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Within These Gilded Halls

Abigail Wilson. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7852-5330-3

Wilson (Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey) delivers a stimulating romantic mystery set in 1819 Regency England. Aspiring painter Phoebe Radcliff works under the tutelage of artist Miss Drake restoring the ballroom at Drake’s Avonthorpe estate. Drake’s great-nephew Lt. Graham Burke, an artifact dealer, visits and Phoebe overhears him discussing, with skepticism, the treasure of King John rumored to be hidden on the estate. Then, Drake is murdered, and with her dying breath she tells Phoebe a clue to the whereabouts of the treasure, and Phoebe realizes she and Graham aren’t the only ones on the hunt for it. Phoebe and Graham join forces, and though Phoebe had planned to lead an independent life and never marry, she falls for her handsome partner in spite of herself. However, she fears that a secret from her past will ruin her newfound romance. Meanwhile, Phoebe learns that a friend has betrayed her confidence, leading Phoebe to realize that God had used her trials to humble her, and she forgives her friend. Wilson elegantly weaves together the treasure hunt, romance, and murder mystery threads, and a colorful supporting cast—including the steadfast butler, Arnold, money-strapped Mrs. Fagean, and prying Miss Chant—will keep readers wondering whom to trust. This edge-of-the-seat mystery satisfies. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/05/2022 | Details & Permalink

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A Gem of Truth

Kimberley Woodhouse. Bethany House, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3801-7

Set in 1907, the simple but sweet second entry in Woodhouse’s Secrets of the Canyon series (after A Deep Divide) pits a woman against a pair of thieves in a race to find a treasure in the Grand Canyon. Julia Schultz has searched for a place to call home ever since the death of her parents when she was a child. As she moved from family to family, she developed a vivid imagination to cope with her loneliness, but, now in her 20s, she’s prone to telling fake stories to draw attention and “make her sound more interesting.” After she gets a job at the El Tovar hotel as a “Harvey Girl”—women who worked at restaurants and hotels owned by the Fred Harvey Company throughout the American West—she hopes to make a fresh start, and to that end she determines to find long-lost treasure rumored to be hidden in the Grand Canyon. She enlists the help of her God-fearing boss who encourages Julia to see herself as worthy of God’s love. However, Julia’s lies threaten to unravel the life she’s built, and she soon discovers she’s not the only one looking for the fortune. Readers will appreciate the twists that break up the sometimes low-stakes focus on Julia’s dishonesty. A straightforward moral lesson makes this a solid inspirational historical. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Honor Bound

Hallee Bridgeman. Revell, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-4020-7

A pacifist navigates the ravages of war in this thrilling series launch by Bridgeman (Chasing Pearl). Cynthia Myers, a medical missionary and daughter of the vice president of the U.S., heads up an obstetrics clinic that serves women from remote villages in Katangela, Africa. Also in Katangela are Captain Rick Norton and his team of six Green Berets, who are fighting to neutralize the fearsome warlord Chukuwereije. After the team’s combat medic catches shrapnel in his thigh, they transport him to Cynthia’s clinic, where they find her being forced at gunpoint to help an injured Chukuwereije soldier. Against Cynthia’s wishes to resolve the situation peacefully, the Green Berets kill the enemy soldiers, and the incident puts a target on Cynthia’s back. Rick receives orders to evacuate her, though the team’s path to the exfiltration point proves dangerous, testing Cynthia’s commitment to pacifism and compelling her to draw on her resilience and relationship with God to see her through. The contrast Bridgeman sets up between the gun-toting Rick and the violence-averse Cynthia as they maneuver through a perilous landscape thoughtfully interrogates what it means to uphold a Christian commitment to nonviolence. This backs up exciting action with some nuanced ideas about fighting evil with pacifism. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Dawn: A Proton’s Tale of All that Came to Be

Cees Dekker, Corien Oranje, and Gijsbert van den Brink, trans. from the Dutch by Harry Cook. IVP Academic, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-1-5140-0566-8

Physicist Dekker, novelist Oranje (Science Geek Sam and His Secret Logbook), and van den Brink (Reformed Theology and Evolutionary Theory), a theology and science professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, blend cosmology with Christian theology in this idiosyncratic fable. Pro, a proton born during the big bang, narrates 14 billion years of cosmic history, from the formation of the first atoms through to the space age, along the way explaining particle physics, supernovas, and evolution. Pro ends up a particle in Jesus’s walking stick and details Jesus’s incarnation and resurrection, then fast-forwards to a near future in which Pro and other particles on a space station lament that humans have subsumed religion to science. Then, Pro is ejected into space during a space walk, leaving Pro drifting toward the far reaches of the universe and guessing at humanity’s fate. The mix of faith and science is refreshing and the presentation bracingly unorthodox, though the characters come across mostly as mouthpieces for the authors’ philosophy (“It’s remarkable... that [humans] have discovered us, and they don’t realize they’re looking at the work of the Creator,” a neutron opines). Creative and unique, this is chock-full of heady ideas. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Come Down Somewhere

Jennifer L. Wright. Tyndale House, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4964-7167-3

This affecting coming-of-age story by Wright (If It Rains) follows two young women grappling with the consequences of U.S. involvement in WWII. In late 1944, 15-year-old Olive and her family have to move out of their ranch in Jornada del Muerto, N.Mex., after the military commandeers it as part of a new secret testing facility. The family ends up in nearby Alamogordo, where Olive meets Jo—the daughter of the sergeant now quartered in Olive’s old home—at the local high school. Despite a frosty start, the two become friends, even as Olive’s embitterment about the war makes her skeptical of Jo’s belief in a benevolent God. As the truth about the military facility’s purpose trickles out, it alters the trajectory of Olive and Jo’s lives. In 1952, Jo has grown disillusioned and drifted away from God, and she returns to Alamogordo to take care of her estranged father’s affairs as he dies of cancer. She still struggles to make sense of Olive’s decision seven years earlier to renege on their plans to escape to California together, so Jo determines to find what became of Olive and rediscovers her faith in the process. In Olive and Jo, Wright captures the tenderness of formative friendships, and the characters’ complicated relationships with Christianity testify to how meandering the path of faith can be. The result offers touching meditations on girlhood, friendship, and God. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Santa Run

Beth Pugh. Iron Stream Media, $16.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-64526-354-8

The feel-good second entry in Pugh’s contemporary Pine Valley Holiday series (after The Valentine Proposal) follows a small-town woman as she fights to keep a Christmas tradition alive. Eliza Lee Elliot has helped run the Appalachian Express, a small railroad line in Pine Valley, Ky., for two years, but after it’s purchased by McCoy Railroad, she fears changes are coming. Meanwhile, Bennett Olsen works for his father at McCoy and longs to repair the tumultuous relationship they’ve had since Bennett’s mother died when he was a teen. He travels to Pine Valley to survey McCoy’s new acquisition and sparks fly between him and Eliza. However, Bennett is torn between his father’s Scrooge-like spirit and trying to help Eliza with the Santa Run, her pet project that distributes Christmas gifts, candy, and clothing to the poor from an Appalachian Express train. Bennett’s father directs Bennett to cancel the event, which puts a strain on his budding romance with Eliza. She prays for God’s help and organizes a fund-raising effort to save the program, but she realizes she’ll need Bennett’s help, leading her to put her trust in God to rescue the Santa Run and her relationship with Bennett. The story may be formulaic, but readers will root for Bennett and Eliza’s happy ever after. Fans of Hallmark Christmas movies will enjoy this sweet holiday tale. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2022 | Details & Permalink

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By Way of the Moonlight

Elizabeth Musser. Bethany House, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3880-2

In this winning family saga from Musser (The Promised Land), a young woman fights to open an equine therapy center on her family’s Georgia estate. In the present day, Nana Dale supports her granddaughter Allie Massey’s dream of launching an equine therapy center on Dale’s Georgia estate, but after Dale dies, her lawyer informs the family that Dale sold the estate to a developer. Allie suspects foul play, and after the lawyer gives Allie a note Dale had written years earlier that alludes to how Allie might be able to save the property, she sets out on a hunt to find a family heirloom. Episodes from Nana Dale’s youth are woven into Allie’s story: Dale grows up in the shadow of the Great Depression and comes of age during WWII, when she falls in love with show jumper Tommy and endures the war’s bleakest hours by leaning on her passion for horses and her Christian faith. Lush and romantic prose (“Dale lay down beside him, gently pulling her body close to his, the fire in his skin warming her along with the balmy breeze of the night, their slow breaths matching”) uplifts this affecting tale that celebrates the hard-won wisdom of elders. This is perfect for book clubs. Agent: Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/15/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Beneath the Bending Skies

Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell, $17.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3612-5

Kirkpatrick (The Healing of Natalie Curtis) tells the story of real-life woman of the frontier Mary “Mollie” Sheehan in this pleasant fictionalized account of her life. After Mollie’s mother dies in 1858, six-year-old Mollie moves from Ireland to Kentucky with her father, James, and her siblings. Years later, James remarries and the family decamps to Montana, where 14-year-old Mollie is courted by Peter Ronan, age 24 . With her father preoccupied with work, Mollie keeps the courtship a secret for two years, but when the truth comes out, her father forces her to end the relationship and relocates the family to California. She prays for years to be reunited with Peter until her father finally consents and the couple marries and settles down in Montana. Mollie’s relationship with her father remains complex, but they make peace. Contemporary audiences might have a hard time swallowing the historically accurate relationship between teenage Mollie and the significantly older Peter, but her travels across the Western U.S. offer an enjoyable look at hardscrabble life on the frontier. Inspirational historical fans will find plenty to delight in. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/08/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Still My Forever

Kim Vogel Sawyer. WaterBrook, $17 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-19436-2

Sawyer (Return to Boone’s Hollow) delivers a sweet historical romance set in the Mennonite community of Falke, Kans. In 1905, Gil Baty leaves New York City after failing to make it as a composer and moves back to his hometown Falke, hoping to regroup and finally compose his breakthrough piece. Once back, he starts a band for the town’s boys, and they sign up to play in a competition at the End of Harvest celebration. Gil reconnects with Ava Flaming, his ex-girlfriend and muse, but Ava, having been heartbroken by him before, remains hesitant about reviving their romance until her mother tells her, “If God the Father is prompting you to go... with Gil, I believe you will have more joy than regret.” Then, Ava overhears the boys’ band practicing the composition Gil had written for her years before, and she feels betrayed that Gil would sully that song by using it to further his career. Gil must find a way to restore her trust in him while deciding if there’s a future for him in Falke. In addition to the richly realized leads, memorable secondary characters—such as plucky nine-year-old Timmy and clumsy but kind 13-year-old Earl, who play in Gil’s band—flesh out the cast. The result is a melodious second-chance romance. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/08/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Harvest Moon

Denise Hunter. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (342p) ISBN 978-0-7852-4056-3

A tragic accident gives a divorced couple a second chance at love in the warmhearted third installment of Hunter’s Riverbend Romance series (after Mulberry Hollow). After husband and wife Mike and Mallory die in a plane crash, their best friends, Laurel and Gavin Robinson, are shocked to discover the will appoints them as the guardians of Mike and Mallory’s two-and-half-year-old daughter Emma. Lauren and Gavin have been divorced for three years, after the death of their young son caused Gavin to retreat into himself and Laurel to crave the emotional support he was too devastated to give her. They are unsure if they are ready to try parenting again, but efforts to place Emma with relatives don’t pan out, and Laurel and Gavin acquiesce, asking God for help raising the toddler. As Laurel and Gavin spend time together preparing Mike and Mallory’s apple orchard for harvest, Laurel notices how Gavin has changed since their split, from the way he helps around the house to how he’s started openly sharing his feelings and dreams with her. They learn to set aside their differences and work together to rebuild their relationship and make a loving home for Emma. Readers looking for an uplifting Christian romance will appreciate how Laurel and Gavin’s faith helps dispel their deep-rooted fears so they can find a way to love again. Inspirational fans will find this hard to resist. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/08/2022 | Details & Permalink

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