Guest Post by Carolyn Astfalk, Inspirational Romance Author
Because fiction excels at creating empathy, books that involve deeply personal, emotionally-intense issues help readers consider situations in a whole new light. Over the years, I’ve read many books that touch on life issues – both at its beginning and end. These books are ones that touch on abortion and related life issues.
The reviews may not even mention abortion, as these aren’t “message” books but rather novels that skillfully weave life issues into the plot. Beneath the reviews are several other books that merit being included, but for which I did not post a review. (There was actually a time when I didn’t review almost everything I read! I also haven’t reviewed my own book, for obvious reasons.)
And finally, there are four dystopian series listed, which were also included in the end-of-life post. I hope you’ll click through and read more about these exceptional books!
Anyone But Him by Theresa Linden
Anyone But Him is brimming with delicious romance, keep-you-guessing mystery, and a dose of humor. Wonderfully written with well-developed characters, and a solid plot – all hallmarks of Theresa Linden’s books. With her first novel aimed at the new adult market, I hope many, many more readers are introduced to her writing. It’s a joy to read novels both well written and underpinned by the Catholic faith and the values Catholics hold dear. [Learn more about Anyone But Him.]
Shadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels
Shadows of Hope is a book-length exercise in dramatic irony that kept me engrossed until all was revealed, in dramatic fashion.
From the first pages – or from the book description alone – the reader knows that Marissa counsels Kaitlyn throughout her unplanned pregnancy and that, unbeknownst to both women, Marissa’s husband Colin is the father.
Tension builds as various conflicts unfold and layers of the characters are revealed: infertility, the absence of a father, infidelity, insecurity, and more bring great depth to Marissa, Kaitlyn, and even Colin.
The reader gets to examine the situation from each of the three characters’ points of view – closest with Marissa (1st person), but also Kaitlyn and Colin (3rd person).
Georgiana Daniels resists an easy resolution, instead delivering a true-to-life examination of the shared heartache, joy, and, eventually, hope, of three imperfect people bound by an unborn child.
Fans of women’s fiction will especially enjoy this well-written, thoughtful story. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Discovery by Karina Fabian
If your mental picture of religious sisters is dour, old women with wimple habits and ankle-length skirts, then scrub that image before opening Discovery. The sisters in the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue are post-modern, brave pioneers with habits suited to work in zero gravity.
The challenges to their present mission on the alien craft Discovery are best summed up by Sister Rita’s exclamation of “Codists and Wiccans and evangelists, oh, my.” Sister Rita, along with stalwart pilot Sister Thomas and “spacey” but brilliant Sister Ann, have all sorts of conflicting interests to contend with: the brainy researchers, the working-class rockjacks, and, oh yeah, that alien ship.
Interwoven amongst the crew’s scientific discoveries are their personal discoveries, brought to light within the desolate alien craft. Karina Fabian does a good job of managing what could be an unwieldy cast of characters, two romances, devious intrigue, and a guilty conscience.
In the end, the most profound discovery isn’t an alien life form, but a relationship with God, whose love knows no boundaries, whose mercy overflows, and who calls us each for a unique purpose.
Just enough bread crumbs are dropped to keep the reader intrigued by the various interpersonal relationships and cryptic messages of Sister Ann, mounting to page-turning suspense in the final chapters.
Discovery is a journey worth taking.
Unfailing Love by Julie Lessman
I awaited Isle of Hope for months, eager to read Julie Lessman’s voice in a contemporary novel. She did not disappoint.
The characters have depth, are well-drawn, and inhabit their modern coastal Georgia isle so naturally they made me long for a beach vacation.
The dramatic plot turns in Isle of Hope call to mind a soap opera (as they often do in Julie Lessman’s historical novels), which is less a criticism and more a testament to the author’s savvy given the enduring popularity of soaps (and perhaps a nod to her well-known love of Gone With the Wind). The novel includes perhaps the best one-sentence chapter-ending cliffhanger I’ve ever read.
The faith element is organic to the story, but is more extensive than in most inspirational romances or women’s fiction as multiple characters’ arcs echo the themes of forgiveness, (re)conversion, and redemption. I highlighted several passages that struck a chord – something I typically don’t do. By showing the natural consequences of selfish actions, the narrative deftly demonstrates how no sin is truly private, and its repercussions affect many people besides the perpetrator.
Some beautiful, tender, heart-melting moments of grief and sorrow are interwoven with the painful longing and simmering passion you’d expect.
A little tightening to reduce thematic repetition and some of the analogies would only make this good novel even better. As it is, it’s an engaging story of love, forgiveness, healing, and rebirth that left me looking forward to the next book in the series.
Life-Changing Love by Theresa Linden
Not only is Life-Changing love an entertaining read, but it’s a great tool for launching conversations between teens and parents about their expectations for dating and relationships.
Caitlyn Summers is in love with being in love. She yearns for her first boyfriend and her first kiss. And she knows just the boy to make those dreams come true: Roland West. Only Roland, despite the mixed signals he sends, is not interested in having a girlfriend.
By contrast, Caitlyn’s gorgeous best friend Zoe has gone from zero to well beyond the speed limit in mere days with Roland’s dangerous older brother Jarret.
When Jarret’s twin Keefe returns from a trip to Italy with his father, he’s changed -unwilling to allow Jarret to manipulate him, introspective, pious, and intrigued by Caitlyn.
The lives of the West brothers and Caitlyn and Zoe turn topsy-turvy as they struggle to navigate obedience to their parents, the longings of their hearts, and the predicament Jarret and Zoe have created for themselves.
Theresa Linden does an outstanding job of capturing the tension of the teenage years. The result is a moving story that shows the consequences of premature sexual relationships and the value of pursuing friendships that honor God and respect the dignity of each person.
The Truth and Nothing But Lies by Cheri Vause
The Truth and Nothing But Lies is an engaging tale that could be ripped from the headlines if only the media delved so deeply. Its intricate plot and suspense hold attention and draw the reader to the end. Its greatest value, however, lies in its plain demonstration of the dire consequences of all-too-familiar actions cloaked in euphemisms of sexual liberation and freedom to choose.
Rapunzel Let Down: A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman
“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” – Rom 5:20 In this modern adaption of the classic tale of Rapunzel, Regina Doman brings us the story of Hermes, a conservative senator’s son, who falls in love with Raphaella, the adopted daughter of a radical feminist. Hermes impregnates the innocent Raphaella and from there, sin begets sin and suffering. Fans of Doman’s fairytale novels and new readers alike will enjoy this adaption that brings to life both the dire consequences of sin and the graces borne of virtue. The contemporary setting meshes wonderfully with the timeless fairytale sprinkled liberally with a Catholic worldview. Reminiscent of Doman’s other novels, the heroic ending will have you on the edge of your seat.
Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body edited by Erin McCole Cupp
Even if you’ve read St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body from start to finish and a half-dozen nonfiction books about it on the side, I guarantee this collection of shorts will uncover the teachings in ways you hadn’t considered. It will challenge you in unexpected ways. One or two (or more) of the stories may make you uncomfortable. While the writing is polished, the varnish coating the darkness of our lives is stripped, laying bare the truths written on our heart and the lies we tell with our bodies.
Recommended for reading, reflection, discussion, and even entertainment. A gritty but beautiful introduction not only to the Theology of the Body as it is lived (or rejected), but also to the breadth and promise of Catholic fiction being written by contemporary authors. These shorts are accessible to any careful reader, whether familiar with the Theology of the Body or not.
Carolyn Astfalk is a wife, mother, and author of contemporary inspy romances Stay With Me, Ornamental Graces, and Rightfully Ours. She formerly worked as a communications director and now works just to keep her head above water. Find her books on Amazon and her other words scattered around the blogosphere and social media.
Follow her blog “My Scribblers Heart”.