The Messenger

The Messenger is a wonderful Revolutionary War tale! I picked it up this month because I’m doing a reading challenge that called for a book written in your home state. Well I was really struggling to find anything I was interested in reading that takes place in New Jersey, so I compromised with one that takes place in Philadelphia, which is 15 minutes from me.

Heroine Hannah is a Quaker. I was fascinated to learn all this book had to teach me because I just found out this year during my genealogy research that my ancestors in several separate branches came to NJ in 1600’s America as Quakers! Hannah’s family are resolute pacifists. When they are forced to quarter British soldiers in occupied Philadelphia 1778, they move in with their loyalist family members and try to simply keep their heads down. But Hannah’s resolution to stay out of the fight is called into question when she finds out her twin brother is in jail just down the street and her Meeting forbids her to see him.

Jeremiah is a local tavern owner who lost an arm fighting for the British in the Indian Wars. Everyone thinks they know where his loyalties lie… but they couldn’t be more wrong! As a spy for General Washington, Jeremiah is tasked with orchestrating a prison break… and he has no idea how to communicate with the inside… until he meets Hannah. But first he has to convince her to step out and off the fence.

I loved this novel and stayed up late to finish. I enjoyed the authenticity and the detailed research and the character development. I love books set during the Revolution and this one had special meaning for me as it was so relevant to all the research I’ve been doing.

Present Danger

Present Danger is the first in a new suspense series by Elizabeth Goddard. We meet Detective Jack and Special Agent Terra in remote Montana in a murder investigation with so many twists and turns it kept me guessing!

Years ago, Jack left Terra to head to Quantico, convinced that he wasn’t good enough for her. Now she’s the Forest Service Special Agent, specializing in crimes involving artifacts and Jack is back in Montana working as a detective in the local sheriff’s office and despite their history, they need to work together to solve the murder of a well-known local man. But the investigation is far from routine and with danger around every corner, Jack and Terra have to rely on each other and work through their complicated history (both together and in their families) to bring the killer to justice.

I really enjoyed this story and read it quickly. I enjoyed the mystery that kept me guessing. I enjoyed the characters and all the complicated history between Jack and Terra. I’m looking forward to learning more about Terra’s two friends and their shared childhood trauma in the next two books.

Thank you to Revell and Netgalley for providing a copy for me to read and review.

Dreams Rekindled

I loved the first book in this series (Out of the Embers) and I couldn’t wait for this one! I was not disappointed by Dreams Rekindled!

Dorothy Clark has always wanted to be a writer… there just aren’t many opportunities for her to do that in Mesquite Springs. But when Brandon Holloway arrives to run a newspaper, Dorothy’s dream comes roaring to life. She’ll do just about anything to help Brandon’s newspaper succeed, and she quickly becomes an essential part of the paper’s success. She didn’t count on her feelings becoming involved, too!

Brandon is committed to making the Chronicle a uniting force in the community and staying away from controversy, which had such disastrous consequences in his hometown. So why is it that someone seems set out to destroy all his efforts?

Like I said, I LOVED this story. Dorothy and Brandon are wonderful, memorable characters. Flawed and sincere and kind, they complement and complete each other. Their struggles felt real and getting past them was a rewarding journey. The mystery and suspense in this story kept me pushing onward even though I wanted to slow down and enjoy it longer. Phil was such a well-done villain… the villain in front of the villain(s)… his motivations were believable and his history heartbreaking. I appreciated his journey almost as much as that of our hero and heroine. He was despicable and redeemable. And Nutmeg… the real star of the show… don’t let anyone laugh at you, sweetheart, you follow your dreams too! You may have been born a few decades too early, but maybe your ancestors get to be police dogs!

Really looking forward to Book 3, which will wrap up a few unanswered questions from this one!

The Kissing Tree

The Kissing Tree is a sweet novella collection that takes place over the years in Oak Springs, Texas. From the first couple to carve their initials in 1871 to the last couple in present day, the gracious live oak is a central character, tying the stories timelessly together.

My favorite was probably Karen Witemeyer’s Inn for a Surprise, though I truly enjoyed each story. I enjoyed how they were carefully connected and not just bundled together, which sometimes happens. Though each novella was relatively short, I still felt satisfied in each love story, which is a credit to each author.

My Dear Miss Dupré

In this 1880’s version of The Bachelorette, sugar heiress Willow Dupré is reluctantly thrust into a competition arranged by her parents to secure a husband in time to appease the board members threatening to sell their shares to a ruthless competitor. Deciding a husband from 30 of New York’s most eligible bachelors in such a public way is the last thing Willow wants to do, but she has little choice with less than 6 months to marry if she wants to take over her father’s company.

Among the suitors is Cullen Dempsey, who was planted by Willow’s nefarious competitor as a spy in order to appease a debt. But upon meeting Willow, Cullen quickly finds himself unable to follow through as she begins to capture his heart. He turns instead to the Pinkertons, in hopes of turning the tables on the competitor and freeing himself from his clutches.

The nods in this story to The Bachelorette are overwhelming, from the crowning ceremonies to the drama and everything in between. A lot of what goes on is a little unrealistic for the time. Willow’s reputation would have suffered irreparable damage and there’s no way her parents would have set her up for such a thing. However, I chose to let it go and enjoy the story for what it was. It WAS a fun story to read. There were funny moments and serious moments and dramatic moments. Willow made plenty of mistakes, over and over again. But her heart was in the right place, and I’m glad she was able to forgive and follow her heart. The happy ending was hard fought and not without casualties along the way.

Definitely recommended for those who enjoy the Bachelorette, less so, maybe, if the show drives you crazy. I think Jen Turano fans will enjoy this, and while Grace Hitchcock doesn’t have Jen’s signature humor that leaves me actually laughing out loud, this story had its moments.

Thank you to Bethany House and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this story. My opinions are my own.

Braced For Love

I’ve been a Mary Connealy fan for years, and this is one of her best! I love the premise and the conflict of this new series, where three brothers who never knew each other existed are suddenly thrust together by the will of their scoundrel father.

Wyatt Hunt and his half sister Cheyanne have had their ranch stolen and divided three ways by Wyatt’s father. It was never his to distribute, but the law is ironclad. It has been divided between Wyatt, a brother named Falcon from Tennessee, and a brother named Kevin from Kansas. The family drama is compounded by the fact that someone else is trying to use this time of upheaval to make a play for the land. Someone who isn’t afraid to kill.

Into the mess comes a travel-weary Kevin, toting his half-sister and half-brother to Wyoming for a new life. Leaving war-torn Kansas behind was a no-brainer, but they didn’t expect such a hostile reception. To Kevin’s credit, as soon as he finds out the injustice done to Wyatt and Cheyanne, he does all that he can to fix it, despite them not wanting to hear it. The peacemaker in all of this is Wyatt and Cheyanne’s lifelong friend Winona Hawkins, who stays at the ranch because she has her own demons. Winona never expected one of the enemy to be such a nice guy, a good listener, or quite handsome… and she can’t help the feelings she starts to have for Kevin, even as it draws her into the crosshairs of the conflict.

The romance is really cute. It came together a little fast (I see your raised eyebrows, Molly!) but it was pretty undeniable how Kevin and Win were perfect for each other. I like that despite how quickly their feelings developed they went into the friendship with honesty and a whole lot of conversation before forging ahead. The fact that they were both such good communicators made it believable. They’d slow each other down and talk it out and right from the start they made a great team.

Like I said earlier, I love the premise, and Connealy executes it brilliantly. There’s something special about her characters in this new series that caused me to stop and pay attention. The conflict between them felt so real, even when you want to shake them and say “calm down, this idea makes sense!” … it felt like honest reactions. So often in a Mary Connealy book the main characters work to defeat an outside evil. We love to root for them against the bad guys! And while this book has its own bad guys, we are forced a little deeper because Kevin, Wyatt, and Falcon have to look inside and fight the bad guy that they found lurking in their DNA too. They have to prove to themselves in this series that they don’t need to be defined by who their father was and that they can be men of honor. That alone has me super eager for the next one and the one after that, and I’m really glad I don’t have to wait all that long.

Unknown Treat

Unknown Threat was a fantastic, page-turning read! I read it cover to cover and enjoyed each minute! The first in Lynn Blackburn’s new Defend & Protect series.

Someone is targeting the Secret Service agents from the Raleigh office. Three are dead and Luke and Zane were oh-so-close to being next on the list. There’s no way this is a coincidence, but they can’t seem to make a connection to who it could be. The protectors are in need of protection, and they don’t like it one bit!

Enter FBI Special Agent Faith Malone, a rising star in the Bureau assigned to the case. Fueled by Cherry Coke and her drive to succeed, she’s determined to find out who is behind the attacks, especially before any more harm comes to her sorta-friend Luke, whether she cares to admit it or not.

The Secret Service and FBI are going to have to learn to get along and trust one another if they’re going to solve this case before another tragedy strikes!

I loved the dynamic between Luke and Faith in this story and their journey to trust and friendship… and ok, a little more than that! I also especially enjoyed the relationships between the secondary characters, which we know Lynn will flesh out for us in the rest of the series, which we longingly anticipate! Whenever I finish one of Lynn Blackburn’s books, all I want to do is pick up the next one.

I enjoyed the short appearances and references to our friends from her previous Dive Team series and their entrance felt organic and not forced.

Overall, this was the perfect example of a wonderful Christian Fiction romantic suspense read- a genre in which Lynn is making a name for herself alongside beloved writers I’ve appreciated for years. If you love Lynette Eason, Irene Hannon, or Dani Pettrey, add Lynn Blackburn to your reading list!

Unseen Enemy

Despite being a short novella, Unseen Enemy by Lynn Blackburn was a really good story! Secret Service agent Benjamin and Medical Examiner and Forensic Pathologist Sharon haven’t seen each other in 10 years, but when a strange case brings them back together, it brings back all the feelings they once had for each other and all the regret that they let their relationship go in pursuit of their careers. If they can’t figure out why someone would be targeting Sharon, their reunion and future might be in jeopardy. But Ben isn’t about to let anything happen to Shari now that she’s back in his life.

This little story is free to subscribers of Lynn’s newsletter (that’s the only way to get it) and while it only took about an hour to read, it felt like a treat just for friends. We are reunited with the dive team from her first three books and introduced to the secret service agents in her new series, which I am about to pick up book one and I couldn’t be more excited. Lynn has begun to make a name for herself in romantic suspense, and I’m glad to be along for the ride.

For Such A Time

I have wanted to read this book for a long time. If the story of Esther was set in 1944, it could have looked like For Such A Time.

Hadassah has blonde hair and blue eyes and fake papers that say she’s not Jewish. “Stella” has, however, found herself at Dachau, in front of a firing squad, anyway. Rescued by SS Kommandant Aric, she is terrified at what his reasons could be, though he swears he just needs a secretary. Aric is just a soldier, or rather a wounded war hero, adjusting to a new position because he can no longer serve in the army. But the title in the SS and position as head of a ghetto that serves as a gateway to Auschwitz makes him feel like a monster as he follows his orders. He looks for little selfish ways to appease his conscience… bringing his mute nurse from the hospital to be his cook, giving a good post to his friend from the hospital to serve under him, saving Joseph from the continued wrath of Captain Herman to be his houseboy, and saving Stella from the firing squad because he wanted a beautiful secretary.

It’s these acts, selfish as they are, that put the first glints in the armor around Hadassah’s heart where her sworn enemy Aric is concerned. There’s this contrast between him and the pure evil in the other SS officers that she has a hard time explaining. On occasion, he’s almost human, like when he listens to her pleas in regards to the well-being of an older man in the camp, who she recognizes as her Uncle Morty. Aric starts to have feelings for his feisty secretary almost immediately. He finds himself wishing he could be different just to earn her affections. Though trying to push each other away, feelings continue to grow, and Hadassah wonders at the fact that she actually seems to have the ear of the man who holds her people’s lives in his hands. Could Uncle Morty be right? Is there any way for her to be their salvation? Might she be in a position to save lives, even at the risk of her own?

This story shines a light on the atrocities of the Holocaust. The camp/ghetto conditions are horrific. The pure evil administered by the captain and the others was absolute truth, probably watered down. I wish the ending to this story were true. I wish there had been an Aric who experienced a change of heart. I wish there had been a train of salvation. But the truth is not a happy ending or rescue or salvation. The despicable acts committed by the Nazis are at the forefront, far more to me than the romance.

I truly enjoyed this story. Frankly, once I got rolling, I couldn’t put it down. I was shocked when I came on to Goodreads and saw all the hugely negative and malicious feedback this book received, a lot of it unjust because a lot of the reviews even state that they never finished, never plan to read it, or we’re just outraged by the summary/other reviews.

Briefly, I want to defend a couple points. First, the outrage over converting a Jewish heroine to Christianity. This does not happen. I would call this book a “return to faith” for both main characters. Hadassah’s belief in God is slowly restored after the atrocities she encounters at Dachau. Yes, she finds comfort in several passages of New Testament scripture, but she does not convert. Aric also experiences a return to faith after years away from it. Which leads me to my next point, the outrage that an SS officer is the hero. First of all, Aric had only been an SS officer for a hot minute at the start of the story. He hasn’t been in the role or committed the absolutely depraved actions of the SS throughout the war. He has always been a soldier. Fighting for the wrong side, certainly. But not a monster deep down, even though he has done things that have made him feel like one, and plays his part quite well. He takes over the camp and follows orders, so far that he’s dreading the “final solution” and the part he has resigned himself to play, before a radical second option becomes available. Our cries over the horrors of the Holocaust do not want us to accept that redemption for someone like Aric is possible. But I cite the true story of Corrie Ten Boom and her guard. Throughout history God has redeemed even the worst sinner. There is always another choice someone can make, even when it seems impossible. Consequences, yes. Great risk, yes. Easy road, never.

This is my biggest takeaway. This is a story of redemption for the “too-far-gone.” This is a story of forgiving the unforgivable. It is, first and foremost, a retelling of Esther, also a story that’s not so pretty. It’s too hard to swallow for a lot of these reviewers, but God is a God of miracles. He can turn the worst thing into good if we let Him. He also puts us in positions to help bring about the good. There is nothing good about the Holocaust. But there are stories inside of triumph over evil and we must cling to them, to hope that by remembering, such a thing can never be allowed to happen again.

An Unlikely Proposal

My reading challenge for February was to read a book by an author of color. It worked out perfectly, because I had been wanting to read a Toni Shiloh book because I had heard such wonderful things! I was not disappointed by An Unlikely Proposal!

A super cute modern marriage of convenience story, Trinity agrees to marry her very best friend since childhood to help each other. Omar is thinking logically… just laid off, Trinity needs his health insurance for her type 1 diabetes and he desperately needs reliable childcare for his adorable toddlers with his shifts at the firehouse. Trinity has sworn off love since her ex left her at the altar and Omar is still grieving the loss of his wife. It’s crazy but it makes so much sense.

What Trinity and Omar don’t expect is their new label and close proximity awaken dormant feelings they had for each other as teenagers. Neither wants to fall in love, but it might just be inevitable.

The little girls, Faith and Joy, definitely steal the show. I loved their scenes! The love story is super cute too… you get all the good romance tropes.. marriage of convenience & friends to more! I loved how their friendship evolved and the real-ness in dealing with people’s reactions to their surprise marriage and how they eventually let go an trusted God and He worked everything out. I flew through the pages and happy sighed when I was done. Definitely recommended.

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