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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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Foundation of Love

Amy Clipston. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-31036-429-0

Clipston (The Jam and Jelly Nook) kicks off the Amish Legacy series with a heartwarming romance. Crystal Glick, a 33-year-old unmarried woman, resides with her brother, Kane, and pregnant sister-in-law, Leona, helping them care for their six children. She longs for love and a family of her own, but prays that caring for her brother’s family will fill her empty heart. Then Duane Bontrager, a widower with three grown sons, comes to work on Kane and Leona’s roof. Duane notices Crystal, and the two hit it off—though her family and friends object to their 14-year age difference (and it initially gives Duane pause, as well, and he imagines the “blessed man” in his 30s who might win her instead). Meanwhile, Duane’s older two sons hate the idea of their father dating anyone (“You’re trying to forget her!” one son shouts, accusing him of clamming up at mention of their dead mother), and his bishop wants him to marry a widow with young children for the “gut of the community.” Duane further worries he may not be able to give Crystal children. To complicate matters even more, Crystal’s ex-boyfriend Owen returns to town eager to win Crystal back. As it happens, only God will be able to show Crystal and Duane which path to take. It’s a tender romance, precisely the kind that Clipston’s fans expect. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Finder of Forgotten Things

Sarah Loudin Thomas. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3835-2

Loudin Thomas (The Right Kind of Fool) introduces a multifaceted cast desperately trying to survive the Great Depression in 1930s West Virginia, in this strong historical. Gainey Floyd acts as postmistress at the general store in Mount Lookout. When Sullivan “Sulley” Harris comes to town full of slick talk of his “unique abilities” to douse for water, Gainey has her doubts, but makes him a deal: find a well for a poor family in need, and only then will she refer him to folks who can shell out for his services. When Sulley sources water, even he’s surprised. Hot on Sulley’s heels is Jeremiah Weber, sent from the last town Sulley bilked out of their savings. But with Sully’s recent success, the townsfolk begin to wonder if he might be able to find other things, such as lost family members. The small-town plot’s set against the real-life Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster, and the folksy ensemble soon become entrenched in the ramifications of workers’ exposure to silica dust and the horrendous toll it took on the men digging the tunnel, giving Loudin Thomas impetus to underline the impact of acts of caring in a community. This one’s for readers who like a clear moral with their story. Agent: Wendy Lawton, Books & Such Literary Agency (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Amish Quilting Bee

Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller, and Shelley Shepard Gray. Zondervan, $14.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-310-36585-3

This sweet trio of Amish romances from Clipston (The Heart of Splendid Lake), Fuller (Matched and Married), and Gray (An Amish Surprise) combine quilts as emblems of caring, with protagonists recovering from trauma. In Clipston’s “Patchwork Promises,” Joanne Lapp attempts to duplicate the quilt her friend Colin Zook’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia, cries for every night—having forgotten it was lost in a house fire. Despite Colin’s initially surly attitude, neither Joanne nor Colin want to give up their time together once the project is completed. In Fuller’s “A Common Thread,” Alex Lehman discloses his interest in Susie Glic just before departing town to help an injured friend. Susie’s mother’s concern that Alex will leave Susie (just as Susie’s father did) gets in the way of the budding relationship until the local quilting circle steps in to mediate. In Gray’s standout “Stitched Together,” Rosie Raber, who lost her fiancé in an accident, bonds with her would-have-been brother-in-law, Tim Christner, while taking care of rambunctious twin nieces and an escaped hamster, much to the detriment of Rosie’s plan to make a prize-winning quilt for the annual charity auction. Fans of contemporary Amish romances will love these entries. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Christmas Promise

Richard Paul Evans. Gallery, $21.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-9821-7742-3

The enjoyable latest Christmas-themed outing from Evans (The Noel Collection) introduces readers to twins Richelle and Michelle Bach, who are nearly indistinguishable physically but whose personalities couldn’t be more different. Despite a contentious relationship, the sisters, who are in their 30s, agree to spend Christmas with their father. Over the holiday, Richelle discovers her boyfriend in bed with Michelle, and their relationship further disintegrates. Then Michelle is killed in a hit-and-run, and any hopes of reconciliation die with her. Richelle pours her grief into her job caring for critically ill children in an intensive care unit, and also into a novelization of Michelle’s life. One night during writers’ group, Richelle meets Justin Ek, and their mutual attraction is instant. Justin, whose wife recently died, is dealing with his own grief. As the two find comfort in each other, Richelle fears she is once again being betrayed by someone she loves when she learns Justin knew Michelle. But Justin’s deception might also be the key to Richelle finally overcoming her grief. Probing how anger and fear can skew perceptions and poison relationships, Evans’s lovely tale packs an emotional punch. Agent: Laura Liss, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lost in Darkness

Michelle Griep. Barbour, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-63609-065-8

Griep (The Thief of Blackfriars Lane) delivers a thrilling Regency romance centered on a life-changing surgery. In 1815 London, independent Amelia Balfour is proud of her career as a travel writer, but when her estranged father dies, she becomes guardian of her brother, Colin, a gentle giant with a disfigured face. Before dying, their father arranged for Uriah Peckwood to perform a cutting-edge surgery on Colin to correct his disfigurement. Graham Lambert, a man desperate to atone for past sins, is Peckwood’s new assistant, and he soon grows uneasy about Peckwood’s methods, concerns that increase when he discovers a corpse in Peckwood’s room. Over the weeks leading up to Colin’s surgery, Graham falls in love with Amelia, who returns Graham’s feelings but is torn between choosing marriage or her career. Colin places his trust in God before the risky surgery, and Amelia and Graham must also learn to rely on God after the surgery goes awry. Frankenstein fans will appreciate the nod to that story throughout Griep’s faith-infused homage, including an appearance by Mary Godwin herself. Readers who enjoy historical inspirationals should take a look. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Unexpected Amish Christmas

Rachel J. Good. Zebra/Kensington, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5040-7

Good (An Unexpected Amish Courtship) returns with a jovial story about finding hope in the aftermath of tragedy. Jeremiah Zook can’t walk and struggles to use his hand as a result of the horse and buggy accident that also killed his mother. But after he reads an article about Ketubah Etsch, who lost both of her parents in a mysterious accident, he writes her an anonymous encouraging letter. In the ensuing correspondence, Ketubah opens up about the challenges of raising her three younger sisters and running her family’s pretzel stand business. But when Jeremiah ends up working at the stand as part of his rehab and becomes infatuated with Ketubah after meeting her in person, he struggles with how and whether to tell her about his secret identity as the letter-writer. While holiday trimmings are minimal, the message of God finding purpose within those who feel wounded at every turn comes through clearly. Good’s light touch keeps the story uplifting, and the author has a sure hand in depicting a young but mature couple interacting positively with the Englisch world. This is Good’s best work yet. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Labyrinth of Lies

Irene Hannon. Revell, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3618-7

Hannon continues her Triple Threat series (after Point of Danger) with this enjoyable second chance romance between two undercover agents. Cate Reilly, detective for the St. Louis County Police Department, has been asked to go undercover at elite private girls’ boarding school Ivy Hill after one of its students, the daughter of a socialite, goes missing and evidence suggests she may have been kidnapped. DEA agent Zeke Sloan, who is also Cate’s first love, is also working at the school undercover as part of his investigation into a drug distribution ring. Cate and Zeke are shocked to see one another, and meet weekly to share information and figure out if the missing girl is somehow connected to the drug pipeline. They also admit they have unresolved feelings for one another. After Cate escapes an attempted abduction, she finally gets the information Zeke needs to tie everything together. The close calls also lead Cate and Zeke to see their reunion as a God-given opportunity to give love a second chance. Hannon’s winning inspirational thriller will please fans and newcomers alike. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Debutante’s Code

Erica Vetsch. Kregel, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-8254-4713-6

Vetsch (The Indebted Earl) kicks off her Thorndike and Swann Regency Mysteries with a propulsive tale about a family of spies. In 1816, 19-year-old Lady Juliette Thorndike returns to London after completing school in Switzerland. Upon arrival, her uncle explains her parents have been unexpectedly called away and have placed him in charge of her debutante season. Then, after her debut is disrupted when a valuable painting is stolen during an event at the home of a close friend, she feels abandoned by both God and her parents. When Juliette discovers a secret package hidden by her parents, she learns she comes from a long line of spies—and that she is next in line to be trained. Juliette’s parents had been working on one last mission when they disappeared, and the mysterious code they left behind might be the key to finding them. Daniel Swann is the officer assigned to investigate the painting theft. Enamored with Juliette—even if she is above his station—Daniel helps her as she navigates London’s high society with the few clues left behind. Their slow-burning romance comes together naturally as they navigate the glamorous world of debutantes. Fans of Jen Turano will delight in this pleasing mystery and eagerly await the second installment. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Intercept

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson. Tyndale, $25.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4964-5134-7

Andrews and Wilson kick off the Shepherds series with a roller-coaster ride following a former Navy SEAL who is pulled into a spiritual battle after he takes on a missing persons investigation. Jed Johnson is retiring after a hip injury and preparing to celebrate his final day in the service when he gets a frantic call from estranged childhood friend David Yarnell. David’s daughter, Sarah Beth, has been kidnapped in Nashville and the police have no leads. Jed had cut ties with David years ago after David married his first love, Rachel, but agrees to help anyway. Once Jed starts investigating, he has a number of strange experiences—he’s suddenly able to hear other people’s thoughts, and internal voices lead him to investigate a car accident that happened at the same time as the abduction. When Sarah Beth’s seemingly telepathic connection with Rachel reveals the location of where she’s being held, Jed kicks into high gear. But the rescue is just the beginning, as Jed is saved by a group, the Shepherds, who have for centuries used the power of the light to combat the dark forces that captured Sarah Beth. By embedding faith elements subtly, Andrews and Wilson allow Jed’s path to the light to slowly reveal itself as a metaphor for following God’s plan. Fans of Frank Peretti will enjoy this action-packed inspirational. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/03/2021 | Details & Permalink

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