Making Isaac Hunt by Linda Leigh Hargrove

Suspense Book

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

4 Stars

Book cover shows a serious light-skinned African American man with blue eyes above a flat southern landscape with treesMaking Isaac Hunt by Linda Leigh Hargrove

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: At his grandfather’s deathbed, Isaac Hunt learns his parents aren’t really his parents. Reeling from betrayal and armed with only his birth mother’s name and the city where she last lived, Isaac goes in search of her and the truth about his past. His odyssey takes him deep into the south, where racism still rules the small town of his birth—and where more than one person does not want Isaac to uncover the truth about who he is.

My thoughts: While I’ve read romance novellas by Hargrove before, it was someone else’s inquiry about ChristFic suspense from diverse authors that prompted me to finally start the Isaac Hunt series.

This novel isn’t suspense in the sense of fast pacing or high action. Most of the story is rather contemplative, taking its time much like a literary novel. But the dark crime thread running through it does eventually reach a critical point for Isaac.

I don’t always get through books that take longer than about two chapters to give me more than a cursory sense of what’s going on and exactly why it matters. Although I felt like this novel spent a fairly significant amount of time speaking in riddles, something simmering, sometimes rumbling, just beneath the surface compelled me to keep reading. That and this author’s way with words, as I really like sharp phrasing and stirring descriptions that aren’t predictable for me.

There’s a scene where one of the villains sits and monologues to himself for a while, which can feel like a contrived way to reveal information to the reader. But that aside, this story’s evil characters aren’t caricatures. As for the emotion through the read, though I think the effect of Isaac’s tears could have been stronger if he had them in fewer scenes, I found the overall emotional development to be compelling.

I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

Note to my blog readers: While I read an earlier edition of this book where the N-word doesn’t appear, in the latest edition, the author includes a heads-up about her use of the slur. I understand various Black writers’ choices about whether or not they use the word in their works, and Hargrove also touched on the issue in her guest post on my blog some years ago.

Isaac Hunt Series

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The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson

Vintage Book

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

4 Stars

Illustrated book cover shows an abstract image of a man's face partly hidden by a hat and partly outlined by piano keysThe Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Narrated by a man whose light skin enables him to “pass,” The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man describes a journey through the strata of Black society at the turn of the century—from a cigar factory in Jacksonville to an elite gambling club in New York, from genteel aristocrats to the musicians who hammered out the rhythms of ragtime. Here’s a complex and moving examination of the question of race and an unsparing look at what it meant to forge an identity as a man in a culture that recognized nothing but color.

My thoughts: I’m pretty sure the only other time I read this novel was back in high school as required reading. Even as its impression on me this time has been enhanced by increased experience and whatnot, this book still struck me in the past as “one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.”

Not because it’s depressing at every turn, which it isn’t. There are a few interesting friendships, and various parts of the narrative shine with historical Black culture, including the cakewalks and especially the celebration of ragtime.

But the hard parts were more profound to me this time, in a way, including the profundity of pain. I also took more time to think about the characters’ different views, including the protagonist’s.

This novel is a call to think. To pause, to listen, and to think. And the call is still relevant now, as it was back when the book was published (anonymously, the first time) over a century ago.

This time after I finished it, I cried. Yet, one of the saddest books I’ve ever read also gives me hope in regard to progress, and it makes me that much more grateful and determined to be who I am.

Because I can.

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The Significance of Faces on Fiction Book Covers

Illustration of three books with an African American person on each book cover

When I hear fellow readers say whether they prefer fiction book covers with or without people pictured on them, the answers are pretty evenly split between both styles.

A key advantage for people-less book cover designs is that they leave a reader more room to envision the characters how they wish. Some readers find it easier that way to put themselves in a character’s place. Those designs also avoid the not-so-uncommon issue of people on covers that don’t match the authors’ character descriptions in the stories.

Fan art book cover of Paper Snowflake Christmas, a historical Christian romance by Vanessa Riley, and The Movement of Rings, inspirational historical fantasy by Nadine C. Keels

(Before you say it: Yes, I realize that from a marketing standpoint, matching all the character details in the story isn’t the main job or priority for a book cover. The marketing priority for cover design is to give the book an eye-catching look that will sell well to a target audience; the audience usually won’t know exactly how an author describes a character until after the book is sold. Still, that technical reason doesn’t mean that mismatches between the cover and the story aren’t, well, an annoyance to a lot of readers. Sometimes it’s more than a mere annoyance—but a little more on that in a minute.)

A key advantage of book cover designs with people pictured is the advantage of human connection. Something instinctive happens in a person’s brain when they see another human being, especially a human face. Just by being pictured there, a person on a book cover makes an instant call to a reader’s humanity.

A woman with a serious stare on the cover of They Can’t Take Your Name, a crime novel by Robert Justice, and a boy with a winning grin on the cover of The Swag Is in the Socks, middle grade fiction by Kelly J. Baptist

On another note, forming mental images is harder for some people than for others. And for people with a condition called aphantasia, they don’t form mental images at all. So, when the cover of a book depicts a key person or two from the story, it can serve as a visual reference for readers who wouldn’t picture the character(s) otherwise or who wouldn’t do it easily.

As for my personal preferences, I don’t find one of the two styles better than the other. I’m drawn by great book covers of both peopled and people-less varieties. 😀

A peopled cover showing four sisters: So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix, historical fiction by Bethany C. Morrow, and a people-less cover with flowers representing six sisters: Petrified Flowers, a Christian YA novel-in-verse by Joiya Morrison-Efemini

With that said, there are times when I feel an extra special appreciation for human faces on fiction book covers. Those times are when I see human faces representing people of color in fiction. Why? Because people of color haven’t always had (and sometimes still don’t have) the privilege of being seen in the book world. And more than that, being seen in empowered roles.

Now, this issue isn’t limited to one fiction genre or to one race/ethnicity of people. But understand that much of my experience and perspective is that of the Black American woman that I am. A Black American woman who’s read a whole lot of fiction from kindergarten to now, including a whole lot of Christian Fiction from her preteens to now.

Illustration of three multicolored stacks of books

I remember what it was like through my years of going out to one bookstore and the next. I loved shopping for fiction, especially ChristFic. Yet, I remember how, except in rare cases, the people pictured on fiction book covers in Christian bookstores tended to be all one color. A color that wasn’t mine. I’d sometimes check the photos of the authors, and they were also all one color the large majority of the time. It was easy for me, and likely many other ChristFic shoppers, to assume, “These must pretty much be the only people out there who write Christian novels.” So, I chose books from the ChristFic selection that was offered.

Granted, the kinds of ChristFic books that were available weren’t exactly the same at every Christian bookstore across the US. Still, I’d see fellow ChristFic readers online, asking for help to find Christian novels with Black characters, and other readers’ recommendations for American Civil War novels would come up quickly—stories featuring Black people enslaved or in other subservient positions.

No, I’m not saying that the Civil War era isn’t important to read and write about. I myself read fiction involving that era. But I’m saying that if stories depicting Black characters in enslaved roles, or only one or two embattled steps beyond enslavement—if those were perceived as the top reads that Christian Fiction had to offer in terms of Black characters, that was a problem. There’s definitely much more to who Black people have been, who we are, and who we are becoming.

Sisters in Arms, historical fiction by Kaia Alderson: based on the true story of the only all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, and Passages of Hope, split-timeline ChristFic by Terri J. Haynes: featuring a Black American businesswoman in 1855 who’s also an Underground Railroad stationmaster, married to a Black American physician

I make it no secret that in the past, the lack of diversity on ChristFic bookshelves was one of the reasons I eventually stepped away from buying new ChristFic for several years. No, I don’t at all believe people are only supposed to read and enjoy books when they share the same ethnicity as the authors and lead characters. But as a reader, it can be hard to keep returning to bookshelves where, in terms of ethnic and cultural representation, you feel continually left out.


It was years before I found out there were more Black writers in the ChristFic genre than had first seemed to be the case. One day while browsing the general Fiction shelves in a secular bookstore, I stumbled on a contemporary Christian novel written by a Black author featuring Black lead characters. I later found other such novels mixed in with secular books, and I made a habit of checking the ChristFic section as well as the general Fiction shelves each time I visited the store. While in a broad sense, I have no problem with religious and inspirational fiction titles being shelved with secular fiction (it’s all still fiction), it struck me that all of the Christian novels with brown-skinned people on the covers, written by brown-skinned authors, were shelved across the store and away from the Christian Fiction section.

Two of the African American ChristFic novels I once found by searching through secular fiction: What a Sista Should Do by Tiffany L. Warren, and Soul Matters by Yolonda Tonette Sanders

It wasn’t hard for me to imagine that those novels were likely to go unseen by many, maybe most, of the Christian shoppers who’d head straight for the designated Christian Fiction shelves in that store.

It’d be a few more years until I’d learn that racially segregated ChristFic shelving wasn’t a practice only local to me. Granted, at least at my favorite local bookstore, they did eventually begin shelving more African American ChristFic in the Christian Fiction section, but that change came rather late. Sales in the traditional Christian Fiction market had already begun seeing a downturn. Christian bookstores across the country started going out of business, and as the demand for Christian novels declined in secular bookstores, ChristFic in those stores started earning less shelf space. At the same time that the ChristFic sections started shrinking, they again became less diverse.

Illustration of a closed Christian bookstore

Again, as I refer to African American ChristFic, I in no way mean to imply that “Black books” are the only diverse books to consider, or that any other people of color or people as a whole aren’t important. I’m simply speaking from my experience and perspective as a Black American woman, the perspective I know best.

It wasn’t until I got into publishing for myself that I began to hear more about the extra roadblocks that Black authors had been facing for years in Christian publishing. Perhaps needless to say, those same difficulties were present in the broader publishing world. I wasn’t nearly the first or only reader of color who’d felt left out while browsing for fiction on bookstore shelves. Too many authors of color have faced literary agents and acquisitions editors reluctant or unwilling to take on their work, publishers fearing that “our readers won’t be able to relate to books…like yours.”

There have also been a lot of cases when publishers have released historical or biblical fiction novels featuring characters in their native lands in Middle Eastern/Asian and African areas of the globe, but the people pictured on the book covers often wouldn’t look like people of Middle Eastern/Asian or African origin.

Two biblical fiction book covers that I love, representing characters of color: Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar, and Seal of the Sand Dweller by R. Rushing

That issue concerning people pictured on book covers hasn’t only been limited to diverse historical fiction. Even for some diverse fiction set in contemporary times, publishers have opted for cover designs where the people don’t look “too ethnic.” And for some books featuring Black characters, the publishers would blatantly use images of Caucasian people on the book covers.

Indeed, in cases like that, when brown-skinned characters are misrepresented with cover images of people who aren’t brown-skinned, the mismatch between the characters in the books and the designs on the covers are more than mere annoyances. It’s a problem that authors still deal with sometimes in publishing, right here in the 21st century.

Has publishing made any positive progress in terms of diversity? Yes! There’s significant room for improvement as well. Also, on account of what many readers have and have not been accustomed to seeing for years when they shop for fiction, it’ll take more intentional effort to shift a particular conscious and/or subconscious notion that still lingers in too much of the reading world. The notion that ethnically diverse fiction is basically secondary fiction, mostly suitable for different or “other” people but not too essential beyond that, while fiction from Caucasian authors is standard, universal fiction. That way of thinking goes along with viewing the matter of diversity in fiction as merely one of the current “trends” in publishing.

Two sci-fi novels featuring Black characters: Futureland: Battle for the Park, a middle grade novel by H.D. Hunter, and Remote Control, an Africanfuturism novella by Nnedi Okorafor

Human beings of color aren’t a trend but are a vital reality integral to the human story from its beginning. And we certainly shouldn’t only be represented in fiction while publishers see it as “trendy” to do so. It’s a layered issue, too much to unpack fully in one blog post, but I’ve said all of this to reiterate…

Although I love all kinds of great cover designs, I feel an extra special appreciation when I see human faces rightfully representing people of color on fiction book covers. I appreciate it when a diversity of people have those valid and necessary chances to be seen.

Take My Hand, historical literary fiction by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Class Act, a middle grade graphic novel by Jerry Craft

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New Releases: We Were Real and Realizing Love

A successful singer-songwriter. A devastating assault. And the chance to recapture what’s true.

A paperback copy of We Were Real, standing amid deep orange rose petals, with the face of a serious woman and an orange rose on the front cover

Hello, everyone!
Admittedly, it took almost eight years before I could write this latest book of mine. But now I’ve officially released We Were Real, a sweet contemporary love story that addresses the critical issue of spiritual abuse. The book is available as an ebook and in paperback.

Buy We Were Real ebook
Buy We Were Real paperback
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Realizing Love, a three-book boxed set: The top half of the front cover shows the face of a serious woman with brown skin, gray eyes, and curly black hair, and the bottom half shows part of an acoustic guitar with an orange rose lying on top of it

We Were Real is also available with more love stories of friendship, laughter and pain, and the miracle of new and second beginnings.
Realizing Love: Three Romantic Reads

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May these books bring hope, inspiration, food for thought, and healing where they’re needed.

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