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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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Endless Mercy

Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3250-3

Peterson and Woodhouse continue their Treasures of Nome series (following Forever Hidden), set in 1904 rural Alaska, with the moving story of musician Maddy Powell. Maddy is grieving the recent loss of her mother when her presumed-dead father shows up in Nome, complete with a second family. As she and her sisters struggle to process conflicting feelings, Maddy enjoys the attention and gifts of circus owner Buddy Merrick and becomes tempted to abandon her sheep farm to become a performer in his traveling circus. But is he sincere or just looking to use her? Then Maddy meets Daniel, the grandson of her mentor, Granny Beaufort, who has returned to Nome after fruitless years spent searching for gold in the Yukon. Daniel befriends Maddy but has turned his back on God. Through their friendship, both learn to trust God and discover peace and love. Peterson and Woodhouse do an excellent job of creating heroes and heroines to root for, as well as evil con men Maddy meets through the circus. This is an exciting and thoughtful portrait of family and faith on the frontier. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Night Bird Calling

Cathy Gohlke. Tyndale, $25.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4964-2971-1

Gohlke (Secrets She Kept) delivers a gripping story about the trauma of domestic and church abuse set in 1941 Appalachia. Lilliana Grace Swope flees Philadelphia and her abusive husband and father, both leaders in their local congregation who use their positions to justify physical and emotional abuse, after her mother’s death. She heads to her great-aunt Hyacinth Belvidere’s home in tiny No Creek, N.C., and soon learns of Hyacinth’s health troubles and her plan to will Lilliana her estate. As Lilliana becomes part of the community, she sees the effects of racism, violence, gossip, and hidden sexual abuse; she also begins to stand up for herself, see herself as God sees her, and defend those hurt by racism and sexism by opening Hyacinth’s home and large library to all. But as Hyacinth becomes increasingly blind and frail, Lilliana’s husband shows up looking to position himself to profit from Lilliana’s inheritance, and Lilliana must find the courage to thwart his scheme to divorce her to keep control of the estate. Gohlke creates a cast readers will love, and the strong themes of the bonds of family forged outside one’s kin resonate. The author’s fans will love this. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary Agency (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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All That We Carried

Erin Bartels. Revell, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3836-5

Bartels (The Words Between Us) introduces estranged sisters Olivia and Melanie in this touching story set in rural Michigan. A decade ago, the sisters were hiking when their parents were killed in a car accident, and Olivia was further devastated to learn Justin, her best friend since grade school, was driving the car that hit her parents. While Olivia refused to forgive Justin, Melanie and Justin found peace and comfort in each other, and their bond deepened as Olivia’s anger and bitterness grew. In hopes of mending things with her sister, Melanie convinces Olivia to go on a hike together, just like they did on that fateful day. However, as they pick through their vastly different world views while hiking, the rift between them only grows: Olivia believes in nothing spiritual and rejects God or any higher power, while Melanie takes what suits her from many different belief systems. Just as emotions are running high and they fear they’ve gotten lost, they meet Josh, a fisherman who tries to get the sisters back on track in more ways than one. Bartels leaves subtle clues alluding to the possibility Josh may not be just an average fisherman. This subdued tale of learning to forgive is Bartels’s best yet. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Red Canary

Rachel Scott McDaniel. Iron Stream, $14.99 trade paper (314p) ISBN 978-1-64526-281-7

McDaniel (Above the Fold) skillfully portrays 1928 Pittsburgh in this suspense-filled inspirational romance. Vera Pembroke is the Red Canary, a singer at the Kelly Club speakeasy, and is the girlfriend of the club’s abusive owner, Carson Kelly. After Vera hears Kelly shoot someone, she informs the police about the murder and goes into hiding under the protection of police sergeant Mick Dinelo. Mick is a faith-filled man who has never recovered from having the love of his life die in his arms, and as Mick and Vera hide out in a cabin, Mick slowly breaks down Vera’s tough defenses and tries to convince her that God loves her regardless of her past. When attackers sent by Kelly invade the woods, Mick and Vera take off to hunt for evidence to convict Kelly. But after Kelly’s thugs catch up with Vera, Mick is the only person who can save her from certain death. Strong themes of the redemptive power of faith meld nicely with the brisk plot. McDaniel’s propulsive story will appeal to fans of Susan May Warren. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Thief of Blackfriar’s Lane

Michelle Griep. Shiloh Run, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-6435-2715-4

Griep (The House at the End of the Moor) delivers a charming story about a talented thief, a bumbling constable, and their reluctant partnership. Jackson Forge is rushing to start his first day as constable in 1885 London when he’s pickpocketed by Kit, who is nicknamed “Robin Hood in a Skirt” and lives to help the poor residents of Blackfriar’s Lane by stealing from rich Londoners. Later, Jackson seeks out Kit when he is given the assignment to find cabby Joe Card, who has gone missing. Joe, as it happens, had taken in Kit years before. Kit introduces Jackson to many characters of London’s underworld, who are all reluctant to speak at first but eventually open up under gun-toting Jackson’s strong-arm techniques. Jackson’s strong sense of ethics and deep faith, meanwhile, shatter the lies Kit has long believed about her noble life of thievery. While they may differ in their approach to finding and pursuing leads, the two develop a mutual respect that develops into a predictable yet pleasingly off-kilter romance. Jackson’s eagerness and Kit’s boldness prove to be a perfect match, allowing Griep to explore both the tribulations of Victorian poverty and the powers of salvation. Fans of Kristy Cambron should take a look. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/30/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Perfect Amish Romance

Shelley Shepard Gray. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4839-3

Gray (A Son’s Vow) presents the enjoyable first installment in her Berlin Bookmobile series featuring Sarah Anne, a 60-something widow. Sarah Anne, who delivers library books to the Amish community, wants to be the perfect librarian. To that end, she forms personal relationships with the readers she serves, often becoming a trusted confidante. Readers will be delighted by Sarah Anne’s gentle matchmaking between Aaron, an Old Order Amish man secretly seeking to obtain his GED, and Kayla, a New Order woman who agrees to tutor Aaron as she mourns her mother’s death and her father’s descent into depression. Another romance—between Aaron’s younger sister and her childhood friend—is similarly fraught with themes of struggling to live up to the demands and expectations of one’s family. Though the plot becomes predictable, each of the main characters undergoes realistic personal evolutions as they are shaped by transformative powers of love, hope, and faith. Gray’s fans will love this quiet, endearing tale. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Dress Shop on King Street

Ashley Clark. Bethany House, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3760-7

Clark makes a moving debut with the launch of a series centered on Millie Middleton, the child of an Italian father and African American mother born in Jim Crow–era Charleston, S.C. After her father was murdered by racists and her mother realized Millie could pass for white, Millie was sent away to start a life where no one would know her heritage. As a teenager, Millie meets handsome freight-hopper Franklin Pinckney while stowing away on a train, and the pair disembark in Fairhope, Ala., where they find lodging with a widowed innkeeper in exchange for work. The story jumps time periods frequently, filling in Millie’s backstory while introducing Harper and Peter in modern-day leaps: Peter knows Millie, who is now nearly 80, as a friend of his late mother; Millie has taught her neighbor Harper to sew. After Millie and Harper discover their shared desire to open a dress shop, Peter offers them a building he is renovating. While faith elements are subtle, Millie often turns to God for fortitude when facing the difficult circumstances of her past and the obstacles to finally getting her dreams off the ground. Those who enjoy inspirational time-slip stories will want to check this out. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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