The Wedding Chapel / by Rachel Hauck. 4.4.2017

Zondervan ISBN 9780310341529

Adult Rating: 5

Rachel Hauck, who serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a conference speaker, provides another work that endears her to many. Contributing to an enjoyable reading of The Wedding Chapel is the dual timeline which prompts readers to keep turning the page. This timeline offers a current-day narrative about Taylor and Jack as well as the history of Jimmy and Colette from the 1940-50s. In The Wedding Chapel she enables the reader to see the story from various perspectives as the story alternates between the four main characters.

Readers who enjoyed Hauck’s earlier The Wedding Dress will again note her ability to portray strong characters that relate to real life. The fact that a variety of relationship journeys are explored–e.g., Jimmy and Collette in their teen years and Taylor and Jack’s development from their first meeting–adds interest to the story’s progression. Hauck’s ability to have the complex characters of Taylor and Jack deal with very real issues conveys a message of forgiveness and hope with ease. Some readers will feel like they are on a sort of time-travel because the story moves back and forth from Heart’s Bend, Tennessee in 1948 in the story of Jimmy and Colette’s lost love and then flashes to today where one encounters the contemporary love story of Jack and Taylor’s troubled marriage in New York. The image of the chapel –built as a monument to true love and ultimately an instrument of reconciliation – as holding the heartbeat of God complements the romance of the story.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Hawthorne House series / by Kristi Ann Hunter. 3.30.2017

A Noble Masquerade / by Kristi Ann Hunter. (Hawthorne House, 1)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764214325

An Elegant Façade / by Kristi Ann Hunter. (Hawthorne House, 2)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764218255

Adult Rating: 5

In A Noble Masquerade, Miranda Hawthorne is the epitome of a lady–calm and reserved, showing little emotion. Inwardly, Miranda’s passionate nature threatens to shatter her outward mask, as she struggles with the insecurities of entering her fourth season and jealousy over her younger, spoiled sister. However, she has a secret coping method that would be a complete scandal if ever revealed. Since she was a child, she has been expressing her deepest feelings in letters addressed to the Duke of Marshington, an old friend of her brother’s and someone she has never met. The letters, of course, are never sent, until her brother’s mysterious new valet Marlow finds one and mails it. Miranda panics, certain of her ruination, but much to her shock, the duke writes back. As Miranda and the duke’s correspondence continues, a sinister plot that Marlow seems to be caught up in is unfolding on her brother’s estate and Miranda finds her own life and those she loves in danger.

To high society and her older sister Miranda, Lady Georgina Hawthorne appears confident and perfect, with an air of superiority bordering on snobbery. However, this flawless façade is really a shield, one she has spent years crafting to conceal her disgraceful secret and ensure she makes the match of the year. In An Elegant Façade, the wealthy and begrudgingly handsome but untitled Colin McCrae is a real threat to Georgina’s plans, her secret, and possibly her heart. Will Georgina achieve her lofty ambitions or discover that what she needs is far greater than what she wants?

The “Hawthorne House” series by Kristi Ann Hunter is full of Regency romance, charm, and animated discourse. The first book in the series rightfully earns its honor as a finalist in the 2016 Christy Awards for First Novel by introducing and developing a host of uniquely memorable characters, romantic intrigue, and thrilling mysteries. The main character will instantly charm and endear herself with her inward battles, dry humor, and passion for life. The second book naturally builds upon the first by advancing the plot of two of the formerly supporting characters, revealing a surprising insight that turns a spoiled, unlikeable younger sister into a heroine that readers will grow to love and sympathize with. Each romance holds its own sweetness and heartache. The underlying theme of learning to be oneself is woven throughout both novels, yet in its own unique way.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Four Winds / by Lisa T. Bergren. (River of Time: California, 2) 3.28.2017

Bergren Creative Group, Inc. ISBN 9781540508195

HS (Adult) Grades 9 and up Rating: 4

Lisa Bergren concludes her new young adult historical fiction series featuring a contemporary teen living an extraordinary adventure in 1840 California.

In Four Winds, 17-year-old Zara Ruiz meets a handsome ranchero–Javier de la Ventura–when she travels back in time to California, 1840. She finds true love, a family (his extended family), and adventure–her three wishes. But is staying in the past really her future?

When she tries to return to her own time, it doesn’t work. Then the Ventura ranch is attacked, and Zara and Javier’s younger brother Manuel are kidnapped. This causes Javier to wonder if Zara wouldn’t be safer returning to her own time. As much as he loves her, can he help her find her way back? It didn’t work last time but can she return now? Does she want to leave true love behind–and will she?

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. Four Winds is a clean romance (no more than heated kisses) with adventure and plot twists a-plenty.

Her series have a strong sense of faith (evident but not preachy), courtly love, and family. Although self-published, Four Winds is another worthy addition to Bergren’s growing list of young adult fiction.

Highly recommended for young adults, teens, and adult readers. Fans of young adult historical fiction will enjoy Bergren’s new series. Fans of her earlier River of Time series will be delighted with this addition.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Still Life / by Dani Pettrey. (Chesapeake Valor, 2) 3.23.2017

Bethany House ISBN 9780764212956

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Dani Pettrey continues her romantic suspense series set in coastal Maryland, about childhood friends with careers in law enforcement.

In Still Life, crime scene photographer Avery Tate reunites with crime scene analyst Parker Mitchell on a case involving the switching of a photograph at a gallery opening. The model in the photograph is Avery’s friend, who is posing as if she is dead–and what’s worse, she is missing! Avery and Parker dig into the case, following leads that are potentially deadly. Domestic terrorism, psychotic killers, and bizarre artists play into this story.

Pettrey’s series features strong personalities with problems readers can relate to. Avery left Parker’s employ six months ago to sort out her feelings about him. Avery has a past she keeps hidden. She is afraid that when Parker finds out the truth he won’t be interested in her. Parker is attracted to her but still cares for his first love, who was killed a number of years ago.

The faith element is evident: Parker reminds Avery that she is a “new creation in Christ” regardless of her past, and they pray for a friend injured in the line of duty. Their relationship is clean, appropriate for even high school readers.

The plot is intriguing, with enough twists to keep the reader engaged until the end. Watch for loose ends that will probably show up in later books. The violence is a little dark, but appropriate to the story. Suspense, romance, and action add up to a thrilling read!

Recommended for public libraries. Fans of DiAnn Mills and Irene Hannon will especially enjoy this series. Book 3, Blind Spot, is due in October 2017.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJCold Shot (Mar/Apr/May/Jun 2016).

Never Forget / by Jody Hedlund. (Beacons of Hope, 5) 3.21.2017

Northern Lights Press     ISBN 9780692770870

Adult     Rating: 5

Jody Hedlund pens another installment in her historical fiction series, this one set in coastal Rhode Island during the 1880s.

In Never Forget, Abbie Watson cares for her aging grandfather and the Rhode Island Lighthouse, trying to keep them both going. Her grandfather is showing signs of senility, which may lead to their eviction.

Wealthy playboy Nathaniel Winthrop suffers a concussion in a yachting accident, making him lose his recent memories and washing him up on Rose Island. His memory loss causes him to forget the type of man he was–a “bad boy” among Newport’s social elite.

As Abby tends to Nathaniel, he mistakenly assumes he is her husband, Nate, who deserted her recently. He is determined to be a better husband and assistant lightkeeper. Abby doesn’t correct him because his presence soothes Gramps and prevents their possible eviction. What will happen when the truth is discovered? What happened to Nate? Who is digging for treasure on their island? Will Nathaniel leave, continuing his reformed life elsewhere? What will become of her and Gramps?

Hedlund excels in well-researched historical details and rich character development. While this self-published book stands alone, readers might find it helpful to read the earlier books (published by Bethany) to understand the significance of the driftwood cross. These books are a blend of romance and mystery. The faith element is light, with the main characters facing their broken pasts to find their ultimate security in God, not in their circumstances.

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

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com 

The Bones Will Speak / by Carrie Stuart Parks. (A Gwen Marcey Novel) 3.20.2017

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780825443688

Adult Rating: 4

The Bones Will Speak is the second book in the series about forensic artist Gwen Marcey, written by fine artist/forensic artist Carrie Stuart Parks. When Gwen’s dog comes home with a human skull and then leads her to a nearby cabin in the woods where a young girl is close to death, she realizes there is a serial killer on the loose. As Gwen unearths clues, she discovers the case is personal, and the suspect has her in his sights.

Author Carrie Stuart Parks uses her extensive experience to imbue The Bones Will Speak with accuracy and drama. Vivid description immerses readers into the world of police procedures and crime scene investigation. Ms. Parks’s writing is tight and punchy, creating a fast-paced story. Unfamiliar terms are explained through dialogue without talking down to readers. Because of the subject matter, there are regular episodes of violence; however, they are not gratuitous.

Recommended for church and public libraries.

Linda Matchett, CLJ

Innkeeper of Ivy Hill / by Julie Klassen. (Tales from Ivy Hill, 1) 3.8.2017

Bethany House ISBN 9780764218132
Adult Rating: 5
Award-winning author Julie Klassen debuts her first historical fiction series, set in the English village of Ivy Hill “where friendships thrive, romance blossoms, and mysteries await” (back cover).
In Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, genteel Jane Bell becomes a reluctant innkeeper after the death of her husband. She has no clue about managing the business and saving it from bankruptcy. She turns to her mother-in-law Thora for assistance, even though they did not have a close relationship in the past. As she helps Jane, Thora begins to find a new purpose for life and is faced with two suitors for her heart.
Pressure mounts from the bank, even as Jane tries new methods to restore the inn and pay off its debt. Several men seem to have a vested interest in her success or failure, but are any of them trustworthy? Will Jane succeed or lose the inn?
Klassen is known for her excellent plot and character development in her inspirational Regency novels, which are filled with love and redemption and family relationships. The faith elements are not heavy-handed. The historical details that one comes to expect from Ms. Klassen’s works are clearly evident in this new series.
She lays the groundwork for the next few books in this series by introducing the reader to several characters in the village of Ivy Hill and telling parts of their story. Discussion questions are also included. Readers will look forward to the second book, Ladies of Ivy Cottage, which is expected in December 2017.
Recommended for public and high school libraries. Fans of Julie Klassen, Sarah E. Ladd, Carrie Turansky, and other historical fiction fans will be delighted with this new series.
Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

The Art of Losing Yourself / by Katie Ganshert. 3.6.2017

WaterBrook Press ISBN 9781601425928

HS (Adult) Grades 10 and up Rating: 4

Katie Ganshert’s The Art of Losing Yourself tells a story of heartache and redemption through the eyes of Carmen and her half-sister Gracie. Carmen, seemingly well-off and settled in an ideal career, struggles to find hope and meaning in the midst of multiple miscarriages and a failing marriage. Into this emotionally confusing and painful context walks Gracie, a high schooler with her own battles and baggage to carry. Through the course of this story, the reader sees how the lives of these women are transformed through their relationships.

Carmen’s relationship with Gracie shifts from something of duty or guilt to that of a proud mother-figure. Through her relationship with Carmen and the steady friendship of one of her classmates, Gracie is transformed from a bitter, closed-off teenager to a trusting and committed friend. Both sisters have deep and heart-felt struggles, yet it is ultimately through their difficult relationship with each other that each turns to God. Some things remain unresolved at the end of the story; one is left with a recognition that life is not supposed to be perfect, that it is sometimes messy. However, Ganshert does not leave it at that. This narrative reminds us that there is beauty in the difficult times, that God works through our trials, that people are worth loving, and that some things are worth fighting for.

The use of first-person throughout the book allows the reader to engage with the thoughts and emotions of the two main characters while frequent flashbacks provide insight into their motivations and responses. Alternating between the perspectives of Carmen and Gracie can sometimes be confusing, but overall provides a richer understanding of the characters’ experiences.

Recommended for older teens and adults. The content is in no way inappropriate, simply more relatable to adults with respect to Carmen and her struggles, and older students with respect to Gracie and the battles she faces. There are references to drugs, alcohol and premarital sex (not graphic) in the context of a character’s troubled past. The Art of Losing Yourself provides a quality Christian narrative without coming across as preachy or cliché.

Elisabeth A. Orr, CLJ

A Time to Rise / by Nadine Brandes. (Out of Time, 3) 2.17.2017

Enclave Publishing     ISBN 9781683700463

HS (Adult)     Grades 10 and up    Rating: 4

Nadine Brandes concludes her award-winning dystopian series in which the government issues a personal clock to individuals, programmed to show their exact time of death. But what happens when those clocks are faulty?

In A Time to Rise, Parvin Blackwater has died–at least that’s what the world thinks–and she wasn’t scheduled to die (not according to her clock). But Parvin awakens in a shallow grave, with the sense that God is not done with her yet. As she climbs out of her buried coffin, she wonders: will she be reunited with Solomon? Will her “resurrection” be the catalyst for the Wall finally being destroyed? Or will the Council be able to stop them once and for all?

As in her earlier books, Brandes creates a future world where new technology and government control are all too real and possible. Her books are imaginative with realistic characters and suspenseful plot twists. The writing gets intense, and the violence is appropriate for the story. Military control and conspiracy are part of the plot twists.

Parvin struggles in her faith, making her journey in each book both a spiritual and physical one. She is not the only one who changes. Other characters are introduced to God–some embrace him, some do not. Parvin has grown quite a bit since the first book (A Time to Die), as have a number of characters. Learning to trust God in the midst of every circumstance is laced throughout the series.

Recommended for fans of dystopian fiction and speculative fiction, especially readers of Krista McGee’s Anomaly series, Lisa Bergren’s Remnant series, Bonnie Calhoun’s Stone Braide Chronicles series, and Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series. Adults and older teens will like this series.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJA Time to Die (Jan/Feb 2016); A Time to Speak (Mar/Apr/May/Jun 2016).

A Peculiar Glory / by John Piper. 2.14.2017

Crossway ISBN 9781433552632

Adult Rating: 5

My argument,” says John Piper as he sums up A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness, “has been that the glory of God, in and through the Scriptures, is a real, objective, self-authenticating reality. Christian faith is not a leap in the dark. It is not a guess or a wager. God is not honored if he is chosen by the flip of a coin. A leap into the unknown is no honor to one who has made himself known.” (pg. 283)

Piper praises, values, but ultimately sets aside the most common evangelical apologetic strategies for promoting the truth of Scripture—the detailed historical investigations into the truth of the resurrection, for example. He instead focuses on the power of the Bible through the Spirit to defend itself. He applies to bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture) his common practice of careful exegetical analysis, copious Bible quotation, penetrating illustration, doctrinal rigor, and warmly personal, even passionate writing.

And, as always with Piper, Jonathan Edwards lies only just beneath the surface, breaking out at key points to deliver special insight. Piper insightfully points out that the detailed historical reasoning of an N.T. Wright (in the magisterial and massive The Resurrection of the Son of God) is simply inaccessible to most lay people today—just like the profundities of Jonathan Edwards’ theology, though wonderfully edifying for the church then and now, were not suited to Edwards’ missionary work among the Mohicans. Edwards realized that if these unlettered people were to be among “all the families of the earth” that God intended to bless through Abraham’s seed, Jesus, the gospel would have to be accessible to them. They would have to grasp its truth without the intermediation of detailed historical, theological, or other reasoning. They would have to come to the sweetness of the gospel the way they came to understand the sweetness of honey: by direct experience (in this case, enabled by the Holy Spirit through His own words).

If this sounds esoteric, it really isn’t: Piper is handling a very basic question every Christian must face: how can I know that the Bible is true? Piper shows that the Bible claims complete truthfulness for itself; it claims repeatedly to be the speech of God. But how can we know that these claims are accurate? The answer is that God, in order to glorify Himself, has to show the truth of His words. This is a richly biblical book about the Bible; it stands squarely in the Reformation tradition while applying a Reformed bibliology to modern times.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ