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Engaging Deception

Regina Jennings. Bethany House, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3536-8

Self-taught architect Olive Kentworth bristles against the sexism of 19th-century Missouri in the winning third entry in Jennings’s Joplin Chronicles series (after Proposing Mischief). Olive longs to be accepted as an architect and pounces on the opportunity to design an expansion on the Blount family’s house, which was originally designed by renowned architect Max Scott. To be taken seriously, she enlists the help of her male cousin and submits her work under his name. Meanwhile, Olive reluctantly agrees to babysit two young children only to learn that they belong to Max, who obliges when Olive picks his brain about his library and work. The stakes escalate after a prominent family hires Max to build them a house larger than the Blounts’, igniting a heated battle to build the biggest home in town. Then Max learns that Olive has been drawing her cousin’s blueprints and she, embarrassed, hides out at her family’s farm until her grandmother counsels her that God wouldn’t have given her a gift for architecture without giving her the courage to use it. Olive’s story of overcoming the biases of her community inspires, and readers will appreciate the message that “God is right there beside you in a hundred different ways.” Series fans will be pleased. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/07/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Take My Hand

Kristen Hogrefe Parnell. Mountain Brook, $13.99 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-953957-22-1

Therapist Kaley Colbert is targeted by the Tampa mafia in this suspenseful romance from Parnell (the Rogues series). Hours before Kaley is scheduled to leave on a ski trip to North Carolina with her church group, she has to cover for a colleague and conducts an emergency therapy session with his client Anthony Casale, a “disturbed” man with shadowy ties to underground crime whose incoherent ramblings unsettle her. Afterward, she joins her church group and sets off on the trip, though she’s anxious about being around her ex-boyfriend, Reef, who is also attending the outing. Then Anthony turns up dead less than a day after his session with Kaley, setting his erstwhile accomplices on a hunt for her to see what he might have told her. Meanwhile, Kaley and Reef rediscover their old spark, but Kaley starts to suspect strange men are following her and she becomes stressed and withdrawn. By the time Reef realizes that Kaley’s life may be in danger, she has disappeared from the slopes, and he must trust in God to keep her safe until he can find her. While Anthony’s ties to the Tampa mafia and their interest in him go underdeveloped, Kaley and Reef’s relationship keeps the plot moving. Romance makes up for some hazy criminal intrigue in this one. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/07/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Christmas at Whispering Creek

Barbara M. Britton. White Rose, $15.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5223-0395-4

Two strangers wait out a storm in a friend’s house in this cozy holiday romance from Britton (Defending David). Second-grade teacher Sam Williams is still recovering from breast cancer when her boyfriend dumps her, and later the same day she learns of the death of Ted, her neighbor growing up whom she viewed as her “adopted grandfather.” At the behest of Ted’s attorney, Sam travels to Ted’s home in Whispering Creek and learns that he left her his house in his will. Meanwhile, Cole Donoven struggles to get over his ex-girlfriend, who was also his songwriting partner, when his manager informs him that he needs to write one more song to fulfill his contract. Cole heads to Whispering Creek, hoping to stay with his old friend Ted and write one last song, but he arrives to find Sam and learns that Ted has died. Then a tornado and subsequent damage to the roads strands Sam and Cole in the secluded house, which sustained only minor damage. She takes to his compassion and he to her confidence in God, helping him rebuild his own faith. Sam’s optimism and Cole’s big heart make for a sweet holiday romance that ends with a well-deserved happily ever after. Melody Carlson fans should take note. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/07/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Society of Salzburg

Renee Ryan. Love Inspired, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-369-72221-8

In the intense latest from Ryan (Opening His Holiday Heart), two women work to save the lives of Jewish refugees during WWII. In the mid-1930s, Londoner Hattie Featherstone, an aspiring artist, falls in love with opera after a chance encounter with Malvina Kremer-Lehman, a German expert on operatic history and the great-aunt of Elsa Mayer-Braun, a rising star in the music world. Hattie becomes a devoted fan of Elsa’s and introduces herself to the singer after spotting her on the street. The two strike up a close friendship as portents of war loom over England. After Elsa realizes the threat the Nazi regime poses to Malvina, who is Jewish, back in Germany, she and Hattie build a network to rescue as many Jewish people as possible. Then, in 1943, Elsa is arrested moments before a performance in Austria, raising suspicion of betrayal—possibly by her husband, a Nazi sympathizer. Hattie and Elsa must rely on their Christian belief that “God was ultimately in control” to make it through the war. Though the early stages of Elsa and Hattie’s friendship feel rushed, this powerfully blends ruminations on the importance of art with acute depictions of Nazi cruelty. The result is a rousing historical. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/07/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Sisters of Sea View

Julie Klassen. Bethany House, $17.99 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3426-2

Jane Austen fans will delight in this nimble series launch from Klassen (Shadows of Swanford Abbey). In 1819, the four Summers sisters face reduced circumstances after their father’s untimely death, and they move into a seaside home in Sidmouth, England. Their mother is ill and the family is desperate for funds, so oldest daughter Sarah decides to rent out spare rooms and prays to God that the income will be enough to keep the family afloat. The sisters are eager to help, except for Viola, who fears that having “guests” will subject her facial scar, which she keeps hidden under a veil, to added scrutiny. She takes a job reading to disabled people, including Major Hutton, an irascible young man disfigured while in India, with whom she develops a close bond. Meanwhile, the guests at Sidmouth add excitement and a bit of romance to the family’s lives. The handsome Mr. Henshall makes Sarah rethink her decision to be a spinster, snooty Mrs. Elton (plucked from Austen’s Emma, one of many nods to the author) lacks tact, and eccentric Mr. Gwilt converses with a stuffed parrot. Klassen excels at weaving her various story lines, each emphasizing the colorful qualities of her characters and allowing them the space to shine. Readers will be eager for the next installment. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/07/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Anything but Plain

Suzanne Woods Fisher. Revell, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3951-5

A young woman contemplates leaving the Amish community in this enjoyable romance from Fisher (The Sweet Life). Nineteen-year-old Lydie Stoltzfus is easily distracted and struggles to hold down a job. Though most of her peers have been baptized, she still feels she isn’t ready and believes that she’s a disappointment to her family and friends, so she’s secretly planning to leave the Amish community. Then her domineering grandmother, known to Lydie as “Mammi the Meddler,” arrives in town and announces her intention to keep an eye on Lydie and help take care of her younger siblings. Lydie takes a job as a receptionist for her aunt, a doctor who left the Amish community as a teenager and who diagnoses Lydie with ADHD, offering her a new perspective on her troubles. Meanwhile, Lydie’s 19-year-old neighbor Nathan Yoder competes with his brother for control of the family farm. He develops a crush on Lydie, but she fights her feelings for him because she plans to leave soon. Readers will be won over by the delightful leads, and the nuanced treatment of Lydie’s ADHD and crisis of faith brings depth to the narrative. This is another winner from Fisher. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Pretty Little Pieces

Carmen Schober. Bethany House, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3930-4

Schober (After She Falls) delivers a satisfying contemporary romance set in the high-stakes world of reality TV. Nashville couple Lance Broussard and Georgina Havoc live it up as the stars of home design reality TV shows. After Georgina has a miscarriage, Lance decides he needs a break from their relationship, leaving Georgina feeling abandoned by him and unsure of her faith in God. Their TV network asks Lance and Georgina to compete against each other for a spot in the lineup, and the less popular Georgina faces an uphill battle. She teams with her best friend Poppy and travels to Tarragon, Tenn., to fix up a cottage for her pilot episode. While there, she hits it off with Cassidy, a widower and recovering alcoholic, but Georgina isn’t sure if she agrees with his strict Christian fundamentalist outlook and has reservations about his career as a military sniper. Then Lance asks Georgina for another chance and offers her a huge career opportunity, pushing her to decide whether she wants him or Cassidy and what role God should play in her life. Schober excels at depicting Georgina’s growth as a person and how her relationship with Cassidy deepens her connection with God. This pleasing inspirational charms. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Revenge Never Rests

Laurie Lewis. Covenant Communications, $16.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5244-2246-2

A woman looks for a missing general in this action-packed sequel to Lewis’s Secrets Never Die. Tenacious Tallie Brown is still reeling from finding out that the woman who raised her had effectively kidnapped her and brought her up off the grid. Additionally, she’s having second thoughts about her relationship with Jackson James, a God-fearing disgraced journalist who teamed up with Tallie when his investigation into a potential political scandal dovetailed with Tallie’s quest for personal answers. Then she finds out that Gen. Cai Kaswell, whom she suspects is her father, is missing, with foul play suspected. Kaswell had recently added Tallie to his security detail, so she joins the search and discovers that several top government and business leaders have also disappeared. After Tallie is betrayed by a double agent, she’s taken to a private island run by a shadowy cabal called the Conservancy. Meanwhile, Jackson schemes his way onto the island to rescue Tallie, but they learn the stakes are even higher than they anticipated. The faith element takes a backseat to the action, and though the intrigue around Tallie’s convoluted heritage beggars belief, the covert machinations of the Conservancy will keep readers hooked. The thrills make up for some uneven family drama. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Authentically, Izzy

Pepper Basham. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (434p) ISBN 978-0-8407-1498-5

A long-distance romance anchors this cute contemporary from Basham (The Heart of the Mountains). Izzy Edgewood hasn’t had much luck with dating, but she’s content with her quiet, small-town life, surrounded by books and her dog. Though Izzy is initially wary of using the online dating profile her cousin made for her, she logs on after an underwhelming blind date and starts corresponding with Brodie, who shares her love of The Lord of the Rings. Believing that he’s too good to be true, Izzy suspects her cousin of concocting Brodie and pretending to be interested in her to boost her confidence, but Izzy keeps talking to him and discovers that he’s real and lives in Europe. “Life is too precious to hesitate when God offers the opportunity for something even better than what we imagine,” Izzy decides, determining to embrace her feelings for Brodie despite the distance between them. When they finally meet in person, it’s charmingly awkward, but they develop a strong connection that enables them to navigate the complexities of a long distance relationship and deal with their emotional baggage. Basham primarily tells her story through emails, texts, and dating app messages, a quirky approach that complements the adorable leads. Filled with humor and grace, this is perfect for fans of Denise Hunter. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Blackout Book Club

Amy Lynn Green. Bethany House, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3956-4

A group of women find togetherness through a book club in this tender if sluggish WWII historical from Green (The Lines Between Us). After Avis Montgomery’s brother leaves their hometown of Derby, Maine, to join the war in 1942, she takes over his job as a librarian and convenes a book club to keep up morale. Green cycles through the perspectives of the club’s members. There’s Louise Cavendish, who inherited from her father the private library where the club meets and is contemplating shutting it down against Avis’s admonitions. Rambunctious Ginny Atkinson assists her father on his lobster boat and leans on the group after suffering an unbearable loss. Meanwhile, Martina Bianchini struggles to raise her two children while her husband serves in the Navy, and her troubles deepen when she starts to suspect him of a treasonable offense. She feels ashamed that she hasn’t attended church since moving from Boston several months earlier but seeks God’s help when her son stumbles into danger. The characters support each other during their weekly meetings as they discuss books and forge friendships that carry them through the war. Though slow pacing drags this down, the characters’ trajectories from strangers to close friends will warm readers’ hearts. Bookworms will take to this. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2022 | Details & Permalink

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