I was first introduced to Francine Rivers sometime in high school when I received the Mark of the Lion series for Christmas. Many years later she is still #1 in my list of favorite authors. So, to honor an author who has never written a book I don’t love, here are Francine’s 11 full-length novels for your perusal. All deserve a spot on your bookshelf!
Redeeming Love – Originally published in 1991, Redeeming Love is having its 20th birthday this year. This is the first novel written after the author had become a Christian and she considers it her statement of faith. Inspired by the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer and set in California during the Gold Rush, it follows a prostitute named Angel and the farmer who is determined to show her unconditional love. It is a journey from shattered innocence, abuse, unspeakable brokenness and finally, healing. Called the best Christian novel of all time by many, it stands out for its unflinching portrayal of brokenness and of unrelenting love.
The Mark of the Lion series: A Voice in the Wind (1), Echo in the Darkness (2), As Sure as the Dawn (3) – These were the first ones I read and still my favorites. The story of a first century Hebrew slave girl, Hadassah, who could be my favorite character in all of Rivers’ books. After surviving the massacre of her family and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Hadassah is captured and sold to a well-to-do merchant’s family. The narrative is centered on an ill-fated romance between Hadassah and Marcus, the brother of her owner and a handsome aristocrat. Amidst Rome’s decline and the decadence of a civilization on the verge of self-destruction, Hadassah may have to choose between hiding who she is and losing all she holds dear.
The Scarlet Thread – The story of two women, centuries apart, who are joined through a tattered journal as they contend with God, husbands, and even themselves. Though the women are separated by time and circumstance, one contemporary, one crossing American on the Oregon Trail, many of the issues and problems they face are remarkably similar.
Leota’s Garden – A story of second chances and new life where there was only weeds. Once Leota’s garden was a place of beauty, where her flowers bloomed and hoped thrived. Now, eighty-four year old Leota Reinhardt is alone, her garden in ruins. All of her efforts to reconcile with her adult children have been fruitless. Then God brings a wind of change through unlikely means: one, a college student who thinks he has all the answers; the other, the granddaughter Leota never hoped to know. But can the devastation wrought by keeping painful family secrets be repaired before she runs out of time?
And the Shofar Blew – A young pastor thinks he has what it takes to grow his struggling congregation into a success–but at what cost? His wife struggles between trying to be supportive and being honest that something is deeply wrong. While at times this book seemed to fall into stereotypes, the story of the wife especially was honest, engaging and empathetic.
The Atonement Child – Also up there with my favorites. A young woman who thought she had her life unfolding just as she’d wanted suddenly finds her world shattered and herself pregnant, the result of a rape. Can anything good come of such a horrible situation? This book is beautiful in every way. It explores the many people and perspectives involved in the abortion issue, is honest about the pain and brokenness, and shows the beauty that can be when we allow room for redemption.
The Last Sin Eater – Set in Appalachia in the 1850s, this is the story of a community committed to its myth of a human “sin eater” who absolves the dead of their sins, and the ten-year-old child who shows them the truth. The fascinating part about this story is that it is based on an actual historical custom. According to Rivers, sin eating was practiced in England, the lowlands of Scotland, and the Welsh border district in the early nineteenth century, and carried over by immigrants into the remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains. The sin eater was a person who was paid a small fee or given food to take upon himself the sins of the deceased. Often the sin eaters were tricked into it, and then they were locked into a life as an outcast. This is sitting on my nightstand and is the final Francine Rivers book I have to read, so I’ll let you know how it turns out!
Her Mother’s Hope (Marta’s Legacy, Vol. 1) and Her Daughter’s Dream (Vol. 2) – a family saga spanning a century, the Marta’s Legacy series begins just before the first world war in Switzerland and follows four generations across Europe to Canada and America, finally landing in California. Based on the author’s own family history, it examines the powerful relationship between mothers and daughters, and the hurt and misunderstandings that threaten to separate them. I love books (and series) that keep you busy for a while, so these two thick hardcovers were deeply enjoyable! I don’t always like the way generational family sagas make you switch attention and loyalties from one character to another when you’re not always ready to do so. But even so, these books were incredibly adept at showing how misunderstandings and different perspectives cause rifts between generations, and how we understand ourselves and our own actions so well while completely misjudging those around us. A worthy read!