Christian fiction

Book & Cover Review of "Hunter's Moon" by Don Hoesel

Book Review

This is a well-written novel, that definitely strikes off the beaten path when it comes to Christian fiction. My guess is that Don is trying to appeal to both a Christian and non-Christian readership. His main character, CJ Baxter, has only recently become a Christian, and it’s made abundantly clear that he is still struggling to remember that this should be affecting his life choices. His conscience does eventually begin to prick at him, but the overall tone of the book is similar to main-stream political/crime novels for over 90% of the book.

Without giving too much away, the premise of the story is about a well-connected family that has been driven by aspirations for political power for generations. Driven to the point of murder. There is more than one family secret that comes to light in this novel, and the main character struggles with his anger over having to shoulder some of these secrets so that others would avoid the consequences. Learning to forgive, or at least to choose not to want to be angry, is a large theme in this story that features back-stabbing, domestic violence and the bitter war that can be waged using personal property in separation or divorce.

A good story, but leaves you feeling winded and more like you’ve finally reached the beginning of his spiritual journey – at the very end of the novel. I would like to have seen more spiritual growth in the character by the novel’s end. (Perhaps this character will be seen again in another book that will cover that? Time will tell.)

Book Cover Review

Again, I think the cover design also reflects the fact that this author is trying to reach both a Christian and a non-Christian audience. The cover is very reminiscent of many popular suspense or crime novels as it is dominated almost entirely by the image of a smoking gun. There is a very faint background of a dark wooded area faded into the top inch or so of the cover, but it is barely noticeable compared to the large, and vibrant red title text and the smoking gun barrel.

The only hints on the cover that elude to a Christian message are the fact that this book is noticeably published by Bethany House, a well-known inspirational fiction publisher, and one critical review printed on the back cover from the Library Journal “This intelligent drama will appeal to readers who enjoy stories about … the faith that guides one through life.” Even this critical review seems to hint that the end of his sentence might be a little bit of a surprise.

It is my opinion that the cover style matches the tone of this novel, and should help the author accomplish reaching a wider audience with his message (I just wish the message had been a bit clearer by the end of the novel. Not that I wanted it to to become preachy … just that I wish it hadn’t ended quite at the spot that it did.)

* This book was provided to me for review by the Bethany House Book Reviewer program.

Fiction

Book & Cover Review of "The Carousel Painter" by Judith Miller

Book Review

This was a delightful Christian historical novel, featuring a fast-paced mystery and a little romance. The plot definitely kept you turning the pages!  I additionally love that the characters were given very unique personalities – filled with character flaws we could all relate to. This novels main character, Carrington Brouwer, is a young woman seeking to be loved for who she is, flaws and all.

Due to the death of both her parents she becomes dependent on the offered charity of one of her father’s previous painting students and her wealthy family.  After moving from Paris to Ohio she discovers her presence is largely unwanted by the female head of the household.  She struggles to fit in, and to find worth after such a drastic change in her family life and her circumstances.

Although she does develop an earthly love interest during the plot, the overarching need to trust and be loved by her heavenly father is what helps see the main character through many trials in this great book. I also loved the factoids about the creation of the beautiful carousel animals.  The daily operations of a carousel factory were not something I knew a lot about before reading this book, but it was obvious that Judith Miller had done her homework (as usual) and the factory setting seemed to come alive with realism. A wonderful story.

Cover Review

202790_1_ftc_dp 202790_99_bkc

 

This cover is quite beautiful. If I had spotted it in the book store it would have captured my attention.  The red striping and a decorative scroll pattern mimics the carvings on carousel animals. They are used well throughout the cover and even help to capture attention on the spine. I like that although the carousel horse on the cover is quite beautiful, the focus is blurred so that the female behind it is the true focus of the photo.  Hair style and dress on the female in the photo seem appropriate for the historical setting of the novel, but her dress is not overtly colorful or fancy and the focus is decidedly on her expression.  She appears happy, mysterious … and a little proud of her work as she stares at the painted pony in the foreground.

I was a little unsure about the back cover carousel photo at first.  Because the title is regarding a carousel painter it seemed odd to show a carousel in such fast motion that you couldn’t really even see the animals, much less their paint job.  However, when you read the teaser text beneath it you realize that it’s a subtle statement about how what seems to be a perfect job for this novel’s main character – turns out to have a lot of confusing ups and downs. (She is the first woman to work at the factory, and both the workmen and their female relatives are upset about it.)  I’m glad that this photo of the carousel in motion was not the chosen style for the front cover, but feel it was a good choice for the back cover, in order to give readers a hint that the main character’s life won’t be calm and pretty throughout …

Fiction

Book & Cover Review: "Though Waters Roar" by Lynn Austin

Book Review

“As I said before, Grandma Bebe never did tell a story in a straight line like the chapters in a book. Following the thread of her sagas was like chasing a startled rabbit through the woods –– you never knew when it was going to turn and head in a new direction.”

This novel’s main character, Harriet, spends the majority of the story reflecting from a jail cell on meandering, rabbit-trail conversations she’s had throughout her life with her mother and grandmother (the latter of whom she feels will be particularly disappointed by her reasons for being incarcerated).  As she states later in the book, Harriet comes from a long line of heroines that have fought for various causes.  She harbors the desire to be a heroine herself, but feels like all the battles have been won by the generations before her.

Covering the topics of slavery, the underground railroad, the civil war, alcoholism, depression, prohibition, women’s suffrage … and more, this book spans four generations of women and the struggles they faced in their society and in their marriages. Masterfully woven into their lives is the analogy of water.  The beauty of a waterfall reflects the “swept away” feeling of a young couple from two very different lives caught up in love.  Unfortunately, the destructive force of water breaking apart a dam – long beaten against by too much rain … seems to greatly match the turmoil within the civil war veteran husband.  Beautifully done!

Along the way, the three generations of women before her have found peace with their circumstances by trusting God to lead them in the right way to help others, and to face their own fears whenever bucking the system became necessary.  Harriet has the desire to follow in their footsteps, but does she have the right motivation? And will Tommy O’Reilly help to change her mind about men?  (I won’t spoil the fun of finding out on your own.)

This is a wonderfully written book, and one I would highly recommend to others!

Cover Review

I love the photo chosen for the cover.  The young lady has a natural beauty, but is not dressed in fine clothes.  There is a hint of a smile, but the look could also be disguising struggle or deep pain – a little mystery.  The only thing I might possibly change would be to somehow carry the dark blue tones from the waterfall scene below or the blue spine into the sepia tone photo.  This would help to make the photo and water scene slightly more unified, and assist in carrying the water theme into the lives of these women.  I would do the same with the sepia water scene on the back.  Just a little of the dark blue tone in the shadows to tie things together, but overall the photo chosen is appropriate and her mysteriously guarded look draws you in.  Well done.

ThoughWatersRoarftc ThoughWatersRoarbkc

Additionally, the back cover copy has done it’s job.  It’s a great teaser – leading you into speculation regarding the main characters reasons for being in prison – as well as opening the floor to her reflection of the lives of the women before her.  Intriguing, yet doesn’t overly give the whole storyline away.  Makes you want to crack it open and read!

Fiction

Book & Cover Review of "A Measure of Mercy; Home to Blessing Series #1" by Lauraine Snelling

Ever turn on your TV about 15 minutes too late to catch the beginning of what seems to be a great movie?  This book is very much like that.  You get the impression that Astrid Bjorklund was once more “spirited” and impulsive in her past … mostly through references regarding a smaller cousin, Inga, who keeps getting herself and another cousin into trouble – including a broken arm.  However, the Astrid of this book is very controlled and comes across as much older than the age of 18.

Astrid has unexplained feelings for a gentleman who has just returned to Blessing after being away for two years.  Not enough of the previous book is recapped for us to understand why Joshua feels the way he does for Astrid, or why Astrid seems to feel that way in return.  Just as the relationship starts to even seem like it could be a “relationship” Astrid leaves for medical training in Chicago and no declarations of care have ever been exchanged between the two.  So … Joshua hasn’t really even dated her or spent much time with her, but starts building a house with marrying her in mind?  And Astrid thinks about him a lot, but doesn’t really know anything about him or whether he really cares for her?

The real story of this book is not the relationship – which falls a little flat – but rather the struggle Astrid wages against continuing her medical studies despite a frustration with God that he would allow good people to die despite all their efforts and prayers.  After the death of two patients, a young man and a newborn, Astrid is angry with God and has an irrational fear of putting her hands inside someone to do surgery or delivery for fear they will die too. The realism of these observations, and the spiritual struggle they bring to a young medical student are heartfelt and well covered by Snelling in this novel.  She is too scared of letting down her family and community to back out of continuing her medical training in Chicago, but continues to be terrified even after her arrival.  Her years of experience and training kick in on multiple occasions and God grants her experiences in Chicago that verify that she will also save lives when He wills it to happen. Including a young boy who becomes her first experience with double amputation.  Astrid’s strong heart shines through when she steps in to find Benny a home among friends in Blessing rather than leaving him on the streets of Chicago to struggle.

The additional turmoil Astrid experiences over deciding whether she is meant to spend time doing mission work in Africa, before returning to Blessing, adds even more emotional tension to this story.  There is some satisfaction when she decides to take God’s lead, one day at a time, with the first step being to attend the missionary training.  But the copy on the back cover had eluded that we would find out in this very book if she would regret making that choice?  Apparently that was just a summary of the entire book and we won’t really find that out until book two (or maybe three?)

What can we tell by the book’s cover?

206092_1_ftc 206092_99_bkc

Well, the knotted blonde hair and blue eyes do hint at a possible
Norweigen background, but not blatantly.  The two-story white house,
wheat fields and the style of her dress (with the high collar) elude
that this is probably a historical book in a rural community.  Although
this cover is of an appealing design, it doesn’t help you to understand
anything about Astrid.  I would have recommended that she at least have
a stethescope or medical bag in her hands … or show a scene with her
caring for a patient, rather than staring across a wheat field.  This
cover is beautiful, but possibly a little too generic to the genre to
stand out?

The copy on the back cover is misleading.  The romance is not as
clear cut as the back eludes … and disappears before the end of the
book, (not to be discussed again until the next book I assume?) And
I’ve already mentioned that the decision regarding Africa happens at the very end of the book.

Overall, this book is very well written, but is not a stand alone
piece.  Although marketed as Book #1 of a series – it is a continuation
of another Blessing series that needs to be read first to thoroughly
understand several of it’s main characters.  I think this cover’s copy
should have been less of a synopsis of the whole book and more of a
teaser to get the reader to pick it up off the shelf.  Too much of the
plot is given away by the back cover copy, and some of the questions it
brings to mind aren’t answered in this book.

***Note: I was given this book to review by Bethany House. If you are a publisher and would like an honest review of one of your latest publications, please contact me at suzanne@suzannewesley.com for addressing.