books for book lovers

Does Christmas bring a slew of Amazon gift cards to your stocking and mailbox? If so, I’ve found some great new release books you can splurge on (guilt-free).

Mind Games

Mind Games, one of Nancy Mehl’s best books, introduces Kaely Quinn, an FBI profiler stationed in the St. Louis field office. Kaely Quinn, a devout Christian, does everything in her power to overcome her past and the name that haunts her—convicted serial killer Ed Oliphant—her father.

One of the best in the FBI, Kaely’s unusual methods have earned her censure from her colleagues. After all, standard protocol does not include sitting down for dinner with an imaginary serial killer in order to get into his mind. In fact, some of her colleagues think Kaely has lost touch with reality.

When a pesky reporter brings a letter to the field office that has all the markings of the work of a serial killer, Noah Hunter gets the dubious honor of agent in charge. And the task of keeping Kaely Quinn safe. A job Kaely resists—even though the letter clearly points her demise as the end game.

Kaely and Noah work desperately to stay ahead of the killer—to no avail. As they delve deeper into the case, evidence points to someone close to Kaely. Can they unravel the clues before the killer’s scenario plays out with gruesome accuracy?

Mehl masterfully plants red herrings, dead ends, and twists that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next (and makes it difficult to predict the outcome). Kaely’s faith comes across as natural and authentic—an integral part of who she has become since her childhood.

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The Bride of Ivy Green

The Bride of Ivy Green, the last book in Julie Klassen’s Tales from Ivy Hill series, picks up where The Ladies of Ivy Cottage left off. Rachel and Sir Timothy have started their new life together. Rachel plans a house party to help her new sister-in-law choose a suitable husband (with disastrous results).

Jane Bell can’t decide whether or not she wants to marry the man she loves, and a freak accident helps her make up her mind. An unexpected visitor has her rethinking her long-held beliefs.

Mercy Grove has to deal with her brother and his bride installing themselves in Ivy Cottage. As an unwed woman, Mercy and her maiden Aunt Matty must make way for the new mistress—who soon makes it clear what she thinks of the house’s former mistresses. Mercy feels compelled to consider James Drake’s offer of employment as his ward’s governess—even though doing so will surely bring about the censure of her family.

Meanwhile, mystery surrounds a new dressmaker in town—and the members of the Ladies Tea and Knitting Society can’t decide if they should embrace her or run her out of town.

Fans of Jan Karon will enjoy the Ivy Hills series. Klassen develops memorable characters and roots the scenes in meticulously researched Regency England. The series plays out like a soft summer rain—refreshing, contemplative, and real.

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The Lieutenant’s Bargain

Regina Jennings’s second book in the Fort Reno Series is just as lively and spirited as the first. Witty dialogue, snappy scenes, and unique circumstances bring the era alive. Hattie Walker longs to prove herself as an artist, and accepts a challenge from her parents to travel to Denver, Colorado to paint and enter her masterpiece in a competition. If her endeavor doesn’t pan out, she’ll come home and fulfill her parents’ desire—marry an eligible man as soon as possible.

But nothing turns out as she planned. Trouble starts with a life-saving bathroom break on the middle-of-nowhere prairie. Not an auspicious start to a portfolio-building career as an artist.

Lieutenant Jack Hennessey has to leave his best friend’s wedding before the festivities. But business on the fort doesn’t stop for weddings for funerals. The Arapaho need help with a white woman they rescued after a stagecoach robbery. Maybe leaving Daniel and Miss Bell’s wedding will keep him from longing after the only perfect girl he’s ever noticed. Too bad she never noticed him.

But nothing turns out as he planned. He discovers that the troublesome white woman is none other than his ideal girl from back home. In an attempt to impress her, he asks the Arapaho chief to turn her over to him in a ceremony. Something gets lost in the translation, though. Not an auspicious start to a relationship with the only girl he’s ever loved.

Cultural Sensitivity

Jennings, once again, does an admirable job of balancing perspectives in this inspirational novel that takes place during a time in history when very few people sought to understand Native Americans. Any author wishing to write about this time period with authenticity must make sure to not imbue characters with modern philosophies while at the same time avoid worsening negative stereotypes of Native Americans.

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The author keeps the references to ‘Indians’ to a minimum—using the more correct tribal name as often as possible. She urges readers in a letter at the end to research Carlisle Indian School on their own, and hints that they’ll find good and plenty of bad. She also references two of the most horrific actions by whites against Native Americans during this time period (Sand Creek Massacre and the Battle of Washita River).

While not a Native American, I have taught Native American students for six years, and have researched their treatment at the hands of misguided whites. The scene where a young boy has his hair cut made me cry—and I wish Jennings would have explored the misguided reasoning behind missionaries’ insistence that Native students cut their hair and dress as white men. But perhaps to do so would imbue historical characters with modern points of view. 

Jennings uses her considerable talent to keep the pace of the novel hopping while still spending time to fully develop characters.

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Searching for You

Jody Hedlund’s final book in the Orphan Trains series follows Sophie Neumann, the youngest sister of the Neumann family. At the age of 16, she disappears with the two abandoned children in their cobbled together family unit of orphans struggling to survive in 1850s New York City. Her older sisters, Elise and Marianne, find happiness and love, but Sophie’s disappearance leaves a hole in their hearts.

Sophie runs away when a woman the family has found shelter with takes the little ones, Nicholas and Olivia, to the Children’s Aid Society asylum during the older girls’ absence. Determined to never abandon the children, Sophie runs away from her older sisters, sneaks into the asylum, steals the children, and begins a life on the streets.

For two years her ingenuity and love have kept the tiny group alive and safe. Olivia and Nicholas, now five and three, call her their sister, when in reality she is the only mother they’ve ever known. But as Sophie starts to mature, her unusual beauty becomes her biggest detriment in the streets of New York.

A violent incident becomes the catalyst for her to grab the children and flee west on an orphan train with the very group she spurned two years earlier. Maybe a fresh start away from the gangs will give her the time she needs to clean up her act and make herself presentable enough to reunite with her sisters.

Hedlund’s series not only highlights a little-known aspect of American history, it shows that everyone has a different journey to God. Most importantly, God woos each person in a different way—a way that’s tailor-made for our unique strengths and weaknesses. Although not listed as Young Adult books, the series will appeal not only to women, but to older teens as well.

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I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.