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Shaped by the Waves

Christina Suzann Nelson. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3540-5

Cassie George, a young, single mother, returns to her Oregon hometown to care for her Parkinson’s-afflicted aunt in this saccharine but entertaining inspirational romance from Nelson (The Way It Should Be). Cassie’s aunt Shasta, who raised motherless Cassie like her own child, has been hiding her diagnosis for years and is nearing death. Overwhelmed at the prospect of losing her, Cassie takes a leave from her PhD studies and packs up her four-year-old daughter, Lark, to drive from California to the Pacific Northwest. As Cassie juggles caring for a child and Shasta, she receives an anonymous manuscript in the mail that details a woman’s marriage to an abusive husband and the loss of their only child. Cassie, who knows little about her deceased birth mother, becomes increasingly suspicious that the story’s connected to her own. Meanwhile, a local catches her eye, though she worries she won’t be able to balance romance and her caregiving duties. Things unfold predictably and slowly as Cassie uncovers and accepts her past while also returning to a reliance on God. It’s pleasant enough if clichéd, and should do the trick for readers who don’t prize novelty. Agent: Cynthia Ruchti, Books & Such Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Trust Me

Kelly Irvin. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7852-3193-6

In this whirlwind romantic thriller from Irvin (Closer Than She Knows), a convicted murderer and his ex-girlfriend revisit the crime that tore them apart. Ten years earlier, Delaney Broward found her brother, Corey, murdered inside his art studio in San Antonio. Now, in 2020, her old love Hunter Nash is released from prison, having served his sentence for killing Corey, who was also his best friend. Delaney has moved forward with her life and runs a framing shop next door to her friend Ellie, who was once Corey’s girlfriend. But all the trauma rushes back when she walks into a scene that mirrors the circumstances of her brother’s murder, with her best friend Ellie now dead. Delaney escapes the attacker, who tells her to “stay out of it or you’re next.” Det. Andy Ramos considers Hunter the leading suspect, but Hunter approaches Delaney to try to convince her of his innocence of both crimes (“God, give me the words. Please soften her heart,” he prays). Ramos warn them away from each other, but Delaney begins to believe Hunter, and they start their own investigation, reexamining the past for clues. Irvin follows the characters through twists and turns, writing through the lens of faith and broken faith, while illuminating a bridge across shattered relationships to second chances. This one’s an emotional roller-coaster. Agent: Julie Gwinn, the Seymour Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Crosshairs

Patricia Bradley. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3575-3

Bradley continues her Natchez Trace Park Rangers series with a layered second-chance romance. Ranger Ainsley Beaumont returns to her hometown to investigate the death of a local girl. But after she shows up and discovers her great-aunt, Cora, unconscious, her ex, Lincoln Steele, arrives as part of the emergency response team. Cora starts rambling about a missing journal, and it’s Lincoln who makes the connection with a book Cora’s writing about the Beaumonts’ ancestors. As Ainsley and Lincoln team up to look into the suspicious circumstances of Cora’s accident, they become closer and begin to talk about their past­—just as prayer comes back into Ainsley’s life. Then, Lincoln finds out that an escaped convict is after Ainsley. Through dramatic turns and family confrontations, Ainsley and Lincoln close both investigations, while Cora also finds what she’s been searching for: the recovered journal posthumously proves an ancestor accused of murder was innocent. Bradley unwraps a mystery of the past through a modern investigation that mends relationships, strengthens faith, and offers a couple a renewed chance at love. There’s much to dig into for fans of crime fiction tinged with faith. Agent: Julie Gwinn, the Seymour Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Where the Last Rose Blooms

Ashley Clark. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-76423-762-1

Clark (Paint and Nectar) completes the Heirloom Secrets series with a suspenseful dual-narrative in which love blossoms across time. In 1861 Charleston, S.C., Clara Adelaide Abels is the 16-year-old heiress to a cotton empire, but she harbors abolitionist sentiments, as her faith tells her that slavery is “an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.” When Clara’s cousins and the dashing Brit Theodore Atwood convince Clara to work as a spy for the abolitionist cause, she recruits Rose, an enslaved embroiderer working in the home of Clara’s family plantation, to assist her, and vows to help Rose find her missing daughter. A century and a half later, in modern-day New Orleans, Alice runs a bouquet shop and is well-versed in the secret language of flowers. When she discovers a box of embroidered floral samplers in an attic, she tries to unravel the hidden code—but what she wants most in the world is to find out what happened to her mother, who disappeared during Hurricane Katrina. While intrigue, danger, and clandestine romance force Clara to find the courage to leave the comforts of her life behind, Clara and Rose’s descendants, including the handsome Sullivan, work with Alice to uncover the mysteries of the past and reveal the fate of her mother. In the end, Alice learns that God was with her even in her darkest hours. Clark offers well-developed female characters who discover they have deep inner strength. This one will keep readers eagerly turning pages. Agent: Karen Solem, Spencerhill & Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Saving Mrs. Roosevelt

Candice Sue Patterson. Barbour Fiction, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-63609-089-4

Set in Maine, near Franklin Roosevelt’s Campobello home, this intriguing installment in the Heroines of WWII series will appeal both to romantics and history buffs. Shirley Davenport, like her brothers, worked her father’s lobster boat. Unlike them, she was sidelined when America entered WWII. They enlisted, and, anxious to do more than sew and write letters, Shirley jumps at the chance to join the SPARs, an all-female Coast Guard reserve unit, even though it means defying her father’s wishes. During training, Shirley becomes attracted to Capt. Leo Webber (he of the voice like “butter and maple syrup” who also “studied his Bible as faithfully as he studied military tactics”) and connects with Alma, a Black woman SPARS who faces prejudice within the unit. When threats against Eleanor Roosevelt’s life are uncovered, the Coast Guard brass concoct a plan to invent an illicit relationship between Webber and Shirley, dishonorably discharge Shirley, and send her home undercover to ferret out the terrorists. Shirley endures her parents’ disappointment and plenty of small-town gossip—and soon suspects her German-immigrant best friend’s family may be involved in the plot against the first lady. Webber, meanwhile, is reassigned (Shirley “sent a prayer... that God would protect him, wherever he might be”), and Shirley finds support in Alma as foes are exposed and Webber returns to help win the day. Patterson brings in well-researched background on the SPARs without slowing the plot. It’s a fun little escape. Agent: Linda Glaz, Hartline Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/19/2021 | Details & Permalink

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As Dawn Breaks

Kate Breslin. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3748-5

In Breslin’s latest suspenseful historical (after High as the Heavens), she reintroduces RAF Capt. Alex Baird. Returning home to Gretna, Scotland, in 1918 during WWI, under the guise of a medical discharge, Alex is on a secret mission to gather intelligence on the terrorist who is blowing up munitions factories in England and Scotland. After her parents’ deaths, Rosalind Graham and her younger brothers went to live with a cruel uncle. Now of marriageable age, Rose has become a pawn in a high-stakes financial arrangement between her uncle and Julien Dexter, the son of a cash-poor earl. When the Chilwell munitions factory explodes, Rose discovers the world believes she died and her best friend Tilly Lockhart survived, when, in fact, the reverse is true. In an effort to rescue her brothers, Rose assumes Tilly’s identity and becomes a supervisor at the Gretna munitions factory. Alex and Rose’s first encounter is anything but romantic; in a “wrong hotel room” scenario, he’s greeting by a startled Rose swinging a golf club. Unbeknownst to Rose, Tilly harbored dangerous secrets—when Alex links “Tilly” to the saboteur, he fears his affection for her will cloud his professional judgment. Breslin keeps the tension up without too many twists. The stakes could not be higher—in both love and war—in this espionage tale drenched in intrigue. Agent: Linda Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Marry Me, Millie

Amy Lillard. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-42015-174-9

Lillard (A New Love for Charlotte) bakes up a new Amish romance series with an appetizing theme, set in Paradise Springs, Mo., where a neighborhood support group called the Whoopie Pie Widows Club convenes. Millie Bauman, six months pregnant and reeling from the death of her husband, is the newest member of the club, and she’s convinced she’ll never marry again. Her aunt Silvie has other plans, aiming to match Millie with Henry King, the grandson of her friend Vern. Henry, recently jilted by his fiancée (who was called by God to a remote Mennonite community), has no intentions to marry either. Millie and Henry enjoy each other’s company despite the fact that they’re the subject of the whole town’s gossip, but when Millie realizes she’s actually falling for Henry, she cuts him off. Sylvie and Vern, however, continue to scheme, while Henry discovers, “with all my heart,” that he does want to spend the rest of his life with Millie and her baby—but her stubborn streak may be too much for him to overcome. Lillard’s assembled a quirky cast for this new series, and, as a bonus, included recipes (yes, whoopie pies are in the mix). Readers will delight in this sweet love story and stay hungry for the next installment. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Deadly Target

Elizabeth Goddard. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3799-3

Goddard’s second adventure in the Rocky Mountain Courage series (after Present Danger) sets off a heart-thumping race to solve a cold case. Erin Larson, a criminal psychologist and host of a cold case crime podcast is dealing with a series of disasters: a mysterious boating accident and her mother’s suicide attempt (which her mother somehow doesn’t remember). Nathan Campbell, a search and rescue climber and diver, returns with his estranged father to a childhood fishing spot where his dad, a homicide investigator, mentions he’s investigating a cold case “on his own”—but before he can say more, he’s shot where they stand in the water. Nathan enlists Erin’s help as he investigates the case that brought his father to Montana, and as danger comes closer and closer, they realize they’re both targets of an organized crime ring, and revelations surface about a haunting event from Erin’s past and her mother’s secret life. Throughout the fast-paced plot, Erin and Nathan wrestle with their unresolved feelings for one another, deciding eventually to listen to their hearts—and they also call upon God for help. Goddard increases the stakes and highlights the power of hope, faith, and trusting God in the darkest times in this rush of a series entry. Agent: Steve Laube, the Steve Laube Agency (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Lady’s Mine

Francine Rivers. Tyndale House, $27.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4964-4757-9

Bostonian Kathryn Walsh finds love and trouble in the mining town of Calvada, Calif., in 1875, in this feisty historical from Rivers (The Masterpiece). After Kathryn turns down a marriage proposal from the son of a wealthy industrialist, her mother exiles her to Calvada to appease her stepfather (suggesting Kathryn “trust in the Lord with all your heart... and He will lead you”), though she also signs over a meager inheritance from Kathryn’s uncle who died in Calvada. Matthias Beck, one of the most powerful men in Calvada, immediately notices a resemblance between Kathryn and his friend City Walsh—and that same obstinacy that most likely got City killed. Kathryn revives her uncle’s local newspaper, and when she publishes some prickly articles on a few of Calvada’s leading citizens, protecting Kathryn becomes Beck’s full-time job. Beck also runs for mayor to bring law and order to a town overrun by brothels and saloons, winning sympathy from reformist Kathryn. While her tenacity and naivete often put her in harm’s way, they also draw Beck nearer and dearer to her wounded heart. The scene-setting tends to be long-winded, but Kathryn’s independent streak will resonate with inspirational fiction readers who appreciate strong-minded protagonists. Rivers’s fans will get just what they want. Agent: Danielle Egan-Miller, Brown & Miller Literary Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Behind Love's Wall

Carrie Fancett Pagels. Barbour Fiction, $12.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-63609-069-6

Fancett Pagels (Butterfly Cottage) weaves an overstuffed dual-timeline tale of love and mystery set at the picturesque Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Upper Michigan. In 1895, itinerant singer Lily Swaine is spending the summer as a songbird at the hotel. She never stays in one place for long, is always one step ahead of the secrets in her past, and struggles to trust in a God who allows so many "terrible things" to befall her. A romance with psychiatrist Stephen DuBlanc, who harbors secrets of his own, may help renew her faith and convince her to put down roots. In 2020, hotel designer and HGTV star Willa Christy returns to her home on the Upper Peninsula to consult on a redesign of the Grand Hotel, and happens on Lily's journal, uncovered in a room she's renovating, and begins to wonder about her, recalling stories both of a female murderer and arsonist named Lily. Willa becomes even more intrigued when she realizes Michael DuBlanc, the landscape architect she's been falling for, is related to Lily. While the two core plots hold appeal, a profusion of subplots and the tangle of intertwined relationships in one close community (over two timelines) can make the narrative a challenge to follow. Romance fans looking for escapism might end up needing a flowchart to keep up with this one. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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