Read this: Zora and Nicky by Claudia Mair Burney
Not that: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Redeeming Love, a western romance based on the biblical story of Hosea, has held a spot on the CBA’s bestseller list for over a decade. At its core, Redeeming Love is a moving story of redemption. But it has some major flaws, including clunky writing, repetitiveness, and a hero who is, at times, completely lovable and at others, maddeningly anti-feminist. Enter Zora and Nicky, a lesser known story about a southern playboy who looks like a Calvin Klein model and a spitfire African American woman who fall in love while learning to set aside their prejudices. It’s bold, it’s steamy, and it deserves a lot more attention than it’s received.
Read this: Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler
Not that: Bonnet Fiction. Period.
Bonnet fiction is quickly becoming the scourge of the Christian publishing industry. The appeal of prayer coverings and quilting bees escapes me, but at the heart of the Amish obsession lies the erroneous romanticization of a lifestyle and theology simply because it’s countercultural (something we Christians tend to be rather fond of). Which is why I highly recommend Growing Up Amish, a memoir by Amish-born Ira Wagler, who shares openly about the vicissitudes of Amish life without any of the fluff and nonsense.
Read this: Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand
Not that: A Ted Dekker Thriller
Ted Dekker thrillers are all well and good, but there’s a new kid on the block changing up the Christian fiction scene. Starring down-and-out Houston PD Detective Roland March, Back on Murder and the subsequent two novels in the series are gritty, intelligent, and well written. It’s a series any mystery lover can get attached to, even those with an aversion to faith-themed fiction.
Read this: Take My Heart, Oh God by Sarah Young
Not that: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
Since it’s publication in 2004, Jesus Calling has consistently topped Christian bestseller lists. The book contains 365 daily readings written in the first person from Jesus to the reader. Sound nice? I suppose it is, until you consider that the author, Sarah Young, claims these little messages are direct revelations from God. Oh little devotional, I am creeped out by thee! More recently, Young has offered something better to devotional readers. Take My Heart, Oh God is a collection of short inspirational messages preceded by quotes from female Christian writers spanning from Julian of Norwich to Beverly Lewis. Better. Much better.
Read this: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler & Lois Tverberg
Not that: Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Crazy Love was a huge hit with readers. In fact, it’s still on the New York Times bestseller list, nearly five years after its release. Crazy Love rubbed me the wrong way, as I think it did many people (even if their voices were drowned out by the scores of raving, Amazon-review-writing fans). While many readers were like, “Whoa, this is inspiring,” I was like “Whoa, this makes me feel guilty for no reason!” So if you’re looking for something to spice up your spiritual life, try Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, a study on how the Jewish faith shaped Jesus and his teachings. Bonus: It has the Shema (in English) and a guide to the Jewish calendar in the appendices.
Read This: Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
Not that: Heaven is for Real by Lynn Vincent & Todd Burpo
There’s an understandable fascination in popular culture with near-death experiences and afterlife encounters, but the bottom line is that none of these stories can be be verified, so the line between fact and fiction is inevitably blurred in books like Heaven is for Real, a #1 New York Times bestseller written by the father of a little boy who supposedly visited heaven. For those who prefer something a little less esoteric, try Surprised by Oxford, a beautifully written memoir which reflects the author’s background as a PhD in romantic literature.