Monday, October 26, 2009

Spotlight on Bethany House - Christian Fiction Novels

Bethany House continuously releases quality Christian fiction novels. Their light reads are perfect for inspiration and enjoyment. This past summer I read three of their new releases, each book very different from the others but good in its own way.

"Fir, cedar, pines, oaks, and maples densely timbered this section. But it was the redwoods that never failed to fill him with awe. Their feathery-looking needles and reddish bark. They way they stretched up to incredible heights and the sheer magnitude of their circumferences. How long ago had God planted their seeds?" - A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist

Several states can claim a rich logging history. Strong and hardy lumberjacks made their living in the logging woods. Set in the redwood forests of Washington State, Deeanne Gist's newest Christian romance, A Bride in the Bargain, tells the tale of a lumberjack named Joe Denton who needs to find a wife so that he can keep his land. For a fee of $300, he contracts with a man named Asa Mercer for a mail-order bride. Anna Ivey, a young civil war orphan living in Massachusetts needs to get out of a bad work situation. She signs up to travel to Washington State with the understanding that she would work as a cook for a lumberjack. Once she arrives in Washington they both realize they have been tricked as Anna has no interest in becoming Joe Denton's bride. However, Joe paid her way so she is indebted to him and remains on as his cook. She must overcome her fear of hurting those she loves and he must learn to love something more than his land before they can have any hope of getting together.

The book, partly based on actual historical events, provides and interesting fictionalized account of lumberjacks in the 1800's (springboards and cropped pants) and also an unusual portrait of a real man called Asa Mercer who conned several men and women into paying him to work as a matchmaker. Gist incorporates real newspaper clippings in her book and has a special way of making history come alive. She also is a master at writing scenes full of romantic tension and pulls the reader into her stories with "edgy inspirational” flair. Her lead female characters are always feisty and a bit stubborn. Speaking of spunk, my husband's great-grandmother worked as a cook in a Wisconsin lumber camp. To my knowledge, she didn't share many stories, but I imagine she had plenty to tell. Reading stories such as A Bride in A Bargain peaks my interest about life in a lumber camp and makes me want to learn more about the actual men and women that lived and worked in the logging industry.
A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist. Bethany House Publishers (June 2009); 368 pages: ISBN 9780764204074
Source: Review copy provided for free by Bethany House

"To acquire another correspondent gave me great joy. I may not have had face-to-face friends, but my friends of the pen ... I would hold such relationships against any others." - How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser

The love story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning is one of most fascinating romances in history. Their romance inspired the famous and most well known love poems ever written, "Sonnets from the Portuguese." Nancy Moser in her historical novel How Do I Love Thee? provides a fictionalized though highly researched account of this amazing relationship, in particular Elizabeth's story.

While we were dating my husband thoughtfully presented me with a copy of the Sonnets from the Portuguese (the poems can be found in the back of Moser's book as well). I love Elizabeth's poems and writings, but I never knew anything about her until I read Moser's book. What a very interesting, unusual life! A recluse from a very early age, Elizabeth hardly ever left her room and rarely received visitors. She suffered from a lung condition, took many different medicines (some opiates), suffered from emotional bouts and rarely received visitors. Her oppressive father watched over his children like a hawk and refused to allow them to marry. Her romance with Robert Browning began after she received a letter from him in which he stated his admiration for her work. They conducted a secret courtship by letters and eventually eloped, against her father's will.

I learned a great deal about Elizabeth Barrett Browning from reading Moser's book. The chapters detailing her romance with Robert Browning were simply captivating. I also enjoyed the author's notes at the end of the book and the inclusion of various quotes from the actual letters written. I admit I struggled with some of the earlier chapters that covered her life as a recluse, and I found some of Moser's phrasing a little tedious to read. But mostly I liked the book with all my heart. I may just have to revisit it, especially on Valentine's Day, for a little inspiration.
How Do I Love Thee? by Nancy Moser. Bethany House Publishers (June 2009); 368 pages: ISBN 9780764205019
Source: Review copy provided for free by Bethany House

"The good stuff in life doesn't always come with a big sign around its neck. We have to look, to seek. You can't help but find when your hand is firmly encased in His."
- How Sweet It Is by Alice J. Wisler

Sometimes inexplicable accidents occur. Sometimes hearts break. Lasting scars often cut deep into the soul and healing isn't easy. After several life-shattering events, a twenty-seven-year-old Atlanta chef named Deena Livingston desperately needs a change. When she inherits her grandfather's cabin in North Carolina she seizes the opportunity with trepidation and hope. She arrives there and to her surprise she learns her inheritance comes with a condition: she must teach middle-schoolers at The Center run by the Nantahala Presbyterian Church how to cook. But the biggest life surprises come when she learns to trust others and the Lord, to forgive and to confront her own pain. Her new friends help her heal -- Jonas, the plumber that has deep faith and understanding, Zack, the kind social worker and the eight kids at The Center who each struggle with their own hurt.

How Sweet It Is offers readers all sorts of uplifting messages about life and faith. Wisler's use of scripture passages and conversations between the characters help remind us all of our blessings and to trust in the Lord. Readers journey on an emotional rollercoaster with Deena, yet the ride is so worthwhile. The well-written characters and the tender romance appeal to the heart -- how sweet it all is! I liked the quirky moments in the story like the bits of Dr. Seuss and the Eagles songs injected in the conversation, the hooting owls that keep Deena awake, and the raccoon bowl that her grandfather said must be used for his Southern Peanut Soup. I loved how an object like a raccoon bowl could take on such meaning. The raccoon bowl was an unusual yet special connection to her grandfather and reminded me of the antique hand mixer that I cherish. Both my grandmother and mother have the same mixers and every time I pick mine up I feel a connection with them. In fact, I think it is about time I cooked up something sweet, like the scrumptious cake on the front cover.
How Sweet It Is by Alice J. Wisler. Bethany House Publishers (May 2009); 320 pages: ISBN 9780764204784
Source: Review copy provided for free by Bethany House

Now it's your turn. Let me know about the Christian fiction you've been reading lately. I'm always looking for recommendations!

(View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)


Alice. J. Wisler said...

Thanks for reviewing my novel!

~ Alice J. Wisler
Author of Rain Song & How Sweet It Is