Ever heard this one: “Oh yeah, that’s those Amish books, right?” or how about this one: “I don’t read prairie romance.”

I’m always amazed at how uneducated the general public is on the books published in the CBA. Yes we have our Amish books and our prairie romances–and some of them are absolutely fabulous and have hung out on best seller lists. But we also have fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, and . . . well, you name it, we’ve got it. (Almost.) CBA books offer diversity in style, taste, and artistic expression, even as they all offer the most important thing–God Himself.

Take, for example, three of the novels I read this summer. They weren’t even that dissimilar in genre. All three included some romance. All three three explored an inner female journey. All three included faith elements. But despite the fact that they had similarities, they were very different. On purpose.

I won Gunfight at Grace Gulch in a drawing when its author, Colorado ACFW member Darlene Franklin, spoke at HIS Writers. I breezed through the book, enjoying references to places I knew from my childhood in Oklahoma, including the lake I swam in most every day one summer. The book was a light fare, romance and mystery, and perfect for an evening when I just needed to escape the pressures of life and enjoy a safe story. Published by HeartSong Presents Mysteries, I knew it would be a book I could trust not to rock my world too much–a fun, quick read. And it lived up to its expectation. Dependable. Trustworthy when my heart couldn’t take one more assault. The guy got the girl–or uh, the girl got the guy. The bad guys were defined and called out. The faith questions were dealt with. I enjoyed humor, creativity, and romance while taking a break from a stressful time. When I finished this book I felt peaceful. There was a hope that all can be righted in His due time, that justice will eventually be served and love will find its voice. I rolled over to quiet dreams as God’s faithfulness wrapped around me like a hug.

Reading The Queen of Sleepy Eye, by Colorado author Patti Hill, was a whole different experience. Published by B & H Fiction, this novel was willing to push the envelop. Still a story of faith, everything wasn’t settled so neatly. The struggles were real, the heart strings were tugged, and as the heroine grew up, so did I. The end satisfied not because everything was settled perfectly, but because God was faithful even when life was hard and choices were less than stellar. As one reviewer said on the back cover copy, the book portrayed the “crushing cost of sin and the transforming power of grace.” It’s a book that made me think a little deeper, and live a little more honestly. Even though it was hard to walk through the pain of that growing up summer with its heroine, Amy, the story was offered to me with gentleness, penned with beauty of phrase, deep characterization, and an eye to redemption. God’s hug wasn’t quite so safe, but it was just as faithful, and perhaps its grasp was little tighter–a testament to HIS faithfulness in my weakness.

ACFW author Claudia Mair Burney’s book, Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and white, didn’t come to me with gentleness. It sang out with passion and zing. Liz Curtis Higgs calls the book “Unflinchingly honest and bold as brass.” Published by David C. Cook, this book confronted me with the raw power and unpolluted clarity of God’s amazing grace–undeserved, yet freely given. The romance was so beautiful at times that I wept, swept away by the glory and purity of love, and yet the story’s twists and turns also included such agony that on occasion my stomach hurt. It undid me, probing ugly places I don’t want to even admit are in my world, leaving few sacred stones unturned. The writing also sometimes left me breathless–both from the story it told and from the sheer strength of the collection of its words, carved onto the page with a voice all their own. There was no meandering through this book. There was no holding onto false illusions of strength. I was laid bare, reminded that it is only the merciful God of grace who can save. Reminded that He never gives up. God’s hug through this novel was fierce, protective, and unrelenting. He will never, ever let me go.

Three novels. Three experiences. Three reactions. Yet all three showed me God’s faithfulness. Maybe that’s part of what I love about reading books from the CBA. I can find books for my ever-changing seasons and needs. I know where to turn when I need to be stretched and what to grab when I need to feel safe. And I can trust each time that I will find God there, calling me into His arms.

Next time someone you know wants to put CBA in a box, send them my way. I’ll bet we can find an author who tickles their fancy–and give them a God hug at the same time.

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