Stephen Ames became estranged from his identical twin brother when they were 18 years old, after half a dozen tumultuous years when they were lived in separate states following their parents' divorce. He wasn't happy that Sam decided to join the military instead of following through on their plans to go to college together, and then one thing led to another so that they stopped speaking to each other altogether.

When Sam is killed on deployment in Afghanistan, Stephen feels the weight of regret. Wanting to get to know more about his brother's final years, he seeks out Sam's widow to ask questions and try to make up for missing so many years. But there's one thing he didn't count on, and that was that Sam had never told Haley about Stephen!

Living day to day trying to adjust to widowhood and the idea of being a single mother to her unborn baby, Haley is so shocked to learn about her husband's identical twin that she pulls a gun on him the first time he shows up. There were many things that were not perfect about their marriage, including Sam's frequent deployments, but she never guessed that he would have held back such pertinent information about his childhood. At first Haley wants nothing to do with Stephen, as it's too hard and strange to see the mirror of her husband, but he persists in showing up, bringing gifts for the baby, and helping with projects around the house.

Haley is an independent, tough-it-out tomboy, but Stephen can see that underneath the strength there's a woman who really needs help making sense of this time of her life. As he begins to understand why his brother fell in love with her, he fears she'll never be able to look at him and see anything other than Sam and the shadows that marred their marriage.

This book was a little bit slow taking off, as the characters have a lot of walls around their hearts. As the plot draws you in and the walls start coming down, I found the story impossible to put down and ended up reading the last 150 pages in one sitting. The themes were deep and thoughtful, especially having an estrangement in my own family, and the story was well-written. I quite enjoy Beth. K Vogt's contemporary fiction.
Here are my favorite reads from 2016! I hope you'll check some of them out for yourself. Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction



Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

This World War II story focuses on a plucky female pharmacist and a Naval officer as they try to uncover a drug ring operating out of Boston Harbor.


Young Adult Fiction



The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

A captivating retelling of The Little Mermaid, Melanie Dickerson again proves her brilliance as a fairy tale writer.


Contemporary Fiction



Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg

I loved the depth of the characters, and I really related to one of them in particular. I just love Melissa Tagg's stories!!


Non-Fiction

I've got to go with the autobiographies of two Olympians here! Weren't the Rio Olympics exciting??



Greater Than Gold by David Boudia

David's journey from an active tot to a world class diver, and how he found Jesus along the way.




Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

Leader of the Final Five and winner of five medals in Rio, this 4'9" gymnastics wonder shares her story from adoption to training to topping the podium.


Classic Literature



Mr. Harrison's Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

This short novel, from which part of the miniseries Cranford was drawn, is laugh-out-loud funny and encompasses the delights of a small English village.


Novella

This category has two winners as well, because I couldn't choose between these two delightful Christmas stories.




One Enchanted Eve by Melissa Tagg

If you enjoy competitive baking shows, you'll love this story of a down-on-her-luck baker and her quest to find one wow-worthy recipe to land her dream job.





Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

All Alexis needs for Christmas is her home remodel to go well. When everything goes wrong it may be time to reevaluate the true meaning of Christmas.



This Jazz Age tale tells the story of Mable Ringling, wife of famous circus master John Ringling. From her humble upbringing as a dreamer in Ohio to being part of the greatest show on earth, Mable's life is testament to those who think big and have the courage to try something new.

Told alongisde is the journey of fictional character Lady Rosamund Easling, a gifted horsewoman who forsakes her homeland when she is about to be forced into a marriage to help her father's estate. Her beloved horse was being sold to the Ringling Brothers Circus, and Rosamund goes along to make sure Ingenue is properly settled. But circus manager Colin Keary hasn't merely been recruiting a good horse - he's out to inspire and captivate the woman he believes can be a star.

Rosamund agrees to join the circus, and is encouraged by her conversations with Mable Ringling. She is not warmly welcomed by the rest of the cast, and in fact soon begins receiving threats that suggest she should return to England. Rosamund battles to find her place amidst hostility and her own insecurities. She'd be happy to simply make it through the season and leave star billing for those who crave the spotlight.

While I enjoyed this story, I was a bit confused about the dual storylines. The portions focusing on Mable's life take place between 1885 and 1929, while Rosamund's story, interspersed with Mable's narrative, is set in a much more concentrated time period, mostly 1926 and 1927. It's not my favorite method of storytelling, although Cambron seems quite drawn to it, as all her releases have used it so far. Maybe she'll switch it up with her upcoming Harry Houdini book, but whether she does or not, I'm looking forward to reading it in 2017!



Betsy Huckabee might have been raised in the Ozark Mountains, but she has dreams to be more than your usual mountain lass. She knows that her imagination is the ticket to getting a cabin of her own so she's not bound to living with relatives forever. So far her stories haven't been picked up by any of the big city newspapers she's submitted them to, but she believes her day is coming. And that day might be here when she meets the new deputy and realizes she has the perfect hero to base her fiction tales around.

Running from a false accusation, Deputy Joel Puckett has taken the job in Pine Gap, Missouri, in hopes of a fresh start. He's heard about the corruption in the mountains and the gang called the Bald Knobbers who are trying to enforce their own brand of justice. With the hope that he can bring law and order to the area and breathe new life into his own career, Joel isn't prepared at the level of apathy and resistance he meets - except for Betsy, who as a female is one person he'd like to avoid more than anyone else!

When her first story about "Deputy Eduardo Pickett" is published and the newspaper asks for more stories, Betsy is thrilled but also knows she must keep it a secret. She'd be embarrassed to death if Joel found out, especially as they develop a friendship. He's realized that she can be a help as they try to figure out who is terrorizing the mountain folks. Is it a bandit or have the Bald Knobbers blurred the lines to become criminals themselves?

There was so much that I loved about this story!! Living in the Ozark mountains myself, I'm familiar with the historical Bald Knobbers and thought Regina Jennings did a great job bringing them to life. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor in the writing. I was laughing out loud as early as Chapter 2, with gems like this catching me by surprise: "'What made you think he was the deputy?' the cowboy asked, obviously unconcerned with the very important internal discussion going on in Betsy's head." The style of narration made this delightful and captivating.

This is the third book in Jennings' Ozark Mountain Romance Series, although this one is set several years past the other two and works well as a stand alone. I do recommend the previous books on their own merit, however! Here are my reviews for Book One and Book Two.

Thank you to the author my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie, and this book is full of reminders about why I love it. Bob Welch thoughtfully dissects the movie and its characters, discussing what we can learn from this classic film. Having enjoyed his similar book on Les Miserables, I knew this would be perfect holiday reading material, and it was!

Each chapter begins with a quote from or about the movie, and then talks about how we can apply various themes and thoughts into our lives. I love George Bailey and the impact he makes on Bedford Falls. As Welch says on page 90, "...The good we bring to the world, to the community, to our families, doesn't necessarily have to be big and glitzy. It can be small and quiet, which doesn't negate its importance." This is something I'm passionate about, and I love it when other people catch this vision.

I enjoyed the backstory and behind-the-scenes tidbits about the movie that Welch highlights. He talks about various script changes that Frank Capra's story underwent, tells us which lines the actors ad libbed that made the final cut, and comments on public perception of the film when it was released in 1946 versus how it's viewed today. It was clear the cinematic history was carefully researched and is seamlessly woven into the narrative, showing the high regard Welch holds for the movie.

The book is also laced with Scripture and makes plenty of connection to faith's influence on our lives. How does God desire us to live? Does He value the sacrifices we must make for others? Jesus knows more sacrifice than any one of us. I'd definitely say this book was written for a Christian audience.

"People respond to those who inspire, which is what, in his quiet way, George does," Welch writes on page 157. I hope that you and I will be more aware of the ways we can touch and inspire the world around us, both in this Christmas season and throughout the New Year. May we change our worlds the way George Bailey changed Bedford Falls!



If you've ever wondered how Jane Austen might have celebrated the winter holidays, this book on Regency Christmas traditions is for you! This little book is full of information, everything from etiquette to activities to recipes taken directly from the time period.

This book contains sections devoted to different kinds of parties, whether a simple card party of an elaborate Twelfth Night celebration. It discusses different days that gifts might have been exchanged, and what those gifts might have been. I enjoyed the section about caroling and which songs Jane Austen might have sung.

There are plenty of things explained that sound strange to our American ears, like traditions from St. Thomas' Day and Boxing Day, or the description of a mummers play or yule candle. In short, this is a thorough examination of how Christmas and New Years was celebrated two centuries ago and a fun resource for history fans.



I was thrilled to have the chance to review this autobiography by Simone Biles, the darling of the 2016 Rio Olympics. While many might not have known who Simone was at the start of the Games, certainly everyone knew who she was afterwards! Winner of five medals, four of which were gold, Simone broke records and shone in the spotlight. Now we have the opportunity to read the story of her life in her own words.

Simone starts with her earliest memories of life with her birth mother, and talks extensively about the transition to being adopted by her maternal grandparents, who gave her a home full of love and stability. She tells about how she was first introduced to gymnastics through a daycare field trip and immediately fell in love with tumbling as an outlet for her unusual amount of energy. When her parents enrolled her in classes she caught the attention of the coaches from the very first day. Her natural gifts were evident even though she was getting a "late start" to formal training, at age 6. With her abilities she soon caught up and passed the other girls her age with the skills she was able to perform.

I enjoyed learning about Simone's relationship with her coach, Aimee Boorman, and also about all her parents did to support Simone's growing dreams as she advanced in the sport. Simone talks openly about times she struggled with attitude and how she agonized over certain decisions regarding her education. She discusses the times she failed and the times she succeeded, each one shaping her character and career in its own way. Simone's Catholic faith has also played a huge part in her life. In the telling of her life story there is a great balance of honesty, humor, and humility.

Once I got to the part of the book about Simone's senior gymnastics career, I read the rest of the book in one sitting. It was so exciting to read her perspective of events I'd watched on television, including all the way up her crowning achievements in Rio. I wanted to know what Simone thought about Martha Karolyi and the other Final Five gymnasts, and she did not disappoint or skimp on the details.

I would highly recommend this book to all gymnasts or gymnastics fans. It's a great look at the hard work at sacrifices that this sport requires, as well as the fun and glory of success. As someone who has made her place in history, Simone's story will attract readers for many years to come. Special thanks to Michelle Burford for helping make this book a reality.


I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this book. All opinions in this review are my own.



This Regency story is a sequel to Moonlight Masquerade and features several of the same characters. This time our heroine is Jessamine, a vicar's daughter who is having a season in London thanks to the generosity of her godmother. Jessamine always planned to marry her best friend's brother, but when he chose someone else Jessamine was heartbroken. Now she's determined to catch the eye of a fashionable, wealthy man while she has the chance. Taking her cues from London's elite, Jessamine lowers her necklines and her inhibitions in pursuit of being found desirable.

Having spent time in India as a missionary, Lancelot Marfleet is unimpressed with his return to English society. He desires to find a parish and continue learning about botany, but his parents are insisting it is time he find a marriage partner. When Mr. Marfleet first meets Jessamine he accidentally offends her, and his quest to make up for his blunder brings them together at further parties and dinners. At first he is drawn to her because she is different and has a genuine interest in his life experiences, but soon he's dismayed to see the drastic changes to her person and the questionable decisions about her choice of acquaintances.

Jessamine doesn't realize that as a young lady with very little protection in town she is perfect prey for those of a less savory character. She only wants to be sought after and admired. While Mr. Marfleet is proving himself to be a friend, Jessamine doesn't want to further his attention too much. The last thing she wants is to end up with a man so much like her father.

I confess I found this story quite hard to get into, but once I came to care about the characters I could hardly put the book down. I would caution that this story does contain a few scenes which might be triggering for victims of assault. I would recommend the novel for die-hard Regency fans, especially if you enjoyed the first book in the series.



In a setting just perfect for Christmas, chef Rylan Jefferson is on the cusp of running a bakery again. She just needs to come up with one show-stopping dessert to have the opportunity to win the job. While she's never been good at original recipes, Rylan receives an offer of help that she can't pass up - even if it is from the class clown of her culinary class. Maybe Colin's natural inspiration will transform a wish into a reality.

We first met Colin Renwycke in One Enchanted Christmas, when he was a rather disreputable teacher and model. He's never been good at life decisions, but last Christmas was a wake-up call. He's determined to make culinary school work and to become a successful chef, but he's still afraid to go home and face his family in Maple Valley, Iowa. In an effort to both help Rylan and bring a buffer of protection to himself, Colin invites her to spend a couple weeks on the farm inventing that wow-worthy recipe she needs.

Maple Valley is as charming and ever, as you know if you've read any of Melissa Tagg's other stories set there. While we do get glimpses of other characters we know, the story does a good job focusing on downtrodden but hopeful Rylan and bad-boy-attempting-to-turn-good-guy Colin. We get a look at their pasts, the way they think, and their family dynamics. These are two realistic and relatable characters striving to overcome mistakes and setbacks, dreaming of a hopeful future, and trying to make magic in the kitchen.

This novella was funny, thoughtful, inspiring, and yes, enchanting. A perfect holiday read from one of my favorite authors!



She's done it again! Melanie Dickerson retells a classic story with her own distinctive style, turning it into something fun and new. This time she tackles The Little Mermaid, resetting Ariel as Evangeline, cousin of King Richard II, in the fourteenth century.

Evangeline has hoped and dreamed of a marriage based on love, but as the king's ward she knows that may not be possible. When she finds out the king is going to give her in marriage to a middle-aged man who seems corrupt and salacious, Evangeline decides she will run away. She's lived shut up in Berkhamsted Castle, and now she is free to see all the beautiful creatures and places in the English countryside. Evangeline's maid escaped with her, and in order to disguise themselves they agree that Evangeline will pose as a mute and they will say they are servants looking for work.

They reach the village of Glynval, and Evangeline finds herself working for the le Wyse family, whom readers will recognize from some of Dickerson's other books. She is attracted to Westley le Wise, but since she is pretending to be a mute servant and he is heir to the manor, there are many impediments to getting to know him. Although Evangeline has never worked a day in her life, the blisters and soreness and her many blunders do not stop her determination to make a way for herself and to continue hiding from the king's men who are searching for her.

Evangeline is forced to use her voice when she comes upon an attempt on Westley's life. Still hesitant to tell the whole truth about her identity as she gets to know the le Wyse family better, eventually it all comes out. A showdown with King Richard and his minions is inevitable, and will require bravery and sacrifice from all who will stand for freedom and love.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys Melanie Dickerson and fairy tales.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



This is a unique story that is based on actual experiences within the author's family in the Netherlands during World War II. While the Netherlands had declared neutrality at the beginning of the war, Hitler invaded in 1940 and the citizens suffered much under Nazi rule. Our story focuses on a Dutch Resistance worker who was caught by the Nazis and executed - except his bullet wound was not fatal, and he survived and escaped.

Alongside the Resistance worker, who is named Gerrit in the story, our other three main characters are siblings. Cornelia is a young widow who is hiding her 20-year-old brother Johan from the Nazis in the closing days of the war. Since losing her husband she's tried to keep her head down and just get through until her country can be liberated. Anki is the oldest sibling and is married to a staunch pacifist. When Johan goes out exploring one night and comes back with the injured Gerrit, it thrusts them all into danger. Cornelia agrees to harbor Gerrit, and Anki goes behind her husband's back and uses her nursing skills to help Gerrit recover.

Once the Germans realize they are missing one of the corpses of the Resistance workers, they begin raiding neighborhoods searching for the wounded man. They also begin cracking down harder on anyone they suspect of hiding men or Jews. Johan longs to get involved in the Resistance after having spent so many years hiding. Cornelia has ignored Resistance work for so long but now that she's hiding a prominent member she can no longer turn a blind eye to the needs of the cause. Anki is risking her marriage and family to be involved, but can only do what she feels is right even though it may cost her everything.

As liberation comes closer but danger yet lurks in every shadow, bravery and romance bloom. And hope - hope that there can yet be a future for this family and for their beloved country after this long nightmare is over.

I enjoyed this novel and the chance to learn more about the Netherlands during the war, especially since the plot was based on real events. I would have liked to see more depth in the writing itself, as the style of using unvaried and simple sentences did not draw me in and engage me as a reader, even though I cared about the characters. Since this was the author's debut novel and I've not noticed the same thing in her later releases, I believe she has grown and improved in this. I would highly recommend her other books, Daisies Are Forever and Remember The Lilies.



Katie is in love with Micah, but when he unexpectedly and very publicly proposes marriage to her when she's just met his extended family, she has no choice but to say no. And it's Christmas week at his grandparents' rural Minnesota homestead, so it's not like she can just catch the next flight home to Florida. There's no way she can accept Micah's proposal until she can talk through the reasons she said no, but privacy is hard to come by with Micah's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins filling every nook and cranny of the cottage.

In disbelief that the Binder family is still being so amazing and welcoming to her even though she may have broken Micah's heart, Katie tries her best to walk the tightrope of forming relationships while not letting herself get too close. It's hard, though. The Binders are so full of love and commitment and making the most of every moment - if she believed she could make a marriage last, this would definitely be the family she'd want to marry into.

As Christmas draws closer, there are surprises of both the happy and not-so-happy variety headed to the Binder farm. For this family who tries to celebrate each holiday as if it might be the last, what if it really is the last for one of their members? Sentiment threatens to become reality and leaves everyone scrambling.

This novella captured me from the opening page. Anyone who has a large extended family will enjoy the scenes of a packed home and family togetherness -- including waiting in line for the bathroom and sleeping anywhere you can find space to fit an air mattress. Those are all-too-familiar sights for some of us! Katie's emotional dilemma kept me reading more to find out when she and Micah would talk and if they could work things out. Through the ups and downs of this unforgettable holiday, love will see this family through - the same endless Love that will always be there for each one of us. Cynthia Ruchti weaves a sweet tale about family, faith, and finding yourself.



Christmas can't be relaxing when you're trying to ratchet your career up to the next level. Interior designer Alexis Blake is competing for her own show on the Home Project Network, and the last step is a Christmas-themed home renovation. If she can beat out the other two finalists she'll achieve her dream. She knows things won't be easy, but she arrives on location near Door County, Wisconsin, to find that the homeowner doesn't want to cooperate and her videographer has sustained an injury that will sideline him from the project. This is not a promising start.

Elsie has lived many years in the fieldstone home which her father built. She's not happy that her neighbor submitted her house for the Restoring Christmas project, and she's very set on having her say in making sure Alexis doesn't change too much. She's also prone to taking mysterious trips and will shut down any conversation that broaches the subject of family. She begins to regret her begrudging consent to allow Alexis and the crew into her personal space.

While respected videographer George Langley can't be a part of the special, he insists his son Gabe is more than capable of stepping in. Alexis isn't convinced, but Gabe is larger than life with his optimism and generosity. As he sweeps away her objections and finds unusual solutions to plaguing problems, Alexis agrees to let him in on the project, but can't help wondering what's behind all the charm and personality.

While Elsie's house is under construction, so are the hearts of all those working on it. Gabe is dealing with his first Christmas since his mother's death. Alexis feels the stress and pressure of meeting deadlines and having everything turn out the picture-perfect way she's envisioned it - while meeting resistance from Elsie at every turn. Elsie's shrouded past and sensitivity to change keeps everyone guessing and on edge as to what she'll object to next.

In a story about the true meaning of Christmas and learning to listen to one another, Cynthia Ruchti has crafted a heartwarming novella that will leave you sighing with contentment. I'd highly recommend this for all readers, and especially if you enjoy shows like Fixer Upper. This story introduced me to the song Still, Still, Still, which I have a feeling will be a regular feature on my holiday playlist this year. Are you ready to have your own heart examined before we reach the height of this busy season? Check out "Restoring Christmas" and let the message soak into your spirit.

Thank you to the author for my copy of the novella. All opinions in this review are my own.



John Newton is best known as the man who penned the lyrics of the classic hymn "Amazing Grace." In her new release, Jody Hedlund offers a look into Newton's eighteenth century life, and the story behind the woman who inspired him through many tumultuous years.

Still a teenager when he met steady and sensible Polly Catlett, Newton fell head over heels in love with her. Though he was scheduled to leave and take up a job for his father's friend in Jamaica, he overstayed and missed his boat's departure by several weeks, causing him to eventually find other employment as a sailor. This wasn't the only time the rather irresponsible Newton missed out on work because of a desire to stay close to Polly. He really believed that with his charm he could recover from any setback and in time become a man worthy of Polly's hand.

Polly struggles with trying to be "good enough" to earn God's favor through a pious life and charitable actions. While she can admit that John's attentions turn her head, she doesn't think he would make a proper husband and provider. Her goals to further her education and find a suitable husband are somewhat in jeopardy by her father's resistance to the local smuggling ring and her cousin's abolitionist antics.

When Newton finds himself press-ganged into the navy, his lack of personal diligence soon puts him at odds with his captain and shipmates. Through whippings and storms and time spent in Africa, God is yet calling John to Himself. It is the remembrance of beautiful and pure Polly which helps Newton not completely give up on life, and eventually return to England as a changed man to try to convince her to marry him.

I was impressed with the restraint Jody Hedlund showed with this novel. The romance was gentle and not over the top. While by necessity she had to discuss and describe things relating to Britain's slave trade, it was not glorified in any way and kept to a minimum. As usual, the author did a wonderful job keeping things historically accurate. If you'd like more information about this novel, please click here.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



I really like Melissa Tagg, both as an author and a person. We've yet to meet face to face, but she just seems like one of my people. Her newest release, the third book in the Walker Family series, has been on my radar since the second one came out April. It was great to revisit the fictional Iowa town of Maple Valley, and the storyline did not disappoint.

Beckett Walker has stayed away from home for six years, and his first trip back is unceremoniously interrupted when he is almost immediately arrested for a warrant issued long ago over a youthful indiscretion. That is hardly the way he wanted to face his family and friends after such a lengthy absence! He's returned home to try to clear up this mess and get things lined up for joining the JAG Corps, but now everything is more complicated than ever. Sentenced to a significant amount of community service, Beckett has no recourse but to make Maple Valley home for the next couple months.

Also on her first trip back home is horticulturalist Kit Danby, who made a life for herself in England after she left her Maple Valley groom at the altar six years ago. But there's a longing in Kit's heart that prompts her to make her flight to Iowa a one-way trip, and when she sees her grandparents' orchard, the place where she was raised, so abandoned and neglected, she wonders if this is where her heart is supposed to be. The orchard is still in her family, and her absentee and nearly estranged father agrees to let Kit try to revive it, on the condition that she turn a profit her very first season.

Once childhood best friends, Beckett and Kit get to know each other again when he is able to arrange to serve his community service at her orchard. The pull of her heart to make this orchard work is just as strong as the pull of Beckett's heart to find adventure and fulfillment in his new career with the military. Even as they feel the draw of attraction which they never explored as kids, they brace themselves for the parting they know is coming.

While Melissa has explored plenty of deep emotions in her previous books, this one felt a little different for me. There was a maturity in the writing which set this story apart. Beckett's pain of always feeling on the outskirts made him a truly compelling protagonist, his emotions written in such a way that you truly understood the choices he made. He seems to be cursed with constantly missing big moments, and not knowing how to handle that grief keeps driving him away from the people he loves. Watching the beginning of Beckett's healing left me full of wonder and hope. There were some ways that I really related to Kit as well, nearly choking up with the ways God spoke to her heart because they were so familiar to me, echoing ways that God has spoken to mine.

The orchard setting makes this perfect autumn reading. As Beckett and Kit fight for the orchard and fight for a home for each of their hearts, you'll be drawn in to the wonderful place that is Maple Valley and its colorful cast of characters - and also to the love of God that keeps Him always holding on to us.



Lillian Avery is out to prove herself. She's on her way to Boston to begin her job as a pharmacist, and she's overcome a lot in her life already, having lost her leg in an accident and adapted to use of a prosthesis. While her new boss makes it clear that he's unhappy about the necessity of hiring a woman due to so many men enlisting in the second World War, Lillian believes she can face this challenge and come out triumphant as she has in the past.

On leave with his best friend, Ensign Archer Vandenberg meets Lillian and is immediately drawn by her beauty and her resilient character. It is also extremely alluring that she isn't pursuing him for the wealth of his old Connecticut family. Not only is she not pursuing him, she actually rebuffs his attention. If a little romance won't win her heart, maybe proving himself as a genuine friend will.

She's only been on the job for a few days when Lillian notices odd prescriptions for large quantities of phenobarbital, a controlled substance believed to help with combat fatigue. Such amounts would not normally be prescribed, and when Lillian investigates she quickly finds that this is the tip of the iceberg - there's a drug ring in the area, and her safety may be in danger if she attempts to get to the center of it.

Meanwhile Arch is back at sea and dealing with battle neurosis after the events of Through Waters Deep. As he navigates what could be a shameful ending to his naval career, he notices many of his fellow sailors seem to be dealing with drowsiness and lack of concentration. When he discovers that many of them may be turning to phenobarbital to cope with the horrors of war, and obtaining the drugs illegally, he and Lillian begin trying to piece together the puzzle that begins at a Boston pharmacy but reaches into the United States Navy.

It is not only German U-boats and greedy drug runners who provide danger to the plot. Lillian realizes that while she has needed to be tough, a heart of granite is not an asset in life or love. Arch's insecurity over his wealth and his need to make an identity of himself apart from his family leads him to question the best things in his life. Is there hope that these two can work through these obstacles and predicaments and truly find each other? Sarah Sundin weaves a compelling story that will leave you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Another excellent book from this top-of-her-class novelist!



Raised as a prince's daughter in the palace in Monaco, Brook is a free-spirited and highly cultured young lady. Yet the longing to find her true identity tugs insistently at her heart, and when her dearest friend returns to her with the news that he's found her biological father, it is with trembling hope that Brook journeys to northern England to meet the Earl of Whitby. She possesses enough links to undeniably be the earl's lost daughter, and he immediately welcomes her with the full joy of his heart. Other family members and household staff are not so sure, however, and Brook must handle their disapproval as well as the adjustment of missing her Monegasque home.

Having safely seen Brook to her new home, her friend Justin Wildon finds himself in a predicament. Not only is he in a time of grieving and inheriting his father's title and responsibilities, but now that Brook has been ushered into a home with every future luxury ensured, he feels awkward to think of courting her at this point, when she might think he was only changing the nature of their relationship due to her new fortune. Deciding the best course of action is to let her settle in, Justin pushes Brook away and throws himself into learning his own new position in society.

Brook is soon inundated with new friends and suitors, some genuine and some who are only fortune hunters. There are also cousins and relatives to meet and get to know. Even as she cherishes the growing relationship with her father, Brook longs for more of the freedoms she's used to, and she misses Justin and his ability to help her make sense of her life.

It soon becomes clear that there is a mystery underfoot. Brook is attacked for something called the Fire Eyes, and she realizes that one of her servants has been betraying her. There is also the lingering doubt as to why her mother left England before her death, giving infant Brook to a stranger with instructions to keep the child out of the country. When it becomes clear that there are those who will stop at nothing to gain the mysterious Fire Eyes - even though neither Brook nor her father know what they are - every attempt goes to keeping Brook's life safe. Danger lurks everywhere, including among those who call themselves family.

This was the first book by Roseanna M. White that I have read, but it won't be the last! It was easy to get lost in fictional 1910 Europe, and while sometimes the characters drove me crazy with their choices, you always hoped for the best for them. The story of the Fire Eyes continues throughout the next two books in this series, and I'll be doing my best to read them soon!



Ella has made a quiet life for herself as a maid in a hospital, shutting out as much of her soul-splitting pain as she could. Everything she knows changes drastically when Charlie Lionheart bursts into her life, little baby Holland in arms. With hardly two coins to rub together, Charlie is having trouble finding someone to care for his girl. Feeling the unjustness and a pull towards someone so small and helpless, Ella quits her job to dedicate a few days to nursing Holland with all the herbs and remedies she's been studying.

Charlie's home is far from normal. As a lion tamer with the circus, all of his belongings and responsibilities can be packed up in a couple of wagons. He knows he shouldn't be bringing the young nurse to his tent, not at the risk of what it could cost him where his contract is concerned, but Holland has never been so sick and there is no one else skilled in caring for her. He would - he has - given up everything for Holland, and he's not about to stop now.

While Ella enjoys tending to the baby, meeting Charlie's friends, and seeing the amazing sights around the circus, she worries about where to find a new job and how she's going to pay her rent. Maybe she should consider going home to her parents. But that would mean returning to the place where she endured so much agony. Agony that all comes back to the surface as she spends time with Charlie, caring and kind as he is.

Drawn to the serious and sweet woman, Charlie doesn't know how to tell her of the dark secrets in his own life. Secrets that would be inescapable were their relationship to become closer. He is counting down the days until the agreements that made Holland his are fulfilled and he is free of the evil lurking in the far corners of the circus.

This is a truly beautiful story. It's not without darkness, but it is so strong on hope and love. Joanne Bischof allows her characters the time to explore their emotions, to fully develop their feelings and draw readers in. This was a book I did not want to put down, and though it's the first Bischof I've read, I'm sure it won't be the last. I would give a word of caution that there are disturbing elements to this story and it is definitely not one for everyone. But it also has allegorical veins that point to the Bringer of Hope and Light and Love - Jesus Christ. Through Him we face our fears, our darkness. Through Him we have a future, no matter how cloudy it is at present. Through Him we have all we need. All in all.



Three years ago when tragedy took the life of their 12-year-old daughter, Libby closed her heart to her husband Greg. Now she's decided that she's going to leave him when he returns from his annual trek into Quetico Provencial Park. The only problem with the plan is that Greg is a few days late returning from his wilderness journey. More than grief or worry, Libby is furious that whether by choice or by accident Greg has found a way to get out of their marriage before she did.

As she goes through the motions of filing a missing person's report and talking with authorities on both sides of the border, Libby weighs various scenarios. She can't picture her faithful-to-a-fault husband deciding to drive away from their home and vanish without a trace, but the distance has grown so far between them that it's not something she can automatically discount.

When Libby, her best friend, and her father-in-law decide they must go to Quetico themselves and retrace the voyageur route Greg had planned, they don't know what they will find, or if they will find anything at all. Libby doesn't know if she even wants to find Greg or what she'll say if she ever sees him again. But she knows this is a trip she has to make before she can move forward one way or another.

The depth of this book left me at a loss for words. Cynthia Ruchti writes with beautiful and lyrical maturity as she delves into loss, uncertainty, and pain in the human soul. I had no idea how this book would end, but the more I read the more I could not put it down. Thoroughly captivated, thoroughly touched. Cynthia is a can't-miss author in my estimation, with both her fiction and non-fiction. Highly recommended.



The year is 1915 when we rejoin the Ramsey family, whom we have followed in The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall. With England embroiled in the Great War, many men are joining the armed forces, including Alex Goodwin, longtime friend of Julia and Jonathan. A fearless pilot, Alex agrees to correspond with Penny Ramsey when he is shipped off to France.

With Zeppelins bombing London, Penny and her sister Kate retreat to the safety of their family home in the country, bringing with them Kate's large family of adopted children. Helping with the boisterous youngsters keeps Penny busy, but not so busy to keep from missing her new friend and praying for his safety.

As Alex goes on missions and builds up a reputation, he takes great comfort thinking of Penny's sweetness and growing affection towards him. After a turbulent home life while growing up, it seems too good to be true that he could have a hope for a happy future. If he survives the war, that is. With the short life expectancy for pilots, Alex knows there's no guarantee for tomorrow.

While this book almost seemed to have too many characters, I would have missed any storyline that was left out. The novel was fascinating from a World War I standpoint, with an emphasis on the new ways war was being waged in the sky, with Germany thinking they had superior air technology with their Zeppelins. I also had not realized there were German internment camps in England during World War I, and the story of Marius being imprisoned for his heritage was very touching. I love learning history through a well-written story!

Through all the long and uncertain days, Penny, Alex, Marius, and the rest face challenges that will shake their faith. I greatly enjoyed this series by Carrie Turansky and would definitely recommend it to all historical fiction fans.

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