Life Without Nico / by Andrea Maturana; illustrations by Francisco Javier Olea. 12.2.2016

Kids Can Press ISBN 9781771386111

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

Nico and Maia are dear friends. When Nico needs to leave with his father who is going to Australia for studies, Maia wonders how she will survive. After Nico leaves, Maia begins to fill the emptiness in her life with a pet cat, learning the piano, a new friend. When Nico returns, there are mixed emotions but through the experience Maia learns that “[t]here is always space in your heart for friendship.” This endearing story about love, loss, and friendship highlights the resilience of children as well as adapting to the change that is a natural part of growing up and welcoming new events and people into one’s life.

Andrea Maturana’s picture book, perfect for ages 4 to 6, is a poetic narrative that children will delight in reading on their own as well as a story for parent and child to share. The whimsical illustrations by Francisco Javier Olea offer a sense of magic as well as a better grasp on the meaning of goodbyes, loss and friendship. The design of each two-page spread conveys both powerful color and an invitation to explore these deeper emotions, an integral part of loss and recovery.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Deadly Encounter / by DiAnn Mills. (FBI Task Force, 1) 12.1.2016

Tyndale     ISBN 9781496410979

Adult (HS)     Rating: 5

Award-winning author DiAnn Mills kicks off a new contemporary romantic suspense series featuring FBI agents in the Houston area.

In Deadly Encounter, volunteer airport ranger Stacy Broussard stumbles across a murder victim, an injured dog, and an armed drone as she rides around the perimeter of Houston’s airport. FBI Special Agent Alex LeBlanc thinks it is an act of terrorism, but is suspicious of Stacy’s discovery.

Stacy, a veterinarian, cares for the injured dog. Meanwhile, Alex investigates the murdered man and the drone. When a health emergency affects the lives of people living in Stacy’s neighborhood, he wonders if Stacy is the target instead of just a witness. Can they find the mastermind behind the incidents before it is too late?

As always, Mills does an excellent job of plot and character development. The faith element and the romance are evident but light–the main characters are attracted to each other but keep the relationship as a friendship until the case is solved. Themes of forgiveness and reliance on God are interwoven in the text.

Plot twists abound as this unpredictable story unfolds. The characters are flawed but realistic, and the tension builds until the end of the book is reached. The mastermind’s plan is torn from today’s headlines, and the plot elements are all-too-real–domestic terrorism, biological weapons, revenge, child abuse, and even bullying.

Deadly Encounter will appeal to readers who like light romance and carefully-researched details with their suspense. Fans of Dee Henderson and Irene Hannon will enjoy this new series. The book includes an author note and discussion questions.

Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Three Wishes / by Lisa T. Bergren. (River of Time: California, 1) 11.28.2016

Bergren Creative Group ISBN 9781530674695

HS (Adult) Grades 9 and up Rating: 4

Lisa Bergren kicks off her new young adult historical fiction series featuring a contemporary teen living an extraordinary adventure in the old California, 180 years in the past.

In Three Wishes, 17-year-old Zara Ruiz is reeling from her beloved abuela’s death. Walking along the beach, she remembers their last conversation in which her grandmother, who raised her, asks Zara what she wants most from life. Zara makes three wishes, never expecting that those wishes (an adventurous life, true love, and family) might come true. Shortly after that, she is thrust 180 years into the past where she meets a handsome ranchero and his family. Will her wishes come true in that past, or will she return to her world? Will the secrets in Javier’s family change her future?

Bergren is known for her detailed historical research, strong plot development, and excellent characterization. As in her earlier River of Time series, she writes strong female characters who are independent yet vulnerable, with men who are chivalrous and handsome. Three Wishes, the first of Bergren’s new young adult historical time-travel series, is a clean romance (no more than heated kisses) with adventure and plot twists a-plenty. Although self-published, Three Wishes is another addition to Bergren’s growing list of young adult fiction titles. Her series have a strong sense of faith (evident but not preachy), courtly love, and family.

Highly recommended for young adults, teens, and adult readers. Fans of young adult historical fiction will enjoy Bergren’s new series. The next book in this series, Four Winds, will be published shortly. 

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Forever Safe / by Jody Hedlund. (Beacons of Hope, 4) 11.22.2016

Northern Lights Press ISBN 9780692691151

Adult Rating: 5

Jody Hedlund pens the fourth installment in her historical fiction series, this one set in coastal Massachusetts during the mid-1870s.

In Forever Safe, wealthy heiress Victoria Cole has run away from her earlier weddings, leaving two other grooms at the altar. Days away from her upcoming wedding to Nathaniel Winthrop, she is unaware that she is the target of a kidnapping plan. Her father hires Tom Cushman as her new bodyguard when it becomes clear that she is still in danger.

The wedding to Nathaniel is canceled, and Victoria is hidden away in an isolated lighthouse. Tom is appointed as assistant light keeper while Victoria poses as his wife. While she learns about living without luxuries, Victoria also learns to face her fears and her growing feelings for Tom. Will they find her attacker so she can stop running? Will Victoria discover why she runs from her weddings? Will Victoria finally get married–and to whom?

Hedlund excels in character development and historical details. While this book stands alone, readers might find it helpful to read the earlier books in order to understand the significance of the driftwood cross. These books are a blend of romance and mystery with well-researched historical detail.

The faith element is light, with the main characters facing their fears and broken pasts to find their ultimate security in God, not in their circumstances. Tom faces his own haunted past to embrace a new future. He is an honorable but troubled man who is the perfect match for the gently-bred young Victoria who learns to value others above herself.

Recommended for public and church libraries, and fans of her earlier books.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJLove Unexpected and Hearts Made Whole (Sept/Oct 2015); Undaunted Hope (Mar/Apr/May/Jun 2016).

Dawn at Emberwilde / by Sarah Ladd. (A Treasures of Surrey Novel, 2) 11.21.2016

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718011819

Adult Rating: 4

Sarah Ladd pens the second novel in her 19th century historical series set in the English countryside.

In Dawn at Emberwilde, orphaned Isabel Creston plans to be a teacher at an English school when news of previously unknown relatives upsets her plans. Isabel and her younger sister Lizzie move to Emberwilde, a family estate on the edge of a large forest. Whispers of mysterious happenings and rumors surround the Emberwilde Forest.

When two gentlemen vie for her attention, Isabel must learn the truth of her past to determine her future. How do the activities of those around her affect her present and her future? Are the handsome suitors worthy of her consideration? What about the circumstances surrounding her parents’ deaths?

Ladd writes descriptive narrative with hints of mystery and suspense woven into the plot. The faith element has a light touch; the relationship between Isabel and her suitors develops appropriately to the storyline. Like her earlier novel in this series, the historical details enrich the plot, and Dawn at Emberwilde has a gothic feel to it–smugglers, missing heiress, etc. Her book is plot-driven with plenty of twists. Why is her aunt pushing her towards a marriage with Mr. Bradford? What about Mr. Galloway, her other suitor, who wants to help her discover the truth behind her relatives’ motives for inviting her to Emberwilde?

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries. Older teen readers will find it a clean read. This new series will appeal to fans of Regency fiction, Julie Klassen, and Jane Austen. Each book includes discussion questions for reading groups. Her next book in this series, A Stranger at Fellsworth, is due in Spring 2017.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Anna’s Crossing / by Suzanne Woods Fisher. 11.18.2016

Revell ISBN 9780800723194

Adult Rating: 4

Nineteen-year-old Anna König leaves her homeland of Ixheim, Germany for the New World, full of doubt and fear, while simultaneously devising ways she might be able to return home. To ease the ache of leaving, Anna takes with her a single rosebush from her grandmother’s garden, which holds a link to her past and perhaps a promise for her future. Will the struggles that await her and her fellow Amish travelers aboard the Charming Nancy prove too much to bear? Will Anna find her way back home as she so desperately wishes or will she discover that God has a much different plan in store for her?

Bairn, the ship’s carpenter and third in command, is determined that nothing will detour him from pursuing wealth and power. However, when the Amish travelers board his ship, a sense of unease follows him. When he meets the lovely Anna, her gentle convictions and forgiving nature threaten to unearth old memories and feelings he fought to bury long ago. Will he be able to resist the pull on his emotions or will he open his heart to find something much greater than he could have imagined?

In Anna’s Crossing, Suzanne Woods Fisher brings to life through a fictional account the bravery, perseverance, and heart that must have beat within the daring immigrants who left all that was familiar to come to a new land by way of a journey fraught with hardships and losses. Full of adventure, suspense, an air of mystery, and sweet romance, the plot holds all the elements of an engaging story. Themes of renewed faith, love, and new beginnings add an emotionally moving depth. Anna is a character who is easy to love and admire, with her servant-like heart and forgiving nature. Like many who struggle with saying goodbye to the past, Anna learns the valuable lesson that when one chapter closes another one is just beginning. Bairn’s character is a reminder that God’s love and care are never far from His own, even when circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. Overall, this book is an engaging read that will inspire and warm hearts.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Brentwood’s Ward / by Michelle Griep. 11.17.2016

Shiloh Run Press ISBN 9781630586799

Adult Rating: 4

Bow Street Runner Nicholas Brentwood has a new assignment: guarding a wealthy businessman’s only daughter while he is away. The generous pay, seemingly high for such an easy task of protecting a little girl, will provide the means for Brentwood to better care for his ailing sister. However, upon meeting and catching the not-so-little, very attractive Miss Emily Payne attempting to sneak back into her home after disobeying her father, Brentwood quickly realizes this assignment may be more than he bargained for.

Emily takes an instant dislike to her new guardian, as he reprimands her childish behavior and insists on shadowing her every move, which poses some difficultly for her plans to catch the most sought after gentleman of the season. Yet despite Brentwood’s irritatingly know-it-all manner and brooding intensity, Emily finds herself begrudgingly attracted to the man. As sinister plots unfold around her and attempts are made on her life, it is clear her father has real enemies and Emily cannot help but appreciate the presence of her personal protector. Will Brentwood be able to unravel the mysteries behind these vengeful acts and fulfill his mission to keep Emily safe?

In Brentwood’s Ward, Michelle Griep weaves a tangled web of deception, greed, revenge, and murder creating an intriguing plot that will keep the pages turning. Unlike the more common regency romances full of the gaiety of drawing room conversations and glittering parties, this novel captures some of the darker sides of London with shady alley ways, assaults, death, and backroom business schemes gone wrong. However, the cutting banter between the two main characters and the less-than-subtle scheming of those in high society lend a lighter air to the plot. Emily Payne is a precocious character who shows both personal and spiritual growth as she faces losses and challenges while finding the love and acceptance she has always desired. Brentwood is a roguish gentleman with strong principles of loyalty, justice, and devotion. The romance depicts intense attraction without being too explicit. This novel will appeal to fans of historical romances and mysteries.

Justina McBride, CLJ

An Amish Village Mystery series / by Vanetta Chapman. 11.16.2016

Murder Simply Brewed / by Vanetta Chapman. (An Amish Village Mystery, 1)

Zondervan ISBN 9780310326168

Murder Tightly Knit / by Vanetta Chapman. (An Amish Village Mystery, 2)

Zondervan ISBN 9780310325697

Murder Freshly Baked / by Vanetta Chapman. (An Amish Village Mystery, 3)

Zondervan ISBN 9780310322177

Adult Rating: 4

The three books in this series are a lovely blend of mystery, a little romance, Amish life, and Christian fiction. All three are set in the Amish Village where one can find a variety of shops and stores; thus one title refers to a coffee shop, one to a knitting store, and the last to the local bakery.

Murder simply brewed introduces us to our amateur sleuths, Amanda and Hannah, when a local store manager is found murdered. The police suspect a robbery gone bad but Amanda and Hannah see it otherwise.

In Murder tightly knit, an Amish man is killed with an arrow to the heart. But before his murder, Hannah suspects something is amiss with her friend Mary and determines to find out what is spooking her. Little does she know of the web that has woven her friends together in subterfuge.

And Murder freshly baked involves a local man dating three women at the same time–two of them Amish! Also, a bad poet is threatening poison in a variety of baked goods. Is there a connection when this Romeo is murdered?

Chapman weaves many touches into these books concerning Christian life and living for the Lord, whether living as an Englischer or in the Amish world. One of the best parts is the characterization, especially considering the Amish village is inhabited by both Amish and Englischers. This gives it a special dimension that is lacking in some Amish fiction.

This series will be a hit with those who enjoy Christian fiction as well as those who love a good mystery!

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Like a Flower in Bloom / by Siri Mitchell. 11.15.2016

Bethany House ISBN 9780764210372

Adult Rating: 4

Twenty-two-year-old Charlotte Withersby has spent the past eight years assisting her widowed father in his botanist work. She has also been making her own contributions to the field, but doing so primarily in her father’s name, society believing women have no business in the science of botany beyond that of a pastime. Unfortunately, her uncle the Admiral shares such sentiments and tries to convince Charlotte’s father that her time would be better spent in the pursuit of a husband. To Charlotte’s utter horror, her father finally concedes, going so far as to secure her replacement as his assistant with his botanist correspondent Mr. Edward Trimble, a young New Zealand sheep farmer. Charlotte refuses to give up her love of plant life but decides to play along with her launch into grand society, firmly believing that the incompetent Mr. Trimble will soon be on his way, leaving her father begging for her assistance once more. Thrust into a society lacking the sensible order of the floral world, Charlotte finds herself adrift in turbulent waters, while the infuriating Mr. Trimble continues to prove his efficiency. Will Charlotte be forced to leave her passion behind to fit society’s mold?

Siri Mitchell’s Like a Flower in Bloom is a delightful read, full of dry wit that is sure to bring many smiles. It is clear the author has done her research on botany–effortlessly woven throughout the plot, humor, and dialogue–and on 19th century England society, brought to life with its rigid structure and faux pas. Charlotte and Edward are refreshing main characters with their eccentric natures and frankness, which combine to form sparring verbal exchanges and pleasant surprises. The love story is equally unique, hidden in the undertones of the plot and not fully acknowledged until the end. Charlotte is like a lone wild flower amid a plethora of hothouse blossoms, a unique beauty that might easily be missed, underscoring a sweet lesson of learning to see the beauty that is, rather than trying to conform that beauty to society’s expectations.

Readers of historical romance fiction will enjoy this lighthearted tale.

Justina McBride, CLJ

A Serena Jones Mystery Series / by Sandra Orchard. 11.14.2016

A Fool and His Monet / by Sandra Orchard. (A Serena Jones Mystery, 1)

Revell ISBN 9780800726713

Another Day, Another Dali / by Sandra Orchard. (A Serena Jones Mystery, 2)

Revell     ISBN 9780800726690

Adult     Rating: 5

Award-winning Canadian author Sandra Orchard pens a new contemporary mystery series featuring a female FBI agent/art detective.

In A Fool and His Monet, Serena Jones finishes an undercover assignment for the FBI Art Crime Team. Her friend Zoe, the acting head of security at a local art museum, asks her help in recovering a stolen Monet. The big problem is that the museum board doesn’t want any publicity about the theft. Can she catch the mastermind behind the theft? Can she recover the missing artwork before the theft becomes public?

In Another Day, Another Dali, Serena is asked by her grandmother to help track down a friend’s stolen Dali painting. Serena and her grandmother have a strained relationship, and Serena sees this as an opportunity to change that. But what seems like a straightforward investigation turns into a tangled web involving forgery, an art theft ring, corrupt cops, and possibly the unsolved murder of Serena’s grandfather. Will Serena solve the case before someone stops her? What will her grandmother’s friend say when the thief is found to be someone close to her? And what does the secret that Serena has kept from her family have to do with her grandmother?

Orchard does an excellent job in her character development. Serena is a confident single woman; she’s not looking for romance, even though she is tripping over eligible bachelors like Tanner, her FBI partner, and Nate, her landlord. Her opinionated Aunt Martha fancies herself a detective too and has a mobster friend who comes to Serena’s rescue.

Unlike some romantic suspense novels, this is a mystery series with a very light romance and humor on the side. The faith element is also very light. The next book, Over Maya Dead Body, is due in Summer 2017.

Recommended for church libraries and adult collections in public libraries. 

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ