I read Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace several years ago with my book group and decided it was time to finish the series. Betsy-Tacy and Tib is my favorite of the four children’s books. Several of the antics made me laugh out loud—especially the chapter “Being Good.”
It begins with these words:
It was strange that Betsy and Tacy and Tib ever did things which grown-ups thought were naughty, for they tried so hard to be good. They were very religious. Betsy was a Baptist, and Tacy was a Catholic, and Tib was an Episcopalian.
They loved to sit on Tacy’s back fence and talk about God.
In this particular conversation, they decide that they won’t get to Heaven if all they do is think about fun. Tacy observes that “the saints didn’t have much fun” and that “they used to wear hair shirts” to “make themselves gooder. And if they did anything bad they put pebbles in their shoes.”
This gives Betsy a profound idea. The girls will establish “The Christian Kindness Club” to help them be good so that they will get to Heaven. She explains, “We’ll never get to be good if we don’t punish ourselves for being bad. A child could see that.”
“In first century Judaea, Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed by his childhood friend Messala and sentenced to life as a Roman slave. When, during a pirate attack in the Aegean, Ben-Hur saves the life of a galley commander, his fortunes improve and he returns to Galilee a free man. There, his quest for vengeance turns into insurrection, but his life is transformed when he witnesses Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist.”
When I was a child, one of the three big television networks in the U.S. ran the film Ben-Hur  every year around Easter. In those days, the only way to watch a motion picture was to see it in a theater when it came out or watch it on network television. There was no streaming. There were no DVDs. There was no cable TV. There weren’t even video cassettes! When one of the networks broadcast a major motion picture like Ben-Hur, it was a big deal. Families like mine made arrangements to watch it, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t get the chance to see it again for another year.
Because of that, the movie Ben-Hur not only became a part of my Easter tradition, it became ingrained in my consciousness. I loved this film as a child, and I still love it as an adult. It should be no surprise, then, that shortly after I became a part of the Great Books Group, I suggested that we read Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Imagine my own surprise at the time when, after reading a good part of the book, I realized that I didn’t care for it enough to even finish it.
To answer that question, it’s important to understand what Christian fiction is. Depending on who you ask, you may get one of these answers:
Fiction with a lot of talk about God
Fiction with very little, if any, sexual content, graphic violence, and foul language
Fiction that promotes traditional values and practices such as chastity, integrity, and repentance
Fiction written by practicing Christians for practicing Christians about practicing Christians
Fiction that explores religious themes in a way that testifies of Jesus Christ and glorifies Him
Fiction that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ
Stories that would fall apart if the religious element were removed
Fiction that contains universal Christian themes and content that will appeal to Christians from a wide variety of denominations
A broad genre that contains works from all Christian denominations
A narrow genre that only contains books published by specific companies and imprints marketing to a conservative Protestant audience or by independent authors that meet the standards of these companies and imprints
Every single one of these descriptions is accurate. Not every work of Christian fiction, however, can be defined by every single description on this list.
I’m excited to announce the publication of Alien Roads, the second novel in the Dominion Over the Earth series, in print, epub, and Kindle. I’ll have to admit that I shed a few tears when I held the proof of this one in my hands. It took me thirteen years to get an ending on it and another three years to get it to this point. There were times I wondered if it would ever be done!
“Drawn by a promise of ‘wisteria and sunshine,’ four English ladies exchange their damp and dreary surroundings for a month on the Italian Riviera. They’re different from each other in age and attitude, but all are bewitched by their rented medieval castle and the natural beauty of the Portofino peninsula. Their holiday not only refreshes their spirits but also reintroduces them to their true natures and reopens their hearts to love and friendship.”
I’ve been busy at work on Book 3 of the Dominion Over the Earth series, Day of Liberation, since the beginning of February and have had little desire to put my mind in the stories or even observations of other authors. I’ve had even less desire to put any of my own observations on anything I’ve read into a blog post, and I had pretty much determined that I am incapable of serious blogging and obsessive novel-writing at the same time. The Enchanted April, however, pulled me out of my fantasy world and into the real one long enough to write a blog post, which is ironic, since the book itself has the feel of a fairy tale.
The Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin (historical fiction)
“Francis Chisholm is a compassionate and humble priest whose individuality and directness make him unpopular with other clergy. Considered a failure by his superiors, he is sent to China to maintain a mission amid desperate poverty, civil war, plague, and the hostility of his superiors. In the face of this constant danger and hardship, Father Chisholm finds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Recognized as A. J. Cronin’s best novel, The Keys of the Kingdom is an enthralling, fast-moving, colorful tale of a deeply spiritual man called to do good in an imperfect world.”
I just finished The Keys of the Kingdom and believe it’s a perfect novel to read during the Christmas season. It doesn’t contain the aura of glitter and magic of modern Christmas stories, but it is a love story—it dramatizes the love that a Christ-like priest has for his fellow human beings, his church, and God. Father Chisholm experiences many horrific situations, and during much of his life, he believes he’s a failure. Through it all, however, he never loses his focus—never forgets the Being he is really serving. Later in his life, he writes, “I have bumped my head so often . . . and so hard, in my strivings after God” (Part 4, Chapter 11).
“The formidable Miss Deborah Jenkyns and the kindly Miss Matty live in a village where women rule and men usually tend to get in the way. Their days revolve around card games, tea, thriftiness, friendship and an endless appetite for scandal (from the alarming sight of a cow in flannel pyjamas to the shocking news of the titled lady who marries a surgeon). But, like it or not, change is coming into their world—whether it is the new ideas of Captain Brown, a bank collapse, rumours of burglars or the unexpected return of someone from the past.”
“Lady Ludlow is absolute mistress of Hanbury Court and a resolute opponent of anything that might disturb the class system into which she was born. . . . The vicar, Mr. Gray, wishes to start a Sunday school for religious reasons; Mr. Horner wants to educate the citizens for economic reasons. But Lady Ludlow is not as rigid as one may think.“
“From America’s call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system Democracy in America enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character.”
I’ll admit that the little novel Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell, didn’t impress me much at first or even engage me. The story is told by a young woman who writes about her experiences in Cranford as if she’s writing in her journal, which makes for a whole lot of telling and not a lot of showing. That, combined with the episodic nature of the plot, results in a lack of strong narrative drive. I kept reading because the style of writing, sense of place, and quaint characters relaxed me. I felt as if I had stepped into a world that didn’t exist anymore, and that, while not always happy or comfortable, was more self-sacrificing and less frenetic than our own.
Cranford gave me such a pleasant feeling that I went on to read two other stories by Elizabeth Gaskell that are similar to it: My Lady Ludlow and Mr. Harrison’s Confessions. It wasn’t until I had finished reading all three stories that I realized they dramatize some of what Alexis de Tocqueville describes—in philosophical and political terms—in Democracy in America, Volume 2. Tocqueville details the differences between aristocratic and democratic ages in great depth, and Gaskell breathes life into those differences as she looks back at the diminishing agricultural, aristocratic age of the generation that came before hers and gently carries her characters—and readers—into a more industrialized democratic world. Tocqueville observes:
Back in 2003 I launched Novaun Novels with the electronic publication of my fifth novel, Fall to Eden: An Apocalyptic Fantasy. Since I didn’t have a cover for the ebook at that time, I selected the above photo from NASA to represent it on the website. Now, at long last, Fall to Eden is available in print and for direct download to your dedicated reading device or app.
The Austin Family Chronicles, by Madeleine L’Engle (juv/YA fiction)
“In this award-winning young adult series from Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, Vicky Austin experiences the difficulties and joys of growing up.”
I found A Ring of Endless Light, the fourth book in The Austin Family Chronicles, at a thrift store earlier in the year and immediately fell in love with it. It reminded me of the higher-quality books I read as a girl and gave me quite a feeling of nostalgia. I loved the beach setting, and I felt at home with Vicky and her family—so much so that I read the other four novels in the series: Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, and Troubling a Star.
In The Young Unicorns, Canon Tallis makes this observation about the Austin family: