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Elizabeth Musser/Photo by Dick Vos

Getting better

2011 Books Issue | Six new novels show how Christian fiction has matured in recent years

Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

Inspirational fiction is the name given to the broad category of books published by evangelical publishers. It encompasses everything from Amish "bonnet" fiction to modern romance and thrillers. Some of the books include explicit Christian messages and others don't. Over the past decade Christian fiction has matured, with better-written books less likely to be merely vehicles for a heavy-handed message. The following half-dozen recent novels will give you a sense of the variety of books included in this genre.

His Other Wife by Deborah Bedford (FaithWords) is a modern family drama that begins when a husband declares to his wife that he's fallen in love with another woman and wants a divorce. He goes on to remarry and build a new life, while his wife and their son put their lives back together. Things seem fine, but the son is angry at his father and feels responsible to make his mother happy. When the two families come together at the son's high-school graduation, jealousies, unmet expectations, and suppressed frustrations explode with tragic consequences. The book deals honestly with human frailty, different forms of idolatry, and the need to trust God.

The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser (Bethany House) centers on two teenage girls from different backgrounds who become friends in Atlanta during the Great Depression. Their lives intersect when Dobbs, a strange girl from Chicago whose father is a revival preacher, comes to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle. When Perri's banker father commits suicide, Dobbs knows instinctively how to comfort her. She regales her friends at their exclusive girls school with stories of the things she's seen at her father's revival meetings, and they respond. Meanwhile her own faith is tested. Musser's endearing coming-of-age story shows how God does provide, although not always in the ways we want or expect.

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In Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock (Bethany House), 11-year-old Roz remembers her father's drunken rages but dreams that he'll keep his promise to change and be able to return to his family. When she sees him lurking around the new town to which they've fled, she's afraid to tell her mother or brother, or even Tillie, the eccentric old woman who moved in with them. She confides only in her friend Mara, who has father dreams of her own. Tatlock's sensitive family story captures Roz's longing for her world to be set right and shows the unexpected way in which that hope becomes true.

False Witness by Randy Singer (Tyndale House) is a complicated crime thriller that pits a bounty hunter and his wife against members of the Chinese Triad crime syndicate who ruthlessly pursue an algorithm that would destroy internet encryption. The story involves law students, the FBI, a U.S. attorney, the federal witness protection program, and Christian Dalits ("untouchables") in India. Singer's legal background shows in this fast-moving legal thriller that also focuses attention on the status of Christians in India.

Dale Cramer's Paradise Valley (Bethany House) is set in 1920s Ohio, when a new law mandates that children from age 6 through age 18 attend school. Five Amish fathers refuse to comply: Police arrest the fathers and take the children from their homes until the fathers promise to obey the law. Instead of obeying, Caleb Bender moves his family to Paradise Valley in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. They struggle to build a new farm, ward off bandits from the remains of Pancho Villa's army, and reconcile their faith with the customs of a new land. Using historical events as a base, Cramer has written an engaging story of love and conviction.

Lee Strobel's The Ambition (Zondervan) focuses on a megachurch pastor who thinks God is calling him to a bigger stage than the pulpit at his church. When an Illinois senator has to resign in disgrace, the minister is on the short list of possible replacements, and an investigative reporter tries to sniff out a scandal. Strobel shows the subtle ways ambition blurs vision and how sin starts small and grows until it completely ensnares. Strobel's first novel is fast-paced and thought-provoking: Fans of his apologetics work will find some of those arguments woven into the plot.

Buy the book: Links to purchase the books featured in WORLD's 2011 Books Issue

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Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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