Today, why not pick up for yourself or for a friend, a new novel, something you hadn't quite intended or considered, a surprising tale that might stimulate your imagination and bring that unique pleasure found only between the pages of a books? Recommending novels is tricky, since there are so many level of readers and so many varying expectations of what makes a good story or the writing pleasurable. Some of these are overtly religious. Some are not at all. Like good art, they all tell it slant, as the poet said. For whatever reason, they seemed like fine summer reads. Enjoy.
A Month of Summer Lisa Wingate (NAL) $14.00 Wingate has published on evangelical publishing houses but here she writes for a more general mainstream market. One reviewer says she is a "glorious storyteller" and many have affirmed how heartfelt and moving her emotionally-fulfilling stories can be. There is a nice conversation guide included making this good for book clubs. This "ordinary summer" brings an extraordinary change of heart regarding Rebecca Macklin's plans when she realizes her aging father needs to be put in a nursing home. She is a busy, high-energy LA lawyer who must go back to her Texas home. Not exactly chick lit, this is a story of separation and reconciliation, of the yearning of the heart and of the true meaning of family. One of our staff loved this, and we heartily recommend it for a fun summer read.
Nothing to Hide J. Mark Bertrand (Bethany House) $14.99 You know we love Bertrand's book on the development of a Christian perspective and way of life, (Re)Thinking Worldview, and we have often recommended his previous hard-boiled crime stories (Back on Murder and Pattern of Wounds) to those who want some realistic grit to their suspense diet. As the exceptionally thoughtful Books & Culture notes, "This is one of those series that is worthy getting attached to." It is gritty, chilling, there is a grisly homicide, an international threat. Brand new, but those who have read the previous two Roland March books have offered serious praise for those and have been eagerly awaiting this one from this smart, serious author. Put on your seat belt.
*Please note: this manuscript was naturally started several years ago and the gun-running FBI sting sub-plot has nothing to do with the now controversial nuttiness of the Fast and Furious operation. Who knew Christian fiction could be so prescient?
The Whipping Club: A Novel Deborah Henry (T.S. Poetry Press) $14.95 Get this backstory: L.L. Barkatt is a friend and a very esteemed writer, herself. She started a little indie press with literally a handful of great, Christian poets who deserved to have their serious work published. Hats off, way to go, three cheers, etcetera. And, alas, Ms Barkatt somehow found this extraordinary novel, has blogged and talked and celebrated it, so--naturally--we wanted to stock it. No sooner did it come in the other day when we get this unbelievable news: O Magazine this month (get it quick at your newsstand or grocery store) did a nice story of the top 50 summer fiction reads, Beach Books, so to speak. Guess what? 49 were from fairly traditional presses, the big boys who get on these kinds of good, but rather predictable lists. But wait, one (just one!) was from a small press, a very small press called, you guessed it, T.S. Poetry Press. Congratulations to T.S. Poetry Press for doing their first novel, and for getting discovered in one of the most popular magazines in the world. The prestigious Kirkus Review calls this new, serious novel "A powerful saga of love and survival." One New York Times bestselling novelist called it "so breathtakingly good it seems to burn into your heart." Set in the 1960's Irish orphanages, it will leave you sobered and moved and glad for what a good novel can do. *Please note, we are unable to offer a discount on this title.
Harvest of Rubies Tessa Afshar River North) $14.99 The story of the author herself is pretty remarkable---she was raised in Iran, converted to Christianity and ended up at Yale Divinity School. This is her second novel set in Old Testament times -- the first was Pearl in the Sand (a story of the Bible character Rahab, set amidst the fall of Jericho) which was praised for its particular attention to detail about the customs, clothing and culture of this time period in the ancient near East. Harvest of Rubies begins in 457 BC and is about the prophet Nehemiah's cousin who has been catapulted into the center of the Persian court---becoming the Queen's favorite scribe through her own literary abilities. When she meets Darius Pasargadae, whom she scorns, there is an arranged marriage; harem life, and the start of an amazing story you won't be able to put down.
Alif The Unseen G. Willow Wilson (Grove Press) $25.00 Wilson became known for an important graphic novel or two a few years ago and haw quite a following, world-wide, and this surreal, powerful story set in world of the Arab Spring is getting early rave reviews as a tour de force. It is so unusual, one can hardly explain what it is about, but here is the short version: an Arab-Indian hacker named Alif (the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) has been driven underground by repressive security forces where he soon discovers an ancient tale, new levels of information technology, and does battle with forces seen and unseen. One reviewer says it is driven by "a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth" giving us a story of "literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery." Critic Hooman Majd calls it "a multicultural Harry Potter for the digital age." Another writer called it "a Golden Compass for the Arab Spring." Alif the Unseen is certainly an ambitious work and seems to mix myth and magic and politics and storytelling. Perhaps for fans of Neil Gaiman and the like. This is not your old-school Tolkien-esque fantasy!
Hope Springs Kim Cash Tate (Nelson) $15.99 I don't know how much you follow evangelical Christian fiction, but this is a fine example of the complex stories and fine writing that is increasingly available from Christian publishing houses, publishers that increasingly tackle pressing social issues. While this may not be Pulitzer Prize caliber literature, it works. The author is smart (with a law degree, no less.) This is perfect beach book, the dialogue is breezy and the story moves along. Here are two really interesting things about it: firstly, it is about small town life (South Carolina) and what it might be like when adults born there return. Three women become friends in this small town, and the troubles they encounter are earnest and interesting. And, also, there are some very interesting things going on: one woman is herself engaged in serious women's ministry, but her husband, a pastor, feels called to become the minister at his late father's church in the town of Hope Springs. How many books are about ministerial couples and their differing visions of ministry? Very moving is the sub-plot of the racial divisions in the church and town, and what God might have in store as the three women fine new ways to be in this old place. Nice story, interesting characters, good setting, nice message.
In the Kingdom of Men Kim Barnes (Knopf) $24.95 With deckled edges and a handsome cover this beautiful hardback is getting impressive reviews, seriously considered, named as very important. Barnes is a new favorite author of mine and I will soon review her stunning coming of age memoir, which I could not put down and can't stop thinking about In the Wilderness and its powerful sequel, Hungry for the World. This new novel is set in the American heartland and in Saudi Arabia. As Elizabeth Berg has written about this mesmerizing novel, these two locations "couldn't be more different. But from the point of view of a woman not allowed to be herself, the two places have startling similarities." Set in the 1960's oil rush it is historical and romantic and very much about changing mores around gender and race. Anthony Doerr calls it "Mad Men meets The Sheltering Sky, a Revolutionary Road for the oil-addicted." And, he continues, "It's an utter pleasure to read." Now that is a winning combo. You heard it here first.
As One Devil to Another Richard Platt (Tyndale) $15.99 This is not the first person to try a hand at duplicating the charm and great insight and clever plot of the C.S. Lewis classic Screwtape Letters. I believe it is the first to get an amazing endorsement from the understandably reluctant-to-endorse Walter Hooper, who says "It reads as if C.S. Lewis himself had written it." Wow. A fiendish correspondence!
The Director's Cut: A Novel Janice Thompson (Revell) $14.99 I haven't read this but just wanted to show some of the nifty sorts of fun reads we have on our shelves here. This is from the third in the light "Backstage Pass" series, which, as you might guess, is set in the fabulously interesting and most-usually entertaining sub-culture of Hollywood film-making and TV production. Okay, so the blurb on the back starts out with the over-the-top cheesy line "the one thing she can't direct is her heart." If that doesn't make you want to laugh your way through this zany story, well, go back to the demonic correspondence listed above or the more highbrow fiction selections. For a light-hearted love story written by a real-life TV screenwriter, with a strong faith, you'll get a kick out of this.
The Meryl Streep Movie Club Mia March (Gallery Books) $15.00 You've heard of The Friday Night Knitting Club and The Jane Austen Book Club and the appeal is obvious. Here, in what looks likes a fantastic, enjoyable story, three women find happiness in their friendship with one another and, well, the movies of Meryl Streep. What an idea for chick-lit! The front says "A Novel of Love, Family, and Movie Night." Ha! I don't have to tell you the plot, but it involves them watching ten movies together; can you guess which 10 they are? There is an interview with the author in the back and a fun discussion group---go on, call up some friends and do it! Set on the coast of Maine, making it all the more fun for an entertaining summer read.
Okay, that's 10, but there are others I'd love to talk about. I just read the very intelligently written, captivating, philosophical study of memory, A Sense of an Ending by the esteemed British novelist, Julian Barnes. Beth and another staff person here are reading Suzanne Joinson's A Lady's Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar which is thoughtfully rich and perhaps more complicated (and darker) than it sounds. But I certainly have to include something in the genre of short stories -- great for those short mini-vacations we grab on a day off or a slow Sunday afternoon. There are plenty, but here is a classic, with some precious, charming stories with radically profound, and we believe, deeply Christian meaning.
That Distant Land: The Collected Stories (Counterpoint) $18.95 You know the essays, poetry, and novels of Wendell Berry. You know he is an elegant, rural writer, telling stories, always, of his people in Western Kentucky. This nice paperback includes nearly 20 short stories or novellas (from his decades of work) running nearly 500 pages. What a nice, nice collection, perfect to dip into as the spirit moves. Highly recommended.
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