Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, September 2015

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the September 2015 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by! Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place. Please consider subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss future posts.

Today I’m providing information on Christian fiction discussions scheduled to take place around the web this month. I’m also featuring a handful of recently released Christian fiction titles for which a discussion guide is available, either included in the book itself or on the author’s or publisher’s web site. Then I’ll wrap up the post with a discussion question I’d like you to chime in on.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s September selection is Gone Without a Trace by Patricia Bradley. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

For September, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Gods and Kings (Chronicles of the Kings #1) by Lynn Austin AND The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The #HedlundChallenge2015 features discussion of one of author Jody Hedlund’s historical fiction novels each month. The discussion is hosted in alternating months by Jamie of Books and Beverages and Cassie of Bookshelves and Windows. For September, participants will be discussing A Noble Groom at Cassie’s blog beginning September 22 (discussion details here and here).

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of September is Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis. Discussion is scheduled to begin on September 16th.

The Cherished Book Club, the Christian Fiction Book Club, and the  Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group are taking breaks from discussion for the time being.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

Counting on a Cowboy by Debra Clopton (August 2015, Thomas Nelson, Western Romance)

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke (August 2015, Tyndale House, Historical Fiction)

When Love Returns by Kim Vogel Sawyer (September 2015, WaterBrook Press, Amish Romance)

Let’s Chat!

Recently, some of the online Christian fiction discussion groups I follow have been taking breaks from discussion. Perhaps for busy schedules? One group cited lack of participation. Does your group (online or off) like to do anything differently during busy seasons of the year like summertime and the Christmas season? Or do you keep the same schedule throughout the year?

Book Review: Trial by Twelve by Heather Day Gilbert

Title: Trial by Twelve
Author: Heather Day Gilbert
Published: May 2015
Genre: Mystery, Christian Fiction
Series: A Murder in the Mountains, Book 2

About the Book (from Goodreads):

Tess Spencer loves her low-key job at the Crystal Mountain Spa, which allows her plenty of down-time with her one-year old daughter and lawyer husband, Thomas. But when a pool installation turns up eight skeletons in the spa’s back yard, Tess becomes entangled in a sleuthing job destined to go awry.

As the investigation gets underway, someone dumps a fresh body near the excavated burial site, confirming unspeakable fears. A serial killer has returned to Buckneck, West Virginia…a skilled hunter with a unique taste in prey.

When Tess agrees to help the cunning Detective Tucker gather clues from the inside, she discovers the posh spa hides more than dead bodies. Even as she sifts through layers of deceit, Tess realizes too late that the killer’s sights have zeroed in on her.

Unpredictable psychological mystery replete with memorable characters, Trial by Twelve is Book Two in A Murder in the Mountains series.

My Thoughts on the Book:

Mystery lovers and fans of Christian fiction take note, Trial by Twelve is one story not to be missed. This second installment in Heather Day Gilbert’s A Murder in the Mountains series delivers a classic amateur sleuthing mystery, populated by fascinating characters in a vivid setting. There’s even a fun Nancy Drew reference, comparing Tess, Charlotte, and Rosemary to amateur sleuth Nancy Drew and her sidekicks George and Bess.

In my review of Miranda Warning (the first title in this series), I already mentioned how much I like the strong and spunky Tess Spencer as heroine, with her dry sense of humor and down-to-earth relatability. But it bears repeating, because this book features that same charming and witty Tess confronting a brand new mystery. Her present tense first person telling has a very personable quality to it, making the reader feel like a friend. And her interactions with her adorable daughter, friends, in-laws, and of course her handsome hubby provide just the right counterpoint to the tension (and danger!!!) accompanying the mystery she’s investigating.

With the discovery of a number of old skeletons and a collection of creepy letters presumed to have been written by the killer, there’s plenty to draw the reader into the mystery. There’s one letter included at the beginning of each of the early chapters, complete with hints that could lead to the identity of the killer. But with plenty of plausible suspects in close proximity, I was kept guessing right along with Tess. And while I did suspect the actual killer, I also suspected about half the people Tess came into contact with, so I can’t really claim to have solved this one. LOL!

I enjoyed reading this mystery from beginning to end, and look forward to accompanying Tess and her friends and family on future sleuthing escapades.

Thank you to the author for providing an advance reader copy free of charge for reviewing.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Web Site

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, August 2015

Three for the Books, August 2015

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot Off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of these featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin releases this month from Revell. This historical romance, set during World War II is the first book in the Waves of Freedom series.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More New Releases

Topping the Charts

The romantic suspense novel, Taken by Dee Henderson appears on both the ECPA Christian Fiction Best Sellers list and the CBA Fiction Best Sellers list for August 2015. It released in April 2015 from Bethany House with print and electronic editions. There’s also an audio edition available from Brilliance Audio that’s narrated by Adam Verner.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Best Sellers

Cream of the Crop

Iscariot by Tosca Lee won the 2014 ECPA Christian Book Award in Fiction. This Biblical fiction book was published in February 2013 by Howard Books, and is also available in audio format from Simon & Schuster Audio, narrated by Jason Culp.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Award Winners

Audiobook Review: Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell

Title: Like a Flower in Bloom
Author: Siri Mitchell
Narrator: Elizabeth Sastre
Published: January 2015 by Bethany House (print) and Recorded Books (audio)
Genre: Historical Romance, Inspirational Fiction
Duration: 10 hours, 28 minutes. Unabridged.

About the Book (from the Publisher):

He Stole the Work She Loved. Will She Let Him Steal Her Heart as Well?

It’s all her uncle’s fault. For years Charlotte Withersby has been free to pursue her love of plants and flowers by assisting her botanist father. But now that she’s reached the old age of twenty-two, an intrusive uncle has convinced her father that Charlotte’s future–the only proper future for a woman–is to be a wife and mother, not a scholar.

Her father is so dependent on her assistance that Charlotte believes he’ll soon change his mind…and then Edward Trimble shows up. A long-time botany correspondent in the South Pacific, Trimble arrives ready to step in as assistant so that Charlotte can step out into proper society–a world that baffles her with its unwritten rules, inexplicable expectations, and confounding fashion.

Things aren’t perfectly smooth between Trimble and her father, so Charlotte hatches a last gasp plan. She’ll pretend such an interest in marriage that the thought of losing her will make her father welcome her back. Only things go quickly awry, and she realizes that the one man who recognizes her intelligence is also the person she’s most angry with: Edward Trimble, her supposed rival. Suddenly juggling more suitors than she knows what to do with, Charlotte is caught in a trap of her own making. Will she have no choice but to leave her beloved flowers behind?

My Thoughts on the Story:

Like a Flower in Bloom is a lively and entertaining historical romance that points out the absurdities in certain expectations of Victorian society, while drawing attention to the challenges women faced in pursuing and being recognized for scientific inquiry during that time period.

The heroine, Charlotte Withersby, is a little sheltered and a little clueless when it comes to the proper way to behave in polite society. Which makes her attempts to fit in long enough to find a proper husband (or at least appear to be searching for one) both a little awkward and utterly hilarious.

The first-person viewpoint from which Charlotte tells her story displays her naivety perfectly against the socially polished “fine young fellow” hired to usurp her position as her father’s assistant in his scientific endeavors. But the usurper, Mr. Trimble turns out to be an entertaining character in his own right, and the banter between them makes for some of the best parts of the book.

I also found myself fascinated by the glimpse into the intersection of Victorian society and the study of botany, and I absolutely loved the details of Charlotte’s various “rambles.” Reading about them made me want to go on a ramble of my own, and maybe pay a little extra attention to the flora I encounter along the way. :)

Highly recommended for fans of humorous historical romance.

Specific to the Audio Edition:

Elizabeth Sastre’s lovely British accent gave this audiobook just the right Victorian flavor. And her characters, both male and female, felt genuine and distinct. Her delivery of the humorous bits was spot on to maximize the funny. A real treat for audiobook listeners.

Thank you to Recorded Books for providing a copy of the audiobook edition for review purposes.

Quick Links: Author’s Web SiteGoodreads | Audible | christianaudio

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, August 2015

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the August 2015 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by! Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place. Please consider subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss future posts.

Today I’m providing information on Christian fiction discussions scheduled to take place around the web this month. I’m also featuring a handful of recently released Christian fiction titles for which a discussion guide is available, either included in the book itself or on the author’s or publisher’s web site. Then I’ll wrap up the post with a discussion question I’d like you to chime in on.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s August selection is A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley, with discussion scheduled for August 24-29, 2015. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

The Cherished Book Club hosts discussion on their Facebook group, with weekly questions about a monthly Christian fiction or non-fiction read. This group is on break for the month of August.

For August, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer AND Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group is reading A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer for its August discussion.

The #HedlundChallenge2015 features discussion of one of author Jody Hedlund’s historical fiction novels each month. The discussion is hosted in alternating months by Jamie of Books and Beverages and Cassie of Bookshelves and Windows. For August, participants will be discussing The Preacher’s Bride at Jamie’s blog beginning August 25th (discussion details here and here).

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of August is The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. Discussion is scheduled to begin on August 19th.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

Midnight on the Mississippi by Mary Ellis (August, Harvest House, Mystery)

Not By Sight by Kate Breslin (August, Bethany House, Historical Romance)

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin (August, Revell, Historical Romantic Suspense)

Let’s Chat!

What have you been reading lately? Any particular favorites that you’d recommend? Any that you’re really looking forward to reading this summer or fall? Please share!

Audiobook Review: Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta

Title: Price of Privilege
Author: Jessica Dotta
Narrator: Amanda McKnight
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Audio Length: 13 hours, 7 minutes
Print Publisher: Tyndale House
Published: January 2015
Genre: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction
Series: Price of Privilege, Book 3

My Thoughts on the Story:

Jessica Dotta’s first two novels set the bar high for this series, with mysterious characters, vivid settings, and plots full of unexpected twists and turns. This final installment wraps up the series in a breathtaking and unexpected conclusion worthy of its predecessors. Taken together, Born of Persuasion, Mark of Distinction, and Price of Privilege tell a fascinating and intricately woven literary tale.

Having lived in Julia’s head for three books now, I feel like I’ve come to know her well – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I may not agree with many of her actions or even the rationale for her decisions, but both she and her mistakes felt real to me. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her and watching her character develop from a passive teenage girl being manipulated into making poor choices, to a more mature woman ready to face the consequences of her actions, embrace God’s grace, and pick up the pieces of her life.

And the supporting cast? So good! Hats off to Edward, Mr. Macy, Jameson, Nancy, Forrester, Lord Pierson, and more, each of whom was drawn in unique and vivid detail. But especially to Lord Isaac Dalry, who was particularly amazing in this book. You must read it to see why. But first read books 1 and 2 if you haven’t read them yet, because this series must be read in order.

Without talking specifics, let me just say that the conclusion packs some real emotional punch. And yes, I cried. But it’s worth the tears for the beautiful, complex story of unmerited love, devotion, and grace. I didn’t see the ending coming, but, looking back on the series as a whole, I can see how the groundwork was laid in bits and pieces from the very beginning. And the artistry of it amazes me.

Specific to the Audiobook:

If you’ve read my earlier reviews from this series, then you already know how much I’ve enjoyed the audio narrations by Amanda McKnight. The character voices, emotional resonance, and subtle details of her performances have been spot on, and this title is no exception. If you enjoy audiobooks or want to give them a try, then the audio editions from this series are not to be missed.

Thank you to Oasis Audio for providing an electronic copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Quick links: About the Book (from Oasis Audio) | Author’s Web Site | Audio Sample

Find this title on: Goodreads | Audible | ChristianBook.com | christianaudio

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, July 2015

Three for the Books, July 2015

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot Off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of these featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

Gone Without a Trace by Patricia Bradley releases this month from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. The story is third in the suspenseful Logan Point series that began with Shadows of the Past.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More New Releases

Topping the Charts

A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer appears on the ECPA Christian Fiction Best Sellers list for July 2015. It released in June from Bethany House with print and electronic editions. There’s also an audio edition from Recorded Books that’s narrated by Barbara McCulloh. Check out my reviews of a couple of other historical romances by the same author: Short Straw Bride and Full Steam Ahead.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Best Sellers

Cream of the Crop

Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano is winner of the 2014 RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance. And fans of the first will be pleased to know that the second book in the MacDonald Family Trilogy, London Tides, just released last month from publisher David C Cook.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Award Winners

Book Review: The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

Title: The Art of Losing Yourself
Author: Katie Ganshert
Published: April 2015 by WaterBrook Press
Genre: Contemporary Christian Fiction

About the Book (publisher’s description):

Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.

Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together.  But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?

My Thoughts on the Book:

This is a story full of raw honesty, brokenness, grace, and hope. It’s told from two distinctive first person viewpoints. Carmen – a married woman grown distant from her husband under the strain of six miscarriages, who tries to put on a perfect façade for the outside world. And her teenage half-sister Gracie, who has run away from their alcoholic mother, in hopes of returning to a place where she once felt appreciated.

The story feels real – the characters, the situations, the emotions, the relationships, and the setting. All of it. I enjoyed coming along on the sisters’ journeys as they grow and develop in their relationships and their personal faith. And I love the fact that the characters’ problems aren’t downplayed by a too tidy ending, and yet there is a hopeful and satisfying resolution complete with an inspiring look at grace and trust.

One of my favorite parts of the whole book is when Carmen looks back at a series of what could have been seen as coincidences, and instead sees “evidence of a God who orchestrated even the most mundane details for our good” (Page 300).

Another favorite moment was when Aunt Ingrid (suffering from dementia) defends her dessert from being taken, to the point of throwing a spoon at someone, and then offers a bit of surprisingly sage advice: “’Not all things are worth saving, you know. But some are worth every ounce of fight you can throw at them.’ With all the dignity in the world, she took a few small bites of her dessert. ‘You just have to know the difference.’” (Page 53)

I brought this book along with me on a weekend trip to the beach and devoured it in the shade of a beach umbrella. Since the book was set partly at a beach-side motel, it turned out to be a particularly great fit for the weekend. I highly recommend both book and beach, taken together or separately. :)

Author Katie Ganshert’s Christy Award winning A Broken Kind of Beautiful was among my favorite reads of 2014, and this latest novel by Katie Ganshert could well be among my favorites for 2015. I think Book Groups will find it an excellent choice for discussion, and in fact, it includes a discussion guide.

Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah for providing a paperback copy of this book as part of the Blogging for Books Program in exchange for my honest review.

Quick Links: About the Book | Goodreads | Amazon

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, July 2015

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the July 2015 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by! Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place. Please consider subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss future posts.

Today I’m providing information on Christian fiction discussions scheduled to take place around the web this month (including a club I only recently discovered). I’m also featuring a handful of recently released Christian fiction titles for which a discussion guide is available, either included in the book itself or on the author’s or publisher’s web site. Then I’ll wrap up the post with a discussion question I’d like you to chime in on.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s July selection is Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Beth Vogt, with discussion scheduled for July 27-August 1, 2015. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

The Cherished Book Club hosts discussion on their Facebook group, with weekly questions about a monthly Christian fiction or non-fiction read. Their selection for July is Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson (details here).

For July, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Dangerous Passage (Southern Crimes #1) by Lisa Harris AND Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group is reading Flora’s Wish (The Secret Lives of Will Tucker #1) by Kathleen Y’Barbo for its July discussion.

The #HedlundChallenge2015 features discussion of one of author Jody Hedlund’s historical fiction novels each month. The discussion is hosted in alternating months by Jamie of Books and Beverages and Cassie of Bookshelves and Windows. For July, participants will be discussing The Doctor’s Lady at Cassie’s blog beginning July 28, 2015 (discussion details here and here).

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of July is The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. Discussion is scheduled to begin on July 15.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

Love’s Rescue by Christine Johnson (June 2015, Revell, Historical Romance)

Love Arrives in Pieces by Betsy St. Amant (June 2015, Zondervan, Contemporary Romance)

The Wonder of You by Susan May Warren (July 2015, Thomas Nelson, Contemporary Romance)

Let’s Chat!

I recently stumbled across an online Christian book discussion group that I was previously unfamiliar with (and you’ll see the Facebook-based Cherished Book Club listed among the others above for the first time this month). I’ve also been exploring a new-to-me resource site of interest to Christian book clubs called The Book Club Network.

I’m sure there are other online clubs and resources out there that I haven’t discovered yet. Do you happen to know of any other online clubs I should be including in my monthly discussion listings here? Or of any Web sites or books that are particularly helpful for book discussion groups? I’d love to hear about them!

2015 INSPY Award Winners Announced

2015 INSPY Award Winners

2015 INSPY Award Winners

Did you hear? The INSPY Award results are in! For anyone unfamiliar with the INSPYs, they’re “The Bloggers’ Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature.”

I got to help out this year by serving as one of the judges for the General Fiction category, and I had a blast doing it. So much fun to read five great books and discuss them with my fellow judges. And as a bonus, I wound up getting to know some fellow bloggers better. Win-win! Hi Iola, Tia, and Stacy!

Anyway, I’m super excited to recognize some great reads among the winners, as well as some titles I haven’t read yet that I’ll be wanting to track down and read for myself.

Here’s a link to the official INSPY Awards announcement, including statements on each winner from the judges of that category. And, if you’re curious to see what I thought of a few of the winners… check out the reviews I’ve previously posted of A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker (winner in the Mystery/Thriller category) and Mark of Distinction by Jessica Dotta (winner in the Historical Romance category). And stay tuned for my thoughts on Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke (winner in the General Fiction category). That review’s still to come. Hint: I loved it!

The other four winners sound great too, to the point it could be a challenge deciding which to read first! There’s Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas (Debut), Meant to be Mine by Becky Wade (Contemporary Romance), Storm Siren by Mary Weber (Young Adult), and Spirit Bridge by James L. Rubart (Speculative Fiction).

Congratulations to the authors of all seven of this year’s INSPY Award winning books!

So tell me, readers, which of these award winning books have you read so far? What did you think of them?