“An Amish Family Christmas” by Shelley Shepard Gray

Shelley Shepard Gray

In Shelley Shepard Gray’s fourth book in her Charmed Amish Life series, an unlikely Amish romance reveals that Christmas is a time for family, miracles—and love.

Ever since his father died in a tragic fire, Levi Kinsinger has felt adrift. Newly returned to Charm, Ohio, Levi is trying to fit into his old life, only to discover he seems to have outgrown it.

But when Julia, his young widowed neighbor, asks for his help with a Christmas project, Levi finds a sense of purpose for the first time in months. She and her daughter are new to Charm and could use a friend, a job Levi takes personally. Soon enough, friendship grows into attraction, but Levi can’t help having doubts. There’s something about Julia that doesn’t ring quite true . . .

Like Levi, Julia Kemps has survived her fair share of hardships—but only by hiding the truth of her past. Being an unmarried mother in an Amish community was unthinkable. Feeling hopeless, Julia did the only thing she could do: she moved to a new town and pretended to be a widow. But meeting Levi, she’s hopeful for the first time. Little by little, she begins to imagine telling him her darkest secret, and eventually . . . perhaps even sharing her life with him.

Christmas is a time for family, and as the holiday draws closer, Julia and Levi will have to face their pasts together . . . in order to find the healing, support and love they so desperately desire.

Shelley Shepard Gray couldn’t have written a better ending for the Charmed Amish Life series if she tried.  It’s the perfect blend of resolution and sweet love, while staying true to the tone of the other books.  Gray’s written a fantastic, realistic series about Amish people dealing with difficult personal issues – it’s unlike any other I’ve read.  I appreciate that perspective and have enjoyed reading all four, but this final one might be my favorite.

I’ve probably felt that way about each book in turn, but loved the main characters of this one.  Julia is sweet but somewhat jaded from past hurts, and Levi is trying hard to stand strong and alone.  They’re my very favorite kind of people:  survivors. 

I hate that the series is coming to an end.  The Charmed Amish Life series is made up of the best Amish books I’ve read in a long time, and An Amish Family Christmas is the perfect ending to it.  While I wish the Kinsinger stories would continue, at least it’s ending on a sugary sweet, snowy Christmas note.

Click here to read other reviews on this bloggy hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full-time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town’s bike trail.

 
 
I received a free copy of this book.  All opinions are my own.

“Christian’s Hope” by Ervin R. Stutzman

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When Christian Hochstetler returns to the Amish after seven years in captivity, he finds that many things have shifted.

Captured as a child during the French and Indian War, Christian has spent much of his life among Native Americans, who cared for him and taught him their ways. Now that Christian is home, his father wants him to settle back into their predictable Amish life of farming, and Christian‘s budding friendship with Orpha Rupp beckons him to stay as well.

Yet Christian feels restless, and he misses his adoptive Native American family—who raised him as their own son. When faced with a life-altering decision, will Christian choose the Amish identity that his father desires for him? Or will he depart from his family and faith community yet again?

Christian‘s Hope tells the story of the younger brother of Joseph and son of Jacob, whom readers have come to love in the first two books in the Return to Northkill series. Based on actual events and written by a descendant of the Hochstetler family, Christian‘s Hope brings the sweeping epic of the Return to Northkill series to a soul-stirring end.

Christian’s Hope is the most fascinating Amish coming-of-age book I’ve ever read!  Setting an Amish story in the past is rare, and this one, happening just after the French and Indian War, is even more unusual.  I loved the time period, the clear descriptions of life, gender roles, and household tools.  Stutzman excels at bringing the setting to life.

That’s not all, though.  The time of the French and Indian War was a hotbed of drama for many, and for others, stereotypes abounded.  While others were focused more solely on survival, those on the frontier often bore the brunt of isolated attacks.  This position comes through loud and clear in Christian’s Hope, as does the mix of attitudes and reactions to during the war’s aftermath.  Stutzman does a fantastic job of detailing each position while keeping the story realistic and interesting.  This was my favorite part – the way that Stutzman depicts the gradual change in Christian’s attitude to one of growth and maturity.

This book stands alone, but it’s so interesting that I can’t wait to go back to read the first two in the series.  Based on a true story and written by a descendant, I definitely want to know more about this event in history.  I think you will, too.

Click here to read other reviews in this bloggy hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

Ervin R. Stutzman is author of Jacob’s Choice, Joseph’s Dilemma, Tobias of the Amish, and Emma, A Widow Among the Amish. Born into an Amish home in Kalona, Iowa, Stutzman based the Return to Northkill series on the life of his ancestor, Jacob Hochstetler. He has been featured on TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity.  All opinions are my own.

“A Sister’s Wish” by Shelley Shepard Gray

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In Shelley Shepard Gray’s third book in her Charmed Amish Life series, a respectable young woman finds herself falling for an Amish man from the wrong side of the tracks.

Amelia Kinsinger is the perfect Amish woman—at least according to her neighbors. And while Amelia takes pride in her role as homemaker, she’s also harboring a secret: She’s been in love with bad boy Simon Hochstetler for as long as she can remember. Too bad he’s about as far from “perfect” as an Amish man could get… but that’s exactly why she’s so drawn to him.

Life hasn’t been kind to Simon. He ran away from an abusive home at fifteen and things went downhill from there. Eventually, Simon landed in prison. But the experience changed him. Now back in Charm as a grown man, he’s determined to make a new life for himself and not think too much about his wild past…unless it pertains to Amelia.

He’s loved Amelia for years. To him, she represents everything good and kind in the world. When he realizes that she returns his affections, he starts calling on her in secret, even though her older brother Lukas—who just happens to be Simon’s best friend—has made it perfectly clear that Amelia deserves better. Simon disagrees and believes he’s the only one who can truly make her happy.

But when Amelia gets hurt, it sets off a chain of events that forces them to consider their future together—and face their past mistakes. There’s a chance for love… but only if Simon dares to trust Amelia with the secrets of his past.

 

The third installment of Gray’s Charmed Life series has released, and it’s another hard-hitting page-turner!  I love the opposite characters of Amelia and Simon.  Amelia is trusting and innocent; Simon is jaded and loving, and somehow the two of them are perfect for each other.

I loved Simon’s story.  The crux of his relationship with Amelia is his wild past – is it really in the past, or is it still relevant to Simon today?  Should it be allowed to affect his relationship with Amelia?  How much of one’s past should one share with a potential suitor?  These issues are relevant to many people, not just Amish or those in Simon’s situation, and Amelia’s take on it was refreshing. 

Many Amish stories are happy, romantic stories, where the biggest problems involve money or whether or not to stay within the faith community.  Gray’s Charmed Life series is quite different, though:  it’s much deeper and quite edgy.  While I’m sorry that even fictional characters have the abusive background that Simon did, the questions it raises about how we of faith treat those in such situations are important.  So, too, are those about how we interact with people who have rough histories. 

These questions are important, and that’s why Gray’s books are so fantastic.  Not only is the story compelling and the characters friendly, but the book inspires quiet introspection that will evolve into personal growth.

Keep writing, Mrs. Gray.

I received a free copy of this book.

“Waves of Mercy” by Lynn Austin

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Geesje de Jonge crossed the ocean at age seventeen with her parents and a small group of immigrants from the Netherlands to settle in the Michigan wilderness. Fifty years later, in 1897, she’s asked to write a memoir of her early experiences as the town celebrates its anniversary. Reluctant at first, she soon uncovers memories and emotions hidden all these years, including the story of her one true love.

At the nearby Hotel Ottawa Resort on the shore of Lake Michigan, twenty-three-year-old Anna Nicholson is trying to ease the pain of a broken engagement to a wealthy Chicago banker. But her time of introspection is disturbed after a violent storm aboard a steamship stirs up memories of a childhood nightmare. As more memories and dreams surface, Anna begins to question who she is and whether she wants to return to her wealthy life in Chicago. When she befriends a young seminary student who is working at the hotel for the summer, she finds herself asking him all the questions that have been troubling her.

Neither Geesje nor Anna, who are different in every possible way, can foresee the life-altering surprises awaiting them before the summer ends.

Waves of Mercy completely enthralled me – I couldn’t put it down until I’d turned the last page!  Author Lynn Austin excels at sweeping the reader right along with the main characters in her story, and the same is true for Waves of Mercy

Austin makes use of  my favorite writing technique in this new story – parallel stories that happen at different points in history. I love the way that she builds the theme of mercy and God’s goodness by layering it as details are revealed with each story.  The final twist at the end was not unexpected, but the details were gratifying to read, and I couldn’t stop reading until I got there – I had to know what would happen to the characters I’d fallen in love with.

That’s not to say that I love the ending – because I don’t.  Austin leaves the ending somewhat open, without clear resolution for one of the major issues relating to the main characters, and I prefer to have those details all wrapped up with neat bows.  Real life rarely works like that, however, and perhaps she’ll write a sequel that will answer those open questions?  I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Waves of Mercy is based on real history – the settlement of Holland, Michigan, by a group of Dutch immigrants searching for religious freedom in the early 1800s.  Their story closely mirrors that of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, though later, and makes for a fascinating backdrop to this story.  I loved learning about what these people endured.

It might sound as if reading about persecution and strife would be depressing, and that angle isn’t exactly a tea party – but the best aspect of the story is the quiet, steady faith that runs through each page.  While the main characters are often struggling, there’s always someone who’s helping them along.  Those people act both as mentors to the characters and examples to us all, even though some of the situations are fictional.  I appreciated both the scripture references used for teaching and the wisdom and advice scattered throughout the pages.  The messages of hope and God’s enduring goodness are inspirational and resonate in one’s mind long after the last page is turned.

Waves of Mercy is the kind of book that you put on your shelf and reread over and over.  If fiction with a strong message of ‘hope’ is the kind of book you like, you’ll definitely want to read this one.

Want to know more?  See what Lynn Austin has to say about Waves of Mercy:

 What inspired you to write this particular story?

I grew up in the area of New York State that was originally owned and settled by the Dutch, and I visited Holland, MI for the first time when I attended Hope College. I was immediately impressed by how proud the community was of their faith and their Dutch heritage. My husband grew up in Holland, so when we decided to move back here two years ago, I began researching Holland’s history to see if it would make a good novel. It intrigued me to learn that the first Dutch settlers came here in 1846 for religious freedom after suffering persecution in the Netherlands. Since that’s true of so many other immigrant peoples over the years, I knew the story would resonate with many readers. I was very surprised to learn how much hardship these early settlers suffered in the process of founding this community. If nothing else, their story taught me not to take our religious freedom or the American Dream for granted.

What is your favorite quote from the book?

It’s actually a promise from Jesus that the characters often refer to: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them . . . I give them eternal life . . . and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)

What do you hope readers will come away with after finishing Waves?

I hope they see what a close relationship with God is really like, and will learn to trust Him through the hard times and praise Him in all circumstances.

Is it possible to get a small clue, say, the year of the setting on your current work in progress?

It’s about two wealthy sisters who live in Chicago in the late 1800s. They love to travel the world and seek adventure.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“A Love Transformed” by Tracie Peterson

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When Clara Vesper’s husband, Adolph, dies suddenly, Clara is stunned–but not grief-stricken. Her marriage to Adolph had been arranged, their primary interaction revolving around the sapphire jewelry Clara designed and Adolph produced and sold. Widowed and penniless, with two small children, Clara decides to return to her aunt and uncle’s ranch in Montana, the only place she has ever been happy.

Curtis Billingham, injured in a sapphire mine collapse, is recuperating at the ranch of his friends, Paul and Madeline Sersland. But when the Serslands’ niece returns from New York City, Curtis curses both his broken body and his broken past. Clara, the love of his life, has come back to him, but he is no longer worthy of her love.

Clara’s brother-in-law Otto Vesper, Adolph’s business partner, fears that the loss of Clara’s design skills will doom the company’s prospects. Following her to Montana, Otto is prepared to do whatever it takes to get Clara to return with him to New York.

As Clara fights for love and freedom, a dangerous secret in her late husband’s life comes to light, threatening everyone she loves.

A Love Transformed is brilliant!  I love the angle played off the Vesper brothers – I don’t want to give anything away – but it definitely adds a layer of suspense and intrigue to the story.  Having information about Adolph’s true feelings come to light slowly throughout the book also paints him as a deeper, more complete individual than one might otherwise surmise.

Clara is a very complex character herself.  With a complicated marriage, a long-lost love, and personal pain carried by the case, how she has managed to smile and go about her way eludes me – but her story is fascinating, and like her husband’s, information slides to the reader slowly.

Set as the United States enters World War I, I’ve read few other books set in this time or that deal with the US joining the Allied forces, but that makes the plot even thicker.  The contrast between serene sheep ranch and war-excited New York City adds unique elements to the story that are rarely seen in other books.

Tracie Peterson always captures the unusual and the dramatic in her books, and A Love Transformed is no exception.  She carries the theme of gemstones into the story by making Clara a jewelry designer but changes the setting completely from the previous two stories, but any Peterson fan will be just as enthralled with this third offering as with the first two.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“Where Hope Prevails” by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

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When Beth Thatcher returns to Coal Valley, she has much to be excited about. She anticipates Jarrick’s proposal of marriage and perhaps a spring wedding. The mine is expanding, and there are more schoolchildren than ever.

But the town’s rapid growth brings many challenges. A second teacher is assigned, and Beth finds herself going head-to-head with a very different philosophy of education–one that dismisses religion and rejects God. Fearful for the children who sit under the influence of Robert Harris Hughes, Beth struggles to know how to respond.

At the same time, Beth wonders if Jarrick is considering a position at her father’s company simply for her sake. Should she admit her feelings on the matter? Or keep silent and allow Jarrick to make up his own mind?

From Janette Oke comes the end of the Return to the Canadian West series.  Like the Love Comes Softly series, Oke has followed the Thatcher family through two generations and continued the adventure into the Canadian wilds.  Like her Aunt Elizabeth, Beth needs to decide whether she will remain in the West or return to ‘civilization.’ 

Oke writes with her signature sweet style.  The story flows smoothly, with the primary action being spiritual and emotional in nature.  Molly continues to provide wise counsel for Beth, and Beth struggles against change in the valley that she loves so dearly.

I would have loved to read about Beth sharing her concerns for their future with Jack.  He shared about his premarital counseling, and they discussed other important issues regarding their marriage, but I would have loved reading this important conversation; but even when they resolved this issue, the conversation was brief and vague.

Beyond that, I loved the wise view of marriage shared throughout the story, and from many different perspectives.  This deep and mature look at marriage is rare in today’s society, and I appreciate that these lessons are shared throughout the story.

Love Comes Softly was the first Christian story I read, and I was about ten at the time.  My daughter has been devouring Oke’s books for the past year, and she can’t wait to read this one.  I love that Oke writes stories that are both timeless in nature, sweet enough for children to read, and yet full of wisdom that will steer them well in the coming years.

I hate that this is the last Thatcher book.  I hope that the Okes have something new in the works.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“The Things We Knew” by Catherine West

A tragedy from the past resurfaces in this tale of family secrets and reignited love.

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to harbor animosity toward their father, silently blaming him for their mother’s death. Nobody will talk about that dreadful day, and Lynette can’t remember a bit of it.

But when next-door neighbor Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, he brings the past with him. Once her brother’s best friend and Lynette’s first crush, Nick seems to hiding things from her. Lynette wonders what he knows about the day her mother died and hopes he might help her remember the things she can’t.

But Nick has no intention of telling Lynette the truth. Besides the damage it might cause his own family, he doesn’t want to risk harming the fragile friendship between him and the woman he once thought of as a kid sister.

As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets begin to surface—secrets that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question all they ever believed in.

Catherine West’s story The Things We Knew is more than a roll through family history – it’s the slow, suspenseful investigation of suppressed memories about a suspicious death that devastated a family.  Each family member has moved on but one, and that one is left holding the luggage of responsibility for the present and confusion over the past.  That one wants to find peace with the past and find hope for the future but memory gaps leave her bending under the weight of her burdens.

Her siblings are no different.  While Lynnette is trying to deal with the past, her siblings are all fleeing from it – but they’re just as captive as she is.  Their stories are widely varied and uniqe, and I like the way that West incorporates a broad range of the human condition in the members of this one family.

Lynnette has kept her faith through her struggles, and her journey is inspiring.  Her siblings’ journeys, although all very different, each provide lessons of their own throughout the story, and therein lies the genius of the book.

While Lynnette is a main character, her siblings have strong supporting roles, but no two characters are alike.  This variance keeps the reader turning pages and makes it possible for many different readers to connect emotionally with someone in the story.  I personally liked Lynnette’s determination to find the truth, but I can see my daughter in Ryan and my husband in Nick.  I think the Carlisle siblings will appeal to a widely varied audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that West dispenses the family information.  The Carlisles are full of secrets, and by dribbling them out slowly, often as Lynnette discovers them, the reader is kept thirsting for more.

I don’t think the cover does the book justice.  It’s very simple, and for some reason the title font made me think it was going to be an emotionally-dramatic family story; and maybe that’s not too far off, but with the suspicion of murder, international music stars, alcohol and drug addictions, secret trysts, and controlling parents, it’s so much more than that.  The Things We Knew may not quality for romantic suspense, exactly, but it’s close; it’s definitely a summer must-read.

Click here to read other reviews in this blog hop or here to purchase your own copy now.

Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border collie for long walks on the beach or tending to her roses and orchids. She and her husband have two grown children.

 
 
I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“When Death Draws Near” Undercover Artist Giveaway

Plunge into forensic artist Gwen Marcey’s world, full of cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects. Add Carrie Stuart Parks’ new book, When Death Draws Near, to the top of your must-read list. Gwen accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before she can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?

Join Carrie in celebrating the release of When Death Draws Near by entering to win an Undercover Artist Starter Set.

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One grand prize winner will receive:

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Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on August 22. The winner will be announced August 23 on the Litfuse blog.

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“When Death Draws Near” by Carrie Stuart Parks

Death has always been part of Gwen Marcey’s job. But when faced with her own mortality, everything takes on a different hue.

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs and homes when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky. The Eastern Kentucky town, located deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, has been plagued by a serial rapist and a series of unexplained deaths. Before Gwen can develop a composite drawing, the latest witness vanishes, just like all the previous victims.

Turning her attention to sketching the face of an unidentified body, she discovers a link between his death and a Pentecostal serpent-handling church. Serpent-handling is illegal in Kentucky, and the churches have gone underground to avoid the authorities and continue to worship as they believe. Gwen is offered a handsome reward to infiltrate the renegade members, a reward she desperately needs as it seems her breast cancer has returned.

Joined by her digitally-obsessed, Generation Z daughter, Gwen goes undercover to a nineteenth century revival, planning to draw the faces of the snake handlers so they can be identified and arrested. Instead she uncovers a murderous plot and a festering evil.

If you’re a fan of criminal suspense books, like those of Terri Blackstock, you’ll want to read Parks’ latest “When Death Draws Near.”  It has all the action and suspense of a murder mystery but the drama like you’d find on the big screen.  The combination can’t be easy to pull off, and yet Parks wrote so many twists and turns into her story that she kept me guessing until the very last page.

Gwen isn’t your typical leading lady.  She’s not super young, super rich, or super pretty.  In fact, she’s divorced, broke, and a cancer survivor  – with the scars to show it.  Her rough predicament pulled at my heartstrings more than once, but I liked her all the more for it.  She was real – and she was really smart, too.  I love stories in which the characters really use their brains to solve the case.

In Gwen’s case, it went a bit beyond that, because while it was her brains that figured out whodunit, it was also her endurance that saved her skin – literally.  Parks wrote a climactic ending that went on and on, spurring me on to find resolution.

Mystery stories have been my favorite since I read my first Hardy Boys’ when I was seven, and I’ve collected a long list of great mystery authors since that time.  I’m happy to report that I’ve just added another.

Learn more and purchase a copy.

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy finalist as well as a Carol award-winning author. She has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Find out more about Carrie Stuart at http://www.carriestuartparks.com.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“The Loyal Heart” by Shelley Shepard Gray

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Robert came to Galveston to fulfill his promise to a dying man and look after his widow. He didn’t expect to find love in the unlikeliest of places.

Robert Truax, former Second Lieutenant and Confederate officer in the Civil War, made a promise to his comrade Phillip Markham. If anything happened to Phillip, Robert would look after his beloved wife, Miranda. She was his life, his world, his everything.

After the war, Robert is left to pick up the pieces and fulfill his pact. When he arrives at Miranda’s home in Galveston, Texas, things are worse than he imagined. Phillip’s name has been dragged through the mud, everyone in town believes him to be a traitor, and his widow is treated as an outcast. Even more disturbing is her emotional well-being. Miranda seems hopeless, lost, and so very alone.

Robert had thought his duty would be simple. He would help Miranda as quickly as possible in order to honor a promise. But the moment Robert laid eyes on her, his plans changed. He’s mesmerized by her beauty and yearns to help her in any way he can.

He makes it his duty to protect Miranda, turn her reputation around, and to find some way to help her smile again. But it doesn’t prove to be an easy task—Robert knows something about Phillip that could shake Miranda to the core and alter her view of the man she thought she knew so well.

Shelley Shepard Gray might usually write Amish romances,, but she has the golden touch with historical fiction, too.  I love the way that she created a backstory for this book that sets up the entire series – and developed some seriously awesome men to play the main characters.

Beyond that, the setting is a bit unusual.  Set on an island in Texas in the years following the Civil War, the townspeople were loyal to the Confederacy and shunning one of their own.  Gray’s setup makes for a seriously suspenseful story, though, with lots of personal drama.  The high action keeps the story moving and the kindness of Robert and Miranda gives the reader a vested interest in their lives.

Gray builds that high action with a wide cast of characters and multiple villains.  With several subplots in addition to a few romances, there’s not a dull paragraph in the book.  Gray keeps that tension high throughout the entire story and builds a great lead-in to the next book in the story.

Gray is an expert at building that tension and keeping the reader turning pages – even when the story has ended.   I can’t wait for the next book to be released, and while I’m frustrated at having to wait, if it’s anything like The Loyal Heart, it’ll be well worth it.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.