Review: Be My Valentino – Sandra Bricker

Sandra Bricker. Be My Valentino. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015.

In a completely unexpected surprise, I received an advanced copy of Sandra Bricker’s newest novel, Be My Valentino, over two months early! It arrived exactly when I needed it most, a day when everything seemed to be going comically wrong and I really needed some fun-filled entertainment to escape the day. :)

Be My Valentino continues the story of Jessie Stanton, first introduced in Ms. Bricker’s On a Ring and a Prayer. After surviving the initial upheaval of discovering her husband’s double life, Jessie finds herself with a new life and a successful clothing rental store, Adornments. Gradually, Jessie makes her mark on Hollywood fashion with the help of some of her new-found friends and an unexpected opportunity to feature her new men’s clothing selections when Danny works undercover at a Hollywood awards event. However, her former husband’s affairs continue to affect Jessie’s business and her ability to trust her own judgment. Even with the best of friends and the love of a God-fearing man, Jessie must rediscover her own faith and roots to grow into the trendsetter she was always meant to be.

The dynamic, mystery-solving duo, Jessie and Private Investigator Danny Callahan, return with another great story by Ms. Bricker. Filled with great characters and a light-hearted writing style, Be My Valentino will delight Ms. Bricker’s greatest fans. Building on Jessie’s previous challenges with her former husband, the novel also delves into Jessie’s Louisiana roots and her growing relationship with Danny.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed reading Be My Valentino. While most of Ms. Bricker’s previous novels utilize a rotating cast of main characters, Be My Valentino offers insight into her multi-novel storylines with a single narrator. Ms. Bricker does an excellent job of building on the characters of On a Ring and a Prayer, while developing additional complexity amid the continued narrative of Jessie Stanton. This novel offers plenty of context to re-introduce characters for those who have not read On a Ring and a Prayer, although those who haven’t read the first book definitely should. In general, Be My Valentino offers less laugh-out-loud moments than the first novel, but provides a light-hearted and surprisingly thought-provoking story that builds on Ms. Bricker’s much-loved characters. After reading On a Ring and a Prayer as a piece of great Christian chick lit, Be My Valentino definitely offers a satisfying continuation that I simply couldn’t put down until the very end.

Fans of Ms. Bricker’s other novels, especially On a Ring and a Prayer, will definitely want to read Be My Valentino! Additionally, readers who enjoy humorous Christian fiction by Janice Thompson and others will also want to add this novel to their must-read lists. At 320 pages, Be My Valentino has relatively quick pacing and would make a great vacation read for the summer months. The novel also includes a spectacular preview chapter of the final novel of the Jessie Stanton series, From Bags to Riches (2016?).

Special thanks to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for the complimentary copy of Be My Valentino!

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Review: Where Treasure Hides – Johnnie Alexander

Johnnie Alexander. Where Treasure Hides. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015.

Have you seen any of the novels published exclusively in e-book format? I don’t typically pick them up through publishers, but I’ve noticed that a certain number of them are starting to become available as printed books, making them much more easily accessible for readers! Johnnie Alexander’s debut 2013 e-novel, Where Treasure Hides, was recently released by Tyndale as a paperback book.

In the spirit of Cara Putman’s Shadowed by Grace and Kristy Cambron’s The Butterfly and the Violin, Johnnie Alexander debuts her historical fiction novel, Where Treasure Hides. Alison Schuyler’s family has spent the last three hundred years building an international reputation of their art gallery in the Netherlands. Her father moved to Chicago years before, disrupting that legacy, while trying to distance himself from a tragic history that devastates every generation of the family. On a journey through London, Alison meets British Army officer Ian Devlin, a man with his own tragic past and an undeniable quality that captures Alison’s attention and heart. With the outbreak of World War II, Alison and Ian find themselves separated by their battles for freedom and oppression under the Nazi regime, Ian’s on the battlefield and Alison’s through her work with the Dutch Underground. Faced with the choice between saving the lives of the people they love and preserving the world’s greatest art, Alison discovers an indescribable hope in God amongst the destruction of a world at war.

Overall, I was rather impressed with Ms. Alexander’s novel. I found the story to be quite interesting and the characters well planned and developed. In comparison to many other Christian fiction works related to World War II, Where Treasure Hides also holds the distinction of delving firmly into the topic of art preservation, while remaining relatively believable. Some other works rely heavily on external sources (particularly the recent publications on the Monuments Men), which results in them having generally diluted storylines. In comparison, Ms. Alexander utilizes the strong art background of the main character and her ancestral family to unify the art-inspired elements of the work, creating a natural connection between the overarching storyline and the characters’ interaction with world-renowned artwork. The greatest weakness of the novel comes as a result of its generally slower pacing and denser style. Some readers who may enjoy the general storyline concept and the characters, but may be challenged to move through it or even finish it, again depending on their reading pace.

Fans of Kristy Cambron, Cara Putman, and other authors specializing in World War II-inspired historical fiction will definitely want to read Where Treasure Hides. The novel remains within the historical period, in comparison to some novels of the genre that alternate between historical and contemporary eras. In response to readers asking about a sequel to the novel (due to intriguing details included near the end of the story), Ms. Alexander has indicated that a rough storyline has been developed, but she is currently working on a separate contemporary series through Revell.

Special thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for the advanced copy of Where Treasure Hides!

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Review: Not By Sight – Kate Breslin

Kate Breslin. Not By Sight. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

It’s been an extra busy and particularly zany week at the Books and Biscuits Blog headquarters this week. Fortunately, I’ve had some great books coming in from publishers this month! This week’s book comes from a relatively new author to the genre, which makes it particularly exciting for me to feature the novel on the blog.

Kate Breslin’s sophomore novel, Not By Sight, brings together the best elements of historical fiction focusing on the early 20th century. With Britain firmly in the grip of World War I, Grace Mabry decides to put her patriotic views into action at a London society ball. Handing out white feathers representing cowardice to conscientious objectors, she encounters the Viscount of Walenford, Jack Bennington, whose lack of military involvement is widely known. However, Jack’s reputation is merely a cover for his role with the British Intelligence Agency, which involves catching a spy at the very party attended by Grace. Their encounter triggers a series of events that challenge their faith and abilities, as well as the state of the war both home and abroad.

Ms. Breslin does a masterful job of creating an accessible, yet fascinating, story about the homefront war efforts during World War I. While most summaries of the book concentrate on the initial meeting between Grace and Jack, those events only last through the first few chapters. The vast majority of the novel takes place in Kent, particularly related to Grace’s involvement in the Women’s Forage Corps (a precursor to the Women’s Land Army).

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Not By Sight! Although I’m not as familiar with Ms. Breslin’s earlier book, I thought that her writing style, character development, and storyline were exceptionally well done. Likewise, her grasp of historical details and concepts were excellent and have the potential to push the Christian historical fiction genre into exciting new realms. Based on Ms. Breslin’s first two books (including Not By Sight), she has not developed multi-book series, although I would be very interested to see her build upon this novel to further explore the homefront during World War I. While the book has been marketed based on readers’ potential interest in Downton Abbey, the storyline and characters are more similar to the BBC’s World War II series, Land Girls, although set during World War I. As a result, I felt that the summary doesn’t necessarily reach the most accurate audience, even in its attempts to avoid spoiling the central section of the novel.

Fans of Ms. Breslin will definitely want to read Not By Sight. Having not read her earlier book, For Such a Time, I am certainly planning to read that novel based on the excellent caliber of Not By Sight. This novel’s themes and historical period set it apart from quite a few other historical novels currently available, but Ms. Breslin’s writing style will feel familiar and accessible to fans of other works by authors with Bethany House Publisher, particularly Kristi Ann Hunter.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of Not By Sight!

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Review: Through Waters Deep – Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin. Through Waters Deep. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2015.

I’ve always found myself looking forward to the end of the summer. School starts again, office supplies become featured items in the sales ads, and the days begin to cool once again. On top of that, the end of summer also means that Sarah Sundin is releasing a phenomenal World War II novel. This year’s book, Through Waters Deep, also kicks off a new trilogy, which makes it even better!

In Through Waters Deep and the new Waves of Freedom series, Sarah Sundin introduces members of the Avery family and their base at the Boston Navy Yard. With tensions rising in the months leading up to World War II, Ensign Jim Avery has found contentment in his work on the newly-commissioned destroyer, the USS Atwood. Without his older brothers’ dreams of becoming admirals, Jim finds his way through his naval career without making waves. When he encounters Mary Stirling, a high school friend, Jim discovers that the shy girl of his past has blossomed into a highly-capable secretary with a finger on the pulse of everything that happens at the Navy Yard. Suddenly, Jim’s world changes as tensions between interventionists and isolationists escalate, leading to evidence of sabotage at the Navy Yard and on the Atwood. Risking their lives, Jim and Mary search for the culprit, while navigating their ever-complicated relationship in a time of war on the high seas.

Ms. Sundin brings the tense months leading up to World War II to life in Through Waters Deep. The Waves of Freedom series brings her award-winning historical fiction to the Eastern seaboard, delivering a new focus on the U.S. Navy and the men and women of the Boston Navy Yard. In Through Waters Deep, Ms. Sundin utilizes her new-found talents at creating a storyline based around a life-and-death mystery, as the threat of espionage and German U-boats becomes a grim reality for the still-neutral U.S. military.

Overall, I was thrilled with Through Waters Deep! I always look forward to Ms. Sundin’s books being released each year, and this novel was no exception. Without fail, Ms. Sundin captivates her readers with her exceptional attention to historic detail, fascinating storylines, and captivating characters. Even beginning a new series, the novel remains true to Ms. Sundin’s style and pulls her readers in for another spectacular tale from the World War II period. Her characters also never fail to impress as they reveal the inner challenges of Christian men and women, who overcome their own failings to become tremendous contributors to the war effort. Creating a world unto itself within the novel, Ms. Sundin ensures that readers will return again and again to discover what happens next in Anchor in the Storm, being released in Summer 2016.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Sundin’s other novels, including those found in the Wings of the Nightingale and Wings of Glory series, will definitely want to read Through Waters Deep. Fans of other World War II-focused Christian historical fiction authors, such as Kristy Cambron, Cara Putman, and others, will also find the novel to be a worthwhile addition to their must-read lists. Personally, I’ve found Ms. Sundin’s work to stand apart in the field, due to her highly-readable writing style, realistic characters, and moderate to fast pace.

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