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All Inspirational Fiction Coverage

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.

Patti Callahan weaves a hypnotic historical fiction narrative of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, or “Jack,” as he’s known to his closest friends.

In 1946, Joy is married to an unhappy man and doing her best to raise her two young boys and juggle a writing career. One day in her son’s nursery, her knees hit the floor as a religious experience shakes her to her core, and she decides to write to C.S. Lewis, who loves to answer letters, and ask him all of her questions about God.

Joy is thrilled when Jack responds to her letter, and they start a long conversation across the ocean. When Joy’s health and marriage take a turn for the worse, she leaves home for a trip to England. Joy spends months exploring, writing and caring for herself, and she finally gets to meet her precious Jack and his brother, Warnie. Joy is in her version of heaven, but the skies darken when she learns that her cousin and her husband have fallen in love in her absence. As Joy is forced to return to her tattered American life in an attempt to make things right, she and Jack continue their pen-pal relationship, and she musters up the courage to divorce her husband and move her two boys to England.

Joy’s challenges are likely those of many midcentury women trying to conform to society’s ideas of womanhood and motherhood while also living as individuals with their own dreams and desires. Spanning more than a decade, this slow-burning love story will be especially satisfying to writers and C.S. Lewis fans, as there are many references to his literary canon and his famous stories of Narnia. Callahan’s prose is heartfelt and full of grace.

Patti Callahan weaves a hypnotic historical fiction narrative of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, or “Jack,” as he’s known to his closest friends.

There is nothing like the nervous anticipation of an impending storm to make a person think about all they value in life and how to protect it. In Lauren K. Denton’s new novel, Hurricane Season, the weather is just the beginning of what’s keeping Betsy Franklin awake.

Living on a dairy farm in southern Alabama with the love of her life, Betsy has truly found her happy place. But the ominous weather forecast from the Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only thing ruffling the feathers of her otherwise serene existence—she has also received a call from her younger sister, Jenna, with an unexpected request.

Jenna, a single mother of two and a coffee shop manager in Nashville, has received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rediscover her passion for photography at a world-famous artists’ retreat. Could this be her chance to make something of herself and provide a better life for her daughters, Addie and Walsh? To find out, Jenna’s only option is to give up her job and leave Walsh and Addie in the care of Betsy, with whom she hasn’t exactly been close.

Between Betsy and her husband dealing with their little guests (and their own marriage and unfruitful parenthood) and Jenna chasing her artistic calling (which keeps taking longer and longer), Denton artfully explores the struggle between caring for one’s own dreams and helping someone else achieve theirs. Any reader who values the comfort of family, the possibility of second chances and the simple truths of love and sisterhood will devour Denton’s novel. In many ways, Hurricane Season feels like the calm before a storm that changes everything—for the better.

 

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

There is nothing like the nervous anticipation of an impending storm to make a person think about all they value in life and how to protect it. In Lauren K. Denton’s new novel, Hurricane Season, the weather is just the beginning of what’s keeping Betsy Franklin awake.

Something strange is going on in Bellhaven, South Carolina, an exurb of Charleston. It’s the spring of 1920, and everything is blooming at once. That means the Carolina jessamine, the honeysuckle, daffodils, dogwoods, azaleas, crepe myrtles and magnolias. The whole town looks like a Monet painting. If you’re familiar with the South, you know that just doesn’t happen. But here it is in James Markert’s tale of destiny and good versus evil in the Low Country.

Another bright, strange thing is the town itself. It’s multiracial, like many historical Southern towns, but everyone is equal. The African-American friends of the white protagonist, Ellsworth Newberry, feel free to come into his home and call him by his first name. The town hosts a congenial jumble of the Abrahamic religions and their offshoots. One character calls Bellhaven the highway to heaven, and it just may be. It seems that everything bad that happens here comes from the outside, like an infection.

One of these pathogens is a strange little chapel in the woods just outside of town. At first, it’s in a place of surpassing beauty, with blossoming trees and singing birds. Inside, the very air is fresh and invigorating, and people who enter hear the voices of their deceased loved ones, granting them forgiveness. The townspeople long to believe this is unalloyed goodness, but it isn’t. It’s “fool’s gold,” as Ellsworth says, a trick of the devil that must be resisted.

All Things Bright and Strange feels like an allegory, probably a religious one. Consider that four of the main characters are named Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. Then again, it might be an allegory of the evils of slavery and genocide, as the chapel is a place where slaves and Native Americans were tortured and killed. It may even be an allegory of drug addiction, as the need to revisit the chapel becomes a nearly irresistible craving. It may be all three. Whatever is going on, this magical novel warns us to be careful what we wish for. We may get it.

Something strange is going on in Bellhaven, South Carolina, an exurb of Charleston. It’s the spring of 1920, and everything is blooming at once. That means the Carolina jessamine, the honeysuckle, daffodils, dogwoods, azaleas, crepe myrtles and magnolias. The whole town looks like a Monet painting. If you’re familiar with the South, you know that just doesn’t happen. But here it is in James Markert’s tale of destiny and good versus evil in the Low Country.

Millions of Mitford fans will herald the arrival of the 14th novel in Jan Karon’s inspirational series.

In To Be Where You Are, readers return to the utterly charming small town of Mitford, where three generations of Kavanaghs face life’s challenges while planning for a celebration to remember.

What are you most excited to share with readers of your new book?
If I sat down to the keyboard and really tried, I could not write anything that isn’t redemptive. That’s just what flows from my spring. I guess the pool game near the end of To Be is what I’ve been writing toward through 14 novels. Without forgiveness of others and ourselves, our lives get stuck. The flow stops. The heart puts on its bitter armor.

Which Mitford inhabitant do you think is most like you?
Saul Bellow said, “Fiction is the higher autobiography.” My characters are all like me, even Miss Rose, now gone to her Reward. There is no way around it. Even the dogs and occasional cat are like me, especially Gus in To Be . . . oh, and Harley, of course. True!

Why do you think American readers are so enchanted by stories about small-town life?
Small towns are where people are more or less forced to be together in a type of intimacy. We starve, I think, for close community. The Brits are notoriously enchanted by what they call their “village novel.” As for us, we love Lake Wobegon, Mitford, etc., because they feel more intimate, more idyllic, which they are. Small-town life is not only the way we were, it’s the way we still are if you go out there and look for it. Though we can’t always live in a village, the good news is we can live in one for three or four days, between the covers of a book.

You’ve said before that “Mitford can be real,” if we all do our part. Where do you see Mitford in the world around you?
Hardly anyone believes me when I say that Mitford is everywhere; it is portable, we carry it with us if we choose to. Just be thoughtful of and really interested in others. And hear this: Listen. That is a great start to discovering that Mitford is everywhere you go. I promise.

What advice do you have about seeking joy when life is hardest?
What I try to remember in the hard places, as well as the soft, is to give thanks. Because nothing is wasted. Even the suffering will be made to count for something important, and to our greater benefit.

Several of your characters love to quote famous thinkers and writers. What’s your favorite quote these days?
Oh, so many gorgeous quotes out there swimming around in the literary soup! I once inscribed this on my wall with a Magic Marker, and it remains fresh and true in every season of my life: “Whatever you would do, begin it. Boldness has courage, genius and magic in it.”—Goethe

Your Mitford novels are a source of positivity and comfort for so many. What do you turn to for the same?
King David’s amazing psalms. And not only could he write, he was a versatile musician and ardent dancer.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of To Be Where You Are.

Author photo by Candace Freeland

Millions of Mitford fans will herald the arrival of the 14th novel in Jan Karon’s inspirational series.

BookPage IcebreakerThis BookPage Icebreaker is sponsored by Thomas Nelson.


Indiana-based author Colleen Coble is the author of several bestselling Christian romantic suspense series, all set in unforgettable locations. But the Rock Harbor books, which began with her breakout novel, Without a Trace, might be her most beloved work. 

In Beneath Copper Falls, Coble's long-awaited return to the small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Dana Newell tries to start over after fleeing an abusive relationship. Here, she reunites with series heroine Bree Matthews as Dana tentatively explores a relationship with a new friend, Boone. But there's a murderer on the loose who preys on vulnerable women—romancing them, proposing marriage and then murdering them. When Dana's ex-boyfriend follows her to Rock Harbor and begins threatening to destroy her new life, she and Bree will have to sort through Dana's past and the dangers of the present to unmask the killer.  

Bree has been the heroine in several of the Rock Harbor books—when did you make the decision to split the focus between her and Dana?
I made that flip before in a previous book, Abomination, that’s been re-released as Haven of Swans, and readers loved that. Because I write romantic mysteries, not that you can’t have romance with married characters, but you have to have a problem usually! So I decided to have Dana return to Rock Harbor, looking for help from Bree, and that worked out pretty well, I think. I think readers are going to enjoy Dana’s story, but they’re also going to get to see what’s going on with Bree, Kade and the kids.

Did you find yourself approaching chapters from Dana and Bree’s perspective differently? Was it useful to have two viewpoints?
One of the things I typically do when I’m writing is decide who has the most to lose, because that ups your stakes. I brought Bree in for the scenes where she’s really afraid for Dana, and I felt that really helped the reader realize just how much danger Dana is in. Sometimes it helps to have another perspective, and as Bree’s had some experience with dangerous people, she was able to carry that. And I was able to show their friendship and bring in the search dog angle that my readers love so well.

When did you first visit the Upper Peninsula and what was it that captured your attention and made you set a series there?
My husband and I love to vacation up there, so we knew about it before I wrote the series. When I read a magazine article about search and rescue in Yellowstone, I thought I wanted a wilderness area, but I wanted somewhere that isn’t as well known. Then all of a sudden I thought, “Oh, the UP!” I could have put it anywhere in the UP, but as I was researching I stumbled across the fact that the Keweenaw region was settled by Finns. My best friend in high school was a Finnish foreign exchange student, I’ve been to Finland, we hosted her daughter as a Finnish foreign exchange student—it was like it was meant to be. I was led to a perfect spot!

I always try to make sure that I go wherever I’m setting a series, because you never really know exactly what that culture is like and what it’s like in that area unless you are actually visiting there. So I hit small local cafes and coffee shops and just sit around, listen to people talk and try to immerse myself in that. And the UP is almost like stepping back in time. It’s a very low population and the people are lovely!

“I look around and there’s no justice in the world, but by golly, I can make sure it happens in my books!”

Have you done any of the ice-climbing and other outdoor activities the characters do in the series?
I have done some of that! Not the ice-climbing [laughs]. When I was writing the second book in the Rock Harbor series, Beyond a Doubt, I wanted to experience what a winter was like up there, so we went up in February. It was the coldest winter they had had in 10 or 15 years. It was unbelievably cold! My husband looked at me and said, “Maybe you ought to think about writing a series someplace warm next time” [laughs]. But it is really something up there. It is just an amazing wonderland during the winter.

Did you have to decompress after spending so much time writing from the perspective of a serial killer and a domestic abuser in Beneath Copper Falls? Does it get to you at all?
It doesn’t really get to me because I know they’re going to get their just desserts! People sometimes ask me, “Why do you write this stuff?” and I think it’s because I have a really strong sense of justice. I look around and there’s no justice in the world, but by golly, I can make sure it happens in my books!

Was the Groom Reaper, the serial murderer in Beneath Copper Falls, inspired by any real-life killers?
It really wasn’t. I got to thinking how to tie the hero to the heroine, by having his sister being previously killed. So then I got to thinking, “How would that play out?” I thought it was an intriguing premise, that these women never measure up [for the killer], and so he has to dispose of them and move on the next one. In fact, my critique partner, the romance writer Denise Hunter, came up with the name, which was just perfect!

You’re already balancing mystery and romance in your books. As a Christian writer, how do you mix in your faith while making sure all three elements are balanced?
You know, I have always said that it doesn’t matter who the writer is, you will always pick up their worldview. I could no more write a story that didn’t have a faith element than I could breathe, because that’s who I am. And so it comes out in the story in a very natural way. The thing is, it’s usually not planned. And early on in my career I would think, “OK, I’m going to have this spiritual element.” Well, my characters never obeyed or followed through with what I had planned! They always had their own issues that they were dealing with.

In my books, it’s not a salvation message usually. It’s more people like me, dealing with things I deal with. If I’m dealing with an issue with forgiveness, for example. Maybe there’s somebody I’ve had to come to grips with who doesn’t like me, and I’ve got to go through that. Or loss, or figuring out how I fit in the world. I never want to write a character who comes across as having it all together, because I sure don’t have it all together! In the first book, Without a Trace, Bree is searching for a plane that went down while carrying her husband and her little boy.  She’s dealing with a lot of guilt about what she could have done better, and whether it was her fault because [she and her husband had] had an argument. I deal with guilt sometimes, too, that I didn’t do enough or I don’t do enough. I think we as women deal with that in particular—we feel like we should be able to do it all, and the reality is, no one can.

And yes the romance has to balance in there too, along with the mystery. We did a survey about one or two years ago to see why readers pick up my books. It came out that they really loved the mystery and they loved the emotional relationship stuff going on. So I try to keep that balance. A lot of people who write romance have the hero and heroine hating one another. I’m not that way. My romance is more where they’re having to work together and they have some conflicts because of personalities and who they are, but they’re attracted to one another. I don’t write your traditional romance where you have a black moment and they’re going to break up. That’s just not my thing. I write more of a women’s fiction—relationships and how they can be broken and how they can be fixed.

Are there any books in the Rock Harbor series that you look back on now and see something that was going on your life that made it into the book without you realizing it?
Oh, yes. And that’s another thing that a lot of people have asked, whether I plot my books. And I don’t. I start off with an interesting premise, and I usually do not know who the villain is. I lay down rabbit trails and see where it and the characters take me. The character decides, and I know that sounds crazy [laughs]! “You’re the writer, don’t you know what your characters are going to do?” and by golly, I don’t! I’ll be writing along and those characters will go off in a direction I didn’t even know they knew how to do.

And so those themes that come out in the novel, I usually don’t know what direction they are going in. I start off with an interesting premise, and I see how it plays out in the character’s life. And they tell me the theme and the theme develops. When I reach the end of the novel, I see it, and then I can go back and strengthen that in the editing process.

So how does that work, not knowing who the villain is in the first draft? You must have to go back and fix or omit a lot of things in the subsequent drafts!
Exactly. And I’ve written a couple of books where I plotted it out. I tell you what, it was so not fun! Because I knew what was going to happen. If I knew what was going to happen, then why write the book? I might as well just forget it, because I want to be on a journey too!

There are so many plot elements to put together while writing a mystery. Does not knowing who the killer is in your first draft make the process easier for you? By not having that pressure to make it all fit together?
It does for me. But what I always tell aspiring writers, is that there’s no one right way to write. Everybody comes at a story differently. There are some people who must have it plotted out. They’re paralyzed and they can’t write it otherwise. My process is not like that. Anyone who says, “You must write this way,” turn around and walk away, because they don’t understand writing! We are not all wired the same, we just aren’t.

I found the character of Lori, who is younger and less settled in her life than the other characters, very interesting and sympathetic. You nailed how some people develop in fits and starts. Will we see her take center stage in a Rock Harbor novel eventually?
I do want to have her center stage. I’ve waited a while, because she’s still pretty young and my characters tend to be more in their late 20s. I almost did [write a book about] her this time, but I thought, “No, I’m going to wait one more book.” She’s always been a very interesting character to me. I’ve always loved her even when she was really a brat at the beginning of the series! But she’s progressed further than I even thought she was going to. She’s getting there! I think we all see ourselves in her a lot, because we all mess up.

Do you know what the premise of Lori’s story is going to be yet, or are you going to let it surprise you?
I don’t know yet, but it will definitely involve murder [laughs].

 

Author photo credit Amber Zimmerman, Clik Chick Photography.

Colleen Coble returns to her beloved Rock Harbor series with Beneath Copper Falls. Sponsored by Thomas Nelson.

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