Christmas Surprise! – Top 10 Book Picks of 2017

Each year, I publish reviews for about 52 books or so here at the Books and Biscuits Blog.  However, I’ve never attempted to rank them beyond the ratings I post on Amazon, GoodReads, and similar websites.  To celebrate Christmas and the end of the year, I put together my inaugural (hopefully annual) list of my top 10 favorite books from 2017.

While I have given more than 10 books 5-star reviews, these are my absolute top picks.  The remainder are listed below as “honorable mentions” for their 5-star rankings.  These books are listed in alphabetical order, as I really had no ability to rank them beyond a top 10 grouping.  Enjoy

Tamera Alexander. A Note Yet Unsung. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

As a musician, I could not get enough of this beautiful book by Ms. Alexander!  She manages to expertly wrap up one of her much-loved series, while leaving her readers wanting even more of her stories.

Tamera Alexander. To Wager Her Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

2017 was a big year for Ms. Alexander!  She wrapped up two series, as well as releasing the prequel novella for her next one.  To Wager Her Heart is one of my favorite books by Ms. Alexander, as a direct result of her in-depth historical research and focus on several almost unknown stories and topics.  The Fisk University connection is particularly fascinating!

Lynn Austin. Where We Belong. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Where We Belong may be one of my favorite releases from Ms. Austin in the past ten or so years.  Her research into the lives of her characters is absolutely incredible, especially as she shows their faith and personality in the presence of momentous historical situations.

Kristi Ann Hunter. An Inconvenient Beauty. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Ms. Hunter wraps up her first published series this year with An Inconvenient Beauty.  Throughout the series, I wondered how she would pull off a worthy novel for the quiet and complex main character, but she pulled it off!

Kara Isaac. Then There Was You. Bellbird Press, 2017.

I’ve read Ms. Isaac’s other books, but Then There Was You is by far my favorite one!  She left me laughing and crying along with memorable characters in this twist on a fish-out-of-water story.

Joanna Davidson Politano. Lady Jayne Disappears. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

Ms. Politano makes one of the most impressive debuts of the year with Lady Jayne Disappears.  Initially, I was hesitant to read this novel, as the summary seemed rather dark and depressing.  However, Ms. Politano expertly writes this story with faith and joy that permeates a unique storyline.

Melissa Tagg. All This Time. Middletown, DE: Larkspur Press, 2017.

What can I say about this novel, other than the fact that it wraps up Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series.  Anyone who follows Ms. Tagg on her blog knows her personal love of her characters and stories, which permeates her stories.  With a flair for romantic comedy, Ms. Tagg’s works consistently end up on my must-read list every year.

Becky Wade. True to You: A Bradford Sisters Romance. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

2017 seemed to be a year of authors either wrapping up series or beginning new ones.  Ms. Wade’s previous series was incredibly strong and I wondered if she could pull it off again.  True to You proved that Ms. Wade is brilliant at writing enjoyable contemporary Christian fiction, even as she builds an entirely new cast of characters.

Roseanna M. White. A Name Unknown. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

A Name Unknown came out of the blue for me, as I was not a huge fan of Ms. White’s previous works.  With the beginning of a new series, Ms. White manages to create a fascinating set of characters and situations that pulled me in from the very first chapter.  After this book, I am eagerly anticipating the chance to review her next novel, which is due out in January of the new year.

Karen Witemeyer. Heart on the Line. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Last, but certainly not least, Ms. Witemeyer always makes it onto my list of favorite authors and books.  She consistently brings a quirky set of characters to life, while remaining true to the best of the historical Christian fiction genre.  I particularly appreciate the sense of humor that she always brings to her story, as I found myself gravitating toward lighter storylines over the past year or so.

Honorable Mentions:

I hope that all of you have a blessed Christmas and a very happy New Year!

Review: The House on Foster Hill – Jaime Jo Wright

Jaime Jo Wright. The House on Foster Hill. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

I’m not the person to watch scary movies, but I oftentimes enjoy reading Christian fiction with mystery or suspense elements.  Somehow, these authors typically make the genre more accessible and I’m generally fine reading these stories.

In The House on Foster Hill, Kaine Prescott returns to her ancestral family’s hometown in Wisconsin to leave behind her tragic past in California.  She hopes by restoring a historical estate, she can finally grieve and recover from the murder of her husband and the impact that event had on her life.  She fears that her past career helping abused women had finally caught up with her in California.  Unfortunately, the house has its own past and is in terrible condition when Kaine arrives.  Ivy Thorpe had her own encounters in the house on Foster Hill a century before.  An unknown woman is found murdered on the property and it takes Ivy and a group of townspeople to solve the mystery of what happened within the house.  Placing their own lives at risk across the years, Kaine and Ivy discover the house’s secrets and find their lives will never be the same.

Bridging two periods within the town, The House on Foster Hill presents a high-stakes mystery that will delight fans of this genre of stories.  Ms. Wright’s debut novel offers plenty of suspense that ties together generations of people from a small Wisconsin town.

Overall, I thought The House on Foster Hill offered a different kind of story from what I typically read.  In seeing other reviews about the book, I was expecting an easy five-start review on my end.  However, I had several issues with the novel.  In reading the Kindle version, I expected the book to end at many different points, but I was rarely anywhere near the end of the book.  It could have used some significant editing, particularly in its plot development, even though the writing style of the author was pretty good.  Some of the characters were stronger than others, with Ivy Thorpe coming across as one of the best-developed in the novel.  Also, I was rather disappointed to see minimal historical detail in the historical sections of the book.  I would much prefer to see a stronger plot that is exclusively contemporary or historical, as very few authors can successfully pull off both within a single novel.  Lastly, I found this book to be much creepier than almost any other Christian mystery/suspense novel that I have previously read.  While I could see other readers really enjoying that aspect of the story, I found it somewhat off-putting and it made it a struggle to actually finish the book.

Fans of high-stakes mystery and suspense novels may find The House on Foster Hill to be worth reading.  While the book does have Christian elements, readers who identify more closely with other forms of Christian fiction (contemporary or historical) may find this book to be creepier than they prefer for light reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of The House on Foster Hill!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
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Review: Where We Belong – Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin. Where We Belong. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

With the holiday season already upon us, I can’t help but think of what great books I would recommend from the past year.  Fortunately, Lynn Austin’s most recent release would definitely make the list!

In Where We Belong, Rebecca and Flora Hawes find themselves in the Sinai Desert on the hunt for Biblical manuscripts.  However, a sandstorm and other unexpected events delay through journey, providing them the time and opportunity to reflect back on their lifetimes and the situations that led them to this point.  As unorthodox Victorian women, Rebecca and Flora have clung to their faith and family, even as they have chosen lives dedicated to scholarly efforts and philanthropic ventures that significantly impact their hometown of Chicago.  They have also brought along their young butler and ladies’ maid, both of whom have been saved from tragic circumstances by the sisters.  Together, their band of unlikely travelers eventually reach their destination and make incredible discoveries along the way.

Ms. Austin writes a compelling tale of two sisters and their faith-filled journey of Biblical discovery.  Based on a true story, Ms. Austin’s fictionalized version of the sisters’ adventures will become a much-beloved novel by fans and new readers alike.

Overall, I absolutely loved reading Where We Belong!  While I was a bit unsure about the concept initially, Ms. Austin’s writing pulled me in from the first few pages.  Rebecca and Flora’s accomplishments as independent women are incredibly impressive, while their faith shines throughout the story.  I particularly appreciated Ms. Austin’s focus on their work as Biblical scholars, who travelled to the historical sites and made their own share of discoveries that impacted the historical evidence of Biblical texts.  The novel is told from the perspective of the two sisters, as well as their two young servants, who experience their own faith journey from their first encounters with the Hawes sisters.  The story has something for everyone, with plenty of adventure, romance, drama, and conflict to keep the reader interested.  Personally, I found elements of Where We Belong to remind me of some of Ms. Austin’s earliest stories, bringing to mind the reasons why I consistently read her books to this day.

Fans of Ms. Austin’s previous works will definitely want to read Where We Belong!  Additionally, those readers with an interest in Biblical history and archaeology, as well as fans of books like The Case for Christ, will find this novel to be well worth the time.

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Amazon – Where We Belong

Review: The Space Between Words – Michele Phoenix

Michele Phoenix. The Space Between Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

With the encouragement and prompting of some of the publishers that I regularly read and review, I find myself exploring new authors and storylines that I would not be as likely to discover on my own.  While some novels are more successful than others, I always enjoy finding the unexpected in these stories.

In The Space Between Words, Jessica finds herself in the midst of the Paris attacks.  As an American in a Parisian hospital, she struggles to grasp the horror of her experience, even as the French medical professionals try to help her understand the situation.  Her friend, Patrick, helps her to cope through the early days of her recovery as he encourages her to pursue their planned journey to the southern part of France for an antiquing trip.  A chance encounter and an antique box of old documents soon set Jessica on a new journey.  Translating the archaic French, Jessica discovers the story of the persecuted Huguenots and their faith-filled community.  With the help of new-found friends, she pursues the Huguenot family’s story from France to England, in the hope of discovering the reason for their hope in the face of suffering.

Weaving together the past and present, Ms. Phoenix offers a compelling tale of faith and courage.  Her story goes beyond the terror of one day to explore what comes next in her characters’ lives.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Space Between Words.  While I am not familiar with Ms. Phoenix’s other works, I found this novel to be surprisingly accessible, with a good writing style and pacing that allows it to be easily read by a wide variety of readers.  She also manages to create a depiction of both the Paris attacks and Huguenot persecution that are both horrific and minimally graphic.  While I would be unlikely to hand this book to a relatively young reader, I didn’t have to worry too much about having nightmares from it myself, which I much appreciated.  The Huguenot/historical part of the story was absolutely fascinating, as was Jessica’s journey to discover more about the family involved in the making of her antique box.  With such a strong story of faith included in the historical components of the novel, the contemporary side of the plot felt much weaker in that regard.  Particularly, I found the end to have needed a bit more development, even as I was very happy to see such an emphasis on Christian faith included in a novel published by Thomas Nelson (which has not been the case in some of their more recent releases).

Fans of other Christian fiction works that split contemporary and historical timelines will likely enjoy reading The Space Between Words.  Additionally, those who have previously enjoyed Ms. Phoenix’s other works will definitely want to read this one, too.

Special thanks to The Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson for the promotional copy of The Space Between Words!

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Amazon – The Space Between Words

Review: Out of the Ordinary – Jen Turano

Jen Turano. Out of the Ordinary. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

 Sometimes, I find myself needing a fun read.  These books are light and enjoyable, in spite of the craziness of my everyday life.  Jen Turano consistently provides this type of escape in her novels.

Out of the Ordinary continues Ms. Turano’s Apart from the Crowd series.  Gertrude Cadwalader has long established herself as one of the wallflowers (featured in earlier parts of the series), becoming good friends with the other characters of the series.  Along the way, her name has become tied to Harrison Sinclair, a particularly eccentric shipping magnate.  During her friends’ engagement party, Gertrude loses track of her long-time companion, the wealthy Mrs. Davenport.  With a proclivity toward stealing trinkets, Mrs. Davenport’s light-fingered ways soon land Gertrude in particular trouble with Harrison’s mother and sisters.  Gertrude and Harrison’s attempts to right the situation soon sets them on a trajectory that impacts more lives than their own.

Fans of Ms. Turano’s Apart from the Crowd will be delighted with this newest novel.  Gertrude and Harrison are particularly lighthearted and quirky characters that will leave readers tickled pink with their adventures.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Out of the Ordinary.  The book never tries to be too serious, which makes for an excellent, light-hearted escape.  Added to that, Ms. Turano always makes sure to include Christian elements in her works.  With a quick pace and very accessible writing style, this novel would be appropriate for anyone, including relatively young readers of Christian historical fiction.  Ms. Turano focuses a surprising portion of the storyline on the engagement party that Gertrude and Harrison attend.  However, these events spur on the rest of the novel, which makes her decision to focus so much of the novel on the initial setting quite understandable.  Personally, I find myself wanting to know more about the characters and eagerly anticipate the next novel in the series.

Fans of Ms. Turano’s works, especially the Apart from the Crowd series, will definitely want to read Out of the Ordinary!  Additionally, readers who appreciate light-hearted and relatively humorous Christian historical fiction will also be thrilled with this particular book.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishing for the advanced copy of Out of the Ordinary!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – http://amzn.to/2zVa07g