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The More the Merrier: An Amish Christmas Romance

Linda Byler. Good Books, $14.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-680994704

Byler (Home is Where the Heart Is) once again relies on her Amish heritage to bring rural Pennsylvania to life in this fine love story. Annie Miller is an Amish widow raising eight children during the Great Depression. The family sells their milk and eggs and lives on mush and coffee soup because Annie is too proud to ask the church for help. Then their barn catches fire and Daniel Beiler, who happens to be passing by on his buggy, notices the smoke and comes to the rescue. Afterward, Beiler, an amish widower, returns to his six children, and, unable to get Annie out of his mind, he boldly writes her and asks to begin a relationship. After months of indecision, Annie finally agrees. The chemistry develops quickly, and Daniel and Annie marry; however, combining their households is not as easy as simply moving into Daniel’s much larger farm. Ever hopeful, Annie is convinced things will get better and works to integrate the large, eclectic family filled with contrasting personalities. Byler spends a great deal of time describing tasks and less on character development, often leaving readers in the dark as to why her characters act as they do. This quiet romance moves swiftly to a resolution and will appeal to fans of Wanda Brunstetter. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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When I Close My Eyes

Elizabeth Musser. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3444-6

Musser (The Long Highway Home) delivers a powerful story about mental illness and forgiveness, connecting the culprit and victim of a violent attack through their strong faith. Josephine Bourdillon, a best-selling novelist, is shot in the head as she’s getting into her car in Asheville, N.C. Henry Hughes, the hired gun, is a veteran suffering from PTSD who needed the money from the hit to pay for his son’s heart operation. While Josephine is in a coma, she relives the high and low points of her life. Meanwhile, Henry plans on finishing the job so he can get the money and protect his family from Nick, the mysterious person who hired him and is now threatening to hurt them. He also begins reading Josepehine’s books; her words touch him deeply and he begins to wonder if good can actually come from bad. As Josephine’s teenage daughter Paige cares for her mother at the hospital, she tries to figure out who wanted her mother dead while keeping from the police information that might lead them to suspect her father. In a serendipitous turn, Paige befriends Henry’s wife, who is at the same hospital watching over her sick son. Musser’s raw portrayal of life with mental illness and the strength of faith to overcome injury will appeal to readers who enjoyed Katie Ganshert’s Life After. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Celtic Crossing

Len Mattano. Paraclete, $17.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-64060-305-9

Mattano makes a moving debut with this story set in contemporary Ireland that weaves together ecclesiastical lessons and stories from the New Testament. Father Kevin Schaeffer is a Jesuit academic from Boston hoping to capitalize on the success of his first book, and possibly a second, to relieve him of the academic life. While he is on sabbatical in Ireland, Aileen Callaghan, a grandmother whose grandson is dying from leukemia, brings to Schaeffer’s attention a mystery he cannot resist: the existence of a cross known to heal generations of the Callaghan family of the cancers they seem cursed to be afflicted with. His research, rooted within his strong faith in God and belief in Aileen’s story, becomes an attempt to locate the cross and save Michael’s life and draws Schaeffer deep into the past. He digs into the lives of Mary from Magdala; Mary, the mother of Jesus; and eventually the stories of Irish patron Saints Patrick and Brigid, guardians of the holy healing relic, while tracking the historical and geographical movement of the cross. Featuring a passionate sleuth and God-graced relic, Mattano’s scripture-heavy tale will be of interest to faith readers who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code but prefer lower stakes. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Camera Never Lies

David Rawlings. Thomas Nelson, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7852-3069-4

This stimulating fantastical tale from Rawlings (The Baggage Handler) tackles the internal battles that can come with honest introspection. Daniel Whiteley’s success as a marriage counselor relies heavily on a reputation built on his bestselling book, No Secrets. There is one glaring problem, though: Daniel’s own life is filled with secrets. His wife doesn’t trust him; his 12-year-old daughter refuses to open up, and her rebellious behavior confuses him; and his editor is threatening to pull his contract if he doesn’t produce a second book. When Daniel’s grandfather dies, he leaves Daniel a letter expressing his concern for him, as well as an old camera. Daniel quickly has the film developed and is shocked when he sees the prints of old photos, revealing scenes of his wife crying, gripping a pill bottle at their daughter’s birthday party. Daniel continues to use the camera, and the images reveal the uncomfortable realities of his life that are obscured behind his veneer of happiness. In his fervor to keep his secrets hidden, he doesn’t realize his efforts are making his relationships unravel even quicker. While religious themes are never overt, this Twilight Zone–style story will challenge readers to rethink the meaning of truth by digging into the repercussions of dishonesty. Agent: Steve Laube, Steve Laube Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Bake Shop

Amy Clipston. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-310-35638-7

Clipston (Room on the Porch Swing) begins her Amish Marketplace series with this pleasing story of love and competition set in Lancaster County, Pa. Christiana Kurtz is thrilled at the prospect of moving her popular bake stand to the market where the other Amish sell their goods, seeing it as a haven from her father’s strict rules. At 25, Christiana is content in her singleness and focused on her business. When she meets Jeff, the handsome Amish man running the leather booth next to hers, she befriends him but is confused by his moodiness. As she tries to understand Jeff, she falls in love with him, despite her fear of relationships. Jeff, left at the altar a year before, has only begun to lift out of his depression when he meets Christiana. When Jeff starts to fall for Christiana, his fear of rejection makes him wonder if pursuing a relationship is actually a good idea. As they both begin to overcome their fears, the strictures of Amish society and Christiana’s father’s objections to Jeff’s modern ways threaten to to derail their chances. This sweet tale will please fans of Clipston’s wholesome Amish romances. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/20/2019 | Details & Permalink

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In the Cradle Lies

Olivia Newport. Shiloh Run, $12.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-68322-995-7

In the alluring second installment to the Tree of Life Series (after The Inn at Hidden Run), Newport returns to Canyon Mines, and Nolan and Jillian Duffy, who work together to uncover the secrets of a wealthy skier. Nolan combines his abilities as a lawyer and mediator with Jillian’s genealogy tracking skills to determine what is driving Tucker Kintzler, a mysterious millionaire who befriends them, and has made himself known about town by spending his money and boasting that he intends to ski the dangerous “Hidden Run.” As the remarkably nosy and inquisitive duo begin sleuthing to uncover what tight-lipped Tucker might be hiding—he is the son of a well-to-do St. Louis family—an unexpected visitor reveals details that pose more questions than answers. Interspersed are scenes from the mid-20th-century Missouri of Tucker’s grandfather, Grandpa Matt. His favorite Bible verse was “The truth will make you free,” but the investigation begins to reveal Grandpa Matt to have been hiding more than his quote suggests. After Tucker opens a long-sealed envelope and learns of his family’s dark business practices, he must decide whether he has the courage to admit the truth his beloved grandfather spent a lifetime hiding. While faith elements are light, Newport’s enjoyable slalom will appeal to fans of Susan May Warren. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/13/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The End of the Magi

Patrick W. Carr. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3491-0

Carr (The Shock of Night) retells the story of the Magi in this bustling biblical adventure. In 537 BCE, the prophet Daniel predicted that from the day of the command to rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of the Messiah would be 483 years, and he taught the Magi, a group of wise men, to keep watch for his coming. In 5 BCE, Myrad, the adopted son of Gershom, a respected member of the Magi, has a dream of a star hanging in the sky, not moving at all. When most of the Magi, including Gershom, are murdered by Parthian king Phraates IV, Myrad takes his father’s papers and flees, a journey made more difficult by his club foot. He’s aided by God, a kind merchant, and a few other displaced Magi in his quest to discover the meaning of his dream and to avenge his father’s death. Myrad witnesses the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but even then, his dangerous journey is not complete. Myrad’s divine vision of the star and his arduous trek battling his own physical problems to pay homage to the Messiah capture the majesty of biblical narratives and will appeal to Christians well versed in scripture. Fans of Mesu Andrews will love this. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Pursuit of Home

Kristi Ann Hunter. Bethany, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3077-6

Hunter (Return of Devotion) centers the pleasing third entry in the Haven Manor series on Jess Beauchene, heir to a lost European kingdom who is living in hiding. Twenty-five-year-old Jess escaped from France to England 10 years ago in 1806, after her family—the last remaining members of the fictional kingdom of Verdonne—were captured and their home was burned down. Now Jess works as a cook at Haven Manor, an estate in the English countryside. After she receives a cryptic letter and learns that a family member might still be alive, she risks exposing herself to find the truth. Derek Thornbury, a rare artifacts expert, spends his days at Haven Manor analyzing paintings and is skeptical of Jess’s request to help her decipher clues in an old family journal. As they follow the journal’s clues, they draw closer together, but locating the lost crown of Verdonne, which will prove her family’s claim, proves harder than they expected. Faith elements are light, and though the supporting cast is used mainly to further the plot, the chemistry between Jess and Derek develops organically. Hunter nicely blends historical romance and mystery in this satisfying tale. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Smoke Screen

Terri Blackstock. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-310-33259-6

Brenna Herzog faces a difficult divorce, the release of her father’s murderer, and long-standing rumors that surrounded her father’s death in this exciting inspirational thriller from Blackstock (If I Run). During a long custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Brenna’s once-strong faith begins to fade as she drowns her sorrows in vodka. When Nate Beckett, her high school boyfriend, returns to town, Brenna feels her depression lift. Nate’s father, Roy, has been in prison for 14 years for the murder of Brenna’s father, pastor Strickland, but Roy has always maintained his innocence. Strickland had objected to Brenna’s relationship with Nate when they were caught sneaking out together, and, after he was shot to death, a fight the pastor had had with Roy became the primary evidence for Roy’s conviction. As Nate attempts to patch up his relationship with his father, who had been an abusive alcoholic, Nate assists his father in searching for the real killer—despite his belief in Roy’s guilt. As Nate stays in town, he spends time with Brenna, and they realize the love they had as teenagers is still strong. Nate is determined to help Brenna keep her children, and also to discover the truth as new information emerges about the night of Strickland’s death. Blackstock’s intense and twisty story will please fans of her faith-grounded crime dramas. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Christmas Home

Marta Perry. Berkley, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-9848-0319-1

Perry (Amish Outsiders) welcomes readers to the Amish community of Promise Glen, Pa., for this endearing story of a woman finding renewed faith after a complicated romantic entanglement. Twenty-eight-year-old Sarah Yoder is happy to be home after a decade of traveling alongside her father and caring for her younger siblings while he worked. Her Grossmammi (grandmother) finds her a job keeping the books for furniture-maker Noah Raber, neglecting to inform Sarah that Noah has young twin sons and that his wife separated from him soon after they were born. The last thing that Sarah wants to do is raise more children who aren’t hers, but she soon finds herself caring for the young boys. Sarah has never been in love, but she feels herself starting to develop feelings for Noah—despite the fact that he is married and they can never be together. Noah also struggles with his attraction for Sarah, who has quickly become an important part of both his and his sons’ lives. After they kiss, they both agree they must resist temptation. Matters are complicated even more when Sarah discovers Noah’s wife is living is community nearby. It doesn’t seem possible that Sarah can find the happiness she is searching for, but her Grossmammi encourages her to believe in God’s plan for her life. This Christmas romance, tinged with sadness and pain, is a moving tale of trusting God and finding love in unexpected places. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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