Review: It Had to Be You – Susan May Warren

Susan May Warren. It Had to Be You. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.

Please note: This review may contain some borderline spoilers, depending on if you have read any of the books in Susan May Warren’s Christiansen Family series or previews/summaries for the latter books in the series.  Thanks!

It’s been a relatively unexciting week spent on the couch with a box of Kleenex and a trash can that seems to self-fill with used tissues. Being sick is awful, but running a temperature when the entire family would prefer that I do something with them feels particularly miserable. After cancelling my plans and feeling relatively dejected, I decided to pick out a book from my current library pile and start reading. Fortunately, I had Susan May Warren’s It Had to Be You sitting there for several weeks, waiting patiently for me to pick it up. I would classify it as an “oldie but goodie,” even though it’s not even a year old yet.

As the second book in the Christiansen Family novel series, It Had to Be You follows Eden, the oldest daughter and second child of John and Ingrid Christiansen. Working in the obits department of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Eden dreams of becoming a serious reporter. However, every spare moment of her life is taken up as chief cheerleader, family representative, nurse, and surrogate mother for her little brother, Owen, who makes it onto the NHL’s newest team, the St. Paul Blue Ox. When the spotlight and unexpected injuries damage Owen’s chances to succeed in the NHL, Eden comes face-to-face with Blue Ox captain, Jace Jacobsen. Together, they come to realize that God’s plan is not limited by their respective job titles.

Like so many of Ms. Warren’s other books, It Had to Be You is challenging to summarize without giving away significant plot points. The novel offers a fascinating examination of how people come to define one’s purpose in life. While Eden aspires to be more than what other people define her, she comes to discover how God has put her in exactly the right place all along. Meanwhile, Jace realizes that he can be more than the hockey persona that his fans have come to expect. Throughout the book, other characters encounter situations that cause them to question God’s reasoning for tragedy, with some situations resulting in greater faith and relative resolution, while others surpass the timeline of the book itself. As a person who has faced similar questions in their life, I felt that these situations were very accurately portrayed and greatly enhanced the believability of the characters.

The book’s greatest weakness is also one of its greatest strengths. Some of the depictions are so realistic as to be heartbreaking and I find myself brushing away tears (even after reading this book multiple times) reading through certain sections. I realize that some readers (typically, me included) may want to avoid “sad” books, especially if they are struggling with similar situations in real life. However, the Christian perspective of the novel offers tremendous hope and resolve for both the characters and the reader.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading It Had to Be You and look forward to Ms. Warren’s forthcoming novels. When I Fall in Love (2014) is also excellent (I’ll include a review at a later date), focusing on Grace Christiansen and Blue Ox teammate, Max Sharpe’s culinary adventures in Hawaii and Minneapolis. Within the next couple months, Always on My Mind will also be released, continuing a storyline from When I Fall in Love about Casper Christiansen and Raina Beumont. I would definitely recommend the Christiansen Family novel series, which has been getting even better with each new book, to anyone who enjoys contemporary Christian romance with a moderate pace and well-developed characters.

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
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Review: Firewall – DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills. Firewall. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.

I oftentimes enjoy roaming through the local library to find new authors and books. With access to a new library, I’ve been particularly appreciating the “Inspirational” stickers on the binding of the fiction books. Being the first book in the new FBI: Houston series, and since I am an admirer of Dee Henderson’s Christian suspense, I picked up Firewall after reading a brief review claiming that Henderson fans would love Ms. Mills’ newest book. I am much more familiar with Ms. Mills’ romantic fiction and was interested to see her take on a more suspense-filled story.

Firewall focuses on the work of world-class software developer, Taryn Young, who leads her company’s efforts on a major government contract for America’s energy pipelines. Following a catastrophic bombing, Taryn realizes her new husband is missing and she is the prime suspect of a major terror attack. Together with FBI Agent Grayson Hall and his uncle, a retired FBI agent, Taryn evades capture in the hopes of proving her innocence and discovering the real cause of the bombing. With layers of intrigue and bureaucracy, they eventually realize just how close they have been to the terrorists all along.

Ms. Mills creates a fast-paced story reminiscent of technology-driven suspense films. As an author with perhaps more experience writing more casual romance (at least for her books that I’ve read previously), Ms. Mills’ number one priority appears to be driving the story forward with exceptional urgency. Taking place over the course of only a few days, Firewall depends on a number of convenient explanations and happenstance scenarios that create a generally-unconvincing story.

Christian suspense proves a relatively tricky genre, depending on the author. In general, I have particularly enjoyed Dee Henderson’s works, as they delve into well-developed characters and the natural situations (and timing) they encounter as part of their jobs and circumstances. However, it is very easy for the “Christian” components of the genre to become entirely lost in the action, as illustrated in Firewall. More realistic pacing of the storyline and relationships allows for natural “breathing room” that so well accommodates Christian themes and discussions.

Overall, I thought that Firewall made for an interesting one-time read from the library. Unless I knew someone who was completely enamored with Christian suspense, I would not likely recommend the book to one of the readers in my own family. It was a relatively quick read, but stilted in its writing style. Several points necessitated that I pull out my pencil to make several edits, which I felt should have been found through thorough editing on the publisher’s part. That alone made me wonder about the quality of the story, even before I reached the end of the book. The ending was somewhat interesting, but I felt that it could have been better thought out in wrapping up the themes and storyline.

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
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Review: Beyond All Dreams – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. Beyond All Dreams. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

Since The Lady of Bolton Hill, I have been a huge fan of Ms. Camden’s work. Whether that comes from our shared experience as graduate students at Indiana University or our connection in the odd world of history majors, Ms. Camden has successfully captured the details of American history that continue to enamor her readers. Additionally, she consistently writes equally strong and intelligent female and male characters that far outstrip the oftentimes simplified interpersonal interactions depicted in other fictional works. As a result of her consistency in this regard, I find myself buying her books sight unseen (a relative rarity in my book collection).

Beyond All Dreams focuses on Anna O’Brien, the map librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Set in 1897-98, the book captures the fascinating period when the Library of Congress transferred from the U.S. Capitol to its own building across the street. Her partner in repartee throughout the work is Congressman Luke Callahan of Maine, a man intent on overcoming his decline in power following a scandalous argument with the Speaker of the House. Both voracious readers, Luke and Anna find common ground in the library, where they put the collections to the test in solving some of the nation’s biggest challenges. While Luke seeks a diplomatic situation to the rising call for war with Spain, Anna discovers the real story behind her father’s death at sea and an error-ridden naval report.

Ms. Camden’s real-world experience as a research librarian is put to good work in a story that depends on a knowledge and appreciation of the complex world of pre-digital information gathering. The details of the book are top-notch, while her characters continue to build on her legacy of highly-intelligent and independent characters from her other works. Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses of the work comes from its absolute consistency in pacing with some of Ms. Camden’s other books. She seems to particularly utilize forced distance between characters as a device for their romantic and intellectual realizations. As a reader familiar with her other works, I found that this and similar devices appeared at nearly the identical points in this book as in several of her other books. Ms. Camden stands out among similar authors for the uniqueness of her characters, settings, and situations, which makes the relative predictableness of these devices stand out far more than would be the case with another author.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed Beyond All Dreams. While I was able to read it in one afternoon, I’m sure that other people may find its length of 360 pages to be better read over the span of a week or two. Likewise, I rarely recommend Ms. Camden’s books to anyone else in my family due to their relative density and level of detail. For those with a slower reading speed or who prefer lighter fare, I find that I am much more likely to refer other authors. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I find that I prefer Ms. Camden’s smart and well-matched characters, as I see more of myself in them.

On a quick aside, I found one passage of the book of particular curiosity. On page 71, Ms. Camden refers to the characters eating Maryland clam chowder “…with spicy stewed tomatoes and lumps of fresh crabmeat….” Not being as familiar with East Coast chowders, I asked my husband (a relative local) about this food reference. Between the two of us, we are familiar with Manhattan and New England-style chowders, but not one attributed to Maryland. Does anyone know more about this recipe?

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – Beyond All Dreams
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Intro to Books at Books and Biscuits

After years spent as an enthusiastic reader of Christian fiction, I’m excited to finally share my perspective here at Books and Biscuits.

Since high school, I have been the primary person responsible for locating excellent examples of Christian books for my family members to read. Growing up with generations of readers in the Midwest and Canada, the women of my family share books and pass them along to one another. My book reviews often indicate which family members I would be most likely to share the books with, depending on their preferences, reading speed, etc.

The books reviewed on Books and Biscuits originate out of my personal collection or that of the local library. At this time, I do not receive books from publishers or suppliers of any kind nor am I encouraged or compensated by any person or organization to give a positive review. I personally read and review every book included on the Books and Biscuits blog and all opinions expressed within the reviews are my own.

As part of Books and Biscuits, I have also created several related pages that I would highly encourage you to visit. The Books link will take you to a special section of the website dedicated to the books reviewed on the blog. Within that section, The Library includes a full list of books (alphabetized by author) reviewed on this blog. Another sub-section, the Failed to Finish page, includes a list of those books that didn’t make the cut for a full review. I will be updating content and adding pages, so be sure to check in for future updates. Additionally, you are welcome to Contact Us to suggest other books that you would like to see reviewed and included in the blog.

I hope you enjoy reading Books and Biscuits as much as I enjoy writing it. :)

-Brittany

Welcome to Books and Biscuits!

Welcome!

We are very excited to kick off our debut post of Books and Biscuits.

Books and Biscuits came about after Brittany spent a few too many days trying to recover from a winter cold. Cabin fever set in and we ended up with a blog.

Long before we married, we (James and Brittany) spent hours sitting around the dinner table discussing exceptionally diverse topics. Books and cooking were just two of the themes that took precedence. We are excited to be able to feature those topics and others here on Books and Biscuits.

In addition to periodic blog posts, we have also developed the Books and Biscuits website to serve as an ongoing resource for people who enjoy the topics that we find interesting. Please feel free to explore the site to discover related pages with more information about books, cooking, and other topics that we discuss in the blog.

-The Editorial Team