55Here are the books I read and reviewed this year that I feel are the best of the best (in no particular order). Enjoy!
The Rhythm of Secrets by Patti Lacy. Since 1955, Sheila Franklin, a talented musician, has perfectly performed the role of devout pastor’s wife, locking away her past as Sheba Alexander and Sylvia Allen. Her carefully constructed façade crumbles with a single phone call from a young Marine named Samuel, the illegitimate son she secretly put up for adoption. Samuel begs Sheila to use her government contacts to get his fiancé, Mali, a Thai prostitute, into America. A dangerous mixture of love and guilt spurs her to help her only child even though it devastates her husband Edward and exposes her questionable past. After a quarrel with Edward, Sheila and Samuel board a C-130 for Thailand and then search Bangkok’s steamy streets for a Madonna-faced prostitute. The two whisk Mali from a brothel but are seized by a warlord who considers Mali his “number one girl.” In a teak “ghost house,” Sheila discovers God’s grace and gains the freedom she needs to find her own identity—Sheila, Sylvia, and Sheba. A framed story, this novel has roots in the bohemian 1940s New Orleans French Quarter and spans three decades, including the turbulent Vietnam era.
The City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell. Will Kiehn is seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest when, having felt a call from God, he travels to the vast North China Plain in the early twentieth-century. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine. They soon find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty that plunges the country into decades of civil war. As the couple works to improve the lives of the people of Kuang P’ing Ch’eng– City of Tranquil Light, a place they come to love–and face incredible hardship, will their faith and relationship be enough to sustain them?
Told through Will and Katherine’s alternating viewpoints–and inspired by the lives of the author’s maternal grandparents–City of Tranquil Light is a tender and elegiac portrait of a young marriage set against the backdrop of the shifting face of a beautiful but torn nation. A deeply spiritual book, it shows how those who work to teach others often have the most to learn, and is further evidence that Bo Caldwell writes “vividly and with great historical perspective” (San Jose Mercury News). (2011 Winner Inspy Award for General Fiction.)
The Miracle Of Mercy Land by River Jordan. Mercy Land has made some unexpected choices for a young woman in the 1930s. The sheltered daughter of a traveling preacher, she chooses to leave her rural community to move to nearby Bay City on the warm, gulf-waters of southern Alabama. There she finds a job at the local paper and spends seven years making herself indispensable to old Doc Philips, the publisher and editor. Then she gets a frantic call at dawn—it’s the biggest news story of her life, and she can’t print a word of it.
Doc has come into possession of a curious book that maps the lives of everyone in Bay City—decisions they’ve made in the past, and how those choices affect the future. Mercy and Doc are consumed by the mystery locked between the pages—Doc because he hopes to right a very old wrong, and Mercy because she wants to fulfill the book’s strange purpose. But when a mystery from Mercy’s past arrives by train, she begins to understand that she will have to make choices that will deeply affect everyone she loves—forever.
Dancing on Glass by Pamela Binnings Ewen. In the steamy city of New Orleans in 1974, Amalise Catoir meets Phillip Sharp, a charming, magnetic artist, unlike any man she has known.
A young lawyer herself, raised in a small town and on the brink of a career with a large firm, she is strong and successful, yet sometimes too trusting and whimsical. Ama’s rash decision to marry Phillip proves to be a mistake as he becomes overly possessive, drawing his wife away from family, friends, and her faith.
His insidious, dangerous behavior becomes her dark, inescapable secret. In this lawyer’s unraveling world, can grace survive Ama’s fatal choice? What would you do when prayers seem to go unanswered, faith has slipped away, evil stalks, and you feel yourself forever dancing on shattered glass?
The Search by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Fifteen years ago, Lainey O’Toole made a split-second decision. She couldn’t have known that her choice would impact so many. Now in her mid-twenties, she is poised to go to culinary school when her car breaks down in Stoney Ridge, the very Amish town in which her long-reaching decision was made, forcing her to face the shadowed past.
Bess Reihl is less than thrilled to be spending the summer at Rose Hill Farm with her large and intimidating grandmother, Bertha. It quickly becomes clear that she is there to work the farm–and work hard. The labor is made slightly more tolerable by the time it affords Bess to spend with the handsome hired hand, Billy Lapp. But he only has eyes for a flirty and curvaceous older girl.
Lainey’s and Bess’s worlds are about to collide. The secrets that come to light will shock them both.
Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer. Marianna Sommer believes she knows where her life is headed. Nineteen years old and Amish, her plan is to get baptized into the church, marry Aaron Zook, and live in the only community she’s ever known.
When Marianna’s family moves from Indiana to Montana she discovers life and faith will never be the same. As she builds an easy friendship with local guy, Ben Stone, Ben not only draws her heart, he also gets her thinking about what loving God and living in community is all about.
Beneath The Night Tree by Nicole Baart. Do I have a child? Julia DeSmit knew she would face the question eventually, but she didn’t expect it now that she is finally content with the way her life has unfolded. A single mother to her son and younger brother, she cherishes living with her beloved grandmother and is hoping to be engaged to Michael Vermeer—the man of her dreams—by year’s end.
Then a cryptic e-mail from her son’s father spins her world off axis. She hasn’t heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot without a backward glance. But one look at her son—the spitting image of his father—is enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story.
Faced with this new reality and the potential unraveling of her unorthodox family, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was, what is, and what she hopes will be in her sanctuary beneath the night tree.
Unconventional by J J Hebert. YOUNG JAMES FROST just knows, deep in his bones, that he’s a writer. He writes far into early mornings, after his wearying hours of scrubbing toilets and sweeping floors. He loves writing that much.
But it’s not only the joy of words that keeps him grinding; it’s his desire to retire the janitor’s mop. He sees being published as the key to living an improved life. James has another deep-seated conviction: that he’s not good enough. He secretly longs to be accepted. However, the conventional others in his life seem all too willing to remind him that he’s wasting his time.
Then he meets and falls in love with Leigh, the one bright spot in his endless misery of self-doubt. A quiet but resolutely religious girl, she has to fight off disapproval of her own from overly critical parents, whose insults are countered by James’s often-voiced admiration of her. Likewise, Leigh’s faith in his talents begins to build his confidence, eventually allowing her to introduce him to a different way to help himself: relying on God.
Ultimately, James’s newfound faith is sorely tested to the point of doubt when his dream to be published seems to melt into a mirage, smothered by countless rejection slips from agents and publishers. His faith is also battered by having to fight highly emotional battles and suffer fear and loss. Just when James appears hopelessly sapped by devastating events, one last door opens, and he’s rocked by an epiphany.
UNCONVENTIONAL is designed to inspire readers to reach for their dreams. Buy this book. Read it. Share it with everyone you know. You—and they—will be glad you did!
People of The Book by Kathi Macias. Eighteen-year-old Farah, who lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wants nothing more than to develop a deeper devotion to her Muslim faith. Then the prophet Isa—Jesus—appears to her in a dream and calls her to Himself.
Her older brother, Kareem, who has never liked Farah, actively seeks to expose her for the sham he believes she is. At the same time, Farah’s 17-year-old cousin, Nura, begins frequenting an online chat room where former Muslims discuss their new Christian faith. While there, Nura meets an American girl of Muslim ancestry—now a devout Christian named Sara. However, Sara has problems of her own due to her 15-year-old brother Emir’s involvement with a gang.
The three girls’ lives dovetail until each finds herself at a place where her faith is put to the test. Will they remain faithful to the end? Will God protect and keep them safe in the midst of persecution and treachery? Or will they be required to pay the ultimate price for their faith?
Friendship Bread by Darien Gee. One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.
Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.
When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.
In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.
About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.
The Reluctant Prophet by Nancy Rue. Allison Chamberlain isn’t much different from other women her age. Forty-something, she still hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. All that changes when, minding her own business during an ordinary church service, she senses a divine nudge from God. And it’s not a typical call from God, either.
Allison suddenly finds herself looking at Harleys and actually taking the steps to have one of her own. In the first book of her new series, The Reluctant Prophet, popular author and speaker Nancy Rue takes readers on the ride of their lives to places only the brave dare to go. (2011 Christy Award Winner — Contemporary Series, 2011 Inspy Award Nominee — General Fiction.)
The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. Flying together on a storm-ravaged night is gifted surgeon Dr. Ben Payne, who is facing an agonizing separation from his wife, and Ashley Knox, a young magazine writer en route to her wedding. When their plane crashes in a frigid and remote mountain wilderness, Ashley and Ben are plunged into a life or death struggle. As the days turn to weeks on the unforgiving mountain, the two heal from their physical wounds, even as they are forced to confront surprising and painful truths. These intimate conversations and their dependence on each other create an extraordinary bond.
The Baker’s Wife by Erin Healy. To save her husband and son, Audrey Bofinger must rescue her enemy.
The Bofinger family has lost their church ministry in a scandal exposed by Officer Jack Mansfield. Hoping to heal and to restore their reputation, Audrey, Geoff, and their son Ed take over a failing bakery in the small community.
Driving to the bakery one morning, blinded by fog, Audrey hits a motor scooter owned by Jack’s wife, Julie. The mangled scooter is crushed and bloody. But Julie is nowhere to be found. Her disappearance coincides with a sudden illness that nearly cripples Audrey.
Jack believes the Bofingers have hurt Julie to take revenge on him, but the evidence dries up and her trail goes cold. At a breaking point, Jack takes the tiny bakery and its patrons hostage, issuing only one demand: Audrey has six hours to return Julie to him, or lose Geoff and Ed forever.
With only an excruciating and intuitive gift, an ex-con, and Julie’s estranged daughter to help search for clues, Audrey starts the search of her life for a woman who has vanished like the fog.
Deliver Me From Evil by Kathi Macias. Deliver Me from Evil introduces readers to Mara, an eighteen-year-old girl who has been enslaved for nearly ten years, having been sold by her parents in Mexico and then smuggled across the border into San Diego where she was forced into sexual slavery. Readers will also meet 18-year-old, Bible-college-bound Jonathan and his 16-year-old sister, Leah, whose paths cross Mara’s and who become involved in her dramatic rescue.
Interwoven between the stories of Mara, Jonathan, and Leah is the heartbreaking story of another young woman in captivity in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, whose past life mysteriously connects to the young people in San Diego.
Heiress by Susan May Warren. The beautiful and wealthy heiress daughters of August Price can buy everything their hearts desire. But what if their desire is to be loved, without an enormous price tag attached? When one sister betrays another for the sake of love, will she find happiness? And what happens when the other sets out across the still untamed frontier to find it–will she discover she’s left it behind in the glamorous world of New York society?
Set in the opulent world of the Gilded Age, each woman discovers that being an heiress just might cost her everything she loves.
The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser. Anne “Perri” Singleton’s world is defined by the security of family, the camaraderie of friends at an exclusive Atlanta girls’ school, and an enviable social life. She isn’t looking for new friends when Mary Dobbs Dillard arrives from Chicago. Besides, “Dobbs,” the passionate and fiercely individualistic daughter of an itinerant minister, is her opposite in every way.
Maximal Reserve by Sam Batterman. Petroleum engineer Phil Channing has only been employed a week when he uncovers the largest oil reserve in history. Using the research of a recently murdered friend, Phil discovers the secret to drilling for it lies in lava tubes under the Dead Sea. But will this knowledge throw off the world’s balance of power?
River’s Song by Melody Carlson. Following her mother’s funeral, and on the verge of her own midlife crisis, widow Anna Larson returns to the home of her youth to sort out her parents’ belongings, as well as her own turbulent life.
For the first time since childhood, Anna embraces her native heritage, despite the disdain of her vicious mother-in-law.
By transforming her old family home on the banks of the Siuslaw River into The Inn at Shining Waters, Anna hopes to create a place of healing—a place where guests experience peace, grace, and new beginnings. Starting with her own family . . .
They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti. When Libby’s husband Greg fails to return from a two-week canoe trip to the Canadian wilderness, the authorities soon write off his disappearance as an unhappy husband’s escape from an empty marriage and unrewarding career. Their marriage might have survived if their daughter Lacey hadn’t died.and if Greg hadn’t been responsible. Libby enlists the aid of her wilderness savvy father-in-law and her faith-walking best friend to help her search for clues to her husband’s disappearance.if for no other reason than to free her to move on. What the trio discovers in the search upends Libby’s presumptions about her husband and rearranges her faith. (2011 Carol Award Finalist — Women’s Fiction.)
Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand. Det. Roland March is a homicide cop on his way out. But when he’s the only one at a crime scene to find evidence of a missing female victim, he’s given one last chance to prove himself. Before he can crack the case, he’s transferred to a new one that has grabbed the spotlight–the disappearance of a famous Houston evangelist’s teen daughter. With the help of a youth pastor with a guilty conscience who navigates the world of church and faith, March is determined to find the missing girls while proving he’s still one of Houston’s best detectives. (Inspy Award Nominee — Suspense.)
Watercolor Summer by Nan Corbitt Allen. Just thirteen, Kathleen feels isolated and alienated by her family. A victim of her parents’ lack of connection to each other and to her, she is dragged by her mother to another artist colony for the summer. There she meets the annoying Malcolm, a sixteen-year-old, mentally-challenged boy living with his caregiver Jeanette. Malcolm tries to befriend Kat, but his very presence annoys her to her core. Kat overhears Jeanette recounting the circumstances surrounding Malcolm’s arrival and abandonment at the colony, and Kat lets the coolness inside her melt just a little. As her heart figuratively begins to melt, Malcolm’s real congenital heart problems become a concern and finally lead to tragedy.
Words by Ginny Yttrup. Kaylee’s mother is gone. And it seems she took Kaylee’s voice with her. Now, ten-year old Kaylee must fend for herself with her mother’s abusive boyfriend. Her days are spent collecting words she may never speak.
Sierra Dawn is alone. She has allowed the shame of her past to silence her present hopes. But on the twelth anniversary of her daughter’s death, God begins wooing her back to Himself.Brought together by Divine design, the relationship between Kaylee and Sierra begins a healing process in each of them as they dare to let the Truth, Jesus Christ, set them free. (Inspy Award Nominee — General Fiction.)
Wayward Son by Tom Pollock, et al. Buried near Italy’s Mount Vesuvius is a fortified observatory containing priceless artifacts dating to the earliest record of human events. Only one person—the Getty Museum’s Amanda James—can unlock the mysterious doors that guard the chamber. But once inside, Amanda is shocked to discover evidence left behind by a notorious Biblical killer—who long ago wandered off the pages of history. When a strange relic unveils the miraculous truth about this villain, Amanda must confront sinister forces intent on suppressing her stunning revelation—before it alters the destiny of millions!
Wayward Son takes the reader back in time where epic adventures in Egypt, Greece, China and Rome collide with modern-day intrigue and suspense. Journey with Amanda and witness the incredible story of the world’s original Wayward Son.
Beyond The Rapids by Evelyn Puerto. Beyondthe Rapids is the true story of Ukrainian pastor Alexei Brynza and his wife, Valentina, who endured persecution in a culture that was hostile to their faith as they struggled to raise their four children as believers.
Spanning the years from the Great Terror of the 1930s to the time when believing in Christ is no longer a crime, this close-knit Ukrainian family quietly persisted through the years, trusting God for everything. The Brynzas’ children, forced to choose between God and the communist system, wrestled with temptations of ambition, popularity, love, and wealth. But God heard the faithful prayers of Alexei and Valentina, and the Brynza family was able to not only survive, but to thrive. Their son-in-law, Igor Yaremchuk, adds his own testimony of coming to Christ with the help of miracles and atheistic propaganda.
Beyond the Rapids is a story for all believers everywhere. Parents—even parents of wayward children—concerned about raising their children as Christians. Believers facing trials, or who are concerned about the erosion of religious freedom and how to stand firm in their faith. The Brynzas’ testimony of God’s faithfulness will give hope and inspiration as you are reminded anew that God is with you, in every moment. And as you sail through the torrents in your own life, God will meet you right where you are and guide you to the smooth water beyond the rapids.