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Knocking

Robin Merrill. New Creation Publishing, $4 e-book (232p) ISBN 978-1-3930-4523-6

Merrill (The Prima Donna) kicks off the New Beginnings series with a potent tale of betrayal, faith, and forgiveness. When long-suffering pastor’s wife Tonya Mendell discovers her husband is having an affair with a congregant, it is the couple’s preteen daughter, Emma, who feels the brunt of the trauma. After being humiliated by a best friend turned mean girl, Emma gets into a fight with her parents, storms out of the house, and is welcomed into the home of the neighborhood recluse, Fiona Patterson. While Emma’s parents continue their marital charade in an attempt to keep Roy’s pastoral position, Emma finds solace with Fiona and the Puddys, a “weirdo” homeschool family she is forced to spend time with but previously disregarded, who prove to be more reliable than Emma’s own family. Meanwhile, in a separate story line, seven elderly women have been told their diocese is shuttering their church. In response, they start New Beginnings in a dilapidated old building. The services are unconventional, but they just might be what Tonya, Emma, Fiona, and the Puddy family need. Merrill’s theological insight on God’s grace amid difficult circumstances resonates and will have readers anticipating the next installment. Fans of Francine Rivers should take a look. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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First Among Nations: A Novel About Struggle and Perseverance in the Holy Land

Ira Mosen. Olive Blossom, $18.95 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-7353741-0-9

Mosen smoothly incorporates religious and social messages into his triumphant debut about the rise of an Israeli soccer prodigy. As a child, Elazar bristles at his restrictive upbringing and the long hours his parents make him spend studying. After seeing some kids play soccer, he becomes obsessed with the sport—despite his father’s prohibition of what he views as a frivolous diversion from studying Talmud. By sneaking out to dedicate every free moment he can find to the sport, though, Elazar becomes a gifted player, enabling him to land a spot on a youth league team. When it’s time for him to do his military service, he joins a unit whose commander is known for a love of the game and, by excelling in the Army team, Elazar miraculously puts himself in a position to represent his country at the World Cup. The outlandish yet enjoyable story branches out from the sports narrative to offer nuanced takes on Arab-Jewish friendships and ethnic prejudice, and explore the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though the soccer elements can feel far-fetched, Mosen’s bildungsroman will appeal to readers who like a feel-good yarn. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Blackberry Beach

Irene Hannon. Revell, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-80073-615-6

Hannon (Starfish Pier) whips up more romance in the pleasing seventh installment of her series set in quaint Hope Harbor, Ore. A-list actor Katherine Parker winds up in town seeking refuge from the Hollywood paparazzi. She wants nothing to do with love, but Zach Garrett, a former investment banker turned coffee shop owner, intrigues her more than she cares to admit. Katherine resolves to avoid him and is surprised to discover, upon moving in to her rental home, that they are neighbors. The two bond over a shared love of food and their mutual desire to escape high-pressure careers. But while Zach, a Christian who believes God intervened to realign his life priorities, has already taken the leap away from corporate America, a dream movie deal may lure Katherine back to Hollywood. In a separate story line, Zach’s retired aunt comes to visit and finds an unexpected chance at love with a widower who works at Zach’s café. All of these devout, questioning characters look to God’s guidance to discern which paths they should take. Both series fans and newcomers will delight in the tender romance and comforting atmosphere. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Patchwork Past

Leslie Gould. Bethany House, $15.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3523-8

Gould’s second installment to her Plain Patterns series (after Piecing It All Together) is a moving tale about the plight of refugees and the value of caring for others. Jane, an elderly spinster, runs a quilt shop in the Amish community of Nappanee, Ind., in addition to writing for the local newspaper. She becomes intrigued with the life of her ancestor, Mary, who aided Irish immigrants during the Chicago Fire of 1871, and recovers Mary’s old journal among her grandmother’s possessions. She recounts Mary’s adventures to Sophie Deiner, a young woman newly back in town to recover from a lupus flare up. As Sophie learns about Mary, she reflects on the similarities between their lives—Sophie has also taken an interest in the welfare of refugees after befriending the Lopez family, immigrants from El Salvador she meets through work at a co-op. When the Lopezes’ oldest son is wrongfully detained and threatened with deportation for a crime he didn’t commit, Sophie searches out evidence to clear his name. The matter is complicated by Sophie’s past relationship with Levi, a farm manager who supports deportation and has a tendency toward violence. Readers will root for Sophie, who finds forgiveness for others and overcomes family strife from previous installments. Gould’s excellent drama will appeal to fans of Cindy Woodsmall. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Holy Conspiracy

Kristi Saare Duarte. Conspicuum, $4.99 e-book (292p) ISBN 978-0-9971-8075-6

This gratifying tale from Duarte (The Transmigrant) explores what life was like for Jesus’ disciples after his crucifixion. Six months after Yeshua’s death, his brother, Yakov, has been selected as the next leader of the burgeoning spiritual movement started by Yeshua. While Mariamne, Yeshua’s wife, claims to have been visited by Yeshua after death, the rest of the disciples believe him to be dead. As it becomes harder for the disciples to remain in Galilee undetected by the Romans, most move to Judea, hoping to blend in there. Over years, they begin secretly meeting and sharing Yeshua’s message with others, but they become split upon arrival of Saul, who claims to have met Yeshua on the road to Damascus. As Saul continues to give sermons and gain followers, his interpretation of Yakov’s message (which focuses on a savior figure) diverges from and becomes more popular than the message Yakov’s disciples are trying to spread. In the end, Yakov realizes Yeshua’s idea that “we’ll all be released from the bitterness of this world and unite with God” when he faces the same fate at the hands of the Romans. This intriguing reinterpretation of the New Testament makes for an enjoyable unraveling of the traditional narrative of the Gospels and ancient Judean spiritual politics. Mesu Andrews fans will want to take a look. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Destined for You

Tracie Peterson. Bethany, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-76423-234-3

Peterson (Forever by Your Side) delivers a touching tale of love built out of shared grief in this enjoyable first installment of the Ladies of the Lake series. In 1869 Duluth, Minn., Gloriana Womack cares for her father and brother after the death of her mother and other siblings from scarlet fever. After Gloriana’s best friend Sally’s husband dies in a fishing accident and then Sally dies in childbirth, Gloriana adds caring for her friend’s newborn baby, also named Sally, to her responsibilities. Meanwhile, Luke Carlson, Sally’s late husband’s brother, has been sent to Duluth to manage the construction of a new railroad. He arrives in time to see baby Sally’s birth and to comfort Gloriana, who is struggling with grief and anger at God. Luke supports Gloriana, Gloriana’s remaining brother, and Sally as much as he can, and as Luke and Gloriana get closer, a romance sparks—but Gloriana is reluctant since Luke is only in Duluth for a short time. Meanwhile, Luke must fight against his father, who wants to take Sally away from Gloriana. Peterson creates a memorable romance between Luke and Gloriana that’s rooted in mutual hardship and renewed faith. This series is off to a strong start. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Amish Homecoming

Rosalind Lauer. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5211-1

In this excellent first entry in the Joyful River series, Lauer (A Simple Autumn) follows what happens to a small Amish community when a disruptive outsider comes to town. Eighteen-year-old Essie and her beau, Harlan, are preparing for engagement and marriage, but their plans are interrupted when Essie’s three English cousins come to live with her family following their mother’s death. Boisterous eldest cousin Serena is the same age as Essie, but has the polar opposite of Essie’s steady, unassuming personality, and Serena’s spirited ways quickly get under Essie’s skin. But after Harlan’s mother and sister are injured in a buggy accident, the cousins come together to help their recovery and discover their values are far more similar than they’d first assumed. Meanwhile, the cousins begin to navigate romances in the small town with Essie’s help. Biblical themes of faith and love echo throughout as the crew learn to appreciate the things that matter most to them. Lauer’s fans will be satisfied with the happy endings and eagerly await the next trip to Joyful River. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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From This Moment

Kim Vogel Sawyer. WaterBrook, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-65368-4

Sawyer (When Mercy Rains) returns with a pleasing contemporary romance about the search for the owner of a lost ring. After Jase Edgar’s fiancée dies in a car accident, Jase leaves San Antonio, Tex., to become youth pastor at Beech Street Bible Fellowship in tiny Bradleyville, Kans. There, he meets Kenzie Stetler, a congregant who grew up Amish, and Lori Fowler, a custodian for the church. Each of the three struggles with private turmoil: Jase with his faith in a God who would take the love of his life, Kenzie with her desire to share God’s grace with a family who has shunned her for leaving, and Lori with overeating problems and issues of self-worth. After a lost engagement ring is found among church donations, the three work together to find the owner and, as they grow closer, help one another to overcome self-doubt. When romance sparks between Lori and Jase, both will have to let go of fears in order to accept happiness. Sawyer packs this entertaining tale with many twists and leaves the door open for more tales set in Bradleyville. The author’s fans will love this. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Preacher’s Son

Patricia Johns. Zebra, $8.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5236-4

Johns (Thursday’s Bride) kicks off her The Infamous Amish series with a cautionary tale of dishonesty and ostracization. When preacher Abe Yoder is sentenced to prison for swindling people out of their money through a fake charity, his son Isaiah is left behind to shoulder the burdens of guilt and shame. After the bank repossesses Isaiah’s house and land to pay for his father’s crimes, Isaiah begs for work at a book bindery. The bindery owner’s daughter, Bethany is struggling with her own loss: her former fiancé, Micah, broke up with her and left the Amish community. The plot thickens when Bethany discovers she is pregnant with Micah’s baby and turns to Isaiah for help. Isaiah, who always secretly loved Bethany, never courted her, as his friend Micah expressed interest first. Unlike both his friend and his father, Isaiah is committed to practicing the values in which he believes, even it means suffering social ostracizing for defending Bethany. He and Bethany initially bond over their shared notoriety in the community but gradually realize they share common values and help each other learn how to forgive and trust again. Bethany and Isaiah, forced to choose between personal beliefs and societal pressures, make for empathic protagonists. Johns’s fans will enjoy this complex social drama. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/15/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dreams Rekindled

Amanda Cabot. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3536-4

Cabot continues her Mesquite Springs historical romance series (following Out of the Embers) with the middling story of Dorothy Clark, who longs for a career as a writer in mid–19th-century small-town Texas. In 1856, Dorothy’s prayers of becoming a reporter appear to be answered when newspaper editor Brandon Holloway arrives in town and hires her to write for the paper. The two immediately clash, though, when Brandon avoids taking a stance on slavery—even though Dorothy wants to publish an abolitionist editorial. Brandon’s stance comes from his father’s death a few years before in a riot sparked by Brandon’s public support for the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and his denunciation of slavery. Still full of guilt, Brandon is unwilling to listen to Dorothy’s entreaties. But through her attention and persistence, Brandon rediscovers his courage to champion the values he holds dear. Brandon’s admiration for Dorothy sparks his romantic interest, and Dorothy, afraid to love as a result of losing her own father at a young age, decides it’s worth the risk. While Cabot does a fine job of building the tinderbox local politics of Mesquite Springs, the plotting is predictable and several threads are left disappointingly unresolved. Series fans will hope for a return to form next time. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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