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Empire's End

Jerry B. Jenkins, with James S. MacDonald. Worthy, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-61795-007-0

The much-published Jenkins (I, Saul) continues to mine the story of the apostle Paul in this disappointing tale. The famous conversion scene on the road to Damascus comes early and is hasty: "In that instant, my world changed," Paul says of his about-face. Much of the book is set in Arabia, where Paul lives with a community of others who follow the way of the recently crucified Jesus, and where Paul discovers a tragic connection to his past as a persecutor of those followers. Some conceits in this imaginative retelling succeed: a horse, Theo, miraculously carries Paul to Arabia, and the apostle Peter is well-characterized. But Paul gets into a romantic relationship that's just silly, and God's frequent speeches to him using phrases that appear in Paul's actual biblical letters is a pedestrian storytelling device. This will appeal only to Christians. (June)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Curiosity Keeper

Sarah E. Ladd. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7180-1178-9

In 1812, Camille Iverness works in her father's curiosity shop, selling collectibles, in a rough part of London. She had a more genteel upbringing living on her grandfather's estate, until his death brought about a move to London and into commercial enterprise. Jonathan Gilchrist is drawn to the Iverness Curiosity Shop in search of a valuable ruby stolen from his father, the possession of which can save the Gilchrist family fortune and their estate. Jonathan naturally assumes Camille knows something about the ruby; after someone else appears at the shop seeking it, the subsequent trouble forces Camille to accept help from Jonathan, although she does not trust him. Attraction grows between them even while the gem threatens their developing relationship. Ladd's (The Headmistress of Rosemere) story, with its menace and cast of seedy London characters, feels more like a work of Dickens than a Regency, which may confound Regency fans. A twist near the end provides an element of surprise in a relatively predictable plot. A solid outing. Agent: Tamela Hancock Murray, Steve Laube Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Seasoned with Grace

Nigeria Lockley. Kensington/Urban Christian, $14.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-62286-810-0

Supermodel Grace King has made headlines repeatedly for bad behavior. Her latest altercation in a nightclub has landed her a term of community service at her lawyer's church; forced to fit in, a reluctant Grace is surprised to meet the good-looking Horace Brown, a church member who's looking for a churchgoing woman. Grace has a lot of issues to work through, especially when she reconnects with two men from her past who had been powerful negative influences. She has a supportive network of friends and an entrenched set of bad habits pulling her in opposite directions; will she heal, or continue her self-destructive spiral in public view? Lockley (Born at Dawn) has a good eye for celebrity and designer brands; a particular strength is her clever dialogue. She also manages to make Grace a likable diva with a credible arc of character development. Fans of urban fiction can look forward to Grace's next adventure and to Lockley's development. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Only with Blood

Therese Down. Lion (Kregel, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-78264-135-3

In Ireland during World War II, farmer Jack Flynn decides he needs a wife who can bear him a child to inherit his land. He marries Caitlin Spillane, a beautiful and headstrong young woman less than half his age, by the arrangement of her father. A secondary plot traces the growing involvement of Donal Kelly, a young schoolteacher, in the IRA's underground war against British influence. Caitlin's and Donal's paths cross as both of them balance the claims of duty, family, and their own needs. Down spins a web of psychologically complex characters who hurt others and are hurt themselves; the back story of the emotionally stunted Jack, abandoned by his mother as a child and carrying the burden of his own IRA involvement in his youth, is especially haunting. It certainly helps to know Irish politics and nationalism; some of the references in the English author's narrative are obscure. The strength of the Down's story is not its history but rather its characters and their sad, intertwined longings. (July)

Reviewed on 05/15/2015 | Details & Permalink

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