Monthly Archives: December 2014

My Top 9 Favorites in Christian Fiction from 2014


Why 9, and not 10?  A couple of reasons.

First, there were a couple of books I really wanted to read in 2014 that I suspect would’ve made this list if I’d only managed to fit them in before the end of the year (based in part on how much I’ve enjoyed past books by their authors), so I’m kind of leaving that spot open for those honorary favorites that I haven’t actually gotten to read yet.  I’m looking at you Seahorse Legacy and Love Unexpected.  (Why only 24 hours in the day?  Why!)

Secondly, even taking into account only those books that were A) published in 2014 and B) read by me in 2014, there would’ve been a tie between about six different books for that tenth spot.  Rather than feature 15 books, I went with 9, because I really wanted to emphasize the absolute tops among my favorites.

Here they are, organized by genre, with links to my reviews:

Contemporary Romance

Historical Romance

General Fiction

Biblical Fiction

Speculative Fiction / YA

So those were my favorites of 2014.  What were yours?

Update: Okay, so apparently I can’t stand to leave it at just 9 books after all, when there were so many amazing books published in 2014.  So here’s the rest of my top 15!

For a few more Contemporary Romance picks, there’s Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck and the Winter Brides collection featuring novellas by Denise Hunter, Deborah Raney, and Betsy St. Amant.  In mystery/suspense I loved Heather Day Gilbert’s Miranda Warning.  For romantic suspense, my favorite was Deceived by Irene Hannon.  And if you like novels with a medical or a military flavor, I recommend Lip Reading by Harry Kraus and Raptor 6 (review to come) by Ronie Kendig.

Book Review: A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

Merry (almost) Christmas everyone!  Since Christmas is nearly here, I thought I’d give a nod to the holiday around the corner by sharing my review of a novel that takes a look at the life and teachings of Jesus (the reason for the season, yes?) from a different perspective.  It seemed thematically appropriate.  Plus, if you still have last minute Christmas shopping ahead of you (or are looking for some post-Christmas entertainment for yourself), this fascinating historical novel could be just the thing.  Without further ado…

Title: A.D. 30
Author: Ted Dekker
Publisher: Center Street (Hachette Book Group)
Genre: Biblical fiction
Published: 2014

Book Description (from Publisher Center Street):

A sweeping epic set in the harsh deserts of Arabia and ancient Palestine.

A war that rages between kingdoms on the earth and in the heart.

The harrowing journey of the woman at the center of it all.

Step back in time to the year of our Lord…A.D. 30.

The outcast daughter of one of the most powerful Bedouin sheikhs in Arabia, Maviah is called on to protect the very people who rejected her. When their enemies launch a sudden attack with devastating consequences, Maviah escapes with the help of two of her father’s warriors–Saba who speaks more with his sword than his voice and Judah, a Jew who comes from a tribe that can read the stars. Their journey will be fraught with terrible danger. If they can survive the vast forbidding sands of a desert that is deadly to most, they will reach a brutal world subjugated by kings and emperors. There Maviah must secure an unlikely alliance with King Herod of the Jews.

But Maviah’s path leads her unexpectedly to another man. An enigmatic teacher who speaks of a way in this life which offers greater power than any kingdom. His name is Yeshua, and his words turn everything known on its head. Though following him may present even greater danger, his may be the only way for Maviah to save her people–and herself.

My Thoughts:

Ted Dekker’s latest book, A.D. 30, is a not-to-be missed tale of epic adventure, romance, political intrigue, and one woman’s life-altering encounter with Jesus, or as He’s called in this novel, Yeshua.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of future books in this series.  I’m also hoping to hear of it being made into a movie so I can see it on the big screen.  Just saying.  The visuals would be absolutely breathtaking.  Check out the book trailer and you’ll get an idea for what I mean.

But, getting back to the book….

I think I’m a little in awe of the research that must have gone into the writing of this book.  Dekker paints the ancient world in exquisite detail, using specific sights, sounds, feelings, and cultural details to put the reader right there with his characters.  From the multi-sensory experience of a desert sandstorm to a glimpse of the opulence of Herod’s palace, not that far from the poverty in Nazareth, this book is a real eye-opener.

I loved Maviah’s viewpoint.  She’s not an insider.  In many ways – as a woman, a foreigner, and an outcast even to her own people – she’s on the outside looking in, but what she sees and hears on her journey has a huge impact on her life.  And seeing and hearing it through her eyes and ears, those of someone encountering Jesus in person and for the first time, the old familiar stories and teachings are made fresh again.

Lest I leave you with the impression that this book is all about Jesus, I should clarify.  It’s not.  He actually plays a relatively small (pagewise anyway) though pivotal part in this book.  Rather, this is primarily the story of Maviah, a woman accustomed to embracing the shame heaped upon her by others, as she begins to step into a new role and finds the strength and faith to face the myriad political and physical challenges that stand between her and her goals.

But will she reach those goals?  Can she restore her father’s honor and avenge her son’s death?  You’ll just have to read this book to find out… and maybe one or two more in the series.  No spoilers here!  :)

Thank you to the folks at Shelton Interactive and Center Street for providing me with an electronic copy of this book via NetGalley for review purposes.  This review represents my own honest opinion.

Update, 10/13/15: There is now an abridged version of this novel available, which I have also reviewed. My review of the abridged edition explores the differences between the two, in the interest of helping readers decide which edition they might prefer.

Celebrate an Inspirational Christmas… Category Romance Style (2014)

Looking for a quick and entertaining read this Christmas season?  Craving a little holiday inspired romance?  I’ve put together a list highlighting this year’s Christmas themed inspirational romances from Harlequin’s Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, Love Inspired Suspense, and Heartsong Presents lines.  Without further ado, check out these gorgeous covers!

Love Inspired : Contemporary Christian Romances

Love Inspired Historical : Historical Christian Romances

Love Inspired Suspense : Inspirational Romantic Suspense

Heartsong Presents : A Mix of Contemporary & Historical Romance

Want some more bookish Christmas fun?  Don’t miss my earlier post, featuring Christmas themed novels and novellas from a variety of Christian fiction publishers.

Audiobook Review: Winter Brides by Denise Hunter, Deborah Raney, and Betsy St. Amant

Title:  Winter Brides
Authors:  Denise Hunter (A December Bride), Deborah Raney (A January Bride), and Betsy St. Amant (A February Bride)
Narrators:  Julie Carr (A December Bride), Christy Ragland (A January Bride), and Amber Quick (A February Bride)
Audio Publisher:  Brilliance Audio
Print Publisher:  Zondervan
Genre(s):  Contemporary Romance, Christian Fiction
Published:  2014

About the Collection (from the Publisher):

Happily ever after begins today. The honor of your presence is requested at three winter weddings…

My Thoughts on the Collection:

Winter Brides is a fun collection of short and sweet contemporary Christian romances. Each of the three novellas included in this collection was first published individually in print and audio editions as part of Zondervan’s A Year of Weddings series, so if you’ve already read A December Bride, A January Bride, or A February Bride, then parts of this collection will be very familiar to you.  I had not previously read any of the individual titles myself, but I’d heard some lovely things about them, so I was excited at the opportunity to read and review the audio edition of this book.  And yes, the collection turned out to be just as much fun as I’d hoped.

If you enjoy reading contemporary romance, this book is for you. Each story brings something uniquely enjoyable to the mix. While the shorter length of the novella format doesn’t lend itself to the complex plots and characterizations typically found in longer novels, I thought each of the authors did a great job giving readers a fully fleshed out story in a short and sweet package. In fact, if you’re looking for some light reading to fill the gaps in the midst of this busy holiday season, or an audiobook to pass the hours on a long car ride, this book could be just the thing!

Since we’re talking about the audio edition in particular, I’ll confess to being a little surprised that the narrators didn’t give each character his or her own unique voice. Given the wide range of characters in terms of age, gender, and other traits, this struck me as a missed opportunity to make the audio edition really stand out. However, I’ll also say that I didn’t miss that feature as much as I thought I might. The narrators’ clear and pleasant reading styles worked well with the strengths of the stories themselves to keep me hanging on every word.

About A December Bride by Denise Hunter:

When Layla O’Reilly and Seth Murphy make their engagement public, she knows it’s only to convince a major client that she’s high-society enough to work for his agency. Seth has secretly loved Layla for years, but she’s never given him the time of day. For Layla, this romantic illusion is the chance to save her career. And for Seth, it’s the chance to finally win her heart.

My Thoughts on A December Bride:

I imagine fans of Denise Hunter’s Chapel Springs Romance series will find the setting and some of the characters in this novella familiar from the novels in that series. However as someone who hasn’t read that series yet, I can tell you that this lovely little novella stands on its own two feet just fine.

This is the story of two friends, Seth and Layla, who kind of had a thing for each other once upon a time but never actually dated because Seth’s best friend Jake asked Layla out first… only to break her heart. Trouble is, Layla blames Seth in part for introducing Jake to the woman who came between them. Circumstances conspire to give Seth a chance to change her mind about him and possibly win her heart.

The premise works really well for a novella. There’s enough history in their backstory to make the story’s outcome and timing plausible and enough built in conflict to keep things interesting. I liked the characters, especially Seth, and was totally rooting for him to win Layla over. The author included some really sweet romantic moments and wrapped the story up with a conclusion that brought a smile to my face.

In the audio edition, Julie Carr’s narration does a great job capturing the characters’ emotions, and keeping the reader engaged with the story.

About A January Bride by Deborah Raney:

Novelist Madeleine Houser arranges a temporary office in a local bed and breakfast to escape the distracting renovations at her sister’s house. Although she’s never laid eyes on the inn’s owner, an unlikely friendship blossoms between them as they leave daily notes for each other, and before long, Maddie finds herself falling for her mysterious host — a man likely many years her senior — and a man she’s never even met.

My Thoughts on A January Bride:

This one was such a cute story! I was highly amused by the way one detail after another reinforced Maddie’s and Art’s erroneous assumptions about each other, right up until the point they finally met face to face. What a surprise they’re in for, and the fact that the reader sees it coming a mile away makes it all the more enjoyable. I don’t know how Ginny managed to keep quiet about the misunderstanding as long as she did, but as a reader, I kept wanting to nudge Maddie and Art toward the truth, because it was so easy to see they were perfect for each other.  I had a lot of fun reading this one, and particularly enjoyed the bit about the photo Maddie used to represent her book’s hero.  (You’ll understand when you read it.)

Christy Ragland’s clear voice and careful enunciation made for a very pleasant listening experience and did a good job showcasing the merits of the text itself.

About A February Bride by Betsy St. Amant:

History repeats itself when Allie Andrews escapes the church on her wedding day — wearing the same dress passed down for generations of women in her family, all women with histories of failed marriages. Allie loves Marcus but fears she’s destined to repeat her family’s mistakes. When thrown unexpectedly together for a wedding months later, Allie and Marcus discover their own story might be far from over.

My Thoughts on A February Bride:

I loved the theme of restoration running throughout this sweet novella.  Allie restores old furniture and Marcus restores classic cars, but can their relationship be restored after she leaves him at the altar?  Readers of romance can probably guess the answer to that question, but the fun is in following their journey.  Imagine the awkwardness of being maid of honor in a wedding where the brother of the bride is the man you almost married.  The showers, the planning, the rehearsal… somehow they keep running into each other, and the tension is palpable.  I enjoyed seeing Allie’s faith journey and how it tied into the romantic relationship and I absolutely loved the role the dress played in the story.  One small detail of the ending stretched believability a bit in the interest of a cute wrap-up, but I did enjoy that wrap-up, so I can’t complain.

The narrator paired with this story, Amber Quick, seemed to be a good match, with a pleasant reading style, rich in emotion, that made it easy to get swept up in the story.

Many thanks to Zondervan and Brilliance Audio for the opportunity to review this audiobook.

Christmas Themed Reading for 2014

Ready for some Christmas themed reading to help get you into the Christmas spirit? I’ve compiled a list of this year’s new Christian fiction novels, novellas, and collections that focus on Christmas. I hope you enjoy the gorgeous covers and maybe even find something you’ll want to dive right into reading. Merry Christmas!

Oh, and if you enjoy inspirational category romance, watch out! I’m working on a similar Christmas themed list featuring Harlequin’s Love Inspired, Love Inspired Suspense, Love Inspired Historical, and Heartsong Presents titles. Stay tuned.

General Fiction

Contemporary Romance

Historical Romance

Romantic Suspense

Amish Fiction