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The Red Canary

Rachel Scott McDaniel. Iron Stream, $14.99 trade paper (314p) ISBN 978-1-64526-281-7

McDaniel (Above the Fold) skillfully portrays 1928 Pittsburgh in this suspense-filled inspirational romance. Vera Pembroke is the Red Canary, a singer at the Kelly Club speakeasy, and is the girlfriend of the club’s abusive owner, Carson Kelly. After Vera hears Kelly shoot someone, she informs the police about the murder and goes into hiding under the protection of police sergeant Mick Dinelo. Mick is a faith-filled man who has never recovered from having the love of his life die in his arms, and as Mick and Vera hide out in a cabin, Mick slowly breaks down Vera’s tough defenses and tries to convince her that God loves her regardless of her past. When attackers sent by Kelly invade the woods, Mick and Vera take off to hunt for evidence to convict Kelly. But after Kelly’s thugs catch up with Vera, Mick is the only person who can save her from certain death. Strong themes of the redemptive power of faith meld nicely with the brisk plot. McDaniel’s propulsive story will appeal to fans of Susan May Warren. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Thief of Blackfriar’s Lane

Michelle Griep. Shiloh Run, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-6435-2715-4

Griep (The House at the End of the Moor) delivers a charming story about a talented thief, a bumbling constable, and their reluctant partnership. Jackson Forge is rushing to start his first day as constable in 1885 London when he’s pickpocketed by Kit, who is nicknamed “Robin Hood in a Skirt” and lives to help the poor residents of Blackfriar’s Lane by stealing from rich Londoners. Later, Jackson seeks out Kit when he is given the assignment to find cabby Joe Card, who has gone missing. Joe, as it happens, had taken in Kit years before. Kit introduces Jackson to many characters of London’s underworld, who are all reluctant to speak at first but eventually open up under gun-toting Jackson’s strong-arm techniques. Jackson’s strong sense of ethics and deep faith, meanwhile, shatter the lies Kit has long believed about her noble life of thievery. While they may differ in their approach to finding and pursuing leads, the two develop a mutual respect that develops into a predictable yet pleasingly off-kilter romance. Jackson’s eagerness and Kit’s boldness prove to be a perfect match, allowing Griep to explore both the tribulations of Victorian poverty and the powers of salvation. Fans of Kristy Cambron should take a look. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/30/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Perfect Amish Romance

Shelley Shepard Gray. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4839-3

Gray (A Son’s Vow) presents the enjoyable first installment in her Berlin Bookmobile series featuring Sarah Anne, a 60-something widow. Sarah Anne, who delivers library books to the Amish community, wants to be the perfect librarian. To that end, she forms personal relationships with the readers she serves, often becoming a trusted confidante. Readers will be delighted by Sarah Anne’s gentle matchmaking between Aaron, an Old Order Amish man secretly seeking to obtain his GED, and Kayla, a New Order woman who agrees to tutor Aaron as she mourns her mother’s death and her father’s descent into depression. Another romance—between Aaron’s younger sister and her childhood friend—is similarly fraught with themes of struggling to live up to the demands and expectations of one’s family. Though the plot becomes predictable, each of the main characters undergoes realistic personal evolutions as they are shaped by transformative powers of love, hope, and faith. Gray’s fans will love this quiet, endearing tale. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Dress Shop on King Street

Ashley Clark. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3760-7

Clark makes a moving debut with the launch of a series centered on Millie Middleton, the child of an Italian father and African American mother born in Jim Crow–era Charleston, S.C. After her father was murdered by racists and her mother realized Millie could pass for white, Millie was sent away to start a life where no one would know her heritage. As a teenager, Millie meets handsome freight-hopper Franklin Pinckney while stowing away on a train, and the pair disembark in Fairhope, Ala., where they find lodging with a widowed innkeeper in exchange for work. The story jumps time periods frequently, filling in Millie’s backstory while introducing Harper and Peter in modern-day leaps: Peter knows Millie, who is now nearly 80, as a friend of his late mother; Millie has taught her neighbor Harper to sew. After Millie and Harper discover their shared desire to open a dress shop, Peter offers them a building he is renovating. While faith elements are subtle, Millie often turns to God for fortitude when facing the difficult circumstances of her past and the obstacles to finally getting her dreams off the ground. Those who enjoy inspirational time-slip stories will want to check this out. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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His Accidental Amish Family

Rachel J. Good. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-42015-046-9

Good continues her Unexpected Blessings series (following His Unexpected Amish Twins) with this enjoyable story of an Amish woman who gets a second chance at love and motherhood. Due to an accident seven years earlier, Anna Flaud has lost the use of her legs, as well as her ability to have children. What drives her is her promise to sweetheart Gabe that she would answer his marriage proposal once she could walk to meet him. Levi King, Anna’s new physical therapist, finds both her beauty and her determination attractive. Though Anna develops feelings for Levi as well, her focus remains on Gabe. After a great deal of effort and years of therapy, Anna achieves her goal—only to discover Gabe is engaged to another woman. Levi tries to court Anna, but she turns him down because she doesn’t want to deprive him of having children. While Good’s wholesome narrative is predictable, the characters are strong; Anna and Levi’s commitment to faith is revealed organically as both must learn to give themselves over to God’s plan. Fans of Amy Clipston’s Amish novels will love this. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Marrying Matthew

Kelly Long. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5165-7

Long (The Amish Heart of Ice Mountain) delivers an underwhelming story centered on the sheltered 20-year-old Amish heiress of a lumber fortune. Tabitha grew up under tight security and the watchful eye of relatives due to Tabitha’s father’s fears of her being kidnapped for ransom. She, however, is determined to marry on her own terms, rather than end up with someone whose eye is on her father’s money. After she takes out an ad in the newspaper for an Amish mail-order groom, Tabitha is pleasantly surprised when it is answered by handsome woodworker Matthew King. However, Matthew has secrets of his own. The romance between Tabitha and Matthew, as well as between Tabitha’s uncle Abner and housekeeper Anke, add spark to the narrative. However, detailed descriptions of repressed sexual desire and unrealistically buffoonish characters (such as the town bishop) fall flat. Fans of small-town Amish romances will be disappointed. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Courting Misfortune

Regina Jennings. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3534-4

Jennings (The Major’s Daughter) introduces readers to the rough and tumble town of Joplin, Mo., in this fun inspirational adventure set in 1898. Undercover Pinkerton agent Calista York is hired to find Lila, the daughter of a Chicago gangster with connections to Calista’s boss. Lila was last seen being held in a brothel in Joplin, and though Calista’s wary of the assignment because she has relatives in the area who may blow her cover, she takes the job, convinced that “God had called her on this path” to rescue Lila before she is harmed. Matthew Cook, a new pastor in Joplin, is eager to save souls in the derelict town. After spotting Calista at a brothel and then at a whiskey shop, Matthew determines to protect her and help her reform her life. Calista’s work in Joplin becomes a complicated balancing act as she deals with meddlesome family, her deepening feelings for Matthew, her investigation and the corrupt local police, and a looming deadline to find Lila. Just when Calista is recalled by her boss and gives up searching for Lila, Matthew discovers the truth about Lila’s whereabouts and races to find Calista before she reports back. Jennings nicely lays out the competing interests and introduces Joplin locals, such as orphanage director Mrs. Fairfield, who promise good things for future entries in the series. Full of colorful characters and unexpected twists, Jennings’s entertaining story is her best yet. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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To Dwell Among Cedars

Connilyn Cossette. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3434-7

Cossette (Until the Mountains Fall) introduces siblings caught up within early biblical conquests in the excellent launch of her Covenant House series. Arisa and Lukio, Philistine siblings whose mother died giving birth to Lukio, are left by their grieving father with an indifferent aunt and uncle, who put Azuvah, a Hebrew slave, in charge of their upbringing. Seven years after the Philistines defeat Israel in battle and take the Ark of the Covenant, a plague befalls the region, and Arisa and Lukio find themselves reliant on a dangerous, narcissistic cousin, who is the only remaining member of their family. Enabled by Azuvah, the pair escape the cousin’s home and, as directed by Azuvah, follow the Ark as the Philistines return it to Hebrew control, who they believe God meant the Ark for. An eight-year time jump reveals the siblings have been adopted by a Levite and have changed their names to Eliora and Natan: Eliora embraces the Hebrew culture, while Natan struggles with his outsider status. After Ronen, who as a child before the Ark was originally taken knew Eliora and Natan, resurfaces, he and Eliora have an immediate romantic connection, but struggle with issues of trust, acceptance, and faith as factions spar over the fate of the sacred Ark. Despite a predictable outcome, Cossette’s propulsive biblical drama has moments of high suspense and intrigue. Fans of Tess Ashfar should take a look. Agent: Tamela Hancock Murray, Steve Laube Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Courting Can Be Killer

Amanda Flower. Kensington, $8.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2403-8

Flower brings back the dynamic duo of Lois Henry and Millie Fisher in this fun second installment of her An Amish Matchmaker Mystery series (following Matchmaking Can Be Murder). One day at the flea market in Harvest, Ohio, 19-year-old Michigan transplant Ben asks matchmaker Millie to encourage Tobias Lieb to allow Ben to court Tobias’s daughter, Tess. But after the flea market burns and Ben dies in the blaze, everyone assumes the fire was Ben’s fault simply because he was an outsider. With Englischer best friend Lois’s help, Millie sets out to clear Ben’s name. The trail leads from one cryptic clue to the next as the duo dig into Ben’s troubled past in Michigan after finding letters from his estranged family. Their investigation roots out Tobias as the origin of the rumors surrounding Ben’s involvement in the fire, and Millie starts to believe the town has conspired to keep Ben from marrying Tess, who conveniently keeps popping up with half-truths and tears. The use of Millie’s matchmaking intuition in the murder investigation brings a refreshing edge to the cozy Amish genre, and Flower combines quirky characters, close-knit community, and first-class sleuthing to great effect. Fans of Amish mysteries will love this. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Things We Didn’t Say

Amy Lynn Green. Bethany, $15.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3761-4

Green debuts with an enthralling epistolary tale revolving around a WWII-era treason trial. Johanna Berglund is studying linguistics at the University of Minnesota when her funding is threatened to be withdrawn if she doesn’t accept a job as a translator for a German POW camp in her hometown. As Johanna is the daughter of the mayor, it’s hoped she can help assuage locals’ anger about the presence of Germans in town. Johanna’s forced return, however, results in her own resentment and animosity toward those who hold her career captive in a place she no longer considers home. Soon she begins advocating for better living conditions for the prisoners and is charged with treason. Letters between Johanna and her Japanese-American friend Peter Ito; the local newspaper editor, Brady McHenry; Johanna’s former childhood friend Annika; and others tease out Johanna’s side of the story alongside documents compiled as “Evidence for Prosecution” and newspaper editorials leading up to the trial. Though the brash and caustic Johanna can come off as preachy and unrealistically modern, her friend Peter balances things out with thought-provoking observations: “we have to have the courage to move beyond” the past or else risk “being trapped under layers of resentment.” While faith elements are subtle, readers will be drawn in by Johanna’s sense of morality. This is a smart examination of patriotism, prejudice, and purpose. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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