Monthly Archives: November 2013

Book Review: Vanished by Irene Hannon

Cover of Vanished by Irene HannonTitle: Vanished
Author: Irene Hannon
Series: Book 1 of the Private Justice Series
Genre(s): Christian Fiction, Inspirational Romantic Suspense, Mystery

Readers of Inspirational Romance and Romantic Suspense should find Vanished by Irene Hannon to be an interesting read.  The story begins with an unusual car accident.  Moira Harrison, the story’s heroine, is driving on an unfamiliar country road at night in the rain, when a terrified woman jumps in front of her car.  But when this woman disappears without a trace, no one believes that Moira saw her at all.  People think she must have seen a deer and mistaken it for a person given the bad conditions and her missing glasses, or that she became confused from the head injury she suffered in the accident.

But Moira knows what she saw and is convinced the woman was in some kind of trouble.  The rest of the story follows Moira’s quest for answers as she seeks to help the unknown woman she encountered on that dark country road.  Enter handsome Private Investigator and ex-detective Cal Burke, the one person inclined to believe Moira’s story.  As Moira and Cal work together to investigate the disappearance, they uncover incriminating evidence that points in an unlikely, but dangerous direction.

The suspense element is minimal in the first half of the book, but the mystery and romance elements keep the reader turning the pages.  Sufficient hints and foreshadowing allow the reader to keep a step ahead of the characters in their investigation, if you’re paying close attention.  But each question answered raises more questions in turn, pulling you continually further into the story, and making it way too hard to put down.  The romance between Cal and Moira is sweet and satisfying.  It moves at a believable pace with challenges arising from Cal’s lingering feelings for his deceased wife, and Moira’s status as a client.

As their investigation uncovers more and more evidence against their suspect, he becomes aware that Moira knows too much.  That’s when the suspense kicks into high gear, and the reader begins to wonder if Moira would have been better off letting this mystery go unsolved.

One plot twist in particular felt a little reminiscent of a Nancy Drew mystery, with the heroine rushing in where she shouldn’t and getting herself into trouble, before ultimately turning the situation around.  Nevertheless, the circumstances and character motivations surrounding her decisions felt plausible if a bit foolish, promoting a willing suspension of disbelief.

All in all, a fascinating read featuring romance, mystery, and suspense.  The characters were three dimensional and interesting, with believable motivations and reactions, even in the case of the bad guy.  The fascinating characters seem to be one of the best features of Irene Hannon’s work, along with the way she interweaves plot and character development throughout each scene, such that nothing is wasted.  It seems that everything on the page contributes something significant toward building a well crafted work of art.  Also impressive is the amount of detail in both the investigative and medical spheres, indicating the extensive research that must have gone into the writing of this book. Highly recommended for fans of Christian fiction, particularly those who enjoy romantic suspense.

For those interested in the discussability of Vanished, note that it raises a number of interesting questions about complicated issues like assisted suicide, and the ethics of using “pretexts” in private investigative work.  This book could be a good choice for stimulating discussion by a book group.  The author’s Web site, provides a number of excellent discussion questions for your consideration, but watch out for spoilers if you haven’t read the book yet!

Best Selling Christian Fiction: The Lists

For general fiction, there are plenty of best seller lists to consult if you want to get an idea of what books are popular.  Well known publishers of best seller lists include the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, the American Booksellers Association, and large retailers like and Barnes & Noble.  Each source uses its own methodology to compile its list, and the results will vary accordingly.

For Christian Fiction, there are likewise, a variety of sources of best seller lists, including associations and large retailers.  By browsing these lists, you can get an idea for the titles that may be popular at any given time among Christian and Inspirational Fiction titles.

Best Seller Lists

Best Seller Lists

ECPA Bestsellers (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association): The lists are compiled monthly based on sales in various retail outlets nationwide.  Visit their site for more specifics about their methodology.

CBA Bestsellers (The Association for Christian Retail): Monthly listings of the Top 50 books selling in Christian stores, monthly listings of more specific categories including fiction, and weekly glimpses into the top books selling in selected categories. Lists are updated hourly using a proprietary formula that takes into account both recent and historical sales by this retailer.  Within the Christian Fiction category, there are separate lists for Bestselling Books, Bestselling eBooks, and Most Popular Free eBooks.  And if you’re looking for a particular genre within Christian fiction, you can select that genre for a more specific list.

Barnes & Noble: Their Christian Fiction & Literature offerings can be sorted by Best Selling, and you can limit the list to show only physical books or NOOK books if you wish. Their fiction offerings can be sorted by Bestseller.  You can limit the results to one of more than a dozen subcategories by genre if you’re looking for something specific.

You may have noticed that I used the terms Best Seller, Best-Seller, and Bestseller interchangeably.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement over which is the correct or accepted spelling, so I attempted to use the term that a given list uses when referring to that list.

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Discovering Christian Fiction

I have been a Christian and a bookworm for as long as I can remember.  But it was only a few years ago that I discovered and embraced Christian fiction.  I think I knew in the back of my mind that it was out there.  But I thought it was the stuff that sat ignored in those bookstores where you go to buy a nice Bible, or the latest devotional, or a wall hanging featuring a pretty pastoral scene and a Bible verse.  And not the kind of thing you might want to read for enjoyment.

Inspirational Wall Hanging

Inspirational Wall Hanging

I assumed Christian fiction was for the type of Christian who was afraid of regular fiction.  The type of Christian who avoids movie theaters out of principle regardless of what’s showing and who considers dancing a sin worse than sex out of wedlock.  I figured that if I wanted to be edified, I’d read the Bible or a nonfiction Christian book, and if I wanted to be entertained, I’d read whatever fiction was popular in the world at large.

Now that I’m reading more Christian fiction, and writing it, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that it suffers from a lot of false assumptions and overgeneralizations.  And that Christians would do well to read more of it, and talk more about what they’re reading.  Allow me to explain.

Some say Christian fiction is too preachy or didactic.  That the stories aren’t stories so much as thinly veiled evangelism.  While I’m sure you could find examples to support that idea, I’ve found that many of the best authors of Christian fiction (and fiction in general) avoid “telling” in favor of “showing.”  When the characters are allowed to make mistakes, face the consequences and learn from them, and when the Christian element arises naturally from the characters and the situations they’re facing, it doesn’t come across as preachy.  It comes across as thought-provoking and discussable.  And in my opinion, that makes for good reading.

Some say Christian fiction is too bland.  That it’s been sanitized and pasteurized until there’s no life left in it.  Let’s just say that some Christian novels are kinder and gentler than others.  Some readers are looking simply for a clean, safe read.  Others want to be challenged by more complicated and potentially controversial themes and ideas.  And there are Christian authors and novels out there appealing to both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, with entertaining and enjoyable books.  It might just take a little digging to find the authors and titles that will appeal to any given individual.  But is that surprising?  Even in the general fiction market, not every author appeals to every reader to the same degree.

What I think a lot of Christians don’t realize is just how much Christian fiction is published and how widely varied it is.  Whatever your preferred genre or style of writing, there’s a good chance Christian fiction offers it – romance, mystery, suspense, science fiction, historical, literary.  You name it, chances are, it’s out there.  The problem as I see it, is that most libraries and secular bookstores carry a very limited selection of Christian fiction, and few people take the time to look beyond what’s readily available.  Even Christian bookstores tend to stock only a fraction of what’s out there.  Publishers, bookstores, and libraries try to guess at what will be popular, and supply that kind of book, but it’s an imperfect process.  The good news (or bad news, depending on your perspective) is that what’s readily available is impacted by what sells.

So here’s my suggestion.  If you’re a Christian, who hasn’t read much Christian fiction and are open to trying it, start seeking it out.  Consider reading not just one book by one author, but a wide sampling of it.  Read across sub-genres and across publishing houses.  And when you find a book or an author you love, write reviews and tell your friends.  Chances are, they’ll love it too, and when they buy their copies, sales increase, publishers take note, and more books of that type will be available in the future.  While you’re at it, ask those same friends for recommendations.  Most likely they can recommend some titles you’d love to read too.  And as more Christians read Christian fiction, the publishing industry will discover there really is a market for it, and a greater variety will become more readily available in bookstores and libraries.

In my opinion, it’s worth a little digging to find books you’ll love.  There are a lot of gems out there in the world of Christian fiction just waiting to be discovered.  I’ll be blogging here about some of the books and authors I’m reading as I continue to explore the world of Christian fiction, so consider subscribing to my blog and reading along with me.

Do you have any favorite titles or authors when it comes to Christian fiction?  What is it you like about them?  Please share your comments below, so the rest of us can seek out those books.

Outlining a Novel is Like Planning a Cross-Country Road Trip

For any writers out there, and anyone else curious about my writing process, check out today’s guest post on the Writing Irish blog, where I make an extended analogy between outlining a novel and planning a cross-country road trip. I’m the type who would “rather spend a little extra time up front thinking about where I’m going from the comfort of my own home than put in those extra hours lost on the side of the road.”

What about you? Are you more the planner or the spontaneous type?

Book Review: The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

While non-fiction reviews are not at all the focus of my blog and other writers are not my core readership, I thought it appropriate (if a little ironic) to review Amanda Luedeke’s The Extroverted Writer in my inaugural blog post.  Appropriate since the advice contained in that book proved invaluable in helping me to define the focus of this very blog and my other social media outlets.  Ironic since one of the key points I gleaned from the book is the importance of knowing your focus and sticking to it.  Ah, well.  I guess I’ll start sticking to it with my next post.

With experience in both the marketing and the publishing industries, Amanda Luedeke is in an ideal position to provide advice on marketing and platform building for authors.  Even better, she did a great job in this book of approaching the subject in a logical, well organized, and approachable manner.  Best of all, the book is concise.  I was happy to glean the information I needed in a short format rather than a 300 page tome.  That’s an important consideration for someone like me who’s working toward finishing her first novel at the same time she hopes to begin building her following as an author!  It’s my guess that I’m not the only writer feeling crunched for time who will appreciate the brevity.

Since I am no stranger to managing Web sites or using social media on a personal level, the aspect of The Extroverted Writer most helpful to me was the discussion of how authors, including those who have yet to publish, can identify their target audience and use social media outlets like Web sites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook to reach that audience.  The ideas and suggestions presented really got me thinking about how I could use my own areas of expertise to engage with the very readers I hope will become my fans.  For this reason, I highly recommend The Extroverted Writer to other authors and aspiring authors interested in online marketing and platform building.

So, with that out of my system, I’ll aim to stick to my blog’s focus from here on out.  I’ll be drawing upon my experience as a librarian and book discussion group leader in reviewing fiction similar to what I write and sharing tips and discussion questions for book groups.

Amanda, if you’re reading this, thank you for sharing your expertise!