Books briefly noted: Fiction

Some recent pieces of fiction that you should add to your "to read" list.

Forsaking Church

David Alexander Shaw
Atmosphere Press, 321 pages | Published November 25, 2022

“I’m tired of it all,” one of Shaw’s characters says about church. “I’m tired of everything except love, mercy, and justice.” In Forsaking Church, a Colorado pastor asks the question many of us do: can I preach and lead prophetically without getting fired?  Shaw, a former UCC pastor, seems disenchanted with the church—his characters, among them pastors and missionaries—struggle to make an impact at home, on the border, and in Guatemala. Yet there are surprising moments of grace when the church (or individual members, sometimes the most difficult ones) come through on the side of justice, and love and mercy prevail after all. A compelling read.

Ashes to Ashes

M.M. Lindvall
Level Best Books, 280 pages | Published December 20, 2022

Written by a father-daughter writing team (that includes a retired Presbyterian pastor), Ashes to Ashes is a slow burn of a mystery. Amid the daily life of manse repairs and sermon prep, Rev. Ludington and his secretary Harriet Van Der Berg set out to solve the mystery of the human bones found in the basement’s ash pit. As they reach out to his predecessors and others connected to the church’s past, intriguing secrets come to light. A faster pace would have helped the storyline, but those who like their whodunits with a side of Session meetings and other nods to pastoral life should add this to the summer reading list.

Buried Dreamer

David Brown Howell
Resource Publications, 270 pages | Published March 23, 2023

Smm is a soldier, trapped underground in present-day Afghanistan and dreaming deeply of Scottish ancestors – the great-grandparents forced to immigrate to America and shipwrecked in Virginia a decade before the Civil War. Meanwhile, love is patient and kind for Presbyterian minister Charles Stuart and his shipmate and future wife Samantha. They experience good fortune while providing clandestine support for those escaping enslavement by way of the underground railroad. How Sam survives, acclimates after the military, and applies ancestors’ lessons to life in a post-January 6 world provides the coda for this dual story page-turner. Author Howell, himself a Presbyterian minister in Virginia, creates likable protagonists who are easy to know and root for. While the Rev. Stuart’s walk in faith is steady and inspiring, Sam’s encounter with stateside treachery will feel real and unsettling for most any reader. But in this telling, there is always hope. And love.

— Alfred Walker, Outlook’s office manager, who lives in Richmond, Virginia

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