Review of:  The Broken Spine (A Beloved Bookroom Mystery) 

Dorothy St. James

I was excited to read this book, as the premise sounded like a fun new take on popular tropes in this genre:  library-cat-love/hate romance-secret book protector protagonist.  I wasn't disappointed since I knew what I'd be expecting, having read this author's other series (Southern Chocolate Shop Mysteries), and similar series such as Ellery Adams' Book Retreat series, Eva Gates' Lighthouse Library series, and Jenn McKinlay's Library Lovers.

The unique spin on this series is the shift from tangible books to digital, which of course is quite relevant for what is happening in society right now with everything going virtual as a result of COVID-19.  I could completely relate to the main character's resistance, as it was mine too at first.  It's always a challenge to let go of the familiar and step out into the unknown/ try new things.  However, that doesn't mean that technology or "newness" is always bad - sometimes it's for the best.  And there are both good and bad things about pretty much anything.  Tomato//Tomahto.

I was really reminded of Fiddler on the Roof when I read this book - so many people trying desperately to hang on to old traditions.  Unfortunately, I didn't see much growth in the characters over the course of the book.  Instead, they stayed pretty true to stereotypes (but I'm holding out hope for more maturation as the series continues).  And I didn't find Tru's love interest, Jace, to be likeable.  Girl can do better!

However, that being said, there was some fun humor, snappy writing, and awesome scenes with Dewey Decimal!   With all cozies, it's to be expected that you'll have to suspend some disbelief at how everything comes together in the end.  It's definitely a cute read and I'd recommend it to cozy lovers.  A light, enjoyable read with sweet characters, comic relief, and a happy ending where justice is served...well, honestly, what can be better than that?!!!

Review of:  A Patchwork Past

Leslie Gould

Bethany House Publishers, $15.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3523-8

In the second of her Plain Patterns series featuring quiltmaker Jane Berger, Gould brings readers an illustrative work about the plight of refugees and the value of caring for others as ourselves.  Jane, an elderly spinster, runs a quilt shop in the Amish community of Nappannee, Indiana in addition to writing historical research articles for the local newspaper.  She becomes intrigued with the life of her ancestor, Mary, who aided Irish immigrants during the Chicago Fire of 1871 and recovers an old journal with more information that she recounts to Sophie Deiner, a young woman newly back in town to recover from lupus flare.  As Sophie learns about Mary, she reflects on the likeness between their personalities, as Sophie also cares deeply about the welfare of refugees after befriending an immigrant family through her work at a co-op.  When one of the family members is wrongfully detained and threatened with deportation, Sophie joins attorney Jasper Benjamin in fighting for justice.  The matter is complicated by Sophie’s past relationship with Levi, a farm manager who supports deportation and has a tendency towards violence.  Through her commitment to serving those less fortunate, Sophie finds forgiveness for Levi as well as her parents who believed lies about her character when she’d left town after becoming pregnant.  When Levi and Sophie’s family learn the truth that she’d miscarried, they realize the error of their ways and experience spiritual growth.  A particularly timely work with themes of systemic discrimination, faith, and family.  [March 2021]

Review of:  A Double Dose of Love

Kathleen Fuller

Fans of Amish romance won't be disappointed with this adorable story!!  I'm excited to see it is the first in a new series by Kathleen Fuller.  Identical twins Amanda and Darla venture to a new community to experience life away from home for the first time.  Darla is intent on finding a husband, while Amanda is intent on keeping on eye on her impetuous sister until she can convince her to return back home to their parents.  The sisters' relationship rings very true to life, as they get into various quibbles and quarrels but their underlying love and care for the other always wins out in the end.  While exploring Birch Creek, the girls met identical twins Zeke & Zeb - who certainly have their own sibling rivalries.  I found the brothers' characters to be a little more three-dimensional and relatable than the sisters, who were so vastly different in personality traits that Darla seemed to be almost more like Amanda's child instead of an identical twin.  The relationships between the four were beautifully developed throughout the course of the book, and I loved seeing how the characters matured as a result, finding forgiveness as well as love.  I especially enjoyed the matchmaking elderly ladies Delilah & Cevilla, who added a special flair to the story and town of Birch Creek!  I can't wait to read the next book. 

Review of:  An Amish Homecoming

Rosalind Lauer  

Zebra, $8.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5211-1

The first in this new series set in the fictional Amish community of Joyful River is sure to capture the hearts of fans of Christian romance.  As 18-year-old Essie and her beau, Harlan, prepare for engagement and marriage, their plans are interrupted when Essie’s three wayward English cousins come to live with her family following their mother’s death [p. 1-27].  Lauer’s tale centers on Essie and her cousin Serena, also 18, but the polar opposite of Essie’s steady, unassuming personality [p. 28-40 ff].  Serena’s spirited, prideful ways are quick to get under Essie’s skin [p. 40 ff], though the cousins discover that their values are far more similar than they’d first assumed after Harlan’s mother and sister are injured in a buggy accident [p. 158 ff].  The girls come to trust and rely on each other as they each navigate romances complicated by familial and financial concerns [p. 163-164 ff].  Lauer’s world-building is skillful as the characters and situations are so true to life they nearly walk off the page.  Biblical themes of faith and love echo throughout the work as the young adults learn to appreciate the things that matter most to them [p. 276-277 ff].  Readers will be satisfied with the happy endings and eagerly await the next tale about the community of Joyful River.  [March 2021]

Dreams Rekindled

Amanda Cabot.  Revell, $15.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3536-4

Anne Kemerer Jones

Dreams Rekindled

Amanda Cabot.  Revell, $15.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8007-3536-4

Cabot continues her Mesquite Springs historical romance series with the engrossing story of Wyatt Clark’s younger sister, Dorothy, who longs for a career as a writer despite the lack of such opportunities for women in the mid-19th century. Dorothy’s prayers appear to be answered when newspaper editor Brandon Holloway arrives in town. Brandon hires Dorothy to write for the newspaper but avoids taking a stance on the issue of slavery even though Dorothy wants to publish an editorial opinion.  Brandon’s unwillingness to take a stand stems from his guilt over his father’s tragic death in a town riot that occurred as a result of Brandon’s public support for the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and his denouncement of the idea of human ownership.  Through his relationship with Dorothy, Brandon rediscovers his courage to champion the values he holds dear. Dorothy, afraid to love as a result of losing her own father at young age, learns that love is worth the risk.  While Cabot does a fine job of world-building, her characters’ motivations don’t quite jive and several threads to this tale are left disappointingly unresolved. [March 2021]

Review of:  The Coffee Corner

Amy Clipston

Amazingly enough since Amish fiction is my favorite genre, this is my first book by Amy Clipston!  I knew the author's name and have had  her books in my TBR pile for a while now.  This series and book just called to me!  I realize this is the 3rd in the series, but didn't feel that I missed too much background information to understand the characters or plot lines of this story (but definitely feel the urge now to go back and read about Salina's & Christiana's journeys!).  This really is a testament to the author's writing talent.  I loved the characters of both Bethany and Micah, but almost feel they wouldn't be a match since their level of experience and problems are so incredibly disparate.  Bethany is almost child-like, while Micah's life (and choices) have been tragic and hard.  This being said, I still love them as well as the supporting cast and especially the biblical themes.  The use of Pennsylvania Dutch, while certainly appropriate for the genre, was more than even the most well-researched authors use and felt a bit overdone.  But I still loved this book and would definitely read the others in this series for sure!

Review of:  The Preacher’s Son

Patricia Johns.  Zebra, $8.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4201-5236-4

Johns kicks off the first of a new series set in Bountiful, Pennsylvania, with a cautionary tale of dishonesty’s aftermath and the tragedies left in its wake.  When community preacher Abe Yoder is sentenced to prison for swindling people out of their money for the purpose of a fake charity [p. 2 ff], he leaves his son Isaiah to shoulder the burdens of guilt and shame.  After the bank repossesses his house and land to pay for his father’s crimes, Isaiah is forced to beg for work at a local book bindery owned by Nathaniel Glick [p. 8].  The owner’s daughter, Bethany, who works at the bindery, is struggling with her own loss as her former fiancĂ©, Micah, broke off their wedding in favor of leaving the Amish community [p. 3].  However, Bethany discovers not long afterward that she is pregnant with Micah’s baby [p. 81].  Isaiah has always secretly loved Bethany but never courted her as his friend Micah expressed interest first.  Unlike both his friend and his father, Isaiah is committed to practicing the values in which he believes, even it means suffering social ostracization [p. 3 ff].  He and Bethany initially bond over their shared notoriety in the community, but gradually realize they share common values. They help each other learn how to forgive and trust again, and in so doing, fall deeply in love and find new hope in a shared future together.  A complicated yet inspirational work as Johns introduces characters and lays the foundation for future books in the Amish community of Bountiful.  [Feb 2021]

Review of:  The Malt in Our Stars:  A Literary Pub Mystery

Sarah Fox

I love cozy mysteries and was eager to read this as I haven’t read this author or the other books in this series before.  But I was captured by the cute title and series premise!  I really liked the setting in Shady Creek, Vermont, and the descriptions of the manor house.  I also enjoyed the mystery involving a visit to the town by a well-known author and her assistant (who, of course, promptly gets murdered).  There were several plausible suspects and red herrings along the way as the protagonist, Sadie, uncovers whodunit and why.  However, I felt as though I were plopped down in the middle of the story right from the get-go as there was almost no backstory and a large cast of characters.  I’m not sure I know who Sadie really is and would have liked to see more development of the main characters and overall arc of the series.  Since this is a literary series I also would have liked to see more emphasis given to the theme.
Review of:  Christmas in Evergreen: Tidings of Joy

Nancy Naigle

This is an adorable, heart-warming Christmas romance with all the festive trappings of the season and more!   Reading this makes you feel like you are whisked away to an enchanted place.  Sure enough, dreams come true in Evergreen, where Christmas magic always abounds.  I absolutely loved the author's inspired creativity with elements such as a wishing snow globe and the mystery of the time capsule!  This book centers around the story of Katie, a newcomer to Evergreen who is a bit jaded and skeptical.  She is there on a vacation to gather inspiration for her writing and get away from her mother who is trying to control her career.  She meets Ben, a local resident, who quickly sees that Katie needs help to believe in true love and kindness.  Their love story is the perfect holiday treat and is enhanced with secondary romances between more of the town's citizens.  I haven't seen the movie or read the other books, but I do think it probably would have made this book flow better if I was already familiar with the cast of characters.

Review of:  The Key to Love

Betsy St. Amant

Bri Duvall works in the same bakery store, The Pastry Puff, where her beloved mother was renowned for her French-inspired desserts.  The store’s owners, elderly sisters Agnes and Mabel, have developed a reputation for their matchmaking abilities; however they are in danger of losing the business to developers – something Bri couldn’t stand to see happen since she lost both her parents in a car accident when she was 18.  Now that she is in her late 20’s, she has fallen in love with the “idea” of love – and waits for a fairy tale-like romance to happen to her like the one that she believes her parents once had (but which, she discovers, they never really did).  She meets Gerard, a jaded reporter who avoids commitment at all cost due to his own tragic past.  He has been assigned (against his wishes) to cover the story of the matchmaking bakery sisters for a newspaper feature.  Neither Bri or Gerard are very relatable at the beginning of the book due to their extremely immature attitudes; however, they gradually softened and matured over the course of the story.  I wish the author had focused more on showing each person’s spiritual journey and how that led to changes in their hearts and relationships, rather than engaging in so much snark and stereotypes.  Was this a rom-com or a faith-based romance?  It seemed the author couldn’t decide and the book lacked focus somewhat despite the good premise.