Review: Daughter of the Regiment – Stephanie Grace Whitson

Stephanie Grace Whitson. Daughter of the Regiment. New York, NY: FaithWords, 2015.

Some of my earliest historical fiction books focused on the Civil War and it seemed like the perfect place to start the Christian fiction genre. Those books seemed quintessentially American and far enough in the past to present unique stories and characters that seemed sufficiently removed from my own life. Over the years, I have significantly diversified my reading list and the historical periods represented within it. However, in periodically returning to Civil War-era books, I’m finding that authors are more frequently choosing to depict stories far outside of the mid-Atlantic military campaigns and instead showing many other perspectives and regions involved in the war.

Stephanie Grace Whitson’s Daughter of the Regiment focuses on the unique position of Missouri in the Civil War. In a region that directly pitted neighbor against neighbor, the novel follows two women who come to represent the polarizing nature of the conflict and the enormous socio-economic differences present among the population. Before the war, Irishwoman Maggie Malone spends her time working alongside her brothers and uncle to manage their family farm. After receiving word that her brother has been injured fighting for the Union, Maggie becomes a vital member of the Irish Brigade. Nearby, Elizabeth Blair lives with her brother on his successful hemp plantation, living a lifestyle not far removed from her childhood in Tennessee. When her brother forms the Wildwood Guard to fight for the Confederate cause, Elizabeth soon finds herself protecting the plantation from Union forces, including her neighbors serving in the Irish Brigade. While Elizabeth discovers the maturing effect of imminent war, Maggie realizes how her unorthodox childhood may have perfectly prepared her to serve “her boys” in the regiment.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Daughter of the Regiment. However, as I’ve found to be the case with other books that present multiple character perspectives, there always seem to be sections and people that seem far more interesting than others. By far, Maggie’s perspective on the war and her involvement in the Irish Brigade were the most fascinating parts of the novel. Her work as the “daughter of the regiment” raises awareness of this significant, yet infrequently described, women’s role during the Civil War. In comparison, Elizabeth serves as an interesting foil to Maggie, although she seems typical enough to the genre that her sections feel less intriguing as a result. Altogether, the novel feels true to Ms. Whitson’s writing style, historical research, and character development. While the timeline of the book seems relatively limited in terms of the overall war, Ms. Whitson utilizes this focused period to thoroughly develop her story and characters.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Whitson’s other novels will definitely want to read Daughter of the Regiment. Fans of mid 19th century historical Christian fiction, especially about the Civil War, will find the novel to present a particularly fascinating perspective not often found in other books. With moderate pacing and an accessible writing style, the novel makes for a relatively fast read, even at 312 pages.

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Review: Love Arrives in Pieces – Betsy St. Amant

Betsy St. Amant. Love Arrives in Pieces. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

I’m always amazed at the sheer number of books that focus on the theme of new beginnings and second chances. In the last couple of months on the Books and Biscuits Blog, we’ve seen these same concepts appear in Amanda Cabot’s In Firefly Valley, Melissa Tagg’s From the Start, and Becky Wade’s A Love Like Ours. Whether it’s a second chance at love, a new city, or restarting one’s career, you can always depend on quite a few Christian fiction books, including Betsy St. Amant’s Love Arrives in Pieces, looking to this “oldey, but goody” theme. :)

“What in the world had happened to Stella Vanland?” Chase Taylor asks himself in Betsy St. Amant’s sophomore novel, Love Arrives in Pieces. As the contractor in charge of renovating Bayou Bend’s historic theater, Chase returns to his hometown with a few regrets and a new outlook on life after his fiancé’s death. When Chase realizes that Stella, an old girlfriend from long ago, is the interior decorator for the theater renovation, he struggles to recognize the bright and bold girl of his past within the consummate professional hiding behind neutral tones. Stella’s life after Chase and Bayou Bend took a direction she never anticipated, especially after her years as the shining pageant queen. Left broken after an unexpected divorce, Stella turns to her art as the one secret part of her life that remains untouched by her past. Through their work on Bayou Bend’s theater, Chase and Stella discover the ultimate beauty that comes from their brokenness.

Love Arrives in Pieces builds upon the Southern setting and characters first introduced in All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes (which may be one of the cutest titles ever :). Focusing on Chase and Stella’s new beginnings in Bayou Bend, the novel follows their journey to rediscover their long-lost passion in the face of tremendous disappointment and grief.

Overall, I was surprisingly impressed with Love Arrives in Pieces. With a moderate pace and a story that took a while to gain momentum, the novel reflects the style of several works by Colleen Coble and Denise Hunter. However, Ms. St. Amant’s story and her leading lady’s artistic perspective on the world reminded me of Kristy Cambron’s novels, due to her art history background and art-oriented insights. The story’s resolution and its ties to Stella’s “secret” artistic efforts, as well as a scene-stealing encounter in an art museum, ultimately made the book. Some of the characters and themes seemed very familiar from other author’s works, but the artistic perspective and tragic experience that Stella’s character brings to the novel set it apart within the genre.

Readers who enjoy moderately-paced contemporary Christian fiction may find Betsy St. Amant’s novels worth reading. The pacing and characters reminded me of Colleen Coble and Denise Hunter, while the editing and style felt familiar to those who read fiction published by Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. Additionally, fans of Southern fiction will also definitely enjoy Love Arrives in Pieces.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers and Zondervan for the advanced copy of Love Arrives in Pieces!

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Review: Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor – Melanie Dobson

Melanie Dobson. Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. New York, NY: Howard Books, 2015.

The last two months have been incredibly busy here at the Books and Biscuits Blog. Since April, I’ve been stunned at the sheer number of review-worthy books being released by publishers. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve been able to get a head start on many of these release dates and keep up the momentum for a long series of great books. If I sound a bit winded along the way, encouraging comments on the blog and the blog’s Facebook page are much appreciated. :)

Melanie Dobson’s Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor follows the journey of Heather Toulson, an art restorer from Portland, Oregon, who travels back to England to clean out her parent’s cottage after their deaths. While sorting through old books, she discovers more about the older sister that she never met during her childhood. Heather’s time in England extends throughout the novel, as she slowly pieces together the mysteries of her parents’ past, the truth behind her own romantic history, and the legend of a sixty-year-old murder at the local manor house.

The novel interweaves the past and present, starting its earliest scenes in 1954 and gradually moving the historical sections toward the present day. In total, the novel bridges five generations of people connected by the mysteries of Ladenbrooke Manor and the secrets of both the Doyle and Croft families. Within the book, Ms. Dobson’s strongest depictions convey the beautiful Cotswold region of England, including the thatched houses and extensive gardens where many of her scenes take place.

Overall, I was left with mixed feelings about Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. While Ms. Dobson does a good job with interweaving her characters into a complex storyline, I didn’t find the “intrigue” of the novel to be exceptionally intriguing. After reading her earlier novel, Chateau of Secrets, I was expecting a more significant historical influence on Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. Although the novel does continue Ms. Dobson’s skill in building a strong character-based story, I never became emotionally invested in their development and instead wished for something as dramatic as a war to introduce an external (rather than emotional) reason for the character’s challenges. Additionally, I found myself far more interested in the minor characters and wished that they carried more of the storyline.

Fans of Ms. Dobson’s work will likely enjoy Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. It has quite a few similarities to the story development, pacing, and writing style of her earlier novel, Chateau of Secrets, although I actually found that I enjoyed that book more than this more recent one. Based on Ms. Dobson’s previous work, I have typically compared her to Kristy Cambron, whose The Butterfly and the Violin and A Sparrow in Terezin (April 2015) share Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor’s use of alternating modern and historical sequences. However, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor’s emphasis on periods after World War II place it somewhat outside the war-based genre that drives the action of these other novels by Ms. Dobson and Ms. Cambron.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Howard Books for the advanced copy of Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor!

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Review: Married ’til Monday – Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter. Married ‘til Monday. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Have you ever read a book that reminds you all the world of a place (or places) where you’ve lived previously? I spent much of my graduate school experience living in Indianapolis. Whenever I read Denise Hunter’s books that are set in Indiana, I find myself reminiscing about the places and people that made it such a great place to live for those years. When I discovered that one of the primary characters in her most recent novel, Married ‘til Monday, lived in Indy, I couldn’t wait to read the novel.

Married ‘til Monday, the fourth book in Ms. Hunter’s Chapel Springs Romance series, follows the eldest son of the McKinley family. Ryan McKinley coaches football for the local high school, but still dreams of his college sweetheart and ex-wife, Abby. When Abby’s parents call to invite him to their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary in Maine, Ryan quickly realizes that she has kept their divorce a secret from those who should be closest to her. Before they know it, Abby and Ryan are on a cross-country road trip that offers them a chance to find out the truth behind the failings of their marriage. With a nervous dog in tow, a tiny car, and too much time on their hands, they discover that they are in for the ride of their lives and a God-given second chance.

In Married ‘til Monday, Ms. Hunter displays her award-winning ability to create a cast of engaging characters, who personify the real-life challenges faced by Christians. The truth behind Abby’s past and the challenges that tore apart her marriage will rivet readers who enjoy emotionally-driven plotlines, while Ryan and his extended family will continue to delight fans of the Chapel Springs series.

Overall, I liked Married ‘til Monday as a library read. However, I would likely rank The Wishing Season as my favorite book within the Chapel Springs Romance series (its review will be posted at a later date). While Married ‘til Monday remains true to Ms. Hunter’s style, I never became entirely immersed in the story. I’m finding in my reading of this and other books that I rarely enjoy emotionally-driven plotlines and, instead, prefer external conflict. For instance, I really enjoyed the scene in which Ryan and Abby are stranded in a fishing shack for several days. The scene was one of my favorites, in part, because it highlighted Ms. Hunter’s ability to develop unique and likable characters who could simultaneously grow personally and further a plotline. In addition, it offered some of the few laugh-out-loud moments of an otherwise serious novel. In comparison, the emotional plotline of the novel significantly slowed the pacing in key sections and resulted in secondary characters questioning the actions of the primary characters. At that point, I had to agree with their assessment and found myself wishing for the book’s final resolution.

Fans of both Denise Hunter and the Chapel Springs Romance series will definitely find Married ‘til Monday to be a worthwhile read. Additionally, those who typically read Christian fiction by such authors as Susan May Warren and Colleen Coble will likely also enjoy reading Denise Hunter’s works.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for an advanced copy of Married ‘til Monday!

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Review: A Worthy Pursuit – Karen Witemeyer

Karen Witemeyer. A Worthy Pursuit. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

In case anyone has been keeping track, it’s been a very busy couple of months here at the Books and Biscuits Blog. It seems as if every week brings several new books that head my way to be read and reviewed. Fortunately, I’m excited to do this work and share my favorite finds with all of you. :)

Karen Witemeyer’s latest novel, A Worthy Pursuit, follows Charlotte Atherton, a teacher at the Sullivan Academy for Exceptional Youth. When the school unexpectedly shuts down, she heads to her family’s home with her adopted daughter, Lily, and two other children who have nowhere else to go. When Lily’s grandfather discovers her disappearance, he sends tracker Stone Hammond across Texas to find his granddaughter and the teacher who stole her away from him. However, Stone never anticipated Charlotte and the legal proof she holds that confirms her guardianship of Lily. In a high-stakes race against time and a series of bounty hunters, Stone and Charlotte take the children on a journey to evade discovery long enough to finally find the evidence required to keep Lily safe for a lifetime.

With a cast of exceptional characters, A Worthy Pursuit stands out as one of Ms. Witemeyer’s most ambitious novels yet. Stone brings the epic hero of nineteenth-century dime novels to life, while Charlotte personifies one of Ms. Witemeyer’s most mature and talented leading ladies. Likewise, the abilities of Charlotte’s students prove that secondary characters can truly make a novel extraordinary in their own right.

Overall, I was exceptionally pleased with A Worthy Pursuit. Ms. Witemeyer consistently depicts independent and intelligent female characters, particularly within her last several novels. Likewise, she presents increasingly complex, outside-the-box stories and subjects that push the boundaries of traditional Christian historical fiction. A Worthy Pursuit relies on Ms. Witemeyer’s ability to develop a fast-paced, yet elaborate, story that feels realistic, while exploring the oftentimes humorous aspects of her characters and their interactions with one another. All together, the novel illustrates the continued evolution of Ms. Witemeyer’s storytelling, while revealing numerous possibilities for further development of characters and settings for use in future novels.

Fans of Ms. Witemeyer’s earlier works will definitely love A Worthy Pursuit. Additionally, readers who enjoy the books of Deeanne Gist and Cathy Marie Hake will particularly appreciate Ms. Witemeyer’s stories and characters. With Ms. Witemeyer’s increasing emphasis on intelligent female characters, fans of Elizabeth Camden may also be curious to try A Worthy Pursuit, as well as Full Steam Ahead. At 352 pages, the novel remains consistent with the length and general style of Ms. Witemeyer’s other novels.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of A Worthy Pursuit!

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