Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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?

E’veria Week

E'veria Week

I’ve got something special planned here on the blog this week! Rather than my typical once (usually Tuesday) and sometimes twice a week posting schedule, I’ll be blogging here daily, all this week (well, today through Saturday anyway), and I’m posting on a theme.

I’m unofficially calling it “E’veria Week” here in my little corner of the Web, after the Eyes of E’veria YA fantasy series written by my blogging buddy Serena Chase. I’ll be posting about this fabulous series all week, including reviews of the first three books, an interview with the author discussing (among other things) the origins of the series and some hints about what’s to come in the fourth book (scheduled to release late this summer – YAY!) Then on Saturday, we’ll wrap up the week with a look at the brand new, freshly redesigned (and simply gorgeous) cover for The Seahorse Legacy. Also on Saturday, there’ll be a chance to enter to win a lovely prize pack from Serena, so don’t forget to stop by! In fact, if you haven’t already, consider subscribing to my blog for the convenience of having posts sent directly to your inbox.

Here’s the schedule:

Whether you’ve already read books 1 through 3 and want to reminisce while we await book 4, or this series is brand new to you, I hope you’ll take the time to stop by!

Happy E’veria Week!

2015 Audie Award Finalists in the Inspirational / Faith-Based Categories

Just yesterday, the Audio Publishers Association officially announced the finalists in the 2015 Audie Awards competition.  These awards are meant to recognize excellence among audiobooks in thirty categories, including two categories I find of particular interest – Inspirational / Faith-Based Fiction and Inspirational / Faith-Based Non-fiction.

Since I’m a big fan of Christian fiction audiobooks (and suspect some of you may be as well?) I thought I’d share this year’s finalists with you.  I’ll admit I was a little surprised that none of the amazing Christian fiction audiobook titles I’ve listened to and reviewed here on the blog this year made it on this list, but that just makes me more curious to listen to the ones that did and see what sets them apart.

Inspirational / Faith-Based Fiction


The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C Rosenberg
Narrated by Christopher Lane
Audio Publisher: Brilliance Publishing
Print Publisher: Tyndale House

Description (from Amazon.com):

A terrible darkness has fallen upon Jacob Weisz’s beloved Germany. The Nazi regime, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, has surged to power and now hold Germany by the throat. All non-Aryans – especially Jews like Jacob and his family – are treated like dogs.

When tragedy strikes during one terrible night of violence, Jacob flees and joins rebel forces working to undermine the regime. But after a raid goes horribly wrong, Jacob finds himself in a living nightmare – trapped in a crowded, stinking car on the train to the Auschwitz death camp.

As World War II rages and Hitler begins implementing his “final solution” to systematically and ruthlessly exterminate the Jewish people, Jacob must rely on his wits and a God he’s not sure he believes in to somehow escape from Auschwitz and alert the world to the Nazi’s atrocities before Fascism overtakes all of Europe. The fate of millions hangs in the balance.


Chasing the Lion by Nancy Kimball
Narrated by Joseph Narducci
Self-Published by Nancy Kimball

Description (from Amazon.com):

From the blood-soaked sand of the Roman arena, a divine destiny will rise.

For as long as Jonathan Tarquinius can remember, everyone has wanted something from him. His half-brother wants him dead. His master’s wife wants his innocence. The gladiator dealers want him to fight – and die – for their greed. Rome’s most famous prostitute wants his love. And the gentle slave girl who tends the wounds on his body and the hidden ones on his soul, longs for him to return to his faith.

What Jonathan wants is simple. Freedom. But God wants something from Jonathan too – something more than anyone would ever imagine. The young warrior’s journey will push him to the limits of human endurance and teach him that true freedom is found within.

The greatest battle Jonathan must ever fight will not come in the arena, but deep within himself as he is forced to choose between vengeance and mercy – with the fate of an empire and the life of the woman he loves hanging in the balance.


The Christmas Light by Donna VanLiere
Narrated by Donna VanLiere
Audio Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Print Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Description (from Amazon.com):

In the small town of Grandon, five very different people discover the true meaning of Christmas. Jennifer and Ryan are both single parents, struggling with their own losses and heartache. Sixteen-year-old Kaylee is faced with a life-changing situation that has affected her whole family. Stephen and Lily are happily married and ready to start a family. All of them are facing their own struggles, and all are finding their way through the dark. When they are brought together for a rather unconventional church Nativity, they will learn that with strength, courage, and love, there is always hope.


The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom
Narrated by Mitch Albom
Audio Publisher: HarperAudio
Print Publisher: Harper

Description (from Amazon.com):

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief – and a page-turner that will touch your soul – Albom’s masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

Readers of The Five People You Meet in Heaven will recognize the warmth and emotion so redolent of Albom’s writing, and those who haven’t yet enjoyed the power of his storytelling will thrill at the discovery of one of the best-loved writers of our time.


Grounded by Angela Correll
Narrated by Lyssa Browne
Audio Publisher: Cedar House Audio Productions
Print Publisher: Koehler Books

Description (from Amazon.com):

New York City flight attendant Annie Taylor is grounded, putting a halt to weekends in Rome and her jet-setting lifestyle. Soon her noncommittal boyfriend’s true nature is revealed, and to top it all off, she loses her apartment. With nowhere else to go, Annie leaves the city for the family farm in Kentucky, a place she’s avoided for years. She finds a shotgun-wielding grandmother, a farm in disrepair, and a suspicious stranger renting the old stone house. The country quiet haunts Annie with reminders of a past that can’t be changed. She tries persuading her grandmother to sell the farm, but is met with stubborn refusal? Yet in the midst of her crashing life, Annie sees a glimmer of hope for a second chance.

Jake Wilder is contemplating jumping off the corporate ladder to follow his passion for sustainable farming. He’s almost ready to propose to Camille, a girl who wants more, not less. Annie believes Jake is about to make a terrible mistake, but does she have the right to tell him?

As the summer heats up, so do Annie’s unexpected feelings for Jake and her interest in the land. When a sudden phone call comes from New York, Annie is forced to choose between coming to terms with her past or leaving it all behind.


A Sensible Arrangement (Lone Star Brides, Book 1) by Tracie Peterson
Narrated by Barbara McCulloh
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Print Publisher: Bethany House

Description (from Amazon.com):

Marty Dandridge Olson is a widow looking for a way out of Texas. Widower Jake Wythe has secured a job as a bank manager in Denver, only to discover that the bank board wants him to be a married man. With Texas in his roots, he advertises for a Lone Star bride, and Marty answers the call. They both agree they are done with romance and love and will make this nothing more than a marriage of convenience. Marty works to carve out a new life in high-society Denver as Jake works to guide the bank through a collapsing economy.

But when money goes missing at the bank and accounting discrepancies point to Jake, he must find a way to prove his innocence. Yet all he wants to do is go back to Texas and own his own ranch. Marty, on the other hand, owns a ranch – one she’s never told her husband about. She hates Texas because it represents the losses in her life. But as the couple grows closer and love begins to bloom, Marty realizes she needs to tell Jake the truth. Can she come to terms with the past and her anger toward God in order to make room for love?


Inspirational / Faith-Based Non-fiction

Since the focus of my blog is on Christian fiction, I’ll not devote quite as much space to the Non-fiction finalists. But, for those who may be interested, here’s a list of the Inspirational / Faith-Based Non-fiction Audie Award finalists for 2015 (with links where you can learn more).

Before Amen by Max Lucado, Narrated by Ben Holland (Thomas Nelson)

Living a Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream by Ben Lesser, Narrated by Ben Lesser and Jonathan Silverman (Remembrance Publishing, LLC)

Prepared for a Purpose by Antoinette Tuff, Narrated by Robin Miles (eChristian)

The Singer and the Song by Miriam Therese Winter, Narrated by Janis Ian (Audible, Inc)

Steel Will by Shilo Harris, Narrated by Johnny Heller (eChristian)


And now, let’s wrap up with a question for my readers.  Have you read or listened to any of these titles? If so, what did you think? If not, would you be interested in seeing some or all of these titles reviewed here? Or more interested in reviews of upcoming titles?

Audiobook Review: Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund

Title: Unending Devotion
Author: Jody Hedlund
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Series: Michigan Brides, Book 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Published: 2012

About the Book (from the Publisher):

Michigan, 1883. In Her Darkest Hours, Is He the Man She Needs?

Lily Young longs to find her lost sister or will die trying. Heedless of any danger, she searches logging camps and towns, posing as a photographer’s assistant. And then she arrives in Harrison, Michigan–and the sights of Connell McCormick.

Connell is determined to increase the fortune of his lumber-baron father and figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters. But when Lily arrives in town she upends his world, forcing him to confront the truth that dangerous men have gained too much power while good men turn a blind eye.

Vexing but persuasive, Lily soon secures Connell’s help, drawing them ever closer to each other. Will standing for what’s right cost them both everything?

Thoughts on the Story:

I enjoyed this book.  A lot.  I’m glad I read it and I’m going to tell you what I loved about it.  But first, I need to get a little rant off my chest.  So here goes….

I liked Lily, honestly I did, but it drove me crazy the way she ignored offers of help and instead went off on well-meaning but foolhardy and poorly planned rescue attempts by herself.  I’m reminded of the kind of advice I have to give my 3- and 6-year old kids on occasion: Just because the window didn’t break the last time you threw something at it doesn’t mean you can keep throwing things at it and expect it never to break.  So yes, Lily, someone needs to do something quickly, but if you get yourself captured or killed in the process, then you’ll be in no position to accomplish anything for anyone.  Yes, I realize you’ve rescued other girls before and you feel passionately about this.  But that doesn’t make you invincible or negate the need to think things through ahead of time.

Okay, done ranting.  Now I can move on to the things I loved about this book.  Because I really did enjoy reading it.  Despite my occasional irritation with the heroine.  😉

The Northern Michigan lumber camps of the time period were vividly described right down to the last frosty detail.  The historical information included was pretty fascinating.  And the fact that the bad guy in this story and some of his actions were based on a real life person and real life circumstances was more than a little disturbing.  The storyline definitely makes an impression!

Lily’s selfless determination to help others in need was admirable.  And I found her love for her sister as demonstrated by the lengths she went to in searching for her touching.  I thought Connell was a great match for her, helping to temper her impulsiveness, even as she spurred him on to action rather than complacency.  At heart, he was a good guy, and very likeable.  And I was glad to see his character growth over time.

This story has its tragic moments, and some of the issues dealt with were challenging to read about.  But I absolutely loved the advice Connell’s mother, Mrs. McCormick, gave Lily, which I think makes a great take-away lesson.  Here’s just a snippet of their conversation from Chapter 25 (and as an aside, I wish I could share this snippet of the audiobook recording instead of just transcribing the text. As it is, you’ll just have to imagine a lilting brogue in Mrs. McCormick’s voice for the first and third lines here, okay?):

“As long as man lives and breathes there will always be sin in this world and consequently injustice.”

“But that doesn’t mean we should give up, sit back, and do nothing.”

“You’re right.  Nor can we fight against everything.  We must instead discover where God wants to use us.”

So true.  And I love the balanced and well-articulated way that idea is expressed.

Between the romance, the suspense, and the weighty issues dealt with, this book kept my attention riveted from beginning to end.  I’m glad I took the time to read… or technically (since I bought the audio edition), listen to it.

Thoughts on the Audio Performance:

I thought the narration was well done with a clear and articulate reading, and I would encourage audiobook readers to seek out the audio edition.  Despite a large cast of characters, narrator Julia Whelan manages to differentiate their voices well.  I particularly enjoyed the Old World brogue incorporated into the voices of Mr. and Mrs. McCormick.  Throughout the novel, each character’s voice was uniquely hers or his, yet consistent from scene to scene.  In many cases, the voice selected was so well matched to the character’s personality that the voice became inseparable from the character in my mind.  Quite the performance!

Have you read or listened to this book?  What did you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section here, or over on the Bookshelves and Windows blog, where the first of the #HedlundChallenge2015 discussions is taking place today.  (And if you want to learn more about the challenge and consider reading along, check out what Jamie and Cassie had to say about it in their inaugural posts.  It looks like next month’s read will be Rebellious Heart over on the Books and Beverages blog.)

Introducing Five Shiny New Features Coming to this Blog in 2015

5 Shiny New Features

Happy New Year!  With everyone thinking about resolutions and new beginnings, I thought this would be a great time to tell you about some brand new features I hope to share on this blog in the coming year.

I’ve been blogging weekly about Christian fiction here at karencollier.com for a little over a year now.  Yay!  Actually, my first blogoversary fell on November 3, but who’s counting?  Apparently not me, or I would have posted about it at the time.  😉

Up to now, my blog has focused primarily on reviews of Christian fiction books and audiobooks, along with the occasional post about my writing journey.  Don’t worry!  That’s not going away.  I love doing those reviews and other posts.  But I do want to add some more fun and interactive features into the mix for my readers.

So, with the New Year approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about what other kinds of posts I might like to share on a regular basis.  Here are a few ideas that have stuck with me, that I’m planning on trying out in the next few months.

As you read about these new features and continue following my blog, I have a request for you.  If there are any posts or types of features that you particularly love, please let me know and tell your friends about them, so I can be sure to keep producing the kinds of posts you like best!

Featured Reads

As Public Services Librarian for a small rural library, one of my responsibilities (among many) was “Reader’s Advisory” which can include suggesting (not to be confused with recommending) books to patrons.  (Q:  There’s a difference?  A:  Yeah, you recommend books based on your own personal experience having read those books, but you suggest books based on other factors, like their popularity, subject matter, awards, other people’s reviews, etc.)

My plan with “Featured Reads” posts on the blog is to feature three suggested Christian fiction books in each monthly post.  One title that’s “Hot Off the Presses” (newly released), one that’s “Topping the Charts” (on the current best seller lists), and one that has garnered awards and recognition (still working on a clever heading for that one).  Occasionally, I might add a fourth title “Just Because.”

Bookish Interviews

I’ve seen some great author interviews featured on other blogs, and I want to get in on the fun too!  I’m hard at work brainstorming what I hope will be original, thought provoking, and entertaining questions, as well as plotting and planning who to approach when (and how).  On my interviewee wish list: authors of Christian fiction, book bloggers, and publishing industry professionals like agents, editors, cover designers, publicists, etc.  I’m thinking big and we’ll see where it goes….

Book Club Connection

I’ve been sharing links about upcoming online “Book Discussions in Christian Fiction” on a monthly basis for a while now.  Since July, in fact.  But I want to take that a step further, and take a more active role in promoting and encouraging Christian fiction book clubs.

I’m envisioning a monthly post called “Book Club Connection” with one or more parts in each post.  These might include a featured book that I think would be well suited for discussion, links to upcoming discussions, tips and thoughts for book groups, and discussion prompts of interest to current and future book group participants about topics like what makes a book group work well, etc.

Why the interest in book clubs?  That could be a whole post for another day.  But here’s the short answer.  I enjoyed my time leading and participating in a book club.  And I think book discussion groups are a great opportunity to share a love of favorite books and authors with other readers, while discovering additional books you might not have otherwise picked up.  Win-win!

Musical Inspiration

This one is kind of tangential to Christian fiction, but I think it’ll be fun.  In each “Musical Inspiration” post, I plan to feature one of my favorite contemporary Christian songs, with a few words about what I like best about it, along with links for those wanting to listen for themselves.  My theory is that many of the same people who enjoy reading Christian fiction would also tend to be fans of Christian music.  Yes?  Anyway, I find music to be incredibly inspiring both in my life and in my writing.  I can’t wait to share some of my favorites with you, and hopefully hear about some of your favorites too.

Blogside Chat

Want to chat about books, blogging, reading formats, genres, plot & character elements, or really anything related to Christian fiction?  I’m hoping to host some discussions here on the blog in 2015.  To that end I’ll be creating occasional blog posts intended as conversation starters, each featuring a discussion question of some sort, inviting you to weigh in with your opinion.  So… a preliminary question as I begin planning questions… are there any topics you’re especially keen to talk about?

Thanks for reading!  If any of my shiny new post ideas have caught your attention (or you just plain love book and audiobook reviews), I hope you’ll plan on following my blog in the coming year.  I’d love to chat with you!

Karen #ThanksPublishers

My family's 2013 Thanksgiving Feast

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for all the usual things – family, friends, finances, food, health, etc. but with my blog focusing on books, I wasn’t planning on posting about any of that.  In fact, I wasn’t really planning on posting about Thanksgiving at all (aside from a brief mention in Tuesday’s post about upcoming Christian fiction book discussions).  But then I got an email from NetGalley that inspired me to write this post.  In that email, they thanked me (and 210,000 other members) for using NetGalley to find, request, and access advance reader copies of books for reading, reviewing, and recommending.  They also suggested:

“You can pass the Thanksgiving goodwill along by thanking publishers who use digital galleys. Post a thank you message on our Facebook page, or on Twitter using #thankspublishers. We’ll collect and share each “thank you” on your behalf.”

What a great idea!

But I didn’t want to stop there.  I wanted to thank not just those publishers who use digital galleys (I really do love the convenience of digital galleys!), but also those who supply print books and audiobooks for review.  Not to mention the publicists, authors, and other individuals who play a role in providing ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) to bloggers like me.

Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!  You probably have no idea how much I appreciate you, so I’m gonna go ahead and spell it out.  Okay?

As an aspiring author of Christian fiction, having access to complimentary Advance Reader Copies of the latest Christian fiction books being published does two amazing things for me.

  1. It gives me something to blog about so I can begin connecting with the readers who may someday read my books.
  2. I get to read a steady stream of great examples from which I can continue to learn and hone my own writing.

Not to mention, the librarian side of me delights at the opportunity to continue playing a role in connecting readers with great books, even though I’m not currently working in a library!

So, THANK YOU!

Now I’m going to go out on a limb and give (alphabetical) shout outs to the publishers of Christian fiction whose books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing so far.  Sincere apologies if I leave anyone out by mistake.  I considered foregoing the list altogether to avoid the possibility of an unintended slight, but felt my readers might like to learn more about some of the publishers on this list, so… here goes!

Thank you, one and all!

While this note is primarily addressed to publishers, I would be remiss if I neglected to thank my blog’s readers as well.  I love reading your comments and connecting on social media.  Thank you SO MUCH for making this blog worthwhile!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Really Want to Read But Don’t Own Yet

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is: “Top Ten Books I Really Want to Read But Don’t Own Yet.”  You’ll notice my list is Christian fiction themed, since that’s what I write and what I review here on my blog.  Though I did throw in a few non-fiction books about writing fiction for good measure.

Not Yet Released

  • Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay is coming in October.  I read and reviewed this author’s debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, and loved it so much I really want to see what’s next from this author.  The blurb sounds promising too.  Can’t wait!
  • Deceived by Irene Hannon.  I really enjoy this author’s Inspirational Romance and Romantic Suspense novels, and this is third in a series in which I’ve already read the first two (see my reviews of Vanished and Trapped).  Looking forward to its release in early October.
  • Rise of the Fallen by Chuck Black.  I just finished reading Cloak of the Light (first in the Wars of the Realm series), and can’t wait for the next installment (February 2015) in this young adult speculative fiction series exploring spiritual warfare.  The first book was very different from most of what I’ve read recently, but absolutely fascinating.  Watch for my review, coming soon to the Edgy Inspirational Romance blog.

Award Winners

  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton.  This debut novel won, not one, but three Christy Awards in 2014 – First Novel, Historical, and Book of the Year.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m incredibly curious to find out for myself what all the fuss is about.
  • Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden.  Similarly, this one won three prestigious awards – the 2013 RITA for Best Inspirational Romance, the 2013 Christy Award for Historical Romance, and the 2013 Daphne de Maurier Award for Inspirational Romantic Mystery / Suspense.  For this one too, curiosity about all those awards puts it on my must read list.
  • Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter.  This book won the 2014 INSPY Award in the Contemporary Romance category and I’ve heard so many good things about both the author and the book, I really want to read it for myself. Not to mention the second in the series (Dancing With Fireflies) is already out, and there’s a third (The Wishing Season) coming in December.  I’ve got some catching up to do!
  • Outlaw by Ted Dekker won the 2014 Christy Award for Suspense.  Plus, I’ve already read several books by this author including one — Eyes Wide Open from the Outlaw Chronicles series — that includes an appearance by one of the main characters in this book.  I’m very curious to learn what that character’s story is.

Just Because

  • Somebody Like You by Beth K. Vogt.  This one caught my attention with its intriguing premise, way back before it was even released.  At the time I was busy writing to meet a very tight deadline and didn’t have time to read much of anything.  But now?  This is definitely on my reading wish list.
  • Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers.  Let’s just say I loved Redeeming Love and want to read more by this author.  This is her latest and it sounds so good!
  • Operation Zulu Redemption by Ronie Kendig.  There’s been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere recently about this serialized inspirational suspense novel.  I have part one on my Kindle, and based on what I’ve heard, I’m pretty sure that once I start reading it, I’ll be downloading the rest of the parts ASAP.

And a Bonus Book… Just in Case Ten Didn’t Make a Long Enough List

  • Okay, it’s actually a many-way tie between a number of books about the craft of writing fiction.  As I continue writing and working toward publication, I definitely want to keep building on my skills.  These books look like strong candidates to help with that.  Story Engineering and/or Story Physics by Larry Brooks, Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley, Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.  I could go on… but I should probably leave it at that for now.  This post is already long enough.  😉

So there’s my list for now.  What about you?  What books are you really looking forward to reading that you may or may not own yet?

Top Ten Books I’d Give to Readers Who Have Never Read Christian Fiction

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and I’m participating today for the first time! This week’s topic is: “Top Ten Books I’d Give to Readers Who Have Never Read x.”

I chose to go with a Christian fiction theme.  That is kind of the focus of my whole blog….

The librarian in me rebels at the idea of a single one-size-fits-all list for those who haven’t yet tried Christian fiction.  I want to sit down with one reader and find out what makes him or her tick — favorite authors, genres, and themes; reason(s) for branching out into Christian fiction; etc — and THEN point to a personalized list of books.  Since that’s not possible here, I’m going to do the next best thing, and go for a broad sampling with (hopefully) something that’ll appeal to (most) everyone.

First, a few recent favorites of mine, with links to my reviews.

Next, I’ll round out the list with a smattering of titles by a few of the best known authors in Christian fiction.

  • C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia would be an obvious first choice, but The Screwtape Letters is a fun and entertaining read too.
  • Karen Kingsbury. This author has such a huge selection of wonderful books, it’s impossible to recommend just one.  Among her most recent is Fifteen Minutes, which sounds great, though I haven’t had the chance to read it myself yet.  Or… one that I did read and really enjoyed was Unlocked.
  • Frank Peretti.  Probably best known for This Present Darkness, my introduction to this author was through the audiobook version of Prophet.  Think action, intrigue, and spiritual warfare.
  • Ted Dekker. If you’re into action/suspense/thrillers with unexpected twists… start here.  Outlaw recently won a Christy Award and sounds like it’d make a great jumping off point for those new to this author’s work (though I still need to read this one).  Then again, I have read Eyes Wide Open and loved it, so maybe that’s the one I should  include in this list?
  • Francine Rivers.  Redeeming Love is a must read.  A classic historical romance and a personal favorite.  And if you like that one, there are plenty more by this talented author to choose from.
  • Dee Henderson.  Okay, I confess, I haven’t read anything by this author yet myself.  (Hangs head in shame.)  Thing is, I really need to because I love Inspirational Romantic Suspense, and that’s totally her thing.  I know her O’Malley series has been hugely popular, and since there’s a prequel, Danger in the Shadows, that won the prestigious RITA award, that’s where I’m tempted to start reading her books.

So, what do you think?  A good sampling?  Any other authors/titles you would’ve liked to see on this list of recommendations for someone new to Christian fiction?  Please comment.  I know I found it hard to stop at ten!

Update: Can’t get enough?  I found a few more top ten lists on this theme from Kate at Too Read or Not Too Read, Abbi at Christian Novels, and Rissi at Dreaming Under the Same Moon.  Check them out too for more great reads in Christian fiction!

Book Review: Safe by the Marshal’s Side by Shirlee McCoy

Title: Safe by the Marshal’s Side
Author: Shirlee McCoy
Series: Witness Protection Continuity Series, Book 1
Publisher: Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense
Genre: Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Published: 2014

Safe by the Marshal’s Side makes a great start for the Witness Protection continuity series from Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense. As a fan of Inspirational Romantic Suspense, I’m hooked, and ready to read through the rest of the series. Happily, the sixth and final book has recently been released, so I can go snag them all for my eReader without delay.

Book Description (From Publisher, Harlequin’s Web site):

HER LIFE IS ON THE LINE

For a year, U.S. marshal Hunter Davis has protected witness Annie Delacorte and her toddler daughter. But now, someone is determined to stop Annie from testifying against the men who killed her husband. To guard Annie, by-the-book Hunter will have to break a promise to himself: to not get emotionally involved. After all, he already cares more deeply than he ever imagined for the sweet family of two… a family he’ll do anything to keep safe and sound by his side.

My thoughts:

The blend of romance with suspense makes for a fun and lively read.  As the story begins, someone has discovered the location of the safe house where Annie and her daughter have been hiding under the protection of Hunter’s team of U.S. marshals.  When an intruder makes an intimidating and clearly threatening delivery, Hunter whisks them off to a new location.  But that’s not the end of the danger.  Far from it.

With the trial date approaching, and uncertainty building over how the location could have been leaked, and how to prevent further security breaches, the tension is pretty high throughout.  Plus there’s the growing attraction between Annie and Hunter as she comes to realize there’s more to him than the strictly business persona he’s shown her for the past year.

I found both hero and heroine to be very likeable people with believable goals and motivations.  And Annie’s daughter Sophia was simply too cute for words.  It was fun to watch them face significant challenges together and draw closer in the process.

The action on both the suspense and romance fronts heats up at the end of the book, and I enjoyed the vivid way certain scenes were described to draw out the reader’s emotional responses.  The ending certainly worked for me.  There’s a surprise twist introduced at the end and a few details are left unresolved, setting things up for future books in the series.  I’m definitely looking forward to finding out where the Witness Protection continuity series will go from here.

To learn more about author Shirlee McCoy and find out how to connect with her on social media, check out her Web site.  And for those who read and enjoy this title as much as I did and want to find the rest of the series, here’s a list of the titles and their respective authors.

To “Spend” or “Save” Your Best Story Ideas?

Having just finished writing a novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about story ideas and what to write next, so a bit of advice offered in a blog post I was reading jumped out at me.  It caught my attention partly because of its relevance to what I was thinking about at the time, but also because it appeared to be completely at odds with another bit of advice I’d read a few months prior that really resonated with me.  This sent me digging through my Twitter Favorites until I found that other post I remembered reading, so I could re-read it and compare the two posts side by side.

Now I’m wondering what others think on the issue of choosing to “spend” or “save” your best story ideas.  So please, check out these quotes and the links to the original articles, and then if you’re intrigued, come back here to discuss.

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Image derived from openclipart by relsi

The more recent article is one advising new novelists not to worry if their earliest attempts don’t measure up to what they want to achieve.  It makes some great points about having to write novels in order to learn how to write novels well, and makes the very reasonable assertion that your first attempt will probably not be as good as future attempts.  Then it goes on to compare writing a novel to climbing a mountain or cutting a precious gem, and recommends waiting to tackle the really high mountain or the particularly valuable gem until your skills are equal to the task.

“If you’re not ready to write that really cool novel that’s pounding at you, demanding to be written, shelve it. Put it on the back burner. Pick your cliche, but set that story aside and begin with something simpler. Or just something that doesn’t matter as much. If you know that you’re not ready, that you don’t have the skills and insights, don’t try to write the story that you hope will compare favorably with your favorite author’s best work.” – Beth Hill’s “(Stop) Comparing Yourself to Successful Authors

There are some great points in this blog post that I do agree with, and I’m sure there are some excellent reasons for shelving an idea to write later, but the concept of putting off writing an idea you love just because you’re not sure the result will live up to your expectations?  That bothers me.  I know I learned a lot over the course of writing my first (incomplete) novel that made my second (or first complete) novel significantly better.  And I learned a lot over the course of writing and editing my first completed novel that allowed me to see my first attempt a lot more clearly.  Someday (maybe next week or maybe in a few years) I’ll come back to edit and finish (or maybe completely rewrite?) that first attempt, because I do still love the premise.  I picked that idea in the first place for that very reason, because I loved the idea, whether I was ready to realize it fully at the time or not, knowing that it could be edited or rewritten later if necessary.

And that’s where I think the analogy to mountain climbing or gem cutting breaks down.  Writing a novel isn’t like climbing a mountain in that you could die or be irreparably injured in a failed attempt.  And it’s not like cutting gems in that a poorly planned or executed cut could destroy rather than enhance the value in your raw material.  Books can be edited.  They can be rewritten.  You can have as many second chances at that great idea as you want to take.  Or come up with new and better ideas.  But if you don’t try it and really give it your all, how can you know for sure what you’re capable of doing right now?

Which brings me to that competing bit of advice that struck a chord with me when I read it back in January, so much so that it stuck with me and came to mind when I read the more recent post.

“Don’t save your best storyline for later. Use it now. And what’s more, use the most intriguing characters you’ve ever come up with to people that tale. Keep a list of striking metaphors? Try and employ every single one of them in your current work in progress. Don’t skimp. Don’t save. Become a wanton spender of your creativity.” – Lisa Samson’s “Shoot the Wad

Lisa Samson goes on to suggest, “If you live and love and take chances, if you open your eyes to the world not as you think it should be, but as it is, every single bit of it will soon be replaced.”

I hope she’s right about that, because for the book I just finished writing, I took her advice.  I used what I considered my best romantic suspense story idea, one that had been percolating in the back of my brain for months (while working on that other novel), and I ran with it, holding nothing back.

So far, so good.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story, and it got me through to the final stage in Harlequin’s Killer Voices contest and garnered a full manuscript request.  No word yet on whether I’ll be getting a contract, a rejection, or a revision letter, but whatever happens next I’m glad I chose to focus on an idea I loved because I think it allowed me to write the best story I could at the time.

Now comes the scary part.  No, I’m not talking about getting editorial feedback.  I’m looking forward to that, strange as it may sound.  I’m talking about coming up with another idea I love just as much for my next book.  Which is where Lisa Samson’s advice is a huge source of encouragement.  With thirty-four novels and three Christy Awards under her belt, her approach seems to have worked out well for her, and I’m hoping it’ll work well for me too.

I’m in the brainstorming phase right now.  I’m busy bandying about possible villain motivations, hero and heroine characteristics, internal and external conflicts, scenes, settings, and more, looking for just the right mix of pieces that will fit together and complement each other to make a complete story idea I can really get excited about writing.  Maybe (hopefully!) I’ll like it even better than my last one.  :)

Now I’m curious.  What do you think?  Is it better to “spend” or “save” your best story ideas?  Or does it depend on the situation?