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Promise at Pebble Creek

Lisa Jones Baker. Kensington, $7.99 mass market (288p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4748-3

Baker continues her Hope Chest of Dreams series (after Love at Pebble Creek) with this superb story of young love between Amish and Englisch. In Pebble Creek, Ill., Hannah, the youngest of 10 siblings, works at her family’s bakery and dreams of adventure. Despite her mother’s disapproval, Hannah reads popular suspense novels and secretly writes her own tales of intrigue at night in her bedroom by candlelight. When Marcus Jackson, an Englischer escaping his criminal brothers in Chicago, visits town, a romantic spark is ignited between him and Hannah, and Hannah finds herself caught between two ways of life. Marcus, who lost his parents at a young age, is determined to start a new life after giving himself to Christ. However, the community turns a suspicious eye on the outsider after a store is robbed and things go missing. Both Marcus and Hannah must consider the meaning of faith and sacrificial love as they navigate their relationship. This engrossing romance is filled with tender descriptions of the intensity of new love. The glimpses of Hannah’s outlandish stories, meanwhile, are particularly amusing. Amish fiction fans will enjoy this moving tale. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Home to Stay

Loree Lough. Kensington, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4924-1

A newcomer sparks the interest of a popular member of an Amish community in this charming tale from Lough (All He’ll Ever Need). Max Lambright has rebuilt his life after losing his entire family to two accidents. Now a successful building contractor, he has many friends in the community of Pleasant Valley, and when he meets Willa Richards, his business partner’s new live-in helper, Max is struck by Willa’s assertiveness and her respect for Amish living. He also notices the love Willa has for her baby daughter, Frannie, and her intense desire to escape her hardscrabble beginnings. Willa is a hard worker, genuinely cares for her employer, and begins to feel like a part of their family. But she is afraid her abusive ex-boyfriend will come looking for her and Frannie. As she and Max embark on a relationship, they both confront their fears to trust anew and move forward in faith and love. Lough’s endearing tale will appeal to fans of Wanda Brunstetter. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Best We’ve Been

Beth Vogt. Tyndale, $15.99 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-1-4964-2734-2

Three sisters overcome personal differences and rediscover family bonds in the excellent finale to Vogt’s Thatcher Sisters series (after Moments We Forget). Eldest sister Johanna is unexpectedly pregnant and, unmarried and not ready for a baby, plans to get an abortion—but hearing the baby’s heartbeat and seeing ultrasound pictures cause her to have second thoughts. Middle sister Jillian, who is infertile, overhears Johanna discussing the pregnancy with their youngest sister, Payton, and the news devastates her. A new believer, Jillian has been begging God for a child and pleads with Johanna to allow her to adopt the baby, but Johanna decides to raise the child herself. Jillian then runs away across the country to stay with a friend. Meanwhile, Johanna navigates a cordial relationship with her unfaithful former fiancé, deals with her runaway sister, and copes with prenatal medical complications. Being pregnant also forces her to revisit her past and reconsider long-held beliefs. Vogt paints a realistic portrait of a messy family struggling to deal with the pressures and pains of life. Series fans will be overjoyed by how things wrap up. (May)

Reviewed on 03/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Mystical Ark: A Vessel of Blessings

Eileen Patra. BookBaby, $16.95 (324p) ISBN 978-1-5439-7611-3

Patra depicts in her propulsive debut a spiritual awakening set off by the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant. The field study at archeological dig site Qasr Ibrim did not go as archaeologist Zak Erdmann had hoped. The expedition began with strange accidents resulting in deaths and serious injuries, and reaches total catastrophe after unknown assailants attack and kill the majority of the team members. Zak, Elena, Josh, and Paul are among the survivors, as they were in a cave following a map that led them to the Ark of the Covenant. But instead of containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Ark pulls them into a portal, allowing them to experience the commandments throughout history. Realizing that the world may not be ready for this experience, they leave the Ark in the cave and swear never to mention it to anyone. However, Elena, feeling a unity with “the essence of life,” decides to share her experiences through a gallery exhibition of paintings, and Paul decides to write a book about what he’s learned. Zak, less sure and still searching for answers, keeps asking questions and uncovers a secret sect of monks who are determined to protect the Ark. Fans of religious speculative fiction will enjoy Patra’s high-action, scripture-driven thriller. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Englisch Daughter

Cindy Woodsmall and Erin Woodsmall. WaterBrook, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7352-9102-7

In this charming inspirational from Cindy and Erin Woodsmall (A Christmas Haven), a mother and daughter-in-law writing team, Roy and Jemima Graber are an Amish couple coming to terms with life after a buggy accident leaves Roy debilitated and their eldest daughter disabled. A year after the accident, Roy becomes more distant from Jemima, and their difficulties go beyond Roy’s physical recuperation. Jemima’s badgering attitude, meanwhile, only serves to place a guilt trip on Roy. Jemima learns that Roy has cheated on her with a former girlfriend and, to support his girlfriend and their child, has drained the bank account that Jemima and Roy’s sister have been using to save money for a food truck. Despite Jemima’s devotion to her faith and family, the prospect of rebuilding trust will not be easy. Roy’s emotionally charged road to redemption provides many profound moments of reflection from the characters on the ripple effects of sins and the struggle to forgive. This is the Woodsmalls’ best work yet. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Trustworthy One

Shelley Shepard Gray. Gallery, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-9821-0093-3

Gray (The Patient One) wraps up the Walnut Creek series with an uneven outing. The Amish Troyer sisters, Kendra and Naomi, reconnect in Walnut Creek, Ohio, years after each of them left their abusive childhood home. As the eldest sibling, Kendra bore the brunt of their father’s anger and mother’s neglect, and while she obtained an education and created a new life for herself, she must still deal with the emotional scars that prevent her from trusting the kind attention of handsome Nate Miller. Naomi idolizes Kendra but struggles to make friends at her high school. When she finds out that her sister has a hidden past that forced her to leave Walnut Creek, Naomi’s dreams are shattered. In order to save their relationship and be able to allow other people into their lives, both must learn the meaning of forgiveness and faith. While Gray’s biblical themes are nuanced and well integrated into the narrative, a subplot about a second childhood tragedy (told through Kendra’s journaling) comes across as disjointed and unnecessary. Only series completists need apply. (May)

Reviewed on 02/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Thursday’s Bride

Patricia Johns. Kensington, $7.99 mass market (328p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4912-8

A man’s death forces his widow to confront her past in this enjoyable romance from Johns (The Bishop’s Daughter). After Rosmanda Lapp’s husband, Wayne, dies in a highway hit-and-run, she becomes a newly widowed mother of twin babies on the farm where she lives with her parents-in-law in the Amish community of Abundance. While her marriage had been happy, Rosmanda married Wayne primarily in an effort to repair her reputation after a scandal she tried to hide from her hometown. Her guilt eats away at her as she tries her best to meet the high expectations for a respectable Amish daughter-in-law and mother, and she knows she must marry again soon or find a way to earn an income to care for herself and her daughters. When her brother-in-law, Levi, arrives to help with the family farm, Rosmanda is terrified of her feelings for him, as he is stubborn, competitive, and has a history of drinking. Meanwhile, Levi is drawn to Rosmanda, but struggles with his own sins and does not believe he is good enough for her. As they begin to trust each other, each must face the spiritual task of forgiveness. Readers will be quickly drawn in to the push-and-pull of shifting emotions and unfolding relationships. Fans of Wanda Brunstetter will enjoy the layers of intrigue and redemptive arch. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Beautiful Arrangement

Beth Wiseman. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-3103-5717-9

Wiseman’s delightful third installment of the Amish Journey series (Listening to Love) centers on the struggles and unexpected joys of a marriage of convenience. After a shotgun wedding, 17 year-old Lydia and 20 year-old Samuel Bontrager scramble to create a stable home for their six-month-old daughter, Mattie, a process that drains their relationship of emotional and physical intimacy. As Lydia and Samuel play matchmaker to two friends, Beverly and Joseph, who quickly hit it off, they both determine to work on their own relationship. Just as they get to know each other on a deeper level, they encounter Margaret, a homeless woman suffering from dementia. Many people in the small Indiana community think Margaret is some sort of witch, but Lydia wants to help her. Worried for Lydia and Mattie’s safety, Samuel demands she stay away. When Lydia defies his wishes and lies to him about it, it threatens to destroy their marriage. But Lydia also begins to see that God could be using her to help Margaret. Meanwhile, Beverly keeps a secret from Joseph that may cause him to walk away from their fledgling romance. Series devotees and newcomers alike will find this engrossing romance hard to put down. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Beach Haven

T.I. Lowe. Tyndale, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4964-4040-2

Lowe (Lulu’s Café) opens her Carolina Coast series with this intriguing romance set amid the gales of a hurricane. Former Marine Lincoln Cole is fraught with both emotional and physical damage when he arrives in Sunset Cove, S.C., after a tour in Syria. Estranged from his father, he struggles to come to terms with combat injuries, including a leg injury and PTSD, that ended his military career and dispelled any faith he had in God. Opal Gilbert, the daughter of a wealthy senator, owns a local antique store and seeks independence, both financially and in her quirky, hippy-like lifestyle. Opal needs a delivery man, and a mutual friend suggests Lincoln for the job. Their first meeting goes awry, and every subsequent encounter seems to make matters worse. Then Hurricane Lacy hits and demolishes Opal’s store. Feeling guilty for his ill-mannered behavior toward Opal, Lincoln helps her rebuild her business. Simultaneously, Opal helps Lincoln recover a sense of calm and faith in God. As the pair try spend time together, they find healing for themselves and some unexpected common ground. This is a superb inspirational romance with a simple message: “nothing [is] too far gone to be restored.” Agent: Danielle Egan-Miller, Browne & Miller Literary Associates. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/21/2020 | Details & Permalink

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When Mountains Sing

Stacy Monson. His Image, $12.99 trade paper (422p) ISBN 978-1-73239-902-0

Monson (Shattered Image) weaves together a story of identity and ambition in this moving inspirational. Journalist Mikayla Gordon is 30 years old when she faints at work and learns she has a hole in her heart, a genetic condition that no one in her immediate family shares. Mikayla doesn’t want to let her medical issue interfere with her career, but is unable to ignore a problem that could prove fatal. Through a DNA test, she learns that the man she thought was her father isn’t. To find answers, she speaks with her mother and learns her father could be in Colorado. After accepting a job working with a youth camp in the Rocky Mountains, she meets Dawson, a wilderness camp leader, who helps Mikayla come to terms with what she has learned about her family and herself. Mikayla also discovers Dawson might be the perfect person to help her track down her elusive father. Though some of the conflict driving Mikayla’s development feels overwrought, and her religious concerns over her parents’ mutual infidelity feels heavy-handed, Mikayla’s faith and dedication to her career make her a believable, lovable heroine. Lovers of the outdoors will particularly enjoy this contemporary faith-based romance. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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