Forging ahead, finding your faith
Failure and sin, redemption and healing form the backbone of these five novels, much as they do in the Bible that inspires writers of Christian fiction. From thrilling mystery and longed-for relationships to tests of will and heart, these works of fiction highlight God’s grace to man—who desperately needs it.
In Billy Coffey’s The Devil Walks in Mattingly, past misdeeds haunt a husband and wife in a way that blurs the line between the real world and something beyond. The sleepy town of Mattingly, Virginia, recalls Flannery O’Connor with its glimpses of the grotesque and supernatural. In this small town—prone to gossip and an inability to let bygones be bygones—the past and the present collide when heinous crimes are committed and an evil is let loose.
Coffey introduces his readers to Jake and Kate Barnett and their shared demons, centered on a boy named Philip McBride. A third party, a shadowy figure named Taylor, emerges broken from the backwoods that have borne witness to the whole shameful story. Soon the events of 20 years ago press their weight on Kate, Jake and Taylor, and sweep new victims into the arc of pain.
The story unwinds slowly and with a convincing voice that draws the reader deep into the unexplainable. The evil that wreaks havoc on Mattingly shakes many out of their stupor and awakens them to the possibility of forgiveness. Extricating themselves from the darkness of the past will mean bravely forging headlong into it.
FOLLOW YOUR CONSCIENCE
“It’s Andersonville. Men die for no meaning.” Such is the overwhelming impression felt while reading Tracy Groot’s The Sentinels of Andersonville, which focuses on the evils both within and without the infamous Civil War prison. Yankee soldiers died by the thousands in squalid conditions that Groot describes with a deft accuracy, interspersed with historical accounts and journal entries from men who died and men who lived.
A privileged but well-meaning Southern belle named Violet Stiles discovers the shocking abuses at Andersonville. Aided by a possible suitor named Dance Pickett and a Rebel soldier named Emery Jones, who had to deliver his newfound Yankee friend to the prison, they form a society to bring the horrors to light. Their hometown of Americus, Georgia, is not far from Andersonville, but its residents wish to remain removed from the goings-on there, even when confronted with the sad reality. Groot ably captures the despair of prisoners and soldiers alike, as well as the divided emotions of the Southern townsfolk, who have lost sons to the cause and hate the Yankees but want to be “good Christians.” When told of the appalling cesspool that is Andersonville, many won’t believe, others believe but won’t act, and still more focus only on the technicalities and red tape involved. Groot truthfully renders the struggle between patriotism and Christ’s call to help the suffering regardless of their affiliation.
THE CALL OF THE PRAIRIE
As in her previous “prairie romances,” Janette Oke highlights the timidity as well as the growing perseverance of a young protagonist making her way in the rough world. For Where Courage Calls, Oke shares the authorial role with her daughter, Laurel Oke Logan, and the two relate a tale that is as much about family relationships (those born and those made) as it is about faith.
Elizabeth “Beth” Thatcher has embarked on a journey to teach school in the Canadian mining town of Coal Valley, far from the shelter and comfort of her family home. The story reads like Beth’s journal as she encounters obstacles in her new community—having all her belongings stolen at the train station, being treated as an outsider, struggling with illness and uncovering the threat hidden in the woods around her new home. Her growing love for the children she teaches as well as the town’s maligned Italian immigrant workers fuels her to meet the many challenges of frontier life. Eventually her mistakes give way to truly following the call of Christ as she endeavors to improve her pupils’ lives. Readers of Oke’s previous books, which include the best-selling Love Comes Softly series, will find much to enjoy in this new novel, filled with her familiar balance of just the right amount of romance and mystery.
What if you could create your perfect friend? One who literally was always available? That’s the driving question behind John Faubion’s suspenseful tale of the seductive power of technology, Friend Me. The fictional Virtual Friend Me software takes email or social networking sites and goes one better: allowing users to create the friend or companion they seek.
Scott and Rachel Douglas, parents of two, succumb to the software’s promise. Given her husband’s long hours at work, Rachel needs someone she can talk to, so she re-creates the best friend she lost to cancer. Scott sees what the intriguing new software offers his wife, and, in a life-altering decision, chooses to create a female friend. Unsurprisingly, things take an intimate turn. Little do Rachel and Scott know that Melissa Montalvo, the woman behind the cutting-edge software, has taken a personal interest in the couple. Convinced that Scott is the perfect man for her, the unhinged Melissa begins a systematic effort to break them up by any means.
The twists here are numerous, and the revealed details of Melissa’s backstory grow more disturbing. Though the characters are somewhat sketchily drawn, their dissatisfaction and mistakes lead them plausibly down a very wrong road. Will they be able to change course before it’s too late?
NO SIMPLE DEATH
Amber Wright runs the Amish Artisan Village in Middlebury, Indiana, a collection of shops where people come to admire a simpler way of life, buy handicrafts and enjoy the unique culture, charm and cooking. It is not a place where people die mysteriously. Yet as Murder Simply Brewed opens, one of her store owners, Ethan, dies in a way that is ruled natural at first. Until, that is, odd and threatening events occur and curious clues start piling up. Prophetic verses from the book of Daniel are found scrawled in blood-red paint, along with other offerings meant to frighten.
To uncover the truth, Amber and her begrudging, widowed neighbor, Tate, follow the trail. Soon, everyone from the man’s wife to his co-workers and mentally unstable sister becomes a suspect. Vannetta Chapman keeps the action suspenseful, and the who-done-it mostly unpredictable as her Amish and English characters work together to solve the mystery. Out of even such dreadful circumstances come moments of grace: between Amber and her Amish employee Hannah and between Amber and Tate, who had each given up on love.