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The Heart Knows the Way Home

Christy Distler. Avodah Books, $3.99 e-book (358p) ISBN 978-1-73477-892-2

Two long-lost friends reunite, but their faith differences may keep them apart in this touching Mennonite romance from Distler (A Cord of Three Strands). Janna Carpenter is a single mother returning to the Akron, Pennsylvania, area where she grew up. After a tree falls on her new house, she and her daughter, Kayla, have nowhere to go. By chance, Melinda Martin, an Old Order Mennonite woman whose mother-in-law, Salena, raised Janna, runs into Janna and Kayla and invites them to stay with her and her children. Salena's grandson Luke and Janna had been best friends growing up, and now Luke is a widowed and overworked single father. After some initial missteps, Luke and Janna renew their friendship and their children become fast friends. When Luke asks Janna to stay on the farm to help his grandmother and care for his son, Janna agrees, but it’s not an easy transition and both must rely on God for help reconciling their differences. Distler’s believable setup and the conflict’s resolution make for pleasing reading. This sweet romance will win over fans of Amish and Mennonite fiction. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Freedom’s Song

Kim Vogel Sawyer. WaterBrook, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-65370-7

Sawyer (Echoes of Mercy) again digs into history in this enjoyable faith-filled adventure about an indentured servant on a popular riverboat. In 1860, Fanny Beck is the star singer aboard the River Peacock steamboat, but also a prisoner between shows, as she’s indentured to Sloan Kirkpatrick for a seven-year contract. Fanny dreams of escape, praying that one day she’ll reunite with her family in New York City. Then Fanny learns that Sloan plans not to honor the end date of the contract, and, when a fire breaks out on the boat, she escapes. Fanny’s long trek to freedom includes traveling with a family of escaped slaves, sleeping aboard train cars, and singing for money—and then Sloan pursues her upon learning she survived the fire. After Fanny arrives in Gideon, Ind., she finds a sobbing child alone in a cabin and meets the girl’s father, Walter Kuhn, who recently injured himself. He works out a deal for Fanny to care for the girl in order to earn train fare until Walter’s mail-order bride arrives. But plans change when a relationship between the two kindles. Sawyer’s episodic narrative and rich assortment of characters fighting for freedom provide the story with many twists and unexpected side-plots. The author’s fans will love this. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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First Christmas on Huckleberry Hill

Jennifer Beckstrand. Zebra, $8.99 (353p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5205-0

Beckstrand impresses with a pleasing prequel to her Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill Amish series (following Home on Huckleberry Hill). Martha Sue Helmuth, 30 years old and determined not to marry, realizes she has been sent to Wisconsin by her parents to spend Christmas with her grandparents for the purpose of finding a husband. Though Martha tries to protest, she and her extended family from previous installments gather during Christmas dinner and listen as Mammi Anna and Dawdi Felty tell the story of how they fell in love. The narrative jumps back in time to the 1950s when Felty returned from the Korean War and was ostracized by his Amish community for his choice to serve—which goes against the vow of nonviolence central to the faith. The girl he secretly loved, Anna, was the only one willing to forgive him, but he doubted she could ever love him back. Like Felty, Anna was an outsider in the community—she couldn’t cook, sew, or clean, and was too bookish to be considered a proper Amish girl. Their friendship—which develops sweetly into love as they bond over the complexities of life and relationships, and as Anna helps Felty recover from the horrors of war—drives the wholesome tale. Beckstrand’s fans and newcomers alike will enjoy this yuletide outing. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/06/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Healing of Natalie Curtis

Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3613-2

Kirkpatrick (Something Worth Doing) returns with another enthralling work of historical fiction inspired by real events. In the early 20th century, 26-year-old musical prodigy Natalie Curtis has become sickly and is unable to perform. Broken by an unrequited love and the social constraints placed on women, she languishes at her parents’ home in New York. Upon returning home from working at a cattle ranch in Arizona, Natalie’s brother convinces her that the Southwestern climate may help her recover her strength—and perhaps her voice. But it’s the songs of Native Americans that enrapture Natalie once she arrives out west. She soon discovers those songs are outlawed by the government’s Code of Offenses. Government rations are reduced for violators, with the goal of Americanizing the Native Americans by disassociating them from their cultures. Natalie makes it her mission to preserve their songs and, in doing so, their heritage. To that end, she petitions President Theodore Roosevelt, a family friend, to sanction her work. Kirkpatrick’s portrayal of Natalie’s fight for equality and cultural preservation will resonate with readers. Those who enjoy the work of Francine Rivers should take a look. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Wish Book Christmas

Lynn Austin. Tyndale, $12.99 ISBN 978-1-49645-252-8

Characters from Austin’s 2020 novel If I Were You return in this lovely standalone Christmas tale. It’s December 1951 in Connecticut, and two five-year-old boys, Bobby Barrett and Harry Dawson, are obsessed with the Sears Wish Book, convinced Santa will bring everything they underline in the pages. Both raised by single mothers, they also think Santa might be able to bring them fathers. Frustrated by their sons’ selfishness, Audrey Barrett and Eve Dawson set out to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas. To do so, they start the “Wise Men” project intended for neighbors in need of emotional support or daily errands, which they hope will encourage the boys to give gifts to others. While the boys are less than enthusiastic about the idea, they soon begin to embrace the spirit of giving. The mothers also learn some important lessons along the way, including the necessity of accepting forgiveness and help. As the boys begin to learn and change, Audrey and Eve also open their hearts to the possibility of new love. While fans of If I Were You will be eager to read the next chapter of Audrey and Eve’s lives, this charming book will also be a delight for inspirational readers looking for a feel-good Christmas story. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Season of Change

Beth Wiseman. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-3103-5728-5

Wiseman’s excellent third installment of her Amish Inn series (after An Unlikely Match) is a heartfelt story of the effects of tragedy, letting go of the past, and opening one’s heart to new beginnings. Rose, a young and overly talkative maid, is hired at the Peony Inn by elderly sisters Esther and Lizzie. Benjamin, a young man overcome by shyness, has also been hired as a handyman for the inn. Rose does her best to obey gentle advice from the sisters to listen more and cease her chatter, but quiet Benjamin inspires Rose to get him to open up. The two are drawn to each other despite an awkward introduction at the inn, and readers will cheer as the pair discover that accepting grace and offering it in return can be the foundation of real love. Their story is paralleled by that of Esther, who receives a bouquet of flowers from a secret admirer. Lizzie embarks on a quest to solve the mystery, while Esther grapples with the possibility of a second chance at romance in her golden years. Wiseman’s wholesome matchmaking ploys and the genuine love between the characters make this sweet finale a standout. Fans of the series will laugh and cry at this surprisingly bittersweet story that would be perfect for book clubs. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Lines Between Us

Amy Lynn Green. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3717-1

In Green’s gratifying sophomore novel (following Things We Didn’t Say), WWII serves as the backdrop to a tense investigation into forest fires. In 1945, Quaker Gordon Cooper persuades his best friend, Jack Armitage, to apply for conscientious objector status. Being granted objector status, both end up in Oregon as smoke jumpers, helping to put out wildfires. Before the war, Gordon was sweet on Jack’s sister, Dorie, but she breaks his heart with her unabashed disdain for conscientious objectors. Meanwhile, Dorie decides to join the Women’s Army Corps and is assigned as a mechanic in Seattle. In the midst of an unusual surge of winter fires, Jack is badly injured while stationed at the lookout tower. Unable to come to terms with why Jack would run into the fire instead of sounding the alarm, Gordon battles the district ranger for information. When Dorie appears at Flintlock Mountain purporting to be conducting an Army investigation, Dorie and Gordon soon realize they must work together if they have any hope of finding out what really happened to Jack. Green creates an enthralling narrative that will keep readers guessing until the end. As new insights force Gordon and Dorie to grapple with their principles, one ideal emerges paramount: the truth actually can set one free. Green’s fans will love this. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Husband Auditions

Angela Strong. Kregel, $15.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4710-5

In Strong’s fun inspirational romantic comedy (after Finding Love in Seaside, Oregon), opposite personalities attract during an outrageous attempt to implement courtship advice from the 1950s. Meri Newberg, now that her former roommate is married, has been staying in her brother’s townhouse while he is away for the summer. Kai Kamaka, one of Meri’s brother’s two roommates who she is forced to stay with, is a video editor currently working the night shift at a news station. When Meri, who is the last of her Christian friends group to find a boyfriend, discovers and complains about a list from the ’50s on the internet about ways to attract a husband, Kai comes up with the idea of a YouTube show where Meri tries out the suggestions. Meri is hesitant at first, but leans into the idea—not to find a husband, but to encourage other single women. While filming is fun and allows Meri and Kai to get closer, their ploys (dropping a handkerchief, literally lassoing a male passerby) go nowhere. But going through the list gives Meri the confidence to be single, and also inspires Kai to stop being complacent and risk rejection. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by Strong’s twist on the happily-ever-after ending. Those who enjoy novels of Karen Kingsbury should take a look. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/16/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Yours Is the Night

Amanda Dykes. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3268-8

In this propulsive tale, Dykes (Set the Stars Alight) brings together soldiers and an ethereal presence in the woods of France during WWI. Upon arrival in France, platoon sergeant Matthew Petticrew is linked with George Piccadilly, a chaplain who entered seminary in order to avoid the war, and Hank Jones, a journalist covering the war. In the woods near their encampment, the trio meet a young woman named Mireilles, and soon they realize she is the person the locals refer to as the Angel of Argonne, who sings while laying wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers. With the Germans advancing, the group’s commanding officer allows them to escort her to safety in Paris. Warily, Mireilles goes along—but hides the fact that she understands English at first, allowing her to eavesdrop on their conversations and gain trust in Matthew. When George and Hank develop a scheme to ditch Mireilles and abandon the mission, Matthew must lie to all three in order to see Mireilles to safety. Dykes embeds timeless themes of trust, courage, and sacrifice, and Mireilles’s ethereal role provides a subtle element of faith. Readers who enjoy the work of Tracie Peterson will love this. Agent: Wendy Lawton, Books and Such. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Matched and Married

Kathleen Fuller. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-3103-5896-1

Fuller continues her Amish Mail-Order Brides of Birch Creek series (following A Double Dose of Love) with the pleasing story of Margaret, the youngest of four sisters who visits Birch Creek, Ohio, to stay with her aunt and uncle to avoid the temptations of Englischer life. Margaret, despite not wanting to marry, is drawn to Owen Bontrager, a hard-working farmer who is set to inherit his family’s farm. As Margaret gets to know Owen, his work ethic and love of learning inspire her to study herbal remedies. Owen’s father, meanwhile, believes Owen works too hard and instructs him take a vacation and start dating in order to secure the family’s future. But Owen has difficulty taking a break and giving up control. As a friendship between Margaret and Owen develops, they help each other grow in their faith and learn to trust God—as well as each other. A parallel romance between Rhoda, a middle-aged woman whose abusive husband purportedly disappeared, and Loren, a widowed innkeeper, also captivates. This charming outing, filled as it is with forgiveness, redemption, and new beginnings, will delight Fuller’s fans. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/09/2021 | Details & Permalink

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