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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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The Amish Cookie Club Courtship

Sarah Price. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4919-7

The lovely third installment of Price’s Amish Cookie Club series (after An Amish Cookie Club Christmas) centers on four best friends and their families in the community of Shipshewana, Ind. Wilma suggests neighbor Edna Esh hire her 19-year-old twin daughters, Rachel and Ella Mae, to assist with her baking business. However, Edna and her fellow members of the Cookie Club figure out that Wilma’s true intention is to set them up with Edna’s bachelor sons, Jonah and Jeremiah. Edna reluctantly agrees to hire the girls because she desperately needs the help, even though they have a reputation for bickering and lacking a work ethic. As she gets to know the twins, though, she sees that behind their similar appearances are two very different personalities: where Rachel is forward and confident, Ella Mae is more reserved and contemplative. Edna soon realizes the girls would be excellent matches for her boys and plays cupid, setting up Jeremiah with Ella Mae and Jonas with Rachel. However, when Rachel develops an interest in Jeremiah rather than Jonas, things quickly go awry. While the resolution is easy to see coming, readers will enjoy following Edna’s attempts to bring her sons and the twins together during cheerful Friday night baking gatherings. Readers who enjoy good-intentioned characters and communities filled with faith and friendship will feel right at home here. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Promised Land

Elizabeth Musser. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3445-3

Characters from Musser’s The Long Highway Home return in this touching story of four pilgrims walking the French Camino. Abbie Jowett has always micromanaged her life, but when her sons graduate from high school and her husband decides he needs a break from their marriage, she loses all sense of control. Meanwhile, her son Bobby is traveling during a gap year and in Vienna meets Rasa, a former Iranian refugee who captures his heart. When he asks Rasa to join him on the Camino, Rasa is reluctant, but agrees to join once Abbie decides to embark the pilgrimage as well as be their chaperone. Also along for the trek is Bobby’s friend Caroline Lefort, who makes the trip to report on the Camino and take photos for an online paper. She is a woman without faith, still reeling from the disappearance of her best friend seven years earlier. Walking the Camino challenges all of them to face the pain in their hearts and teaches them important lessons on community, friendship, and trust in God. While this works as a standalone, readers will only fully appreciate the arc of the characters if they’ve read The Long Highway Home. Karen Kingsbury fans will want to take a look. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/25/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Her Secret Song

Mary Connealy. Bethany, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3260-2

Connealy concludes her Brides of Hope Mountain series with this charming tale (following Woman of Sunlight) centered on Ursula, the eldest Nordegren sister. In 1874, the Nordegren girls, raised by their grandparents in the mountains of southern Colorado territory, have been taught to fear the outside world and consider Aesop’s Fables a “second Bible.” With her sisters married, Ursula finally ventures out and comes across a wounded man, Wax Mosby. Ursula brings Wax, a bounty hunter, back to her stone shack so he can recuperate, and the pair develop an immediate attraction. When her sisters and their husbands visit, her brother-in-law, Mitch, recognizes Wax as part of the gang believed to have shot Mitch’s father in the back. Then the neighboring Warden clan asks the Nordegrens for assistance fighting off a group of criminals who plan on killing the family and taking their land. Wax volunteers to help, hoping for a chance to prove his worth and redeem himself in Ursula’s eyes. Though Wax and Ursula believe God has brought them together, they must decide if they can trust each other. Lush descriptions of the Colorado frontier and exciting gun battles make this a standout. Connealy’s fans will be pleased to see the series go out on a high note. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/18/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Price of Valor

Susan May Warren. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3586-9

Warren continues her Global Search and Rescue series (after Heart of a Hero) with this enjoyable thriller about a high-stakes rescue mission during a devastating catastrophe. Earlier in the series, Ham Jones, a former Navy SEAL, found out that his wife, Signe, who he believed died a decade earlier, is alive, and they have a 10-year-old daughter. Signe, a CIA operative, has been embedded with Russian terrorists in Ukraine and is attempting to gather information on their next target. After she discovers that the terrorists have list of American spies, she must try to get the list and discover a possible traitor in the U.S. intelligence community. When Sen. Isaac White, a presidential candidate and Ham’s former SEAL teammate, finds out about Signe’s situation, he asks Ham to get his team back together, rescue Signe, and retrieve the list. Along the way, Ham and his team survive a volcano eruption, a tsunami, and a hostage situation. Warren’s high-paced narrative is capped off with Ham and Signe’s revitalizing reunion, where they reconnect and find a renewed, shared faith. Warren’s fans will enjoy this. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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To Steal a Heart

Jen Turano. Bethany, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3531-3

Turano (Diamond in the Rough) opens her Gilded Age–era Bleecker Street Inquiry Agency series with this lavishly imagined tale set in the upper-class homes of New York City. No one is who they seem in this upstairs-downstairs story featuring Gabriella, an outspoken seamstress in her early 20s who moves into a Bleecker Street boardinghouse after aging out of the orphanage where she was living. After fellow boardinghouse resident Jennette Moore is wrongfully accused of stealing jewels from the Linwood family estate, Gabriella teams up with the other young ladies of the residence to catch the real thief. Their plans, though, go outrageously, hilariously awry, as when, among other bungles, Gabriella ruins the Fairy Tale ball with her clumsy eavesdropping and pick-pocketing. During her sleuthing, Gabriella runs into an old friend from the streets, Nicholas Quinn, who is now a member of the city’s elite and a sought-after bachelor. Old friendships are rediscovered and secrets from the past revealed, leading Gabriella and Nicholas to rediscover their faith and recognize the defenses each had built around their own heart. Readers will laugh out loud at the witty dialogue and cheer when justice gets smartly served. This is Turano’s best yet. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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