I received complimentary copies of most of the books I mention here in exchange for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.
I’ve been waiting for this all year! As my blog is all about hope and inspiration, these are the books that most fit that bill for me in 2016 and that I highly recommend to fellow readers. You’ll find them listed in a pretty eclectic order.
Love at First Note by Jenny Proctor
There are plenty of reasons why a relationship between violinist and concertmaster Emma Hill and pianist and pop culture sensation Elliott Hart would never work. But, still, off they go. What I thought started off as a humorous and entertaining enough story became a symphony of emotion and (sometimes painful) discovery, to the point where I felt everything. The joy, the fear, the frustration, the passion, the doubt, the determination, the romance. Not to sound corny, but it really is a “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” type of read, its own kind of quirky but ultimately harmonious masterpiece.
Honest and for True by Jane Lebak
Lee, a bright and hilarious car mechanic, has this terrible habit of lying about her job to every man she dates. Her bright and hilarious best friend and guardian angel, Bucky, wants Lee to drop the dishonesty already before it costs her more than she’ll ever want to lose. I found this novel to be quick and clever, imaginative and real, and a downright riot. The story also tugged at my heartstrings, taking a thought-provoking look at relationships: romantic, familial, one’s relationship with oneself. If you’ve got an appreciation for George Bailey and Clarence Odbody’s adventure in Bedford Falls (or, um, Pottersville), check out The Adventures of Lee and Bucky in New York City.
A Light in the Dark by Becky Doughty
New Adult Fiction/Romance
When a handsome, tortured artist auditions to join Tish Ransome’s band… Well. This is the second book in the Fallout series but can be read as a standalone. And I must say, the novel had me sobbing so hard toward the end that I hardly knew how to review it. Beyond the characters’ initial family and friendship threads, beyond the romance and humor, and even beyond the art, the journey here got real to me on a whole different plane. I’d recommend this novel to fiction fans who wouldn’t mind getting more than just an angsty romance out of a romantic read.
The Touch by Randall Wallace
Andrew Jones, a young, gifted surgeon, refuses to operate anymore after a personal, fatal tragedy. Although this novella is by the screenwriter of the 1995 film Braveheart, I didn’t read it with Braveheart expectations or qualifiers in my brain. I just took the story as it came, and I’d encourage all readers who normally steer clear of novellas because of their “too short” or “no depth” stigma not to prejudge and pass up this book on that basis. It’s too nuanced, too raw, too beautiful, too powerful of a book to overlook. Both within and outside of the operating room, this story is beauty and art, faith and genius, trial and triumph, and it is now one of my all-time favorite books.
The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe
Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction
Here’s the story of the historically “nameless” concubine of a bishop of the Church, Augustine of Hippo. I’ll admit I’m not crazy about one book blurb’s description of this novel’s central relationship as an “affair,” as that can connote something scandalous or unlawful, and this book isn’t about some seamy liaison. It’s a look at the complexities and ironies of life and love through the eyes of a woman of low societal standing. As a lover of language, I was drawn in by the author’s fluid style, pleased to find an example of how poetry in prose still lives. I found this novel utterly redemptive in that it gives this woman a voice, and an “insignificant” life given by God is therefore made precious.
My Soul to Keep by Davis Bunn
The indie film project of Hollywood has-beens might get buried alive by the competing project of some of Hollywood’s elite. A David and Goliath tale, this is, but there’s no smooth sailing as the filmmaking battle rages both above and beneath the surface. I wasn’t sure if I had a thriller on my hands, technically, but the intrigue certainly kept me turning the pages, and the motives and decisions of the principal characters kept me engaged. That is, I was rather riveted right through to the ending—not a fairytale ending but one bearing its own triumph and something of more value than a fairy tale.
Unconditional by Eva Marie Everson
Samantha hasn’t recovered from her husband’s murder, but reuniting with her best friend, Joe, and meeting “his kids” may change everything. This novel is based on the screenplay by Brent McCorkle, inspired by true events. Much like the movie, which I think is pure awesomeness, there isn’t anything super sensational or spectacular that makes the novel great. But it’s love that gives this story of friendship and redemption its strength, makes it exceptional. Pure, simple, honest love, like the most natural thing in the world—unhindered by years, by hardship, by tragedy, by race. This is a truly beautiful and brilliant read.
Prague: My Long Journey Home by Charles Ota Heller
How fortunate I was to come across this book. The author, originally from Czechoslovakia, tells a story of World War II, the Holocaust, and immigration to the United States from his perspective. I must say, one point among many that I found interesting was the author’s comparison of the treatment of Jewish people in the occupied country he left to the treatment of people of color in the U.S. Overall, this account is informative, layered, heartrending, and inspiring, and I believe that anyone who values remembering and learning from history can appreciate this memoir.
The Centurion by Ken Gire
Christian Fiction/Biblical, Historical Fiction
Now. Even with the early, bizarre crucifixion of the “King of the Jews” that has lasting influence through this novel, it isn’t a story centered on that. Rather, it’s the story of the life and career of a Roman centurion named Lucius; Mary Magdalene, a follower of Jesus; and equally about the history and conquests of Rome paralleled with the dangerous forging of the new Church. The author reveals compelling imagery and a depth of human emotion in this weighty tale, as epic and violent as it is contemplative. I found the telling of it all to be consummately amazing, and I’d strongly recommend it to any military and historical fiction fans—ChristFic readers and otherwise.
A River Too Deep by Sydney Tooman Betts
Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction
Has Alcy Callen, a young woman of faith, mistakenly labeled a whole people group as “savage”? In some ways, this book reminds me of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, a historical television show that I love and respect for many reasons, including its depiction of race relations in America. I appreciate fiction that can take characters of different cultures and depict them as more than caricatures of their race, and the author achieves that here. Then, not to mention the novel’s romance, which I found to be riveting and passionate in its simplicity. This novel reinforced–even renewed, really–my love of historical ChristFic in a big way.
Long Way Gone by Charles Martin
After taking everything his father had, how can a certain songwriter ever go back home? This contemporary prodigal son story is quite heavy and intricately woven. It gives a powerful depiction of a love so fierce, I had to set the book aside for a while and just breathe. I couldn’t even cry. The book gave me so many thoughts–possibly what Wordsworth would call “Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” (That isn’t to necessarily say I didn’t cry over it all later, though…)
And that wraps up another (calendar) year of great reading for this book lover! Entries for 2016’s Favorite Reads giveaway are now closed, but comments on the post are remaining open.