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Specters in the Glass House

Jamie Jo Wright. Bethany House, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-4146-8

A young research assistant unravels the mystery behind a Milwaukee socialite’s alleged death in this eerie dual-timeline tale from Wright (Night Falls on Predicament Avenue). Remy Crenshaw has just landed a job assisting eccentric author Elton Floyd on his next project—a biography of Marian Arnold, a Prohibition-era socialite rumored to haunt the halls of the manor where she was murdered. When Remy moves into the house and begins scouring it—and the internet—for information, she discovers the Arnolds’ family history includes a bankrupted brewery business and a murder by the so-called “Butterfly Butcher,” who left dead butterflies next to his victims. With the help of her faith and U.S. Marine veteran Tate Arnold, a distant relative of the Arnold clan with secrets of his own, Remy comes to believe that Marian may not have been murdered—and sets out to uncover the truth behind her disappearance. Wright uses the parallel story lines—one in the present, the other in the 1920s—to ratchet up tension as uncanny resonances between Marian’s and Remy’s lives send sinister echoes across time and space. Readers will be eager to take this twisty, suspense-filled ride. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/02/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Gathering

Shelley Shepard Gray, Lenora Worth, and Rachel J. Good. Kensington, $17.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-49675-029-7

Cultures clash, forbidden romances ignite, and old wounds heal in time for Christmas in this upbeat trio of novellas from Shepard Gray (A Is for Amish), Worth (The Widow’s Unexpected Suitor), and Good (Dating an Amish Flirt). Shepard Gray’s “A Christmas Reunion” finds Brandt Holden reuniting with Tricia, a friend’s Amish cousin with whom he’s been exchanging letters since meeting her a year ago. Their chemistry is undeniable, but Tricia must decide whether she’s willing to leave her culture behind for a chance at love. Worth’s “We Gather Together” takes place at a tiny inn on Christmas eve, where Lucas Myer and Kyla Hollinger form a bond despite a long-running family feud stemming from their grandparents’ romantic rivalry. Themes of rebellion are explored in Good’s “Hitting All the Right Notes,” which finds Andrew Hollinger starting a rock band with his friends during Rumspringa. When he meets and falls in love with a fan who’s not yet baptized, he’s forced to choose between love and his faith. Despite a few weak moments (the family feud in “We Gather Together” feels more like a plot device than a real obstacle to the protagonists’ love), readers will appreciate the combination of happily-ever-after story lines with meaningful considerations of the challenges of navigating between Amish and Englisch cultures. It’s a welcome burst of holiday cheer. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Burning of Rosemont Abbey

Naomi Stephens. Bethany House, $17.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7642-4247-2

A church burns down, throwing a small British town into disarray, in this intricate and moody historical from Stephens (Shadows Among Sheaves). It’s 1956 and 26-year-old Louisa Everly has just returned home from a party when she’s overcome by the uncanny sense that her twin, Paul, has died. Almost immediately afterward, Rosemont Abbey—the church where Louisa’s father had been a vicar before dying when she was 12—burns down. Paul’s nowhere to be found, so the police zero in on him as an arson suspect, a prospect that’s not entirely far-fetched given his checkered past. Still, Louisa’s determined to prove his innocence—and, she believes, to find his body. She teams up with her childhood friend and local police inspector, Malcolm Sinclair, to uncover the real culprit. Soon she stumbles on a secret that threatens to rock her family and the town itself. Louisa’s resonant ruminations on how her relationship with Paul soured after their father’s death—and on her faith as a source of bravery—add depth and texture to the mystery as it spirals toward its satisfying conclusion. This immersive whodunit captivates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/19/2024 | Details & Permalink

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A Very Bavarian Christmas

Katie M. Reid. Mountain Brook, $14.99 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-95395-747-4

A jaded 30-year-old rediscovers the holiday season’s magic in Reid’s upbeat if clumsy latest ( after Made Like Martha). Holly Brigham is broke, single, and has recently moved back to Bavarian Falls, her stifling Midwestern hometown and the “capital city of Christmas.” She’s hated the holiday since the Christmas more than 20 years ago when her father suffered a brain aneurysm that left him a shell of himself. As she acclimates to life back home, Holly finds distraction in dueling romantic interests Nik Beckenbauer and Frank Walker, and in painting ornaments at the local Christmas store. But her outlook doesn’t start to shift until a devout older couple shows up at the store and reminds Holly that God “brings good out of difficulties.” That message, along with a return to therapy, helps Holly to let go of the past, rediscover her love of Christmas, and envision a new future “instead of fixating on the one I thought was guaranteed.” While Reid’s Hallmark moviesque premise has promise, her characters aren’t quite captivating enough to make up for the heavy-handed exposition and abundance of awkward metaphors (“Nik’s tenderness melted Holly like a puddle on the driveway of her childhood home”). This comes up short. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Lowcountry Lost

T.I. Lowe. Tyndale, $29.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4964-6564-1

A divorced couple reconnects in this charming second-chance romance from Lowe (Under the Magnolias). Avalee Elvis has spent the six years since her split from high school sweetheart Rowan Murray growing her successful renovation business. But long, sweaty days knocking down walls and laying tile are fleeting distractions from her broken marriage, the personal tragedy that helped ruin it, and her sense of alienation from “everyone and everything” in the wake of both. She’s eager to embark on a project to revitalize a small South Carolina town that’s been abandoned since the mid-20th century, but barely has time to get to work before structural engineer Rowan shows up and informs her he’s been hired by the project’s investors to oversee construction. Still, Avalee throws herself into her work, and the town begins to take shape as the exes reconnect. Though Avalee’s surprised to learn she’s not the only one deeply wounded by the divorce, if she wants to rebuild her romance with Rowan, she’ll have to draw on her faith for the strength to finally face her trauma and heal herself. Lowe skillfully balances the story’s heavier themes with humor, thanks to several quirky side characters—including craftsmen brothers Fred and Froid and a food-snatching dog. This is sure to tug on the heartstrings. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/12/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Cloverton Charade

Sarah E. Ladd. Thomas Nelson, $17.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-78524-686-2

In the third Houses of Yorkshire Regency romance, Ladd (In the Shelter of Hollythorne House) serves up a riveting mystery centered on two antique brokers who are thrust back into each other’s lives years after a family feud forced them apart. When Olivia Brannon is recruited to evaluate a widow’s private collection at a London mansion, she jumps at the chance. Mrs. Milton is eager to keep Olivia’s work secret from her nephew George, the new owner of Cloverton Hall, and has Olivia pose as her guest at a party. Working-class Olivia feels like a fish out of water among the fashionable set, and things get stranger still when she runs into Lucas Avery, whose father was once a business associate of her own father’s before the two had a falling-out. Lucas is at Cloverton to evaluate George’s own collection of antiques, and is horrified to discover counterfeits among them. He reluctantly seeks out Olivia’s expertise, and sparks fly as the pair—who are driven by a shared belief in doing what’s right­—work to uncover who might be switching out George’s antiques. Ladd seamlessly weaves in details about the feud between the Brannons and the Averys as the narrative surges forward, adding depth and intrigue to Olivia and Lucas’s budding relationship. It’s a pitch-perfect blend of suspense and sweetness. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/28/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Catch

Toni Shiloh. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-76424-469-8

Shiloh (The Love Script) scores with this cheery, holiday-themed contemporary. Three years after moving back to her hometown of Peachwood Bay, Ga., single mom Bebe Gordon is still reeling from her divorce and dreading another Christmas season spent solo. Things start looking up when she runs into her high school boyfriend, Jay Walker, who left her to chase a career in the NFL and is back in town recovering from a knee injury. The two join the Christmas Ball planning committee at the local church and start spending time together. As sparks fly, Jay aims to find his way back into Bebe’s good graces, setting up extravagant dates for the two of them and easily winning over her flag football–obsessed seven-year-old daughter. While Bebe can forgive Jay, she’s not so sure she can forget, especially since her ex-husband robbed her of her faith in men—and, she fears, of her belief that she deserves happiness. Can Bebe trust God enough to let her guard down and start over? Resilient Bebe makes for an irresistible heroine, and the mix of flirty banter and earnest romance lends her relationship with Jay the right balance of sweetness and depth. Readers will have no problem rooting for these two to find their happily ever after. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/21/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Of Gold and Shadows

Michelle Griep. Bethany House, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-4256-4

An Egyptologist and an antiques dealer tangle with shady imposters, rare artifacts, and an ancient curse in this high-octane historical from Griep (The Sleuth of Blackfriars Lane). In late 19th-century Britain, wealthy antiques dealer Edmund Price receives a shipment of Egyptian artifacts which he plans to sell to settle a friend’s debts. He visits Oxford University to ask famed archaeologist Archer Dalton to evaluate and catalog the artifacts only to encounter the professor’s beautiful daughter, Ami, whom he reluctantly conscripts for the job since her father is away on a dig. After they discover that the shipment contains the Golden Griffon of Amentuk, a statue rumored to curse its owner, even the devoutly Christian Ami can’t help but notice the accidents that start occurring at Edmund’s house. On top of that, Edmund’s business partner Gilbert Fletcher has returned from a stint abroad and is acting very strangely. Just as Edmund secures a buyer for the relics, a sudden crisis puts the sale—as well as his and Ami’s lives and budding romance—in danger. Griep keeps the suspense sky-high throughout and enriches her characterizations by portraying her protagonists’ faith (upon uncovering the supposedly magical artifact, Ami muses that in God “she found strength, a conviction that transcended the bounds of mere reason. Still... there were moments like this” that “sent a shiver down her spine”). Readers won’t be able to put this down. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/21/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Target Acquired

Lynette Eason. Revell, $17.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-8007-4120-4

Eason’s taut second Lake City Heroes novel (after Double Take) finds the newest member of the Lake City, N.C., SWAT team caught between a cold case and a more pressing threat to her life. As the only woman on her team, medic Kenzie King knows her arrival has rocked the boat but is committed to the job. It becomes harder to focus on her work, however, after a car nearly runs her over and she spots a stalker loitering outside her house. SWAT team leader Cole Garrison sticks close by as he and Kenzie work to crack the case. The culprit proves elusive, but the pair is kept busy as new information comes to light about Kenzie’s mother’s death 20 years ago in a car crash that, it turns out, may not have been an accident. As Kenzie and Cole uncover details about the ugly feud between their grandparents that may have played a role in her mother’s death, they wonder what that case has to do with the danger Kenzie’s in, and whether they can draw on their faith to find the connection before it’s too late. Eason skillfully metes out details of the families’ backstories, adding depth to a zippy plot teeming with buried secrets, dredged-up traumas, and bad actors hiding in plain sight. The result is a thrill ride worth taking. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/21/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Tree Farm

Melody Carlson. Revell, $17.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-80074-472-4

Second-chance romance blooms in the midst of family drama in this heartwarming tale from Carlson (Just for the Summer). After five years spent teaching in Mongolia, Madison McDowell returns to her family’s Oregon Christmas tree farm only to discover that wildfires have ravaged most of their crops. Her sister, Addie, who’s been holding down the fort in Madison’s absence, is on the verge of selling the property. To complicate matters, Madison’s now-widowed first love, Gavin Thompson, has moved in next door, and Addie’s started to fall for him. Though Madison tries to focus on reviving the business, she can’t seem to stay away from Gavin and sparks soon fly. When Gavin’s college-age daughter, Lucy, comes home for the holidays, she dredges up secrets about Gavin and Madison’s past that hint at a future between the pair, if they can harness their faith to overcome interference from Lucy, friction with Addie, and their own anxieties about starting anew. The Hallmark moviesque plot has more than enough charm to keep readers invested until everything gets tied into a satisfying—if unrealistically quick—happily ever after. This is certain to get readers in the Christmas spirit. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/21/2024 | Details & Permalink

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