire while they were working at Batjac. In fact, it was John Wayne who encouraged them to create the Zion Chronicles series and who called the birth of the state of Israel the Jewish Alamo. When I talked with the husband-and-wife writing team, I asked why they had chosen the word Zion to title all their series. Also, I wondered, how can they create another good story about the same tensions in the same setting? Brock explained that Zion best expresses both the biblical and prophetic aspects of the city of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, Zion was the name of the fortress conquered by King David prior to the first establishment of Jerusalem. The name connotes an incredible continuity. No other state has gone out of existence and come back centuries later. The Pope has called the establishment of Israel the most significant event of the 20th century, Brock reminded me.

In Jerusalem Vigil the Thoenes present the concentrated chaos of the first five days following the British evacuation mandated by the United Nations to establish a Jewish homeland. Even as the British were on the road to Tel Aviv, Jews and Arabs were positioning and arming themselves for the great land grab in the Old City. The book definitely has a cinematic flavor as scenes shift among the various characters, including Moshe Sachar, commander of forces defending the Jewish sector, and his wife, Rachel, survivor of German prison camps; Ahkmed al-Malik, Arab demolitions expert; and the Mother Superior of the Notre Dame Hospice just outside the city walls.

How did the Thoenes capture the detail that make the scenes so real? The two have gone to Israel time and again to talk with participants in the conflict, many of whom were young teens in 1948. They have researched customs, buildings, and language. Both Hebrew and Arabic are frequently used in dialogue.

We wanted readers to know what happened on an hour-by-hour basis. Although we have created some characters, everything in the book actually happened, Bodie said. In Jerusalem Vigil they provide three maps to help locate the action of the many scenes.

In describing how they write as a team, Brock noted that he is the chief researcher (he has degrees in history and education). You never really get to the end of research. No circumstance is wasted. He develops the outline of events for the novel; then Bodie, the journalist, develops characters and dialogue. When she has finished, Brock reads the scenes back to her since she is dyslexic. At this point she becomes more editor than author.

Now the Thoenes’ three children are involved in all their writing projects. Sons John and Luke have written nine books of their own and collaborate to produce audio versions of their parents’ books (read by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company). The Thoenes’ daughter, Rachel, abridges the text for the audios. Four grandchildren, one born the day of our conversation, are a bit young yet, but no doubt there will be stories for them to research and share as well.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Vigil promises meticulously researched, dramatic reading for today’s historical fiction fans.

Etta Wilson is an agent and reviewer.

The modern-day nation of Israel is 52 years old this year. That may not mean much to those in the pre-50 age set, but it’s astounding when we consider the lapse of time since the previous Jewish state and the constant boil of ethnic and religious fervor in the region.

Jerusalem Vigil by Brock and Bodie [...]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Recent Reviews

Desperation can lead a person to extreme decisions they wouldn’t otherwise countenance. For a parent, what could be more heart-wrenching than the choice to leave one’s child behind and move to another country in search of a better life? That’s the decision made by the title character of Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s follow-up to her assured debut, Here Comes the Sun. But one of the satisfying nuances of her second novel is that this heartache is only partly due to the knowledge that, by emigrating from Jamaica to America, single mother Patsy will leave behind her 6-year-old daughter, Tru.

Author Interviews

Recent Features