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The Jam and Jelly Nook

Amy Clipston. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-3103-5654-7

The pleasing final installment of Clipston’s Amish Marketplace series (after The Coffee Corner) sees widow Leanna Wengerd find love. Leanna and widower Emory Speicher Emory meet at the police station after their children are caught trespassing, and a friendship quickly develops between the two single parents. Emory’s daughter, Maggie, believes her aging father should be her responsibility as an only child and foregoes hanging out with friends her own age. Leanna’s son Chester, meanwhile, goes to work in Emory’s shed-building business and begins to trust and confide in him. The teens are adamant, however, about not wanting their parents to date. As a result, Emory and Leanna hesitate to acknowledge their growing feelings for each other, at times appearing like teenagers hiding a crush. The situation is compounded by Emory’s meddling sister-in-law and another woman vying for Emory’s attention, but the two find a way to honestly share feelings and rely on their faith to take a second chance at love. Series fans will love this wholesome finale. (May)

Reviewed on 03/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Amish Surprise

Shelley Shepard Gray. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-982148-45-4

Gray’s lovely second in her Berlin Bookmobile series (A Perfect Amish Romance) sees Sarah Anne Miller helping another family as she volunteers as a traveling librarian delivering books to the Amish community. When Sarah Anne is courted by handsome widower Pete Cannon, she worries that pursuing the romance will dishonor the memory of her late husband, who died of cancer a few years before. Meanwhile, she does her best dealing with the Miller family, who frequent the bookmobile with six rowdy children. The oldest boy, Miles, is a 10-year-old foster child. A young married farmer, Calvin, takes a special interest in the child since he and his wife, Miriam, have been unable to have their own children. Calvin longs to adopt Miles but Miriam is initially against the idea. When Miriam becomes pregnant, she chooses to keep it a secret, because she’s afraid of losing the baby and disappointing Calvin. As Calvin grows closer to Miles, Miriam learns to release her pride, trust in God, and open her heart to the boy. Sarah Anne also realizes that she needs to trust God’s plan instead of her own, with ramification for her relationship with Pete. Gray’s fully realized characters, believable situations, and delicately woven biblical themes make this a standout. Gray’s fans will be thrilled. (May)

Reviewed on 03/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Let It Be Me

Becky Wade. Bethany House, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3561-0

Wade continues her Misty River Romance series (after Stay with Me) with this enjoyable story about identity and opening one’s heart after trauma. When high school math teacher Leah Montgomery takes a genetic test, she discovers she is not biologically related to her family. After talking to her mom, she concludes she must have been accidentally switched at birth. Meanwhile, heart surgeon Sebastian Grant had stopped looking for the woman who kept him conscious after his car accident the year before, but immediately recognizes her daughter, Leah, at the farmer’s market where he is helping his best friend, Ben. Sebastian is smitten—until he discovers she is the same Leah that Ben has pining for the last two years. Even though Sebastian has vowed to avoid her, the two become friends when Leah reaches out to enlist his help investigating hospital records about her switched at birth theory. The more time they spend together, the stronger their attraction grows, and Leah prays on whether to open up her heart to Sebastian. Sebastian, meanwhile, with Ben’s support and blessing, releases his own anger at God for the death of his mother at a young age. Leah’s logical, solutions-oriented mind and Sebastien’s guarded, moody personality make for a quirky and exciting match. This is Wade’s most powerful work yet. (May)

Reviewed on 03/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Closure

Lindsey Todd. Veritas Words, $14.99 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-1-51366-344-9

Todd debuts with a powerful epistolary novel of a young woman torn between her love for a man and love for God. Morgan Wells writes a long letter to her first love, Wade, examining the highs and lows of their six-year relationship. Morgan and Wade meet during their first year of high school and start dating their junior year. While Wade wins Morgan over with promises to never hurt her and always take care of her, he soon insists on going further sexually than Morgan is comfortable with. (While they are both Catholic, Morgan is much more devout than Wade, who wonders if God is real and if keeping faith is necessary.) As the relationship matures and they become sexually active, Morgan struggles with the dichotomy between what her faith teaches and the life she is living. She prays for Wade and hopes he will finally embrace God, but comes to the realization their differences might be irreconcilable. Morgan and Wade’s relationship builds gradually, which makes the intensity of Morgan’s moral wrangling and difficulty making a final decision resonate. Todd’s moving, emotionally complex story nicely captures the magic and heartache of first love. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Present Danger

Elizabeth Goddard. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3798-6

Goddard (Don’t Keep Silent) opens her Rocky Mountain Courage series with this thrilling romance set amid an investigation into a smuggling ring. Detective Jack Tanner reunites with former girlfriend Terra Connors, who works for the Montana Forest Service, when a body is found deep in the woods outside of Big Rapids, Mont. The dead person is Jim Raymond, a well-known local insurance salesman. While investigating Jim’s death, Terra and Jack find an stolen cache of Native American artifacts in a remote cabin. Terra is certain that they have stumbled on a smuggling ring. When Terra returns to the cabin and someone sets it on fire with her inside, the investigation switches from potential theft to attempted murder, and they begin to suspect Jim might have been an unwitting accomplice to a sinister operation. As Jack and Terra close in on the smuggling ring—and learn just how lucrative smuggling Native American artifacts can be—they are no longer sure who in Big Rapids can be trusted. As more attempts on Terra’s life are made, the possibility of losing each other forces Terra and Jack to admit their feelings and give their relationship a second chance. Though faith elements are subtle, this will be a great entry point for those new to Goddard’s high-octane inspirationals. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Curator’s Daughter

Melanie Dobson. Tyndale, $15.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4964-4417-2

A young girl kidnapped by Nazis piques the interest of a present-day researcher in this propulsive time-swapping tale from Dobson (Catching the Wind). During WWII, Lilly Strauss Kiehl is taken from her parents in Poland at age 8, receives Aryan indoctrination in an orphanage, and is adopted by an SS agent and his wife, Hanna Tillich. But an American serviceman who had an affair with Hanna before the war comes to find his former lover as the war is ending, believes Lilly to be his biological child, rescues her, and brings her back to the U.S. In 1999, Lilly, now a retired teacher, reconnects with Ember Ellis, a former student. Ember, a history doctoral student, suffers nightmares from trauma endured in a religious cult that idolized the Nazis. Lilly’s wartime recollections and other stories Ember finds of those who risked their lives to protect victims of Nazi persecution become the core of Ember’s dissertation. As Ember works to piece together Lilly’s spotty memories, Hanna’s story emerges: she was a Nazi researcher tasked with finding historical proof of Aryan superiority. Ember makes for a believable, complicated heroine whose research into of Hanna’s competing desires to help the Nazi war effort and be a loving caretaker to Lilly allow her to overcome anger over her own upbringing. Though faith elements are secondary, fans of WWII inspirationals will love this. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Piece of the Moon

Chris Fabry. Tyndale House, $25.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4964-4344-1

Fabry (War Room) delivers a powerful story of faith and the material things people hold dear. After millionaire Gideon Quidley’s wife dies in 1974, Gideon feels led by God to hide all of his gold and silver—as well as thousands in cash—in a custom-built ark, bury it in the hills outside of Emmaus, W.Va., and leave only a list of cryptic Bible verses as clues to finding the treasure. Seven years later, after word about the ark has spread, Emmaus becomes inundated with treasure hunters—as well as others looking for a Christian revival who assume the story is Gideon’s attempt to promote biblical literacy. Local radio broadcaster TD Lovett gets involved in the treasure hunt after his friend and local pastor Robby Gardner goes missing during his search. After TD finds Robby stranded in a cave with a broken leg, Gideon resolves to pay Robby’s hospital bills and sets out to retrieve the treasure himself. But then a car accident leaves Gideon in a coma and NASA investigators arrive in town to find a moon rock Gideon supposedly hid with the treasure, kicking the frenzy up to a fever pitch. The winding narrative, which follows TD’s transformation from unwelcoming skeptic to enthusiastic believer, elevates themes of community and faith in God’s plan. This is Fabry’s best yet. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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All That Really Matters

Nicole Deese. Bethany House, $16.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-76423-496-5

In Deese’s charming fish-out-of-water tale (after Before I Called You Mine), a social media influencer finds humility and purpose while trying to find fame. Beauty Instagrammer and would-be actor Molly McKenzie has her eye on a role on a reality TV show about helping underprivileged youth and decides to pad her résumé by volunteering at a summer program for young adults who have aged out of foster care. She’s initially rejected by the program’s director, Silas Whittaker, but is later given a trial run after she comes up with a syllabus for a life skills class. Molly clicks with the residents, and Silas starts to see her as more than a pretty face—and realizes he needs her fund-raising expertise and Instagram prowess to help expand the program. The two soon fall in love, and Molly starts to regret her narcissistic intentions after spending time with the people in the program. But when Molly wavers on pursuing reality TV, her vindictive manager, who has legal control of her finances, puts the the program’s fund-raising efforts at risk. In a tight spot, Molly turns to God for guidance. Deese combines to great effect her bracing take on those affected by foster care and Molly’s personal evolution. Fans of Rachel Hauck should take a look. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Under the Magnolias

T.I. Lowe. Tyndale, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4964-5360-0

Lowe (Beach Haven) delivers a powerful coming-of-age story set on a Magnolia, S.C., tobacco farm in the 1980s. After 13-year-old Austin Foster’s mother dies, her father, David, teeters between lucidity and episodes of rage and hostility, leaving Austin to run the farm and take charge of her six younger siblings. David also pastors a small group of misfits in the small chapel on his nearby property. Known as the First Riffraff of Magnolia, the congregation consists of a Holocaust survivor, a tight-lipped African American couple, the local mortician, an exonerated ex-convict, and a flamboyant hairdresser. After Austin’s father is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she spends a difficult seven years trying to hold her family together. Then Vance Cumberland, the mayor’s son, takes a romantic interest in her. Despite a mutual attraction, Austin’s fear that her father’s mental illness will be exposed causes her to shy away. But then David publicly attempts to kill himself, prompting Austin to accept help from the community of Magnolia. The many colorful Magnolia characters, particularly the eccentrics of First Riffraff, rise to support Austin and nicely round out the slow-burning romance. Lowe’s fans will be thrilled. (May)

Reviewed on 02/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Amish Quiltmaker’s Unexpected Baby

Jennifer Beckstrand. Kensington, $7.99 mass market (340p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5199-2

Beckstrand (Abraham) begins her Amish Quiltmaker series with a redemptive tale about a woman who moves across the country to start over. Esther, unmarried at age 30, is considered an “old maid” in her rural Pennsylvania Amish community. After the death of both her parents, Esther relocates to Byler, Colo., for a fresh start. But then Esther’s estranged younger sister, Ivy, shows up with a newborn baby, steals Esther’s money, runs off, and leaves Esther to care for the infant. Handyman Levi Kiem knows a lot about child care, as he is the oldest of 12 siblings. Along with his extended family, Levi helps Esther bond and care for the child. Though Esther is hesitant about her growing feelings for Levi, she gets over her fears as he proves to be the only one in Byler she can rely on. Their bond is tested when Ivy returns and tries to manipulate Levi into marrying her. Readers will root for the couple, and Ivy makes for a believable foil to Esther’s attempts at beginning a new life. Fans of Wanda Brunstetter will enjoy this satisfying, sentimental tale. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2021 | Details & Permalink

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