All posts by Karen Collier

About Karen Collier

Karen Collier is an author and reviewer of Inspirational / Inspy / Christian fiction. A librarian too. Her twitter handle is @karencollier and her blog features book reviews and discussion questions, plus tips for book groups at karencollier.com.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Christian Fiction of 2017

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There have been so many amazing books this year, it’s been hard to keep up. In fact, I’m a bit later than I meant to be in posting this, because I wanted to squeeze in just one or two more books before making a final decision on my favorites for the year. Despite the delay, here is my Top Ten Tuesday post, with books listed in alphabetical order by author. I think my librarian roots must be showing….

Anyway, to see what other bloggers consider the best reads of 2017, check out the links over at the Broke and the Bookish blog. But before you go, I’d love to hear about your favorite books this year. Please consider sharing in the comments.

Bread of Angels by Tessa Afshar
Biblical Fiction from Tyndale House
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

If I’m Found by Terri Blackstock
Contemporary Suspense from Zondervan
If I Run, Book 2
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin
Historical Fiction from Bethany House
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert
Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Moving Target by Lynette Eason
Contemporary Romantic Suspense from Revell
Elite Guardians, Book 3
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason
Contemporary Romantic Suspense from Revell
Elite Guardians, Book 4
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

A Trail of Crumbs by Susie Finkbeiner
Historical Fiction from Kregel Publications
Pearl Spence, Book 2
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Life After by Katie Ganshert
Contemporary Fiction from WaterBrook Multnomah
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Rescue Me by Susan May Warren
Contemporary Romance from Revell
Montana Rescue, Book 2
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Gathering the Threads by Cindy Woodsmall
Contemporary Amish Fiction
The Amish of Summer Grove, Book 3
Quick Links: My Review | Goodreads | Author’s Site

Book Review: Wild Montana Skies by Susan May Warren

Title: Wild Montana Skies
Author: Susan May Warren
Publisher: Revell
Published: October 2016
Series: Montana Rescue, Book 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

The last thing Search and Rescue helicopter pilot Kacey Fairing needs upon returning home to Mercy Falls, Montana, is to run into her mistakes. After a devastating crash during her recent military tour in Afghanistan, she is emotionally broken but ready to start putting her life back together. She just wants to reconnect with her teenage daughter and spend the summer working as the new lead pilot of PEAK Rescue in Glacier National Park.

But her mistakes aren’t so easily forgotten. Because Ben King is also back in town.

Country music star Ben King abandoned his past when he moved to Nashville thirteen years ago to start his career. He hoped to heal his broken heart, caused by losing the woman he loved. But when his father is injured, Ben is called home to help manage PEAK Rescue during his recovery. He doesn’t realize his father has ulterior motives until his old flame, Kacey, walks into his house and back into his heart.

Now, with Mercy Falls in a state of emergency due to flash floods, Kacey and Ben will have to work together to save lives. But when secrets are uncovered and old hurts rise to the surface, will they walk away again? Or can they find a different ending to their country love song?

My Thoughts:

Susan May Warren is one name that comes up time and time again in blog posts, recommendations, award lists and discussions about Christian fiction. But somehow, this is the first novel I’ve read of hers. Shhh, don’t tell anyone…. 😉

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this author in person and hearing her speak at a Christian fiction writer’s conference, and I’ve been reading a nonfiction book she’s written about fiction writing called The Story Equation. And finally, now I can say I have read one of her novels. And found that, yes, it lived up to what I’d been hoping it would be. So you can imagine I’ll be playing some serious catch-up to make up for lost time in reading her other books, particularly the others already published in this series. Next up, Rescue Me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, about this book. The people and relationships have a depth and emotional resonance that’s a hallmark of good fiction. The kind of story you can get lost in for hours at a time. The setting sounds lovely, and the community welcoming, the kind of place I’d want to visit in real life… preferably not during flooding or other natural disasters though, if I can help it.

Ben and Kacey make great leads for this story. They each have their own issues and complicated backstories, but they’re clearly better together. It was fun to watch them working through it all and toward their happy ending.

The secondary characters are intriguing as well, with unexpected depth. Some of my favorite scenes involved Sierra and Ian’s relationship. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about these and other secondary characters within the PEAK Search and Rescue Team in other books in this series.

In fact, when I read this book, I didn’t realize there was a novella preceding it in the series that’s about Ian and Sierra, earlier in their relationship. I went back and read that one immediately. So good! And it fleshes out the backstory for Ian and Sierra beyond what you get in this novel. So I’d recommend reading that novella, called If Ever I Would Leave You, first thing and then immediately diving into Wild Montana Skies and the rest of the series.

Thank you to the publisher for providing the complimentary copy of Wild Montana Skies that I won in a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway! Reading and reviewing it has been a joy.

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

Christmas 2017’s Must Reads

With Thanksgiving over, it seems Christmas will be right around the corner. I’ve already taken family photos and ordered Christmas cards, and actually accomplished a fair amount of Christmas shopping. Yay! So, with some of my to-do list knocked out, my thoughts are turning to the stories I want to read this Christmas season. There are five Christmas themed new releases I’m excited about so far.

    

The Beloved Christmas Quilt by Wanda Brunstetter

Christmas at Carnton by Tamera Alexander

The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson

One Enchanted Noel by Melissa Tagg

Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

Which Christmas titles are you most looking forward to this holiday season?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’m Thankful For

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With Thanksgiving right around the corner, my thoughts are turning to turkey and gravy, and family, and stuffing, and mashed potatoes… and some of the things I’m thankful for… and pumpkin pie. In no particular order. And, since this week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic at The Broke and the Bookish is “Top Ten Books I’m Thankful For,” that’s what I’ve decided to blog about. I’d love to hear what books you’re thankful for too.

The Bible.  If you know my reading habits and my beliefs, this one kind of goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. No other book can ever be as life changing or important to me as this one. The overarching story of the Bible is a beautiful tale of God’s love for mankind and his plan of grace and redemption. It amazes me how, after reading it for years, I still glean something new with each reading.

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron.  I won an autographed copy of this novel in a Goodreads giveaway. And reading it introduced me to an author who quickly became one of my favorites. Then I got to meet her in person at a writing conference and discovered what a sweet and thoughtful person she is. The book itself is both meaningful and beautifully written, and I highly recommend reading it.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  The summer between second and third grade, the children’s librarian at my local library recommended I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I loved it so much then, and I love it (and the rest of the titles in the series) even more now that I can better appreciate its allegorical elements.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst.  This inspirational nonfiction book reassured me that letting go of busywork is okay, even a good thing, when it makes room for more meaningful activities. It sounds kind of obvious, but it was something I really needed to hear at the time, and still do every now and then.

The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems.  I first heard of this series in a Library conference session where the speaker discussed fun book related activities to do with kids, such as using elephant and pig masks or puppets along with these books. My kids and I love the humor and the fun of reading and acting out these characters’ antics. In fact, these books have played a part in some of our family’s most enjoyable reading experiences.

The Haven Seekers Series by Amanda G. Stevens.  This series exemplifies what I would like to see more of in Christian fiction. A thought provoking premise, realistically flawed characters, and Christian themes that are neither preachy nor superficial. You’ll want to start reading with Seek and Hide, the first title in the series, but I think it’s the fourth and final one that’s my favorite, called Far and Near.

The Story Equation by Susan May Warren.  Susie and fellow author Rachel Hauck presented and demonstrated the story building concepts from this book at a writing conference I attended before this book had become a book. I was fascinated by what I heard, but had to miss half their talk in order to keep my appointment to pitch my novel to an agent. So you can imagine I was thrilled to find this book a few years later and fill in the missing pieces. I’m in the midst of reading it now, and already planning to read it through again.

A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert and Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry. These were the books that first introduced me to two of my favorite authors. Both use beautiful language to tell the kind of meaty and discussable story that I find fascinating, and that can be perfect for a book discussion group.

To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer. This book holds a special place in my heart because the heroine is a librarian like me, and the hero is a blacksmith like my husband. It was also my first taste of this author’s humorous writing style. It’s been way too long since I’ve read this one though, so I’m thinking I may need to revisit these characters again soon.

So those are a few of the titles that came to mind, when thinking of books I’m thankful for. Which books would you put on your list?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Audiobook Review: If I’m Found by Terri Blackstock

Title: If I’m Found
Author: Terri Blackstock
Publisher: Zondervan
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Published: March 2017
Series: If I Run, Book 2
Genre: Suspense, Christian fiction
Length: Unabridged. 7 hours, 45 minutes.

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

In this riveting sequel to the USA TODAY bestseller If I Run, evil lurks, drawing Casey out of the shadows . . . but there is light shining in the darkness.

Casey Cox is still on the run, fleeing prosecution for a murder she didn’t commit. Dylan Roberts—her most relentless pursuer—is still on her trail, but his secret emails insist he knows the truth and wants to help her. He’s let her escape before when he had her in his grasp, but trust doesn’t come easily.

As Casey works to collect evidence about the real murderers, she stumbles on another unbearable injustice: an abused child and a suicidal man who’s also been falsely accused. Casey risks her own safety to right this wrong and protect the little girl from her tormenters. But doing so is risky and may result in her capture—and if she’s captured, she has no doubt she’ll be murdered before she ever steps foot in a jail cell.

My Thoughts on the Book:

The scenario Casey faces in this series is huge and overwhelming, and yet, she’s battling her impossible odds and helping others too, even at risk to herself. I find that beautiful and inspiring. And even if her choices at times stretch credulity a bit (there was one point in this book where I wanted to shout at her that there was a better option she hadn’t considered), they do seem to fit her, and I can’t fault her for them.

Casey’s faith journey is a gradual one and doesn’t feel forced. That’s probably my favorite part of this series so far. I haven’t even seen the full story unfold yet, but I love where it seems to be going and the way it’s woven into the fabric of her day to day existence.

The multiple first person present tense viewpoint used here is refreshingly different and yet, paradoxically, feels familiar and comfortable, particularly in audiobook format. Speaking of audio format, the narrator for this one is fabulous. Her reading of each character is friendly and personable, and overall, well suited to that character. But I was particularly impressed by her rendition of the slurred speech of one particular character.

In summary, this is shaping up to be among my favorite series in quite a while, one that I would highly recommend. I can’t wait for Book 3! And the audio edition is definitely the way to go. At least it is if you’re the type to savor a good audio performance.

I borrowed this audiobook from my local library. I was not expected to write a review, but wanted to share how much I enjoyed listening to the book.

Quick Links: About the Audiobook | About the Series | Audio Sample | Author’s Site | Narrator’s Site

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection: November 2017

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the November 2017 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.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s November selection is Beyond Justice by Cara Putman. 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.

By the Book is an in-person book discussion club that has introduced an online Facebook-based discussion option. To join in online, like the By the Book Facebook page, and be sure to check back there periodically for any discussion that may not have made it into your news feed. November’s selection is A Time to Stand by Robert Whitlow.

For November, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Life After by Katie Ganshert AND Masquerade by Nancy Moser. 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 Amish Fiction Goodreads group discusses one Amish fiction title per month. The selection for November is Northkill by Bob Hostetler and J.M. Hochstetler. To join in, visit the group’s online discussion board.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

Light of Dawn by Vannetta Chapman (Harvest House, July 2017, Speculative Fiction)

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck (Zondervan, July 2017, Historical Romance)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh (Tyndale House, July 2017, Contemporary Romance)


So, friends, what have you been reading lately? Any titles you’d recommend for book club discussions?

Audiobook Review: The Raven by Mike Nappa

Title: The Raven
Author: Mike Nappa
Print Publisher: Revell
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Narrator: Romy Nordlinger
Published: September 2016
Series: Coffey & Hill, Book 2
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Christian Fiction
Length: 12 hours, 16 minutes. Unabridged.

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

As part of his street performance, a deception specialist who goes by the name The Raven picks his audience’s pockets while they watch. It’s harmless fun–until he decides to keep the wallet of a prominent politician, hoping for a few extra bucks. When he finds compromising photos of the councilman and his “personal assistants,” The Raven hatches a plan to blackmail the man. However, he quickly finds himself in over his head with the Ukrainian Mafia and mired in a life-threatening plot code-named “Nevermore.”

Private investigators Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill must scramble to sort out the clues to rescue The Raven from a wild card bent on revenge.

My Thoughts on the Book:

For a mysterious thrill ride of shifting allegiances, with devious plots to be undone, look no further than The Raven. I enjoyed reading this novel even more than I did its predecessor, Annabel Lee. Either book could be read as a standalone, but I recommend starting Mike Nappa’s Coffey and Hill series at the beginning if you haven’t already, as the characters grow and develop from one book to the next.

Recurring characters Trudi and Samuel continue to work through their personal issues, while they team up to solve another case. I felt these characters were more sympathetic than in the last book, maybe because they weren’t as hard on each other? Anyway, I do like the direction they seem to be headed, and hope to meet them again in a future installment of this series.

The lead character for this book, besides Trudi and Samuel, is The Raven, a street magician calling himself a deception specialist, whose attempt to blackmail someone lands him in a heap of trouble and smack dab in the thick of something bigger than he would’ve imagined. He’s not your typical lead for a Christian fiction novel, but his cool-headed and somewhat sarcastic analysis of even the most traumatic situations can be quite entertaining. And despite his many flaws, he also manages to be quite sympathetic, and I won’t give details away, but I like where the storyline takes his character arc by the end of the book.

Highly recommended if you enjoy a good mystery, and don’t mind witnessing some violence along the way.

Specific to the Audio Edition:

Romy Nordlinger’s excellent narration does justice to the story, with character voices and storytelling that immerse the reader into the thick of what’s happening. Whether she’s portraying a thug with an accent, or the sarcastically laid back analysis of The Raven, her narration fits just right, and is fun to listen to.

I borrowed this audiobook from my local library via Hoopla. I was not expected to write a review, but wanted to share how much I enjoyed the book.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Series | Audio Sample | Author’s Site | Narrator’s Site

Book Review: Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Title: Maybe It’s You
Author: Candace Calvert
Publisher: Tyndale House
Published: February 2017
Series: Crisis Team, Book 3
Genre: Christian Fiction, Contemporary Romance

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

ER nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards.

Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell.

Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders . . . and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past.

Can hope spring from crisis?

My Thoughts:

Candace Calvert has delivered another fabulous read in her Crisis Team series. Fans of medical drama, contemporary romance, and suspense will enjoy seeing a very different side to Sloane Ferrell than we encountered in an earlier book in this series. Yes, this book can be read as a standalone, but it’s even better within the series. While the spiritual takeaways are not preachy or overwhelming, they do play a significant, and at times surprising role in the story, which I enjoyed seeing. And of course, I loved seeing the development of the relationship between Sloane and Micah. Their relationship has a sweet quality to it, and progressed in what felt like a very realistic way. I was definitely rooting for them throughout the book. Highly recommended.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary electronic copy of the book via NetGalley for review purposes.

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

Audiobook Review: High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

Title: High as the Heavens
Author: Kate Breslin
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Narrator: Renee Ertl
Published: June 2017
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 12 hours, 41 minutes. Unabridged.

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

A British nurse in WWI German-occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche spends her days at the hospital and her nights working at a café . . . or so it seems. Eve’s most carefully guarded secret is that she also spends her nights carrying out dangerous missions as a spy for a Belgian resistance group.

When a plane crashes as she’s en route to a rendezvous, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to recognize the badly injured pilot as British RFC Captain Simon Forrester. She risks her life to conceal him from the Germans, but as the secrets between them grow and the danger mounts, can they still hope to make it out of Belgium alive?

My Thoughts on the Book:

This is a story historical romance fans will love. It is set in German-occupied Brussels during World War I and incorporates vivid cultural and historical details. It’s particularly cool that its characters are based loosely on actual historical figures (see the author’s note in the book for details).

The plot features espionage, danger, and intrigue alongside the emotional joys and uncertainties of a chance at reclaiming lost love. The characters, while at times larger than life, are struggling with relatable issues like guilt, mistrust, and fear.

Despite the promising premise, the start of the story dragged a bit for me, under the weight of a little more exposition early on than I would have liked. Fortunately, I stuck with it, because once the action and romance kicked up a notch, I was hooked.

The character development was well done and the action and romance plotlines brought readers along to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended to adult fans of historical romance and suspense. Because of the difficult things Eve and other characters have to go through in the story, I’d recommend parents preview the book to determine if they feel it’s appropriate for their teenage readers.

Specific to the Audio Edition:

The wide range of Nationalities represented in this book could have lent itself well to voicing characters with a variety of different accents. While the narrator did not take full advantage of this opportunity, she did distinguish between character voices, to the extent that I was never in doubt about which character was speaking. The reading was clear and pleasant listening, with emotions well reflected in the performance. Overall, the audio edition makes for an enjoyable listening experience.

I borrowed this audiobook from my local library via Hoopla. I was not expected to write a review, but I wanted to share.

Quick Links: About the Audiobook | Audio Sample | Author’s Site

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection: October 2017

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the October 2017 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.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s October selection is Home by Ginny Yttrup. 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.

By the Book is an in-person book discussion club that has introduced an online Facebook-based discussion option. To join in online, like the By the Book Facebook page, and be sure to check back there periodically for any discussion that may not have made it into your news feed. October’s selection is Gathering the Threads by Cindy Woodsmall.

For October, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Shine Like the Dawn by Carrie Turansky AND Justice Delayed by Patricia Bradley. 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 Amish Fiction Goodreads group discusses one Amish fiction title per month. The selection for October is Anna’s Healing by Vannetta Chapman. To join in, visit the group’s online discussion board.

Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the current title is An Anthology: 365 Readings by George MacDonald.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter (Thomas Nelson, June 2017, Contemporary Romance)

Ascension of Larks by Rachel Linden (Thomas Nelson, June 2017, Contemporary Romance)

A Letter from Lancaster County by Kate Lloyd (Harvest House, July 2017, Amish Romance)


 

So, friends, what have you been reading lately? Any titles you’d recommend for book club discussions?