Novel Buffet

Am I sharing recipes for weird, unusual foods? No, preparing a buffet of appetizers from novelists who write marvelous stories. As you peruse the buffet, I hope you discover intriguing new stories and authors. It’s a joy to share a taste of them with you. [Many of these have appeared on my blog in years past. You will find a link (colored words near end of each book blurb) to the longer review if you want more than a taste. Bon appétit.]

Books are like a magic carpet ~ transporting us to realms far from our everyday.  Distant countries. Distant eras. Journeys of heroism, beauty, joy, love. Such a rich gift for pennies.  I love a tale that sweeps me away, dives deep, broadens my perspective, delights my artist heart. Here are some of the best.

KRISTY CAMBRON

Hope & Beauty ~ THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN

A powerful story, well told … beautifully told. ‘Tis a gifted writer who can not only open a window for a reader to peer into a different world, but transport the reader there. Kristy Cambron transported me to another world ~ and I don’t feel as if I’ve quite returned yet.

On finishing the story, I closed the cover and felt strangely untethered from my hot summer home. Also bereft at leaving behind this place Cambron had so thoroughly delivered me to. Haven’t analyzed the why; not certain I want to. But I do know this tale displays our urge to create beauty, and the power of beauty to infuse hope. That message resonated with me. I suspect it will with you.

Fear. Faith. Family. A SPARROW IN TEREZIN

sparrow-in-terezin-cambronFor some people hundreds of things spark hope and joy. But for Europeans living during the 1940s, choices, safety, and reasons for optimism were shrinking.

In A Sparrow in Terezin Kristy Cambron works her alchemy of words and brings her story world to life in my living room—even more so in my mind and heart. …

Closing the cover of a Cambron book is never a complete pleasure because many months will pass before another of her tales is available.

Stunning ~ THE RINGMASTER’S WIFE

With a thorough grasp of historical research (like another favorite author, Laura Frantz), Cambron’s stories ~ the fictional saga of Colin and Rosamund and the historical lives of John and Mable Ringling ~ are perfectly interlaced. The novel is such a seamless blend, it’s impossible to dissect the two threads while reading. So superbly woven that if Cambron didn’t tell me, I’d never suspect half the novel is not based on actual people.

Reading The Ringmaster’s Wife with Cambron’s signature powerful story, lively settings, fascinating characters, and her lovely way with words is like savoring fine chocolate.

LAURA FRANTZ

A Journey through A MOONBOW NIGHT

As a reader I love a good story. One that invites turning pages quickly, chasing plot turns with characters that have captured my interest. I want be so immersed in a book that closing the cover and returning to my time and place is a shock. Laura Frantz writes stories that come alive. A venture she succeeds in every time. For a reader, that is enough to know opening A Moonbow Night will bring satisfaction.

moonbow night coverFrantz captures the unsettledness and danger of 1777, a year of much violence and bloodshed in Kentucky known as “the bloody sevens.” Indian attacks grew more common. Constant vigilance and heightened senses were required. The story shows the toll vigilance takes, and the price of being careless. And though the story is set in a turbulent era and covers many raw days, do not fear it’s a dark and overwhelming story. That all is relieved when Frantz peppers the story with beautiful observations, joyous experiences, noble deeds, glimmers of hope, as well as snatches of humor.

Frantz creates living, breathing characters. Though this is her fourth novel set in l770-1790 Kentucky, her characters are always fresh, distinct, and seem to emerge perfectly from the era. Not a retread among them.

…  I think the magic of Frantz’s writing (which in my experience is shared by only a few) is that her stories are not so much read as lived.

There can be only one ~ THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE

Who do you trust when the whole world has turned upside down? When you live in a new country with new loyalties, expectations, resources? When family and friends are all dead or gone? When one wrong word or glance can jeopardize your fragile hold on life?

Whether you’re a twenty-something spinster or a five-year-old motherless child ~ that world is a frightening and dangerous place. It is into just such a post-Revolutionary War period that Laura Frantz drops us.

May I introduce:  General Seamus Ogilvy ~ whose “battlefield manners often follow him into the parlor.”

THE BALLANTYNE LEGACY series

Secrets, lies, and mistrust create a dark backdrop against which Frantz’s characters shimmer. And as if a good story well-told wasn’t enough, Frantz drops gem-like epigrams throughout which intrigue you or tickle your funny bone.

Breath-taking ~ LOVE’S RECKONING

Very possibly my favorite hero! (At least 1 of top 2.) Astonishing how real this story became to me.

Sensory Jewel ~ LOVE’S AWAKENING (book 2)

Clash of the titans aptly describes the atmosphere as you open Love’s Awakening. Oh, love is in the title and in the novel ~~ but the story is much more than a love story. It’s drama, adventure, intrigue, mystery, and history-come-alive when Ellie of the powerful, wealthy, and abolition-leaning Ballantyne clan encounters children of the slave-holding, whiskey magnate, Henry Turlock.

More than the sum of well-done craft elements, this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed escaping into. I’d love to see it made into a movie.

Adventure Calls ~ LOVE’S FORTUNE (book 3)

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”

What about this moment is special? And who could resist turning the page after reading such a line?

Whatever makes a good novel for you ~ high-stakes action, compelling characters, a setting that takes you someplace new ~ you’ll find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.

But there is more, much more.  Some authors (and Frantz is one) have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. She transforms these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us to a satisfying journey.  Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moiré ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.

[Note:  having read all but one of Laura Frantz’s novels (most more than once), I recommend them without hesitation.]

DAVIS BUNN

THE TURNING  ~   Bunn presents a story which is paradoxically as familiar as age-old fairy tales yet as astonishing as tomorrow’s news.

The power of one person ~ UNLIMITED

Illustrating a person’s unlimited potential when relying on a limitless God demands hopeless circumstances. And Bunn delivers.  The setting—a dusty, Mexican border town—is so clear that reading the book during a  heat wave was sometimes uncomfortably real. The characters are also realistic. Currently breathing in my home, they’ve been invited to stay.

Though I don’t typically enjoy desert settings, this novel grabbed me and carried me along. Unlimited is another in a long line of Bunn’s satisfying reads and I highly recommend it.

MARC ROYCE series

Tested loyalty, courage, and faith, a five-star series ~ LION OF BABYLON (book 1), RARE EARTH (book 2), STRAIT OF HORMUZ (book 3)

With an economy of words and profusion of images, Strait of Hormuz  is a story seemingly ripped from today’s news. American Marc Royce has been sent on a clandestine intelligence operation that takes him to Switzerland, then across Europe into the Middle East, without backup. Or even a gun.

Might just give you chills on a hot summer day ~ BOOK OF DREAMS & HIDDEN IN DREAMS

This 2-book series of Bunn’s is an intriguing tale that seems simultaneously drawn from today’s newspaper headlines and Old Testament prophecy. You’ll follow plot twists, but still won’t see the ending coming.

C. J. MILBRANDT

MeadowsweetIn the vein of Chronicles of Narnia ~ GALLERIES OF STONE series

Statues on the legendary Moonlit Mountain have a life of their own.

MEADOWSWEET – book 1, HARROW – book 2, RAKEFANG – book 3

Milbrandt weaves a marvelously creative, whimsical world where mountains have moods and some people can discern those moods, even hear the mountain. Where mountains have keepers to protect their hearts. And stone statues can be woken. This is a tale brimming with love, loyalty, and delight ~ where every person and thing is valuable.

Chocked full of fun, mystery, and life lessons, the Galleries of Stone series are be labeled YA, but they’re family-friendly stories along the line of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and are equally good for reading by any age, aloud to little ones, or as a family. Milbrandt is a master craftsman whose books overflow with creativity, heroism, love, and joy. I recommend this series to all who want more light and joy in their day.

JULIE KLASSEN

Captivating ~ THE TUTOR’S DAUGHTER

THE TUTOR'S DAUGHTER coverSurely in her Minnesota hometown, Julie Klassen must spend time fishing ~ for in The Tutor’s Daughter she set the hook on page one and steadily reeled me deeper as the story unfurled. [Though, truly I was captured by the cover first.  Isn’t it a delight?]

From the time the Smallwoods enter Cornwall, the story’s twists continually ramp up the mystery ~ it seems everyone there harbors secrets. I savored every bit of description. Klassen uses the setting with great skill not only to draw the reader in but to advance the plot ~ always a nice touch.

High stakes ~ LADY MAYBE

Having read at least a half-dozen of Julie Klassen’s books, I am a fan. Lady Maybe is full of the high-quality writing with interesting characters and the rich historical setting Klassen does so well. The story is gripping from its creative and compelling inciting incident. The powerful consequences and possible losses that could result from each choice the heroine faces kept me eager to continue reading. Klassen is a gifted storyteller.

I think Lady Maybe fell a tad short in one aspect—the romantic plot thread. The content was more sexually-oriented than others by Klassen. Also, the heroine waffled between love interests without clear motivation, leaving me with no particular hero to root for. (I wondered if the marked difference between this novel and other Klassen novels is the result of the new publisher.)

SUSAN MEISSNER

Everything about Meissner’s work is rich ~ A FALL OF MARIGOLDS

Reading Meissner’s captivating story of either Taryn or Clara, women buckled by tragedy and strengthened by love, would be a day well-spent. Meissner, however, weaves their stories together, doubling our enjoyment of the gripping journey. Each woman endures an infamous event and recoils from the pain of living. We accompany them as circumstances force them to discover how to peel off their armor like bandages from a burn and let their tender selves face life again.

PEPPER BASHAM

PENNED IN TIME series

An energetic story ~ THE THORN BEARER (book 1)

Basham braids her story around the taut theme of broken people needing to give and receive forgiveness. She excels in hinting at feelings not shown and things left unsaid, giving readers a dance of communication with exquisitely veiled dialogue that allows much opportunity for misunderstanding. This occurs amidst a fast-flowing stream of situations that shuffle the characters and their futures.

SANDY SNAVELY

 Intriguing views through ELLIE’S WINDOW

An engaging book with a creative smörgåsbord of characters, themes, and perspectives. … It expands the realm of possibilities for our consideration. A gift on every level.

OPERATION FIRST NOVEL CONTEST WINNERS ~

THE CALLING OF ELLA McFARLAND, Linda Brooks Davis     Davis spins a good yearn and draws vivid characters with perfectly chosen details.

SNOW OUT OF SEASON, Christy Brunke     That title intrigues me. “Out of season” always means something is awry. … I appreciate believable characters, evocative settings, intriguing storylines, lovely writing, spot-on symbolism, crackling dialog with a dash of charm and humor.

DOUBLE HEADER, Clarice James    The author draws characters with plenty of quirks and finds fresh ways to describe them. Her writing skill and witty style make the  reader’s journey a delight.

And on a 2nd buffet table ~ Many book review posts were lost in a massive tech glitch on my website. Not wanting to slight some favorite authors and great books, I’m including some notes below from reviews I’ve done on other websites so they may be missing links to the longer versions.

LIZ CURTIS HIGGS

In this 2-volume set, we walk with the Kerr family through the dark and dangerous times of the Jacobite Rising in Scotland, 1745 and find God’s love dazzles like a diamond against a jeweler’s black velvet. I look for a novel to carry me away. This series succeeded magnificently, and I could not recommend it more highly!

HERE BURNS MY CANDLE (book 1)

Here Burns my Candle coverThis story didn’t just unfold. It crept into my mind and heart like the chill creeps under Elisabeth’s wool cape. I walked the bustling High Street. Smelled lavender and hay. Heard the rustling sigh of silk skirts, the clip-clop of horses on cobblestones, and cannons boom from Edinburgh Castle. I felt the chill mist on my face, the icy mornings when coal was scarce, and the cold scorn heaped upon the family as allegiances shifted like sand.

Some reviewers said the story grows slowly. Perhaps the action could have been conveyed in two-thirds the length ~ but ah, the experience could not. I believe the pace allows me to accompany the characters as they encounter challenges that induce gradual change in their perceptions, expectations, and reactions, and that is precisely why the story draws me in so thoroughly.

MINE IS THE NIGHT (book 2)

Elizabeth and Marjory are two women who may have lost their titles but not their nobility of character. As they make their way in this new world, the neighbors and challenges they meet provide no end of excitement.

In typical fashion, Higgs creates characters I love to spend time with, places them in a drama as filled with wrinkles as calico stuffed in my quilt-scraps bag, and plants them in a setting so richly drawn that I feel the dew and the odd sensation of drinking from a wooden cup. I soak up the colors of the evening sky.

Finishing the book, I feel as if I’ve just returned from a memorable trip–and long to return. So I do. I leisurely wend my way through the story in Selkirkshire and visit the dear companions residing there on my second read in as many weeks.

Grab your boots; it’s snowing!  ~ A WREATH OF SNOW

As usual, Liz doesn’t just tell us a story, she draws us into it, deftly weaving this tale so there’s no escaping accompanying the characters on their journey. In snowbound Stirling, Scotland, we feel the need of a scarf and dry shoes, a loved one’s smile, a ray of hope–and a desire to run away.

When Meg Campbell, her family, and Gordon Shaw are snowed into a town that seems to hold nothing but painful reminders, we feel along with them the suffocation of burdens not meant to be borne. And we celebrate when they confront their deepest secrets, shames, and fears, and then experience God’s wonderful way of using everything to further his purposes and to give light to those trapped in emotional prisons.

With a lovely drawing of the Stirling Railway Station, Liz’s notes and book club questions, snippets of poetry, AND a recipe for yummy shortbread, this is a charming story which I highly recommend whether you love Scotland or not–which I thoroughly do.

[Just a note without reviews: I’ve read all of Higgs’ novels and they are all 5-star reads, captivating and thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t believe there’s one that I haven’t read at least twice.]

ANGELA HUNT

LET DARKNESS COME

Angela Hunt’s tagline is “Expect the unexpected.” I do, yet she continues to surprise me. This taut, intriguing mystery is no exception. Hunt’s understated prose draws the reader into Briley’s, Erin’s, and Antonio’s world–then tilts it, inviting news perspectives, allowing new insights. The story unfurls with masterful precision, early clues barely breathed into the story with such subtlety Sherlock Holmes would have difficulty catching them. An exceptional read.  [Another author who writes consistently excellent and intriguing novels. I haven’t read every one, but many; and never hesitate to recommend them.]

NANCY RUE

SULLIVAN CRISP series ~ with Steve Arterburn

I also recommend HEALING STONES (book 1) and HEALING WATERS (book 2) but haven’t written reviews.

HEALING SANDS (book 3) ~ a powerful tapestry woven of drama and mystery, shot through with sparkling threads of humor and poetry. This compelling story grabbed me and held me until the wee hours of the morning with laugh-out-loud and take-my-breath-away moments. Arterburn and Rue’s writing reveals nuanced characters in compelling situations in settings that shimmer in their clarity. You’ll blink sand from your eyes and take new perspectives with you when you close the cover. I will read this book again–and highly recommend it.

SALLY JOHN

Intricately woven, achingly real, story within a story, intriguing, satisfying ~ RANSOMED DREAMS

From the first sentence I was carried away into Sheridan Montgomery’s world as surely as Wendy Darling entered Neverland. And leaving was every bit as difficult. The journey with the characters led to a powerful ending with life-altering shifts in perspective.

Whether you wish an armchair (or beach towel) vacation, or a thought-provoking journey to new insights, Ransomed Dreams satisfies. [Another superb author who doesn’t disappoint. I believe I’ve read every novel she’s written, some more than once. Highly recommend them all.]

JOANNE BISCHOF

THE CADENCE OF GRACE series

Bischof spins tales that draw you in through clearly drawn characters who face obstacles that shake them to the core, leaving them with barely enough strength to take another breath.

BE STILL MY SOUL – book 1, THOUGH MY HEART IS TORN – book 2, MY HOPE IS FOUND – book 3

Gideon O’Riley has two wives—but he doesn’t know it.

Reading that, how can you help but be drawn in? We want to know: How is that possible? And when we discover that, we wonder how you continue moving through life when every person you love and rely on is ripped from you. Though My Heart is Torn is a powerful story of perseverance under testing.

[I heartily recommend books 1 & 2. Somehow I missed book 3! For shame.]

THE THORN BEARER by Pepper Basham

This is a bold, compelling story that sweeps across minefields of the Atlantic and of the heart. From the back cover:

From the decks of the ill-fated Lusitania to the smoke-filled trenches of France, Ashleigh must choose between the forgiveness of her past, life in the present, and a Savior who can rescue her from them all.

When her fiancé leaves her eight months before their wedding, the unexpected blow ignites a battalion of insecurities stemming from her father’s intimate betrayal. Her worst fears are confirmed – who could ever love a soiled woman? In an attempt to escape the shame and disappointment of her past, Ashleigh boards the ill-fated Lusitania to cross the war-torn waters of Europe. Much to her dismay, she isn’t traveling alone.

Sam Miller is always making up for his best friend’s mistakes. Determined to help Ashleigh, he offers his compassion and protection as she ventures across a perilous sea. With the faint hope of renewing his lost love for Ashleigh’s sister, Sam never expects to find the woman of his dreams in his best friend’s former fiancé and his own childhood companion.

As they travel across the Atlantic, neither is prepared for the life-altering and heart-breaking journey of their friendship. When the truth of Ashleigh’s past explodes in the middle of war and Sam rejects her, Ashleigh must decide if God is enough – or if the double weight of her betrayal and past will crush her life forever.

The description of The Thorn Bearer paints a heavy, emotional journey for Ashleigh, Sam as well. And indeed it is. But the story proceeds at a brisk pace, and relief comes in bright spots of various forms ~

~ Generous support of a kindred spirit, such as Sam comforting his friend: “None of this was your fault, Ashleigh … Michael was the fool and coward. I’m sorry he broke your heart.”

~ Insights that might resonate with readers, such as Ashleigh’s: “Time has proven to heal many of the wounds Michael left behind, it has also clarified other feelings. Time is a powerful friend or adversary.”                    

~ Tender interactions with children

~ Self-sacrifice by many characters

Multiple storylines bring us characters who arouse both interest and emotion. They’re wounded in a wide variety of ways. Their lives collide and twist together then apart, at times by choice. And sometimes the separation is forced upon them, such as when the Lusitania is torpedoed and sinks.

The Thorn Bearer is a dance of communication amidst a fast-flowing stream of situations that shuffle the characters and their futures. Exquisitely veiled dialogue allows much opportunity for misunderstanding and plot complications. Basham excels in hinting at feelings not shown and things left unsaid. Romance stories benefit from this skill.

To be fair, romances are generally not my genre of choice. And romance in this novel is a major focus. Some sexual elements are also involved—though sensitively handled and more referenced than shown. But the story is equally about forgiveness (in many contexts other than sexual). Some typos/repeated words interrupted the flow briefly, but not enough to prevent understanding.

Basham braids her story around the taut theme of broken people needing to give and receive forgiveness. Her characters indulge in a wide variety wrong-doing ~ lies and half-truths, assault, betrayal, theft, cruelty among them ~ allowing all story lines to be neatly woven into a powerful, cohesive tale. The spiritual elements emerge and flow naturally from the characters’ struggles.

THE THORN BEARER is an energetic story (much like the author herself) that covers a lot of territory ~ both across the dangerous miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the minefields of the heart. It is a satisfying book and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

You can learn more about Pepper, her abundant joy, bountiful humor, and the romances she weaves these into on her blog.