Book Recommendation – Hope for Family by Elizabeth Maddrey

Book Description:

He needs a wife. She wants to belong. Nobody has to fall in love.

For five years, Tommy Russell’s ex-wife has controlled every aspect of his life, using his devotion to their daughter as a hammer. Now, she’s threatening to take him to court to get his partial custody revoked.

Jade Clarke didn’t expect the Hewitts to roll out the red carpet when she showed up at Hope Ranch. But they did. And they invited her to stay. As much as she craves their acceptance and love, she’s suspicious of anything that comes without strings.

When Tommy’s ex tries to use his unmarried status against him, he blurts out that he’s actually in a relationship with Jade. Jade agrees to go along with his fake relationship during his daughter’s next visit, but his daughter wants to be part of their wedding and is pushing for them to make it official while she’s in town. Tommy hesitates, but better alternatives are hard to find, and Jade is actually on board.

Theirs wouldn’t be the first marriage of convenience in history. 

Will marrying Jade be the answer to Tommy’s prayers or a catastrophic complication?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Hope for Family, Book 5 in Elizabeth Maddrey’s Hope Ranch series. The Hope Ranch books are stand-alone romance stories. That said, since the stories have a sibling connection and they all live on a New Mexico ranch owned by their paternal grandparents, there are benefits from reading the earlier books and seeing how Tommy and Jade’s back story plays out on the page.

Tommy is a cowboy who works at Hope Ranch with the Hewitt family. He has struggled for many years with his lawyer to secure a workable custody arrangement that would enable Tommy to spend time with his daughter. Olivia is now thirteen years old, and her manipulative mother is making it super-difficult for Tommy to see Olivia.

Jade feels like the odd one out in the Hewitt family. She never knew her father, and she has landed at Hope Ranch with her paternal grandparents plus a bunch of half siblings. Jade has come to faith since arriving at Hope Ranch. Her experience of family with her new found grandparents and half siblings is very different to her experiences growing up with her manipulative mother.

Jade becomes friends with Tommy, and Jade’s heart breaks over Tommy’s estrangement from his daughter. Olivia’s mother reminds Jade of her own mother, and she empathises with Tommy and Olivia’s difficult situation.

When circumstances lead to Tommy needing a fake relationship to assist in his custody battle, Jade readily agrees to help him. Their developing feelings and simmering attraction complicate the situation and put them on a rocky path to happily-ever-after. I highly recommend Hope for Family to contemporary Christian romance readers who like single dad and fake relationship romance stories with a strong faith element that deal with real-to-life issues.

Book Recommendation – Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar

Book Description:

Whispered secrets about her parents’ past take on new urgency for Chariline as she pays one last visit to the land of her forefathers, the ancient kingdom of Cush.

Raised as an orphan by her aunt, Chariline has only been told a few pieces of her parents’ tragic love story. Her beautiful dark skin is proof that her father was Cushite, but she knows nothing else. While visiting her grandfather before his retirement as the Roman official in the queen’s court, Chariline overhears that her father is still alive, and discovering his identity becomes her obsession. Both her grandfather and the queen have reasons for keeping this secret, however, and forbid her quest. So when her only clues lead to Rome, Chariline sneaks on the ship of a merchant trusted by friends.

Theo is shocked to discover a stowaway on board his vessel and determines to be rid of her as soon as possible. But drawn in by Chariline’s story, he feels honor-bound to see her safely to shore, especially when it appears someone may be willing to kill for the truth she seeks.

In this transformative tale of historical fiction, bestselling author Tessa Afshar brings to life the kingdom of Cush and the Roman Empire, introducing readers to a fascinating world filled with gripping adventure, touching romance, and a host of lovable characters—including some they may recognize from the biblical book of Acts.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Jewel of the Nile and learning more about life during the era of Acts and the early church. I like learning about history through reading fiction, and I loved journeying with the characters in this story.

Chariline’s mother died while birthing her, and Chariline was told she was an orphan. Her mother’s family were Roman, but her complexion revealed her Cushite heritage from her father. Chariline was raised by her widowed aunt and, over the years, they spent time with her grandparents in Cush where her grandfather was a high ranking Roman official.

Chariline has a strong faith, and she can’t shake her yearning and desire to learn more about her father’s identity and the truth behind her parents brief marriage. When clues are revealed and she’s provided with a lead in Rome, Chariline’s desperation drives her to throw caution and commonsense out the window. She formulates a crazy plan to stowaway on a merchant boat that is due to leave Cush and head north along the Nile toward Corinth.

Theo is stunned to discover the beautiful girl he met in Cush is hiding away on his boat. His faith and strong sense of responsibility and integrity demands he takes care of Chariline and provides safe passage to Rome. Danger is lurking and Chariline’s life is being threatened by an unknown assailant with unknown motives. The mystery unfolds and an unexpected romance develops as illness and danger draw Theo and Chariline closer together.

I loved journeying with Chariline and Theo and the cast of characters that included familiar names from the book of Acts. The mystery was engaging and I wanted Chariline to discover the truth and piece together the puzzle of her past. The satisfying resolution to the mystery and the ending of the story put a smile on my face. I highly recommend Jewel of the Nile for readers who enjoy Biblical fiction and learning more about first century life in the Roman Empire.

I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher. Many thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley.

ACFW New Releases: June 2021

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website

Contemporary Romance:

A Chance for the Newcomer by Lisa Carter — She’s stirring things up…A big-city chef. A small-town single dad. And matchmakers with marriage in mind… Chef Kara Lockwood didn’t think changing a small-town diner’s menu would cause a boycott, but the locals sure do love their apple pie—especially fire chief Will MacKenzie. Kara’s not sure she and the single father can ever learn to live peacefully as neighbors. But even as they clash over pastries, local matchmakers and Will’s little boy are determined to bring their stubborn hearts together. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired (Harlequin)) 

His Secret Daughter by Laurie Larsen — he had the perfect life all on her own …Alyssa Stark works hard to make her life’s dreams come true … all on her own. She built her reputation as New York City’s top advertising executive, client by client. And when her ill-advised marriage didn’t work out, she knew she had to make her dream of becoming a mother happen by untraditional means. Now, she and her eight-year-old daughter Caroline are living the dream life in the Big Apple.He’d lost everything that meant anything until he made a discovery …Grant Fontaine is the widowed president of his father-in-law’s electronics company. Since the tragic death of his pregnant wife a decade ago, he’s become a high achieving businessman, but a social hermit. Several years ago, his lonely life took on new meaning when he discovered that the donation he’d made to a reproductive clinic long ago had sired a child. Through the services of a discreet private eye unafraid to push legal limits, he identifies his “daughter,” Caroline, and her mother, Alyssa. Could it be time to reveal his secret? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published) 

Always a Wedding Planner by Davalynn Spencer, R.L. Ashely, LeeAnn Betts, Toni Shiloh — Love Is Only Business for 4 Wedding Planners Discover how keeping secrets from each other threatens four women’s friendships, wedding business, and their own ability to find love in Loveland, Colorado. Business partners Felicity Anderson, the cake baker; Kiki Bell, the seamstress; Cassie Blackthorn, the coordinator; and Chef Saffron Delarosa are best of friends in a town that is a romantic wedding destination for many couples—who work together at Weddings by Design to make every bride’s special day perfect. Could each falling into their own romance be the key to working out their differences and learning to trust each other—and God—with their futures? (Contemporary Romance from Barbour Publishing) 

Matched Hearts by Cathe Swanson — She’s looking for a “Plus One” for her parents’ anniversary party. He’s looking for “Happily Ever After.” When a matchmaking agency pairs them up, is it a computer error or a match made in heaven?Eleanor Nielson always wanted to follow in her distinguished parents’ footsteps, becoming a teacher and living a life of selfless community service – until she tried it. Now, she’s run away to find herself and decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life, but she can’t skip her parents’ anniversary party, and she needs a date. Can a matchmaking agency find her a fake boyfriend who will impress her parents? Mechanical engineer David Reid has his life all planned out, and he’s ready for the next phase: a loving wife who will share his faith and work at his side when he becomes a pastor. But a good woman is hard to find, so like any good engineer, David turns the project over to experts: an online matchmaking agency. The pretty, blond teacher with denim blue eyes seems like a match made in heaven. Or is she too good to be true? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published) 

Plot Twist by Bethany Turner — February 4, 2003, is just another day for Olivia Ross—a greeting card writer whose passion project is a screenplay of her own. After she and a handsome, struggling actor have a near-magic encounter in a coffee shop, they make a spontaneous pact: in ten years, after they’ve found the success they’re just sure they’re going to achieve, they’ll return to the coffeehouse to partner up and make a film together. The only problem? Olivia neglected to get the stranger’s name. But she doesn’t forget the date. For the next ten years, every February 4, Olivia has an exceptional day, full of coincidences and ironies. As men come and go and return to her life, and as she continues to write her screenplay, she still wonders about the guy from the coffee shop—the nameless actor she’s almost certain was Hamish MacDougal, now a famous member of the Hollywood elite. But a lot can happen in ten years, and while waiting for the curtain to rise on her fate, the true story of Olivia’s life is being written—and if she’s not careful, she’ll completely miss the epic romance playing out right before her eyes. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson and Zondervan)) 

Historical:

More Than Honor by Carol Ashby — Devotion to duty and dogged determination make Tribune Titianus the most feared investigator of the Urban Cohort. Honor drives him to hunt down anyone who breaks Roman law, but it becomes personal when Lenaeus, his old tutor, is murdered in his own classroom. Why kill a respected teacher of the noble sons of Rome, a man who has nothing worth stealing and no known enemies? Had he learned something too dangerous to let him live? Pompeia was only a girl when Titianus studied with Father before her family became Christians. She and her brother Kaeso can’t move their school from the house where their father was killed. But what if the one who killed Father comes to kill again? Kaeso’s friend Septimus insists they spend nights at his father’s well-guarded home. But danger lurks there as well. As Titianus hunts for the murderer, will he discover their secret faith and arrest them as enemies of the Empire? (Historical from Cerrillo Press) 

The Dream Weaver’s Bride: Asenath’s Story by Janelle Hovde— As the daughter of the high priest of On, Asenath has a solid vision of her future. Her education with the royal scribe is a luxury not usually afforded to women, and even though she is betrothed to the pharaoh’s half-brother, she has dreams of something more. But everything changes when the pharaoh has troubling nightmares that only a prisoner named Joseph can interpret. Suddenly, Asenath finds herself married to this foreigner, who demands that no god but his own be worshipped in his house. Despite her fears, Asenath is touched by Joseph’s kindness and humility, even as he steps into his newfound power. Can Asenath trust the God of Joseph and forsake her old deities? Can she learn to love this stranger from another land, a stranger with scars from a painful past? As a famine sweeps across Egypt and the surrounding lands, Asenath and Joseph find themselves face-to-face with the men who caused Joseph’s suffering. Can Asenath embrace the power of El Shaddai and help her husband forgive? (Historical from Guideposts Publications) 

Historical Romance:

Faith in the Mountain Valley by Misty M. Beller — After eleven years spent looking for the girl who stole his heart, Jean-Jacques Baptiste-better known as French to his friends-is tempted to give up. Until the day he spotted the flaxen-haired stranger traveling the wooded path with Blackfoot Indians. He never imagined he’d find his childhood friend masquerading as a man in this Rocky Mountain wilderness, hundreds of miles from the Canadian town where he last saw her. No matter her reasons, he can’t let her go this time. From a USA Today bestselling author comes another epic journey through breathless landscapes and adventure so intense, lives will never be the same. (Historical Romance, Independently Published) 

The Captain’s Quest by Lorri Dudley — Pricilla Middleton only attended the Lemoore house party to keep her friend out of trouble. Now, her only chance to keep from becoming a gossip column headline is to sneak aboard her brother’s ship and pretend she’d been visiting him instead of taking part in the debacle. Before she can speak to her brother, the ship sets sail, and the man in charge is not at all who she expects. Captain Tobias Prescott, son of an infamous war hero, has been assigned on a critical mission to deploy warships in St. Kitts for battle in New Orleans. Unfortunately, his orders require him to assume command of a friend’s ship, and he must weigh anchor the instant the former captain is escorted down the gangplank. When they reach open waters, the last thing he expects is to find a woman hiding in the captain’s cabin, yet his mission is too urgent to return her to England. (Historical Romance from Wild Heart Books) 

Along a Storied Trail by Ann H. Gabhart — Kentucky packhorse librarian Tansy Calhoun doesn’t mind the rough trails and long hours as she serves her Appalachian mountain community during the Great Depression. Yet she longs to find love like the heroines in the books she loves. When a charming writer comes to town, she thinks she might have found it—or is the perfect man actually closer than she thinks? Perdita Sweet has called these mountains home for so long that she’s nearly as rocky as the soil around her small cabin. Long ago she thought she could love, but when the object of her affection up and married someone else, she stopped giving too much of herself away to others. As is so often the case, it’s easier to see what’s best for others than to see what’s best for oneself. Perdita knows who Tansy should choose, but why would anyone listen to the romantic advice of an old spinster? (Historical Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group) 

To Find Her Place by Susan Anne Mason — In the midst of WWII, Jane Linder, a childless divorcée, puts all her energy into her career at the Toronto Children’s Aid Society. As acting directress, Jane hopes to be awarded the position permanently so she can continue making a difference in the lives of troubled children. Garrett Wilder has been hired to overhaul operations at the Children’s Aid Society. He hopes to impress the board members with his findings and earn the vacant director’s position. A war injury ended his dream of taking over his parents’ farm, but with the security of the director’s job, he’d be able to contribute financially and help save the family business. As Garrett works closely with Jane, he comes to admire her tenacity and her dedication to the children. Just as feelings begin to blossom between them, her ex-husband returns from overseas with an unexpected proposition that could fulfill Jane’s deepest desires. With the odds stacked against them, can Garrett and Jane navigate the obstacles to their relationship and find lasting love? (Historical Romance from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing) 

A Bride for Keegan by Linda Shenton Matchett — Fiona Quigley’s parents came to America for a better life, but illness and the Civil War took them from her. Now, she’s barely scraping by as a seamstress to Boston’s elite. A chance for a new start arises in the form of being a mail-order bride, but to her dismay she must marry the man by proxy. Once they’re wed, there will be no turning back. After being jailed one too many times for protesting against the Unionists in Ireland, Keegan O’Rourke heads for America—land of the free. He takes advantage of the Homestead Act to create a farm in his new country, but he has no one to share his success, so he advertises for a mail-order bride. They wed by proxy, but after she arrives, he discovers his Irish lass hails from the northern reaches of the Emerald Isle – the very area he fled. (Historical Romance from Shortwave Press) 

On Sugar Hill by Ane Mulligan — She traded Sugar Hill for Vaudeville. Now she’s back. The day Cora Fitzgerald turned sixteen, she fled Sugar Hill for the bright lights of Vaudeville, leaving behind her senator-father’s verbal abuse. But just as her career takes off, she’s summoned back home. And everything changes. The stock market crashes. The senator is dead. Her mother is delusional, and her mute Aunt Clara pens novels that have people talking. Then there’s Boone Robertson, who never knew she was alive back in high school, but now manages to be around whenever she needs help. Will the people of her past keep her from a brilliant future?
(Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) 

No Journey Too Far by Carrie Turansky — In 1909, Grace McAlister set sail for Canada as one of the thousands of British Home Children taken from their families and their homeland. Though she is fortunate enough to be adopted by wealthy parents, the secrets of her past are kept hidden for ten years until someone from her long-buried childhood arrives on her doorstep. With this new connection to her birth family, will she be brave enough to leave her sheltered life in Toronto and uncover the truth? After enduring hardship as an indentured British Home Child, Garth McAlister left Canada to serve in World War I. His sweetheart, Emma Lafferty, promised to wait for his return, but after three long years apart, her letters suddenly stopped. When Garth arrives home from the war to unexpected news, he is determined to return to Canada once more on a daunting mission to find the two women he refuses to abandon—his long-lost sister and his mysteriously missing sweetheart. (Historical Romance from Waterbrook/Multnomah (Random House)) 

A Life Redeemed by Olivia Rae — Upon Queen Elizabeth’s order, Audrey Hayes travels to the borderlands of Scotland to learn where the fierce Laird Armstrong’s loyalties lie. Is he aligned with his mother’s English roots in support of the queen, or does he hold with the beliefs of his father, who wishes to see Mary of Scots on the English throne? The fate of Audrey’s family rests on her success in finding the answer. After losing his lands in a wager and being betrayed by his kin, Gavin Armstrong entered a loveless marriage to obtain the funds to buy back his family home, Warring Tower. Now a widower, struggling against countless border wars, he is on the verge of losing his home and lands again. With few resources, he reluctantly makes another risky wager, one he cannot hope to win without trusting the secretive Audrey Hayes, a woman he suspects is an English spy. (Historical Romance from HopeKnight Press)

Speculative/Science Fiction:

The Chase by Bradley Caffee — in the Chase. Be the hero. Or die trying. The chaos and anarchy following the Great Collapse nearly brought the world to its knees until the unchanging Law brought order and peace. Generations later, the twelve alliances of the World Coalition come together once a year to allow their best and brightest young people to compete in the Chase. The prize? A chance to pass exactly one new law. The son of two former Chase runners, Willis Thomson is the top trainee in the Western Alliance. With the expectations of the world and his heritage driving him, he leads his elite Red Team as they prepare for his moment to become a coveted law-changer. Perryn Davis, the new leader of the Blue Team, struggles to survive as she competes as one of the designated losers. She knows that losing means genetic recoding, a process that cannot go on indefinitely, and longs to age out of the program before it kills her. When a mysterious new racer with knowledge of the outside shows up at their orbiting training center, the natural order of the Western Alliance trainees is upended. In a world where too much knowledge is dangerous, Willis and Perryn find themselves in a race to save their lives and uncover the hidden underbelly of the peaceful World Coalition. (Speculative/Science Fiction from Mountain Brook Fire) 

Thriller/Suspense/Romance:

Cold Case Trail by Sharee Stover — Following the clues could be the last thing they do…Temporarily working in the cold case division was supposed to mean less danger for state trooper Trey Jackson and his injured K-9 partner, Magnum—until they thwart an abduction. Now he must protect profiler Justine Stark, even as she blames him for her friend’s death ten years ago. Can he right past wrongs by finally solving the murder…and making sure Justine lives to find closure? (Thriller/Suspense/Romantic from Love Inspired (Harlequin)) 

Young Adult:

Aslan: Running Joy by Kristin Kaldahl — For fourteen-year-old Krissy, her new life maxim is pretty sad: First choices out. Second choices in. It’s been that way since dialysis left her disabled. Her limitations went from none to a ton, and now they stand in the way of her dream―to compete in dog agility with her runty sheltie pup, Aslan. (Young Adult from CrossLink Publishing)

Book Recommendation – Blizzard in the Bluegrass by Hallee Bridgeman

Book Description:

When the storm of the century blankets Kentucky under several feet of snow and whiteout conditions on Christmas day, Gloria and Jeff batten down at her father’s house, counting their blessings and basking in the warmth of their love. Until they discover that eight-year-old Noah is missing. Will they find him before he succumbs to the elements, or will this day forever mark a tragedy in their lives?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Blizzard in the Bluegrass set in a small Kentucky town. Gloria’s son, Noah, is on the autism spectrum. Noah’s father walked out on them when they received the autism diagnosis. Gloria is a hard working vet and single mother who lives on a farm with her father. Jeff is a doctor who inherits the farm next door to Gloria and the medical practice in town.

A beautiful friends-to-more romance develops as Jeff gets to know Gloria and Noah. Jeff lost his wife and young daughter in an auto accident, and he continues his healing journey in the story. The faith element in the story is realistic, and the characters wrestle with various issues. Parenting a special needs child isn’t easy, and I loved the authenticity and honesty in Gloria’s close and complex relationship with Noah. I liked how Gloria and her dad had created a functional and stable family environment for Noah.

Noah is adorable and we gain a unique insight into his thoughts and how he interacts with the world. I recommend Blizzard in the Bluegrass for readers who are interested in reading a contemporary Christian romance that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of parenting special needs children. The author has kindly included bonus material with recipes from the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Blizzard in the Bluegrass is available in the When Snowflakes Never Cease box set.

Book Recommendation – A Handful of Hope by Elizabeth Maddrey

Book Description:

She wants to be worth loving.

Repeated heartbreak has convinced Jen Andrews she’s unlovable. When the groomsman she’s paired with at her best friend’s wedding shows interest, she wonders how long it will be before he realizes his mistake.

David Pak is ready to settle down with the right woman. After a disastrous first date with Jen, he’s determined to look elsewhere. But he’s haunted by the wounded look in her eyes.

How will David set aside his hesitations and see past Jen’s barriers to find love? And if he tries, will she let him?

A Handful of Hope is the fourth book in the Taste of Romance series of contemporary Christian romance novels set in the metro Washington, D.C. area. If you like stories of love and hope in the fast-paced modern world with realistic characters and heartwarming romance, then you’ll love Elizabeth Maddrey’s latest journey with this beloved circle of friends.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading A Handful of Hope (A Taste of Romance Book 4) and journeying with Jen and David in their friends-to-more romance set in metro Washington D.C. area. Jen and David are paired up at a friend’s wedding and the initial spark of attraction is there. They also work for the same company on different floors. Their work connection provides opportunities to see each other around their busy jobs.

Jen and David’s romance is unique and challenging for a couple of reasons. David has Korean heritage and his family expects him to marry a nice Korean girl from their church. Jen’s struggles with depression impact her ability to socialise. She does her best to hide her symptoms, but there are times when it becomes too much. We’re given an insight into what’s happening in her life when she retreats to her home with her adorable dog, Tribble, for company.

I also empathised with Jen when she had to cope with the careless words and opinions of people in her circle of family and friends who lacked insight and understanding of her mental illness. I loved how Jen didn’t take on board the unhelpful comments made by Christians who just didn’t get it. The stigma of mental illness is handled with sensitivity and the story has a strong Biblical foundation.

I loved how David didn’t give up on Jen. He took the time to understand the why’s behind Jen’s words and actions. The easy option for David would have been to let Jen push him away. Instead, he makes the heroic decision to choose the road less traveled. And he shows he cares for her by doing things like cleaning her kitchen without being asked.

I recently reread this book and remembered why I haven’t read book 5 in the series – A Tidbit of Trust. The heroine in book 5, Sara, is one of Jen’s best friends. I was so mad with Sara for what she did to Jen in this story that I couldn’t bring myself to read Sara’s romance story. While rereading A Handful of Hope, I remembered why I was cranky with Sara for saying things to Jen that were mean and insensitive, especially considering Jen’s struggle with depression.

Elizabeth Maddrey has encouraged me to give A Tidbit of Trust a chance after I mentioned my issues with Sara during our StoryChats @ Inspy Romance episode #20 on Mental Illness with Jaycee Weaver.

I highly recommend A Handful of Hope to readers looking for a contemporary Christian romance that handles the issue of depression with sensitivity and Biblical truth.

Book Recommendation – The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron

Book Description:

Bridging the past to the present in three time periods—the French Revolution, World War II, and present day—The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged in the hearts of men, and of an enchanted castle that stood witness to it all, inspiring a legacy of faith through the generations.

Ellie Carver arrives at her grandmother’s bedside expecting to find her silently slipping away. Instead, the beloved woman begins speaking. Of a secret past and castle ruins forgotten by time. Of a hidden chapel that served as a rendezvous for the French Resistance in World War II. Of lost love and deep regret . . .

Each piece that unlocks the story seems to unlock part of Ellie too—where she came from and who she is becoming. But her grandmother is quickly disappearing into the shadows of Alzheimer’s and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family’s history. Drawn by the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty—a castle so named for Charles Perrault’s beloved fairy tale—Ellie embarks on a journey to France’s Loire Valley in hopes that she can unearth its secrets before time silences them forever.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading The Lost Castle and learning more about the history of France. Ellie travels to the Loire Valley in France to learn the context of a photograph of her beloved grandmother standing outside a castle known as The Sleeping Beauty. Three strands of the story intertwine as we learn the secrets of the historic castle and the people who lived there during the French Revolution, the French Resistance during WW2 and the present day family who tend the vineyards in the castle estate that produces award winning wine.

The characters are charming and courageous and took many risks to protect and save their loved ones and their beloved country. Ellie, her grandmother Vi, and the lost princess, Aveline, are strong women who aren’t afraid to seek the truth and open their hearts to love as they struggle through difficult times. Ellie’s grandmother’s memory is fading, and the old photograph is the key to unlocking the secrets of the past.

I enjoyed learning the connections between the characters in the three parallel storylines and piecing together the puzzle of what happened at the castle during those monumental moments in French history. I also loved being transported to the different worlds and discovering the history of the beautiful castle through the eyes of the characters. I recommend The Lost Castle to readers who like split time romance stories that transport them to different worlds with a compelling common story connection.

ACFW New Releases: May 2021

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website

Amish Romance:

The Jam and Jelly Nook by Amy Clipston — In the final installment of Amy Clipston’s bestselling Amish Marketplace series, a young widow struggling to raise her son dreams of one more chance at love. Over time Emory and Leanna become closer friends, discovering how much they have in common. As single parents, they struggle with the limits of what they can provide for their children and feel somewhat responsible for what happened to their respective spouses. The two eventually realize they have feelings for each other-but when they try to date, their children resist. Will God pave a way for them to build a family together, or will hurdles block the path to a second chance at happiness? (Amish Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson and Zondervan))

Contemporary Romance:

Stealing the First Mate by Tabitha Bouldin — Sometimes, happily ever after is as elusive as a pirate’s treasure. Darcy Riggins dove headfirst into the online dating pool and sank. Every time. Her lifelong dream of becoming a wife and mother becomes more elusive every year. So, taking the lack of a Mr. Right in her life as a decided “No!” from God, Darcy gives up altogether. Being single and content turns out to be tougher than Darcy imagined, and when she begins doubting everything she’s ever known, Nigel decides it’s time to admit his mistakes, tell the truth, and trust God for the outcome. (Contemporary Romance from Celebrate Lit Publishing) 

Royally Confused by Jill Boyce — Will this doctor trade in her stethoscope for a tiara? Claire must decide by the night of the Royal Gala if she will accept her place on the throne as the Queen of Amorley–even if she might have to give up medicine or love to do so. Will she return to Boston and pursue her passion for surgery and turn her back on her newfound family, country, and the love of a lifetime? Will Claire trade in her stethoscope for a tiara? Does light overcome darkness? Can Claire learn that her worth does not reside in what she does, but who she is–the daughter of her heavenly Father and part of a royal priesthood. (Contemporary Romance from Winged Publications)

Once Upon a Summer by Toni Shiloh — Embrace the enchantment of summer with these contemporary twists on timeless tales. Let these five sweet contemporary Christian romances take you away this summer. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

General Contemporary:

Shelter in the Storm by Laurel M. Blount — In this moving Amish romance, two broken hearts find hope in each other after a terrible loss. Unspeakable tragedy strikes the Amish hamlet of Johns Mill when an unstable Englischer opens fire in the Hochstedler’s General Store. In the aftermath, and under the media’s spotlight, Joseph Hochstedler struggles to hold his shattered family together, drawing unexpected comfort from a faithful childhood friend. Born with a serious heart defect, optimist Naomi Schrock has always longed to live a life of service. She rolls up her sleeves, determined to help Joseph cope with this terrible crisis. But dare she hope that his friendship will finally deepen into love? (General Contemporary from Berkley Penguin Random House)

Impact by Audra Sanlyn — All Amy Morrison wants is to get out of Sabetha. From her rural hometown in Oregon, she dreams of owning a high-end fashion company, but a painful decision hinders her ambition. Amy’s life now follows two alternative paths based on how she made her choice. She enters unique challenges and romantic relationships as her two lives unfold. Along both, Amy experiences success and failure, joy and heartache. One of the most difficult consequences of her decision reveals itself years later when she receives heart-wrenching news. (General Contemporary, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:

Finding Home (Within the Castle Gates #4) by Candee Fick — Two hearts longing for home. A memorable first encounter brought them together, but then Susannah Stanley and Nicholas Pennington were torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. From the Lake District in Northern England to a Moroccan port along the African coast and the Napoleonic Wars in between, they struggle to hold onto hope they will be reunited. After being supplanted by her stepmother’s schemes and the betrayal of a friend, they finally meet again in the most unlikely of places. Now the battle is on to reclaim their rightful inheritance. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Gold Rush Bride Hannah by Linda Shenton Matchett — Hannah Lauman’s husband has been murdered, but rather than grief, she feels…relief. She decides to remain in Georgia to work their gold claim, but a series of incidents makes it clear someone wants her gone…dead or alive. Is a chance at being a woman of means and independence worth risking her life? Jess Vogel never breaks a promise, so when he receives a letter from a former platoon mate about being in danger, he drops everything to help his old friend. Unfortunately, he arrives just in time for the funeral. Can he convince the man’s widow he’s there for her protection not for her money? (Historical Romance from Shortwave Press)

Mystery:

Three Days Clueless by Luana Ehrlich — Mylas Grey is determined to find the person who shot a politician in broad daylight. There’s just one problem. The killer left no clues behind. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Mylas gets involved in an intriguing case of MURDER . . .When Mylas arrives in his hometown to spend time with Whitney, he agrees to help his father, a local private detective, examine the files of a politician who was murdered in cold blood. Mylas gets involved in an intriguing case of murder with NO CLUES . . .The wife of the slain politician believes her husband’s murder is connected to his duties as a state legislator, but the police find no clues to his murder and no evidence to support her claim. (Mystery/Crime, Independently Published)

Romantic Thriller:

Rising Danger by Jerusha Agen — t’s up to a K-9 handler and her canine partner to stop a bomber before it’s too late. Someone’s planting explosives on dams in the Twin Cities, and Bristol Bachmann and her bomb sniffing dog must move quickly to find them before everything ends up underwater. That means relying on the dams’ supervisor—an ex-boyfriend Bristol never thought she’d see again. Hopefully Remington Jones has grown up from the rakish charmer she knew in her academy days. Because lives now depend entirely on them…
(Romantic Suspense/Thriller from Love Inspired (Harlequin))

Dark Threat by Kimberly Rose Johnson — Reporter Trinity Lockhart pursues a story but then unwittingly becomes the story. Acting on a tip from an anonymous source, Trinity investigates an art trafficking ring at a high-end Seattle gallery. She turns to handsome FBI agent Kyle Richards for help after being spotted by the crooks. Kyle is drawn to the feisty reporter, but he can’t afford a beautiful distraction when lives are at stake. He must trust his friends at Protection Inc. to watch over Trinity while he investigates the gallery.
(Romantic Suspense/Thriller, Independently Published)

Book Recommendation – Under the Magnolias by T. I. Lowe

Book Description:

This night not only marked the end to the drought, but also the end to the long-held secret we’d kept hidden under the magnolias.

Magnolia, South Carolina, 1980

Austin Foster is barely a teenager when her mama dies giving birth to twins, leaving her to pick up the pieces while holding her six siblings together and doing her best to stop her daddy from retreating into his personal darkness.

Scratching out a living on the family’s tobacco farm is as tough as it gets. When a few random acts of kindness help to ease the Fosters’ hardships, Austin finds herself relying upon some of Magnolia’s most colorful citizens for friendship and more. But it’s next to impossible to hide the truth about the goings-on at Nolia Farms, and Austin’s desperate attempts to save face all but break her.

Just when it seems she might have something more waiting for her—with the son of a wealthy local family who she’s crushed on for years—her father makes a choice that will crack wide-open the family’s secrets and lead to a public reckoning. There are consequences for loving a boy like Vance Cumberland, but there is also freedom in the truth.

T. I. Lowe’s gritty yet tender and uplifting tale reminds us that a great story can break your heart . . . then heal it in the best possible way.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Powerful. Raw. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. I loved reading Under the Magnolias by T. I. Lowe and journeying with Austin Foster and her family in 1980’s small town Magnolia, South Carolina, USA. I read Under the Magnolias within twenty-four hours because I couldn’t put it down. I’m writing my book recommendation twenty-four hours after I finished reading because I needed time to ponder and digest the story before writing my thoughts.

Austin is almost thirteen when her loving and carefree mother passes away while birthing twin boys. The family tragedy thrusts Austin into an exhausting world of family responsibilities with six siblings, including two sets of twins, plus school work and chores on the farm. Her father inherited the family tobacco farm, and he also pastors a diverse congregation, known as the ‘riffraff’, at the chapel on his farm. He’s a brilliant man and passionate preacher who’s also struggling with grief and escalating mental health issues.

The story is written in first person from Austin’s point of view, and we experience the highs and lows of family life during her adolescent years from Austin’s witty and candid perspective. Austin is a strong and smart girl who’s loyal to her family and makes enormous sacrifices for those she loves. I admired her strength and determination to overcome problems in extraordinary and difficult circumstances. She maintained her faith despite the hardships and never-ending struggles in her daily life.

The delightful and eccentric cast of family members and misfit characters who attend the Sunday church services, and who each have deep scars from their challenging life experiences, form a close knit community. In their own unique ways they all reveal their love for Jesus and each other via actions that speak way louder than any words.

I highly recommend Under the Magnolias to readers looking for a beautiful and bittersweet coming of age story with strong faith and romantic elements that also tackles hard issues, including mental illness.

I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher. Many thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley.

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Book Recommendation – His Baby Bond by Lee Tobin McClain

Book Description:

Battle for a Baby . . .

Poor-but-proud Kendra Forrester doesn’t need an arrogant billionaire to tell her how to raise her sister’s baby. But when handsome Zeke King arrives at her Colorado cabin demanding custody of his brother’s child, strategy dictates that she let him stick around. 

Battling mountain snowstorms and the baby’s illness brings these two opposites together, but their own insecurities, their dead siblings’ secrets, and a jealous former boyfriend threaten their tentative bond.

Only their faith and the Sacred Bond Brotherhood can help Kendra and Zeke form a family for their baby.

This first-in-a-series book is your introduction to the Sacred Bond series of contemporary Christian romance novels, featuring alpha males who live to serve others, from the USA Today bestselling author of thirty Christian romances.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I really enjoyed reading His Baby Bond by Lee Tobin McClain. Kendra is independent, resourceful, and a loving aunt to Sara, her adorable nine month old niece. Kendra is dealing with grief from losing her sister and brother-in-law in a skiing accident plus the upheaval of becoming an instant parent to her niece. She lives in an isolated Colorado mountain cabin, is the winter caretaker of the surrounding cabins, and she is working hard to establish her fabric art home business.

Zeke is a wealthy and successful businessman who’s back in the US to take custody of his niece. He stays in a cabin on Kendra’s mountain to be close to his niece and sets in motion a legal case to get custody of Sara. He’s used to getting what he wants, is being challenged by God to address his materialistic tendencies, and he aspires to give Sara a better childhood than what he and his brother experienced.

Stranded together is a romance trope I love to read. Zeke and Kendra are stuck together during January on a Colorado mountain while the details of Sara’s custody and her parent’s will are being resolved. Both Zeke and Kendra have their reasons for not falling for each other. Their close proximity and shared love for Sara challenges their misbeliefs about each other, and their growing feelings complicate everything. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy fun and faith-filled contemporary romance stories.

Book Recommendation – Before Time Runs Out by Amy Matayo

Book Description:

Graduate student Bree Sanders is failing the one class she needs to get her degree. So when her professor gives her an ultimatum—ace her thesis or risk having to repeat her final semester—she knows she has to pull out all the stops. After scrambling for an idea, she decides to create her own Ghost Club, a club that blames ghosts for unsolved crimes, the same type of club originally founded two centuries ago by Charles Dickens. 

What she doesn’t expect is to find an original copy of one of Dickens’ early works, or to be transplanted into Dickens’s actual ghost club meeting, circa 1870, the instant she picks it up.

When Bree shows up in nineteenth-century England wearing cut-offs and an old t-shirt, her only option is to hide. The London of 1870 won’t look kindly on a woman dressed like her. So, when Theodore Keyes finds her tucked behind a bookcase at the King’s College library and immediately demands to know where she came from, she knows he doesn’t belong here either. Turns out she’s right; the same book caused him to time-travel from 1947 almost three months ago and he’s been stuck in England since.

Together, the two vow to work side-by-side in their search for the lost book that will take them home. But as their feelings for one another deepen, Theo and Bree are caught between a desire to return to the lives they each left behind, and the knowledge that if they find the book, they won’t be able to leave together. 

In the end, they each must decide which sacrifice is worth making—the one that will cost them their hearts, or the one that could cost them their very existence. 

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Before Time Runs Out, a delightful time travel romance story with fantasy elements. Bree is a Masters student at Princeton who needs to improve her grades by writing an excellent thesis. She’s a big fan of Charles Dickens, and her thesis topic is based on his literary works. While researching her thesis, she decides to start a ghost club that will meet in the library at Princeton.

Theo has landed in 1870 London, and he’s desperate to return home to 1947 and his life in Beverly Hills, California. He’s a doctor who’s struggling with PTSD from his experiences during WW2. Bree’s arrival in London in 1870 and her first meeting with Theo and Dickens, her literary hero, is hilarious.

The charm of time travel stories lies in the exploration of cultural and historic differences with characters who are lost in a strange new world. Although Bree and Theo are both Americans, they have come from very different worlds. Theo is amazed and puzzled by what he learns from Bree about life in the twenty first century. Bree, being a history student, has the advantage of knowing a little bit about Theo’s life experiences in the mid twentieth century.

Theo and Bree are worried about how their time travelling back to 1870 London will impact on the future. Are they inadvertently messing with history in their search for a way home? Bree wants to know the real ending to the book Dickens was writing when he died, and being stuck in 1870 London provides opportunities to learn the truth.

Bree and Theo are drawn to each other and a sweet romance unfolds, despite the knowledge that their lives are separated by seventy plus years of time. Can they find a way to be together outside of 1870 London? I recommend Before Time Runs Out to readers looking for a fun and sweet time travel romance story with humorous moments and a satisfying ending.