I’m grateful I discovered the joy of escaping into the pages of a good book — especially when trying to get through a long, cross-country flight. With summer upon us and a desire to find something good to read by the pool or on the plane, I asked publishers to send me their favorites of the fiction titles they’ve released this year.

I opened the cover of "True Courage" by Dee Henderson (Zondervan) as a Henderson novice, with the knowledge that her books pepper the romance fiction bestseller lists. This book is as much crime and mystery as romance, which provides a broad appeal. Luke Falcon (great name for a handsome hero, I must say) is an FBI agent too busy with solving murders to settle down with fifth-grade teacher Caroline Lane. But when people he and Caroline care about are kidnapped, they are drawn together. There’s no mystery in the romance department, as it is fired up from the very first page; but an intriguing mystery follows.

"The Called" by Samuel Whitestone is the first fiction book released by Pathway Press. What a great read! It’s much like a John Grisham story that includes a gruesome murder, a seductive client and an inter-national assassin. A mysterious murder grips a small Tennessee town with horror and embroils a young lawyer in a dangerous struggle for his career, marriage, life and faith. Unlike the contrived characters and conversations often found in Christian fiction, these people and the choices they make ring true with few exceptions. The bio says “Samuel Whitestone” is a pseudonym for an early retired, top-ranked national criminal trial lawyer, who lives with his wife in Florida and devotes his time to Christian writing. I hope he keeps it up!

I must admit that a lead character who says things like, “Fellers, have a listen!” and also reads Blaise Pascal feels like a bit of a strech. Yet that’s what you find in "Nazareth’s Song" by Patricia Hickman (Warner Faith), a sweet story of a preacher with a past set in the depression-era South. Jeb Nubey has become a foster father to three kids and is about to take over the pulpit of the local church. While trying to win a woman who has rebuffed him and avoid the whiles of a beauty who desires him, the preacher seeks to make peace between the town’s prosperous banker and its hungry, desperate citizens. In some ways this story reminded me of a western film watched on Saturday afternoon — no huge impact but a nice way to spend the time.

Halfway through "The Dead Don’t Dance" by Charles Martin (Westbow) I was questioning some of the endorsement quotes of “brilliant.” Dylan Styles has buried his stillborn child, his wife is in a coma and his crops are dying along with his professional and personal dreams. And, for much of the first part of the book, I wondered if he was ignoring the issues that would be swirling around someone in his situation as the book began to focus on his new teaching career and the struggling students he encountered inside and outside of class. But as I continued, I grew to appreciate the author’s subtle development of the bittersweet love story, which moves the reader gently, leaving a sweet smile of satisfaction at the last turn of the page. The “preachy” factor is practically non-existent, but a couple of the characters of faith seem a little too good to be true. I wondered all the way through how the central crisis of his wife’s life hanging in the balance of a coma would resolve. But you don’t think I’m going to tell and ruin it for you, do you?