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Seeking Rachel

Josie Riviera. Josie Riviera, $9.99 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-1-70433-346-5

This charming Cinderella-style Regency from Riviera (Seeking Patience) sees an impoverished woman without a dowry find her happily ever after. With no mother and a father who drank and gambled, Rachel Lockhart grew up under the tutelage of the Romany who camped near her home and works as a governess for her cousin Charlotte’s daughter. But with her job about to end, Rachel determines she needs to marry, a proposition made difficult by her lack of a dowry. When she meets Capt. Nash Browning, she falls hard, but is determined to keep him at a distance after he reveals his skepticism of her Romany friends and she becomes convinced he wants to cause trouble for her them. Nash, though, is set on winning her affection. When Rachel learns Nash is already engaged, Rachel turns to God to answer her prayers. Nash, meanwhile, has turned his back on God and vows never to set foot in a church. He is willing to break that vow, however, if it means he can win Rachel’s love. Riviera blends historical details and religious elements nicely into the complicated, surprising courtship narrative. This fast-paced romance will delight fans of Julie Klassen. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Lady in Residence

Allison Pittman. Barbour, $12.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-6435-2748-2

Pittman (Loving Luther) introduces in this excellent time-swapping inspirational three women who are in some way connected to San Antonio’s Menger Hotel. In 1915, Hedda Krause checks into the Menger when her stepsons evict her from her home after the death of her husband. She quickly begins looking for a new benefactor and sizing up single guests, but it’s the ghost of Sallie White, a murdered Menger housekeeper, who seeks out Hedda. When Hedda’s room is ransacked and robbed, she fails to convince flirtatious detective Irvin Carmichael that the culprit was the ghost of Sallie. In the contemporary story line, magician Dini Blackstone leads ghost tours of San Antonio, part of which includes Hedda’s and Sallie’s stories. Quin Carmichael, the great-great-grandson of Irvin, arrives in San Antonio hoping to make sense of a shoebox full of memorabilia his ancestor sequestered away. After taking Dini’s ghost tour, Quin becomes convinced Dini can help him find the answers to his questions. Quin and Dini separate fact from myth and enjoy a blossoming relationship as the mystery of how Hedda became the Menger’s Lady in Residence, as well as the truth about Sallie’s ghost, are revealed. Though faith elements are light, readers who enjoy Tracie Peterson will love this. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Til I Want No More

Robin W. Pearson. Tyndale, $25.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4964-5057-9

Pearson (A Long Time Comin’) delivers a satisfying tale of one woman’s secrets returning to haunt her. Maxine Owens is preparing for her wedding to Theodore Charles when she decides it’s time for her to come clean about a secret she’s been keeping from Theodore and his family: Maxine’s 13-year-old adopted sister, Celeste, is actually her daughter. Maxine, who was 17 and unprepared for motherhood, gave up rights to Celeste, and even Celeste still believes Maxine is her sister. As Maxine debates how and when to tell Theodore, her ex-husband, JD, comes back to town to help with his mother’s illness and to connect with the daughter he never met. When Maxine and Theodore meet with Maxine’s pastor and his wife for their premarital counseling sessions, Maxine is reminded that she is not condemned for her past and her faith plays a vital role in her healing. As Maxine comes to feel her “sins are... only a hair’s breadth” away, her desire to confront her past intensifies and tension rises between Maxine and the people who know her secrets and those who don’t. Pearson’s excellent characters and plotting capture the complexity and beauty of family, the difficulty of rectifying mistakes, and the healing that comes from honesty. Pearson rises to another level with this excellent story. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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When Twilight Breaks

Sarah Sundin. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3636-1

In this gripping inspirational, Sundin (Sunrise at Normandy) takes an affecting look at the rise of the Nazi Party and Jewish persecution in Germany through the eyes of an American journalist. In 1938 Munich, Evelyn Brand, a foreign correspondent with the American News Service, struggles in her male-dominated field and constantly challenges bureau chief George Norwood, who heavily edits her work. George asks his friend, Peter Lang, a PhD candidate teaching in Germany, to arrange benign interviews with his German college students. Peter believes Hitler has been good for the German people and its economy, a view devout Evelyn finds abhorrent. When Nazis begin attacking Jewish synagogues and Jewish businesses are boycotted, Peter’s outlook changes, as does his relationship with Evelyn. Using his contacts within the Nazi Party, Peter infiltrates meetings to gather information for Evelyn to report on. As they conspire to expose Hitler’s misdeeds, their lives are placed in jeopardy, and their plans to escape the country are thwarted. Sundin combines suspense and romance to great effect, leaving readers guessing the fate of Evelyn and Peter to the final pages. Inspirational fans who like high-octane action will enjoy this thrilling story. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Orchard House

Heidi Chiavoroli. Tyndale, $15.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-49643-473-9

Chiavoroli (Tea Chest) delights with this homage to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, featuring a time-slip narrative of two women connected across centuries. In 1995, 13-year-old foster child Taylor is adopted by the family of her best friend, Victoria Bennett. Both are aspiring writers, and pursue their calling at the Jo March Writing Camp at Orchard House. But a competitiveness among the two also takes root. Several years later, Taylor walks in on her boyfriend and Victoria kissing and, in a fit of rage, she packs up and hits the road. In 1863, Louisa May Alcott asks her friend Johanna Suhre to come to Orchard House and care for her parents while she travels to Europe. Devout Johanna believes God has led her to the Alcotts and falls in love with their neighbor, Nathan Bancroft, but her happily ever after disintegrates soon after their wedding, as Nathan’s drunken abusiveness comes out. Jumping to 2019, Victoria implores the now bestselling author Taylor to come home to reconcile with their ill mother. In the process, she and Victoria stumble onto Johanna’s poetry, which may hold lessons for their own lives. Chiavoroli easily slips between narratives and includes many subtle literary references that will please close readers. Fans of Alcott who also enjoy inspirationals will love this. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Moonlight School

Suzanne Woods Fisher. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3501-2

Fisher (On a Coastal Breeze) introduces readers to a little-known literacy crusade in this enjoyable romance set in turn-of-the-20th-century rural Kentucky. Nineteen-year-old Lucy Wilson, the fictional cousin of real-life literacy advocate Cora Wilson Stewart, leaves Lexington when the opportunity arises to help school superintendent Cora as an assistant in the small mountain town of Morehead. Moving to the poverty-stricken area is a shock for Lucy, and it takes time for her to settle into the country way of life among the mostly illiterate and proud townspeople. Along with Brother Wyatt, a singing schoolmaster dedicated to helping others out of poverty, Lucy sets up “moonlight classes” for adults to learn to read and write. As Lucy meets and teaches more people, those she encounters give her new insight into the world beyond her privileged upbringing and encourage her to look inward. Meanwhile, a slow-burning romance also develops between Lucy and Wyatt. Lucy’s transition from haughty outsider to dedicated teacher plays out nicely alongside her newfound devotion to her faith. Fisher’s fans will love this sweet tale. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Faith’s Mountain Home

Misty M. Beller. Bethany, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-76423-348-7

Set in 1867, the third installment of Beller’s Hearts in Montana series (Love’s Mountain Quest) follows kidnapping survivor Laura Hannon as she tries to move on with her life. In the small town of Settler’s Fort, Laura, who began working for the local doctor during her convalescence, is caring for the wounded Aaron Long. Aaron is one of her kidnappers, and Laura accidentally shot him in the leg in the previous installment. Aaron’s twin brother, Nate, a former bandit and a newly converted Christian who was against his gang’s decision to kidnap Laura, has the peace of knowing God has forgiven him for his sins and is working hard to pay off his debts and care for Aaron. Nate has also been infatuated with Laura since first seeing her. As they spend more time together, his feelings deepen, but Nate thinks Laura deserves better than a former outlaw like him. While stealing away together, Nate and Laura discover a cavern where a wounded Native American man and his granddaughter have sought shelter. Nate and Laura do what they can to help the pair, but after Nate discovers the cave is being used to store stolen goods, all four of their lives may be in danger. While the convoluted plotting makes previous installments necessary reading, fans of the series will love this romantic mountain saga. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Tidewater Bride

Laura Frantz. Revell, $16.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3496-1

Frantz (An Uncommon Woman) weaves suspense and romance beautifully in this enjoyable inspirational historical. In 1634 in the Virginia Colony, Selah Hopewell helps guide the women coming from England who have been recruited to marry men in the colonies. Her friend Xander Renick is one of the wealthiest tobacco lords in Virginia, and is married to Mattachanna, the Powhatan chief’s daughter. Xander and Mattachanna, along with their two-year old son, Oceanus, travel to Xander’s native Scotland. While there, Mattachanna dies of illness, and, deeming Oceanus too frail to make the journey back, Xander returns alone. As feelings develop between the widower and fiercely independent Selah, Oceanus, now four years old, returns in the care of a marriage-eligible nanny. However, Oceanus’s status as the grandson of the Powhatan chief makes him a target for deception, sabotage, and kidnapping as the political situation between the settlers and tribe becomes more tumultuous. As one tragedy leads to another, love and faith are tested all around. With its well-rounded characters and tense frontier conflicts, Frantz’s entertaining romance will be a hit with her fans. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Beautiful Mess

Brenda S. Anderson. Vivant Run, $12.99 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-1-9516-6400-8

Anderson (Pieces of Granite) delivers an impactful story about the power of faith within flawed, complicated people. Erin Belden’s daughter, Michaela, is spending the weekend with Erin’s ex-husband, Corey, as well as his new wife and their daughter, Clara. However, a car accident kills Corey and his wife. Michaela is unscathed, and Erin soon learns Clara has been left in her custody per Corey’s will. Erin is initially upset about the responsibility of taking care of Corey’s three-year-old daughter, who was the catalyst for Corey and Erin’s divorce; Erin is not sure that she can love Clara, but she decides to take care of the young girl while working to find her a better guardian. Erin’s mental health deteriorates as she feels numbed to her circumstances and increasingly unstable, and she reluctantly accepts help from Jon, a friend from childhood who had abandoned Erin during her divorce out of allegiance to Corey. Slowly, as Erin helps Michaela and Clara work through their grief, she deals with her own and begins to see God’s transformative power. Readers who enjoy the work of Karen Kingsbury should check this out. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bride of the Buddha

Barbara McHugh. Monkfish, $17.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-948626-23-1

In this fine debut, poet McHugh imagines the life of the Buddha’s abandoned wife, Yasodhara, as she’s torn between the spiritual path and the impositions of patriarchal society. After the death of her sister Deepa, Yasodhara is driven to find her sister’s lost spirit so that her soul does not wander endlessly, as she believes it would. Political machinations push her into a marriage with Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, and after he abandons her, she deepens her spiritual practice as the palace demands she give up prayer to pursue a purely domestic life. In traditional accounts, the Buddha abandoned Yasodhara to undertake the quest for enlightenment, and Yasodhara is ordained only after the Buddha’s devoted attendant, Ananda, pushes the teacher to establish an order of nuns. In McHugh’s smart retelling, Yasodhara, after a period of intensive ascetic practice, hides her identity and joins the Buddha’s order as the male monk Ananda to practice the Dharma and to persuade the Buddha to let women ordain. Though sometimes the exposition on the Dharma can feel forced, McHugh combines scholarship with intriguing fictionalizations. This engrossing exploration of gender dynamics, identity, and the spiritual quest for meaning will appeal to Buddhists and general readers alike. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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