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A Second Chance

Linda Byler. Good Books, $14.99 trade paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-6809-9447-6

Byler (Home Is Where the Heart Is) serves up an enjoyable contemporary Amish romance featuring a strong-willed heroine waiting for the right proposal. In rural Indiana, 29-year-old Edna Miller has been working as a live-in maid for new mothers for the past 15 years. No-nonsense and good at her job, Edna doesn’t mind her small town, because it’s close to Emery Hoschtetler, the man she’s been in love with since they were teenagers, who has always been indifferent to her. Between assignments, she stays at her childhood home and deals with her elderly parents, a task made more difficult when they get a new dog. Edna has few marital prospects, and a neighboring farmer’s request for a date goes nowhere because Edna still only thinks of Emery. When Emery, after years of shyness, finally asks out Edna, it seems like a dream come true. But things become complicated when Edna takes a job caring for Orva Schlabach, a widower and father of three, and develops feelings for him. Orva convinces her to trust in God’s plan and to wait to see where God leads them all. Byler creates multifaceted characters who deal with real-life issues, showcasing how plain life is not always simple. Fans of Amish romance will enjoy this tale of an independent woman waiting for her chance at love. (May)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Moments We Forget

Beth K. Vogt. Tyndale, $24.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4964-2728-1

Vogt continues her Thatcher Sisters series (after Things I Never Told You) in this touching tale that focuses on Jillian, the middle sister, who feels like she’ll always be “just Jillian.” At age 33, she has just finished chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer, but still feels residual effects that are changing her life physically and psychologically. Johanna, her older sister, offers advice but little more as she struggles with her own job and love life; Payton, her younger sister, is busy with coaching JV volleyball, taking classes to acquire her teacher’s license, and figuring out her relationship with boyfriend Zach. Jillian’s husband, Geoff, supports her, but on the topic of starting a family, he is surprisingly (and frustratingly) reticent. As Jillian digs into the reasons for his silence, long-buried secrets surface. Fans of the Thatcher Sisters series will enjoy hearing from Jillian, who had previously remained in the background, and discovering her wise, vulnerable voice. Any reader of inspirational romance will enjoy this realistic story of overcoming adversity and tending to long-ignored familial wounds. (May)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Whose Waves These Are

Amanda Dykes. Bethany House, $14.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3266-4

Family members reconnect over an incomplete WWII memorial in Dykes’ tender debut. Ann Bliss is a consumer analyst in Chicago, still reeling from a college scandal eight years before, involving false claims she made in an anthropological paper. Largely ignored by her military parents while growing up, Ann feels anxious nearly everywhere except Ansel-by-the-Sea, Maine—the fishing town where she spent one summer as a child getting to know her great-uncle Bob Bliss, whom she affectionately calls GrandBob. But after that summer, Ann’s father mysteriously forbade her from writing to GrandBob, and, so, in the intervening 20 years, she’s kept in touch with him by taking out want ads in his local paper, using them to explain what is going on in her life in clever ways. When Ann receives a copy of the paper with a response to one of her ads, requesting her to return to Ansel-by-the-Sea, she knows something is wrong and, upon arrival, discovers GrandBob is in a coma. In his home, Ann finds a number of boxes filled with stones. Tapping into her anthropological training—and with the help of Jeremiah, the handsome, mysterious postman—Ann discovers that her great-uncle had been planning a WWII memorial made up of stones sent from the loved ones of those killed in action. As Ann spends time with Jeremiah and alongside GrandBob, her confidence and faith slowly begin to recover. With its believable characters and narrative of atonement, Dykes’s impressive debut will appeal to fans of Sarah Sundin or Kate Breslin. (May)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Summer by the Tides

Denise Hunter. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7852-2270-5

Secrets, forgiveness, and love await three estranged sisters who come together to rescue their grandmother in this pleasant, inspirational tale from Hunter (The Convenient Groom). After Maddy Monroe receives an alarming phone call from her grandmother’s neighbor, she gladly leaves behind her floundering restaurant career and cheating boyfriend for Seahaven, N.C., to figure out why Gram vanished. She is surprised when her sisters arrive shortly thereafter, all of whom had been called by the worried neighbor, handsome dock and restaurant owner Connor Sullivan. Competitive tension between sisters Nora and Emma goes back 20 years, so Maddy leaves them alone and takes on a temporary job helping Connor with his restaurant. Sparks soon fly between the two of them, but Maddy’s recent romantic woes make her gun shy, while Connor is conflicted about dating again after the death of his wife a few years prior. Sorting through and cleaning up the cottage brings back long-buried memories, and the sisters discover that the past isn’t exactly as they remember it. Hunter does an excellent job of using the sisters’ situations to probe the dynamics of family dysfunction and the long-term effects of childhood trauma. While faith elements are subtle, the believable heartaches of Hunter’s characters and the organic plot will please her many fans and win her new ones. (May)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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On a Summer Tide

Suzanne Woods Fisher. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3498-5

Fisher (Mending Fences) delivers a refreshing story about reconnecting with family and discovering one’s purpose in life. After Paul Grayson’s wife dies, the retired sports announcer attempts to reconnect with his three daughters and his faith by selling his home and buying a dilapidated summer camp on an island off the coast of Maine. The time spent on Three Sisters Island proves to be exactly what each woman needs to make big decisions about their lives. Twenty-eight year-old Cam, the oldest, is a v-p at a renewable energy startup but is struggles with her rowdy seven-year-old son, Cooper. Cam is surprised when being on the island relaxes him, and the pair become closer as they explore. Twenty-four-year-old Madison has just gotten engaged and is supposed to be starting her counseling career, but she is questioning both her work and relationship. And 19-year-old Blaine has just been kicked out of junior college for not choosing a major or career path. For all three, the island adventure uproots and throws their lives into a chaotic but productive upheaval. As they try to get their father’s dream of redoing his camp (and simultaneously rousing the sleepy island community) completed, they each gain clarity about their future. In this quiet story of a family gathering after years apart, Fisher creates a vibrant cast of charming, plucky characters set on redefining themselves. (May)

Reviewed on 03/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Memory House

Rachel Hauck. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-3103-5096-5

This endearing but muddled tale from Hauck (The Love Letter) follows two women, separated by 50 years, who are connected through a Victorian home. Eighteen years after her father died during the collapse of a tower on 9/11, Beck Holiday is a NYPD sergeant, recently suspended for her anger management issues. But it is actually the perfect time for a vacation, as she learns that she has inherited the house of Everleigh Callahan in Fernandino Beach, Fla. Beck’s family used to vacation in Fernandino Beach, and Miss Everleigh took a liking to Beck, feeling they were “twin souls born sixty years apart.” Beck travels back to a town that is saturated with memories of her father, and also childhood sweetheart Bruno Endicott. In the other plot, set in the 1970s, 23-year-old Everleigh Novak believes she has the perfect life with her new husband in Waco, Tex. But when a tornado destroys their home and kills her husband, she must turn to God and prayer for answers. The arrival of high school friend Don Callahan, and his offer of moving to Florida, provides an opportunity for a new beginning, and they move to the house in Florida. While Hauck’s enjoyable portrait of the Victorian home stands as the main bridge between the narratives, the two plots prove to be an awkward fit. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Becoming Us

Robin Jones Gunn. Multnomah, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7352-9075-4

Gunn (Father Christmas) brings together characters from her Sierra Jensen and Christy Miller series in this sweet story of young women finding friendship at a Christmas party. Emily Winslow; her husband, Trevor; and their 10-year-old daughter are recent transplants to California. Attempting a fresh start away from Trevor’s imposing family is not as easy as they thought it would be; the used car dealership Trevor’s uncle sold him is barely keeping food on the table. Emily, a restaurant hostess, deals with a demanding geriatric customer base and a cantankerous boss. But things start to look up when she meets Jennalyn and is invited into her close circle of friends. Among them is Christy Miller, a welcoming local whose father is the manager of Emily’s apartment complex. At a rousing get-together dinner that frames the story, Emily is also introduced to Jennalyn’s friends Sierra and Tess. By trading stories and scriptural verses to be referenced throughout the year, Emily becomes emboldened to tough it out in her new community. As Emily and her family resist mounting pressure from Trevor’s family to return to North Carolina, they must decide what is right for their family, rather than what suits Trevor’s. Gunn’s portrayal of the delicate bonds of new friendship and the realistic struggles facing the Winslows makes for a ruminative, intelligent story about the process of reimagining what is valuable in life. (May)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Wooing Cadie McCaffrey

Bethany Turner. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3522-7

This delightful sophomore novel from Turner (The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck) features a mash-up of rom-com clichés cleverly strung together as a last-ditch effort to save a relationship. Thirty-year-old Cadie McCaffrey meets Will Whitaker during her disastrous birthday party, a meet-cute that develops into a four-year relationship. But after four years, Will keep stalling on getting engaged. Cadie is determined to end the relationship, and Will, in his desperation, promises her a special night. She gives him one more chance, but the night goes horribly wrong when things turn physical and Will’s expectation that they’ll sleep together makes Cadie uncomfortable. While Cadie prays for guidance and believes she must cut things off, Will is determined to win back her affection. A friend suggests that he research romantic gestures by watching Cadie’s favorite movies, and so, with cues from Big Fish, Juno, and Never Been Kissed (among others), Will goes to elaborate lengths to recreate scenes from the movies, but his plan fails when Cadie realizes what he is doing. Turner digs into issues of faith and personal comfort as Will and Cadie work to know one another more deeply. Ostensibly an homage to romantic movies, Turner’s moving inspirational romance is also a powerful investigation of regret and forgiveness. (May)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Two Weeks

Karen Kingsbury. Howard, $25 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0743-3

Kingsbury (When We Were Young) follows the senior year of Cole Baxter Blake, the 18 year-old son of Landon and Ashley Baxter Blake, in this winsome inspirational drama. During his final semester, Cole falls head over heels for Elise Walker, a new student from Louisiana who moved to Indiana to escape an abusive boyfriend. But just as they are getting to know each other, Elise learns she is pregnant, so Cole vows to put his plans of studying to become a doctor on hold in order to help her. While Elise considers her options, she meets prospective adoptive parents Lucy and Aaron Williams. Lucy and Aaron, from nearby Bloomington, have suffered through years of infertility and are overjoyed to finally be welcoming a child. As the story builds predictably, Elise and Cole form deeper bonds over Elise’s rediscovered relationship with God—something she had abandoned before moving. Kingsbury does throw in an unexpected twist that puts everyone’s faith and fortitude to the test, though it unsurprisingly brings out the best of everyone in the end. Kingsbury doesn’t stray from her signature style of creating scenes charged with emotion and characters that sparkle as paragons of virtue. Her fans will love this uplifting romance. Agent: Rick Christian, Alive Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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An Unpresentable Glory

Ellie Gustafson. Ambassador International, $16.99 trade paper (365p) ISBN 978-1-62020-842-7

This uplifting but underdeveloped romance from Gustafson (Dynamo) overflows with faith and an admirable message of redemption. In Westchester, N.Y., Linda Jensen lives a peaceful life devoted almost entirely to tending to her garden. But after church one Sunday, she comes across an unfamiliar and gravely ill man near her house. Agreeing to his request that she not call 911 or the hospital, she instead takes the stranger into her home and nurses him back to health over the following week. After a reporter turns up at the house, Linda learns the man she knows as “Jay” is actually Lawrie Crofter, the Republican candidate for vice president. Their week together is idyllic and platonic as Lawrie recovers from his mysterious illness out of the public eye—but when their “affair” becomes national news, it threatens to destroy both of their lives. Though Christian grace is the foundation upon which the plot is built, the story suffers from lack of character development, particularly for Lawrie, whose motivations remain a mystery. Gustafson’s story of healing works best when it focuses on themes of faith, and it will appeal to inspirational romance fans who can look past weak characters and an implausible plot. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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