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The Painted Castle

Kristy Cambron. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7180-9552-9

Cambron (Castle on the Rise) concludes her Lost Castle series at Parham Hill by once again anchoring three distinct stories in three eras to one location in this thrilling tale. In 1843, Elizabeth Meade’s mother is determined to secure an advantageous marriage for her daughter, and Viscount Huxley of Parham Hill appears a most suitable candidate. While disinterested in an arranged marriage, Elizabeth agrees when she realizes the relationship may allow her to finally avenge her father’s murder from a decade earlier. In 1944, Parham Hill’s widowed lady of the manor has created a refuge to children separated from parents by the war. Distressed to find American soldiers taking up residence in her home, Amelia Woods soon learns to trust the commanding officer. Then, in the present-day, art historian Keira Foley soothes a broken heart while tending her father’s Dublin pub. Offered a commission to authenticate a rare portrait of Queen Victoria at Parham Hill, she soon learns that the manor holds secrets deeper than just the painter’s identity. Offering a strong reminder that first impressions do not always tell the whole story, Cambron wraps up her time-swapping series with this delightful portrait of a stately manor over the course of two centuries. Agent: Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Spice King

Elizabeth Camden. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3211-4

Camden (The Lady of Bolton Hill) launches her Hope and Glory series with this enthralling tale that weds a surprising romance with the real-life political intrigue surrounding the early 20th-century American spice trade. In 1900, the Smithsonian Institution is working to catalogue plant species and requests samples of the world-famous plant collection of Gray Delacroix, owner of Delacroix Global Spice. Delacroix, denies the request in order to protect his closely guarded (and lucrative) spice plants—particularly a rare vanilla orchid. Annabelle Larkin, a junior botanist at the Smithsonian, decides to take matters into her own hands and sets a meeting with Delacroix to change the spice tycoon’s mind. Delacroix, meanwhile, is attracted to Larkin’s love for nature and plants. But when a government official asks her to spy on Delacroix, who is suspected of supporting Cuban insurgents in a rebellion against the occupying American army, Larkin must try to squelch her feelings. As Delacroix and Larkin continue to work together cataloguing his plants, she also helps him expose the plan of a rival to bring cheap, adulterated vanilla to the market. Camden spices up the story with historical details of the era and of the race to provide convenient food for the masses. While faith elements are very light, fans of Jody Hedlund will love this. Agent: Steve Laube, the Steve Laube Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Essence of Shade

Deborah Jean Miller. Opal Stone Press, $14.99 (380p) ISBN 978-0-9980489-0-1

A woman wrestles with her faith while trying to move on from a complicated relationship in Miller’s elegant, penetrating debut. Shade Doe’s life is turned upside down when her husband, Stan, dies suddenly from a heart attack. Shade, who met and married Stan when she was a pregnant teenager, idolized her husband for the entirety of their 20-year marriage. Now 36, she is shocked when she discovers that the man she married was a monster who had been abusing her daughter, Addy. Moving to the coast of Michigan, Shade attempts to repair the broken relationship between herself and Addy, who struggles with substance abuse and who also became a mother as a teen, to two-year-old Tyler. Shade fears that her daughter’s addiction has created a home unfit for Tyler, and when she is suddenly left with the responsibility of taking care of him, she must double her efforts at the bakery where she works. As Tyler grows up, she meets Brent, Tyler’s baseball coach, and she feel herself opening up to romance for the first time in years. Only a renewed faith in God’s love is able to bring Shade out of her self-loathing. Fans of Karen Kingsbury will love this affecting tale of redemption. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Aiming For Love

Mary Connealy. Bethany House, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3258-9

Connealy (Kincaid Brides) skillfully blends a wilderness setting, faithful characters, and strangers in dire need of rescuing in this enjoyable start to her Brides of Hope Mountain series. In 1873 Colorado, Josephine Nordegren and her two sisters, Ursula and Ilsa, have been on secluded Hope Mountain all their lives. Because of their grandmother’s warnings and irrational fears, they live in constant fear of danger and disease from the outside world. Their sanctuary is disrupted when Dave Warden brings his cattle up the mountain looking for new pastures. During their time together, Dave and Josephine bond over Bible stories and debate their very separate views of life, informed by Dave’s life as a rancher and Josephine’s life of seclusion. The sisters also share their hunting and healing talents with the Wardens, bringing both families closer. Connealy’s vivid prose nicely captures the atmosphere and beauty of the 19th-century American West, a natural world that brings the Nordegrens and Wardens together to expel the irrationality of the sisters’ fears. The numerous unresolved threads will no doubt be picked up as the series continues; this is a moving tale of the meeting of two faith-filled frontier families. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/23/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Trespassed

Sonya Visor. Covenant House Press, $3.99 ebook (304p) ISBN 978-0-9843-5418-4

Visor (Love Me for Who I Am) explores the pain of sexual abuse and marital dishonesty in this affecting tale of love, loss, and moving on. Nadine Parker decides to leave her husband Zane after she watches a video of Zane and his male lover in bed, but she keeps getting sucked back into his family drama. Told in a series of flashbacks, Nadine explains how, as a newlywed, she walked in on Zane watching gay porn. Unable to broach the subject, Nadine presumes he has homosexual impulses and, though she is skeptical of their relationship, stays with him for several years for appearances’ sake. But now, Nadine’s domineering mother-in-law is holding the couple hostage with blackmail and threats, even stealing Zane and Nadine’s divorce paperwork to make sure it is never filed. Desperate for love and support, Nadine reaches out to her faith-filled estranged family, whom she had walked away from several years earlier. As they help her recover, Nadine’s father confesses his knowledge that Zane suffered from sexual abuse, which he thinks is the root of Zane’s sexual confusion. With the help of God and her family, Nadine finds the strength to heal. With more open communication, Zane and Nadine begin to explore God’s love, but will that be enough to keep them together? Though the timeline can be hard to follow, Visor’s strong story pushes the envelope for inspirational fiction and tackles difficult subjects with understanding. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/09/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Synapse

Steven James. Thomas Nelson, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7852-2525-6

James (The Bishop) builds an intricate world grounded in robotic technology in this stimulating tale. Thirty years in the future, advanced technology has created “Artificials”—robots so closely resembling humans it is difficult to distinguish them from human beings (called “Naturals”). After suffering multiple tragedies, Kestrel Hathaway, a Methodist minister, questions her belief that God is a loving, all-powerful entity. Trevor, Kestrel’s brother and a security executive at Terabyne, the corporation that builds Artificials, gives her Jordan, the most lifelike version created to date. Despite a strong aversion to Artificials, Kestrel begins to warm to Jordan. After witnessing a terrorist attack, Kestrel becomes a primary witness and is introduced to special agent Nick Vernon, from the National Counterterrorism Bureau. When Nick reveals the possibility of a corporate conspiracy at Terabyne, Kestrel and Jordan investigate. Combined with Trevor’s insider knowledge of Terabyne and the involvement of special agent Vernon, Kestrel and Jordan duo follow twists and turns that keep suspense high to the end. While the moral components grow organically from the plot, inspirational readers should be warned that there is some intense, violent imagery. Animated by themes of hope, love, and belief in the afterlife, James’s thrilling thrilling story of greed and corruption will win over readers. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/09/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Ambitions

Irene Hannon. Revell, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2770-3

Hannon (Dangerous Illusions) concludes her Code of Honor trilogy with another rip-roaring crime thriller based on a disappearance. In rural Missouri, former army captain Rick Jordan is running his winter camp for foster children when he notices blood in the snow and finds a good luck charm from his old army buddy, Jackson “Boomer” Dunn. Believing Boomer is in trouble, Rick hires private investigator Heather Shields. There are immediate romantic sparks, but the two try to ignore them as they piece together clues. After tracking down Boomer’s ex-girlfriend and discovering she died under mysterious circumstances, Heather suspects the case has moved beyond a mere missing person. When the last person to see Boomer alive turns up dead, the tension rises and Rick becomes convinced Boomer is being tracked by a killer. Hannon nicely blends developments in the case with Rick and Heather’s emotional and romantic progress. Both devout Christians, their faith ends up playing a crucial role in how they handle adversity and temptation. A fitting finale to the fast-paced series, Hannon’s electrifying tale works just as well as a standalone. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/09/2019 | Details & Permalink

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What Comes My Way

Tracie Peterson. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7642-1904-7

Peterson (Wherever You Go) brings her Brookstone Brides trilogy to an exciting end with this triumphant love story. Ella Fleming, a trick rider for the Brookstone’s Wild West Show, is surprised when her brother shows up with news that their father isn’t doing well and is possibly being coerced by Jefferson Spiby, the man she ran away from to avoid marrying. Meanwhile, Phillip Deshazer, a working hand for the show, drowns himself in booze to avoid facing the death of his father or telling his brother, Wes, that their father died trying to save him. After Phillip confesses his love to Ella, he realizes that if he truly wants a chance with her, he has let go of the alcohol and his secret. This realization allows him to open his heart to forgiveness and tell everything to Wes. As Phillip gets the help that he needs, Ella is abducted by Jefferson; both Phillip and Ella must rely on God’s strength to overcome their circumstances. Peterson provides a fitting conclusion that will satisfy fans of the series. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/09/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Afflicted

Fayla Ott. Heritage House, $12.99 trade paper (290p) ISBN 978-0-692-19705-9

A battle of good and evil plays out during the Salem Witch Trials in this haunting inspirational from Ott (A Time to Heal). Lydia Knapp and three of her friends ask Ann Putnam, the daughter of an established local family, to lead them to clairvoyant slave Tituba. Lydia is looking for the name of her future husband, but instead she unknowingly opens a door to evil. Meanwhile, the demon Sonneillon, along with three other demons, has been called to Salem for the upcoming witch trials, and Tituba’s ritual helps their cause. When Tituba predicts that death is coming, Ann forces everyone into silence. But soon, two girls who accompanied Lydia come down with a strange sickness blamed on demonic possession, and the town of Salem is thrown into an uproar. With angels of God posted on guard (unbeknownst to Salem’s Christians, whose prayers summoned them), awaiting permission from angel Raphael to intervene, Sonneillon and his demons put Lucifer’s plans into action by possessing anyone they can. With the angels holding on to the prayers of the faithful few and awaiting more faithful adherents to create a “prayer cover” so that they can intervene, Lydia must confront her family’s dark history and the role they played in bringing about the trials. Ott skillfully recasts the Salem Witch Trials as a Christian battle for the soul of the New World in this thrilling tale. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/09/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Man at the Inn

R. William Bennett. Ensign Peak, $17.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-6297-2603-8

Bennett (Jacob T. Marley) recreates the life of the cross-carrying Simon of Cyrene in this enchanting historical. In the Bethlehem of biblical times, traveling merchant Simon is fortunate to get the last room at a crowded inn in the city. He feels a bit guilty about not giving up his place for a stranger, Joseph, and his pregnant wife, Mary, but justifies his decision because he has traveled far. Out for a walk later that night, he witnesses shepherds gathered around a cave where a supposedly miraculous baby is born. Though he senses something is different about this birth, he dismisses the rumors that the baby is the Messiah. Thirty years later, Simon’s son Alexander hears the messages of Jesus and leaves to hear the Messiah speak. Simon is hurt, but a chance conversation with a sea captain persuades him to seek God’s will more fully. Returning home, Simon discovers that the rest of his family has also decided to follow Jesus. Simon struggles to accept this new faith—until he is visited by the words of the Holy Spirit. Now preaching Jesus’s message, he follows his family toward Jerusalem. Fans of Mesu Andrews will love this earnest exploration of Simon of Cyrene’s struggle with faith. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/02/2019 | Details & Permalink

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