Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zora & Nicky: A Novel in Black and White by Claudia Mair Burney

Today I'm featuring a book by new-to-me author, Claudia Mair Burney.

First, the back cover copy:

Two Hearts, One God.

Should Anything Else Matter?

Zora Nella Hampton Johnson knows exactly where she comes from—and her daddy won't let her forget. Of course for that privilege he keeps her in Prada and Kate Spade, Coach and YSL. He chooses her boyfriend, her car, her address, and ignores her love of painting, art, and the old ways of her grandaddy's soulful AME church—where the hymns pleaded, cajoled, and raised the roof. Her daddy may be a preacher, but some-where among the thousands of church members, the on-site coffee house, and the JumboTron, Zora lost God. And she wants Him back.

Nicky Parker, a recent graduate of Berkeley and reformed playboy, also suffers the trials of being a preacher's kid, and he can't remember the last time he saw eye-to-eye with his white, racist, Southern Baptist father. What he does remember—and it will be forever burned in his brain despite myriad prayers to Jesus—is the way Zora looked the first time he saw her. Like Nefertiti. Only better. When they meet at a bible study far from their respective home churches, the first churlish, sarcastic sparks that fly sizzle with defensiveness. But God has a special way of feeding the flames and though of different flocks, these two lost sheep will find Him and much, much more.

And now for my review:

Wow. Where to begin? I’ll give you the phrase which I began the book with, an endorsement from Liz Curtis Higgs. She wrote: “Zora and Nicky isn’t safe. But it’s good.”

The book is listed as a Fiction: General. But I’d call it a romance with a lot more going on.

I hadn’t read Mair’s earlier work so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew is the cover intrigued me, front and back. I was drawn to interrupt my TBR (to be read) pile and devour it. And that’s exactly how it happened. I read it very quickly because Mair’s story seizes you and doesn’t relent.

Mair boldly tackles issues of racism, religion, sexuality, family, poverty, and I’m sure so much more that you will see yourself on the pages (whether you want to or not). One of Mair’s very effective tools in Zora & Nicky was the use of first-person, present-tense writing, in each main character’s POV – the hero and the heroine. You read the words in first person, “I” language, and it’s like holding a mirror up to your soul. Ugh! What we might see there. I think that’s why the book rings so true based on reviews and endorsements. And though I didn't always agree with the author's position on all of those subjects listed above, the story would not let me go.

This book isn’t for everyone, and yet it fairly represents the human condition of prejudice, even if we hate it about ourselves. Of temptation even while we’re seeking God with all our hearts.

If you’re looking for a read that is way outside the box in Christian fiction, and if you’re open to conviction by the Holy Spirit (on more than one level, likely), get ahold of this book. Let it change you.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sweetwater Gap by Denise Hunter

Today I’m featuring Denise Hunter’s Sweetwater Gap, a Women of Faith title.

Here is the back cover copy:

A story of love and second chances. She wished she could go back and change things . . . but life doesn't give do-overs. Could anything but good-byes be waiting on the other side of Sweetwater Gap?

Josie Mitchell's sister Laurel thinks she's come home to pitch in with the apple harvest and save the family orchard. Her brother-in-law Nate thinks she's there to talk the overworked, very pregnant Laurel into finally selling the family business. The orchard's new manager Grady Mackenzie just thinks she's trouble with a capital T. They're all right . . . and all wrong. Because no one really knows what drove Josie from home in the first place. Why she's never come home before, even for her own father's funeral. Why she pushes herself so hard . . . and what she's running from. And nobody, not even Josie, is prepared for the surprising new fruit she'll find on her last trip home.

And now, my review:

Who doesn’t wish they could go back and fix something from their past? But if we could go back, would we have the courage to face the truth?

Josie is faced with returning to her home after avoiding the orchard for years. But for her sister, she’ll return. Now she has to face her past as well as the negative consequences of her beliefs about the past. She has a choice—to put the past to rest and embrace life, or give up on life because her past was so painful (for which she blames herself).

Denise’s stories always draw me in. She is a gifted story-teller. Her books prompt soul-searching, which is a key element of good Christian fiction. Readers put themselves in the shoes of her heroine and ask themselves tough questions: would I have the courage to face the situation? Have I truly embraced life? Those are two of the questions I asked myself while reading Sweetwater Gap.

I highly recommend Sweetwater Gap. This story will minister to you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Blue Enchantress by M.L. Tyndall

I enjoyed M.L. Tyndall's first series: The Legacy of the King's Pirates, so I was excited to read her book The Blue Enchantress for review.

First, the back cover copy:

Trying to forget about a painful past, Hope Westcott plunges into Charles Towne society trying to find love and acceptance. Captain Nathaniel Mason is determined to build his shipping business and doesn't need a romantic entanglement--especially with a woman like Hope. When Hope's adventure-seeking puts her freedom--and her life--in jeopardy, will Nathaniel turn his back or follow God's voice and sacrifice everything to save her?

And now my review:

From her first pirate novel, The Redemption, I’ve enjoyed M.L. Tyndall’s writing.

One element which stands out is spiritual warfare. She uses figures or symbols to represent evil in her stories. I like how this helps round out a reader’s understanding of her characters—helping readers be sympathetic to her characters, making sense of their decisions. By depicting this influence on her struggling characters you see the depths of their bondage until their conversion. A realistic depiction which I haven’t seen in other Christian romantic fiction. In this way, M.L.’s writing stands out. Also, by including this element, her romance doesn’t come across as quite so formulaic.

Although I didn’t enjoy The Blue Enchantress as much as her Legacy of the King’s Pirates series books, I still appreciated her well-drawn characters and realistic spiritual depiction. I’d read M.L.’s books again. Her aquatic settings and pirate characters always fully engage my imagination.

Learn more at M.L's Web site.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth

I'm excited today to feature Mary DeMuth's "A Slow Burn." Here's the back cover copy before I share my review:

She touched Daisy’s shoulder. So cold. So hard. So unlike Daisy.

Yet so much like herself it made Emory shudder.

Burying her grief, Emory Chance is determined to find her daughter Daisy’s murderer—a man she saw in a flicker of a vision. But when the investigation hits every dead end, her despair escalates. As que
stions surrounding Daisy’s death continue to mount, Emory’s safety is shattered by the pursuit of a stranger, and she can’t shake the sickening fear that her own choices contributed to Daisy’s disappearance. Will she ever experience the peace her heart longs.

The second book in the Defiance, Texas Trilogy, this suspenseful novel is about courageous love, the burden of regret, and bonds that never break. It is about the beauty and the pain of telling the truth. Most of all, it is about the power of forgiveness and what remains when shame no longer holds us captive.

And now my review:

In her acknowledgements, Mary mentions being challenged to “dig deeper” in the telling of this tale. As you read, you see her doing just that. The depths of one woman’s despair after the disappearance of her only daughter is haunting, poignant. (See book one—“Daisy Chain”—the precursor to “A Slow Burn.”) You watch her fall again and again, desperate for relief from her burdens of guilt. I have not lived the life of Mary’s heroine, have not experienced the same hardships or made the same mistakes, still I found myself asking personal questions of the woman in the mirror. Questions about leaving regrets untended or loving those around me 100%. Questions I could not answer like I’d like.

Isn’t that what great fiction does? Makes you ask those deeper questions. Takes you someplace emotionally heartbreaking to offer you hope in the midst of your analysis. Mary’s contrast of good versus evil, of despair versus hope, of death versus life will have your mind munching as you read, but also after you finish. This was the strength of the first book, a power which continues through this second book.

And whether you appreciate the inner journey her books take you on or not, there is one sure thing: you won’t be able to put the book(s) down. Mary’s prose, pacing and mysteries keep you reading. Longing for book three.

I can’t fail to mention her symbolism—the setting of “Defiance, Texas,” the hero’s placing his coat over the heroine, pursuing her and loving the unlovable, protecting her—loved how all these items (and more) increased my enjoyment of this read.

Mary DeMuth is a speaker and the author of three parenting books and four novels, her latest entitled A Slow Burn. As a book mentor, she helps aspiring writers seeking publication at Mother of three, pet owner of two and wife of one, she lives in Texas. Find out more at

Readers: on October 23, Mary will appear on Seriously Write, a blog I co-host with Dawn Kinzer. Come have a look. She's going to share her "success story" in writing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bluegrass Christmas by Allie Pleiter

Please welcome guest blogger Allie Pleiter today to share about story inspiration as well as her new release "Bluegrass Christmas."

Rabbit Trails
by Allie Pleiter

Where do stories come from? Because of the . . . shall we say, unusual . . . nature of my stories, I get asked this all the time. Exactly where do opera singing cockatoos and cartoon owls and men in masks who dash around
San Francisco’s 19th century streets come from?

I’m not really sure. And part of me doesn’t want to look to closely at this process, for fear I’ll spoil the wonder. But it is part of the great, marvelous mystery of writing for me, and I’d guess, many writers. We create worlds, people, and situations out of thin air. God hands us the ball and tells us to run with it. Or maybe just to play with it for a while.

But how does the “ball” get “handed”? The best answer I can give is “rabbit trails.” I’m off to a museum today in search of just such a rabbit trail. Some little detail that gives life to the all important “what if” question from which all stories spring. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I’ll know the moment I find it. For My So-Called Love Life it was a cartoon voice, and a wondering what it was like to be behind that voice. For an upcoming book it was the true story of a postmaster’s compassion and valor during the
San Francisco earthquake. For Bluegrass Hero, it was an ad for an artisan soap. Sometimes the details are crucial story elements, other times they’re just the portal to a character’s world. I like to think I find them, but it’s really more accurate to say they find me. Or, more precisely, that I pray God sends them and He always does.

For my current book, Bluegrass Christmas, it was a toy commercial. And then I got to thinking about the song in the commercial, and the person behind the song...and so on.

No good story starts out with a sweeping plot line. Just a tiny detail, a single object, an insightful question. Add imagination, time, a set of fingers poised over a keyboard or around a pen, and stir . . .

Bluegrass Christmas released October 1st.

An Old Fashioned Christmas . . .

That’s what led new believer Mary Thorpe to start over in quaint Middleburg, Kentucky. As director of the church’s Christmas pageant, Mary’s job is to bring the townspeople together, to remind them what the season is really about. But everyone is all riled up over one very handsome man: the man daring to run against Middleburg’s popular long-standing mayor. Mac MacCarthy wants change. Mary wants things to stay as they are. Is there a happy medium? Both Mac and Mary are in for one very big Christmas surprise.

Enthusiastic but slightly untidy mother of two, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction. An avid knitter, harp player, and non-reformed chocoholic, she spends her days writing books, doing laundry, running carpools, and finding new ways to avoid housework. Allie grew up in Connecticut, holds a BS in Speech from Northwestern University and currently lives in suburban Chicago. The "dare from a friend" to begin writing eight years ago has blossomed into a career that includes numerous public speaking engagements, two books on parenting; BECOMING A CHIEF HOME OFFICER and FACING EVERY MOM'S FEARS, and now novels for Steeple Hill. She is the mother of two children and, most recently, a Havanese dog named Bella.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Christian Fiction Releases - October, 2009

Happy Autumn! Here are the latest Christian fiction releases as compiled by American Chrisian Fiction Writers.

1. A Star Curiously Singing, The DarkTrench Saga, Book 1, by Kerry Nietz from Marcher Lord Press. An augmented human programmer is sent to space to solve the mystery of a bot’s destruction.

2. Double Take, by Jenness Walker from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. When a stalker becomes obsessed with a woman, the key to stopping him lies in a best-selling thriller…until he stops going by the book.

3. Dreaming of Home, by Glenna Kaye from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Two wounded hearts must learn to trust that God's dreams for them far exceed any they may have for themselves.

4. Eternity Falls - A Rick Macey Cyberthriller, Book 1 of the Rick Macey Cyberthriller series, by Kirk Outerbridge from Marcher Lord Press. A cyber-enhanced detective must stop a religious zealot from destroying a serum for eternal life.

5. Gripped By Fear, Chicago Warrior Thriller Series, 2nd book, by John M. Wills from Total Recall. Chgo Detectives hunt a serial rapist in the mean streets of Chicago in the midst of personal struggles.

6. Leaving Yesterday, by Kathryn Cushman from Bethany House. A mother rejoices at the return of her prodigal, but is faced with an impossible decision as evidence from his past refuses to stay buried.

7. Loves Finds You in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, by Lauralee Bliss from Summerside Press. Set in the Guilded Age within the beauty of New Hampshire's White Mountains, successful artist Tom Haskins and penniless Sara McGee discover through their circumstacnes that the most precious gifts of life and love don't always come as they're expected.

8. Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska, by Loree Lough from Summerside Press. A story that's sure to warm your heart, despite the icy Alaskan setting!

9. Love is a Battlefield, Book One in the Walk in the Park series, by Annalisa Daughety from Barbour Publishing. War rages again at Shiloh, but this time it’s a battle of the heart.

10. Seaside Letters, by Denise Hunter from Thomas Nelson. Sabrina Kincaid didn't intend to fall for Nantucket native Tucker McCabe, the man she serves coffee to every morning-a man tied deeply to a past she deeply regrets. But she has. And she's fallen hard. But she's kept this a secret from her handsome customer. And now Tucker wants to hire Sabrina to help locate his friend "Sweetpea"-the mysterious woman he's falling in love with online. Sabrina is not inclined to help, but if Tucker hires someone else, it could spell disaster. Because if someone else sifts through the emails and figures out the truth-then Tucker will discover that the person he's trying to find is . . . her. (NOTE: see my review of this awesome book on 9/29/09)

11. Soldier Daddy, Wings of Refuge Series-book 5-all standalones, by Cheryl Wyatt from Steeple Hill. A USAF Pararescue Jumper searches for a nanny for his twins and instead finds a future with a woman harboring a secret tied to his past.

12. The Case of the Mystified M.D., Book 2, Bouncing Grandma Mysteries, by A.K. Arenz from Sheaf House. First a foot, now a hand--what body part is next?

13. The Christmas Journey, by Winnie Griggs from Steeple Hill Love Inspired.

14. The Jewel of his Heart, Heart of the West Series, by Maggie Brendan from Revell. Discover the classic struggle between the world's wealth and the lure of eternal love in this Western story of elegance and survival.

15. The Matchmaking Pact, After the Storm #4, by Carolyn Aarsen from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. A single father and a single mother have to deal with matchmaking children.

16. Thirsty, by Tracey Bateman from Waterbrook. “Deep, cutting, an intoxicating blend of human and supernatural, of characters scarred by the past, drained by life. This is the book I’ve waited for.”

17. Trial By Fire, by Cara Putman from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. When an arsonist targets her family, Tricia has to find him before harm is done without losing her heart to a fireman.