Review: All Is Calm, All Is Bright – Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble. All Is Calm, All Is Bright: Two Christmas Novellas. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Since this week is Thanksgiving, I thought it tremendously appropriate to post a holiday-themed book review on The Books and Biscuits Blog. :) Somehow, the season of Christmas brightens up the ever-shorter days of late fall and early winter in a way that simply makes me smile.

Accomplished author, Colleen Coble releases two novellas in All Is Calm, All Is Bright, returning her readers to Bluebird Ranch and Hope Beach to further build upon two beloved series. “All Is Calm” focuses on the story of Lauren Everman and Brendan Waddell, two souls who find security and hope at the Bluebird Ranch. After being injured, Brendan’s future in the Special Ops is left in question. However, his skills at sniffing out the truth come in handy when Lauren arrives amid questionable circumstances. Lauren left her previous job after being falsely accused of a murder that she witnessed. Together, Brendan and Lauren must find the truth before the culprit threatens the lives of those seeking protection at the Ranch.

“All Is Bright” presents the Christmas-time events at Tidewater Inn, expanding upon the Hope Beach series. Delilah Carter has managed the Tidewater Inn for years. An accomplished organizer, she has also been called upon by her friend, Elin Summerall to plan a Christmas wedding. However, Delilah must contend with Sheriff Tom Bourne when someone tries to run her car off the road, endangering her life. Fortunately, the townspeople of Hope Beach know about Tom’s feelings toward Delilah and eagerly throw them together if it means keeping her safe. With a determined criminal on the loose, Tom must protect Delilah from imminent danger, even as he hopes that it will not ruin his Christmas surprise for her.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading All Is Calm, All Is Bright. Although I’m not intimately familiar with all of the books in both series, Ms. Coble offers intriguing stories and characters that feel well-developed even in the shortened novella format. The two novellas function as separate stories, with the first related to the Bluebird Ranch novels and the second connected to the Hope Beach series. Together, they offer Christmastime-themed extensions of those series. However, I still felt like I could enjoy them as short stories, independent of the series’ respective contexts and character development. While I don’t normally read (and enjoy!) unfamiliar short stories from other authors, Ms. Coble’s writing style and story development are excellent and thoroughly entertaining. After reading All Is Calm, All Is Bright, I will be tracking down the other novels in these series to find out more about the characters and stories.

Fans of Ms. Coble’s novels who are more familiar with the other stories from the series will particularly relish these stories. However, readers who typically enjoy shorter-form Christian fiction will also appreciate All Is Calm, All Is Bright. For those unfamiliar with Ms. Coble’s stories, she typically incorporates suspense and mystery elements in a Christian romance plotline. As a result, her stories are somewhat darker in tone than contemporary Christian fiction written by such authors as Melissa Tagg and Rachel Hauck.

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and the Fiction Guild for the advanced copy of All Is Calm, All Is Bright!

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Review: The Wedding Chapel – Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck. The Wedding Chapel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

It’s hard to believe that we are just over a week from Thanksgiving. With the relatively warm weather recently, it feels like October and the race to the holiday season seems months away. However, many of the books being featured here on The Books and Biscuits Blog over the next couple weeks make it exceptionally evident that the pre-Christmas rush of excellent books being released by publishers is already upon us.

Bestselling author, Rachel Hauck, releases her newest novel, The Wedding Chapel, today! Jack Forester and Taylor Branson each escaped Hearts Bend, Tennessee, years before to escape their pasts and find a new start. When they unexpectedly find each other in New York City, they both cling to the hope of their newfound love and elope. However, the reality of Taylor’s fledgling photography business and Jack’s near obsession with his job as an advertising executive strain their young marriage. At Jack’s urging, Taylor accepts a magazine photoshoot assignment focused on a mysterious wedding chapel located in Hearts Bend. Together, Jack and Taylor discover an unforeseen connection between themselves and the chapel’s builder, a wise football coach with his own complicated romantic history. Spanning multiple generations touched by war, pain, and deceit, the wedding chapel offers a second chance for reconciliation and love.

The Wedding Chapel offers a fascinating perspective on the enduring power of love and forgiveness. Ms. Hauck draws upon her incredible ability to develop believable characters and draw readers into a world of her own. Most especially, The Wedding Chapel offers keen insight into the challenges faced by Christians in a fallen world, capturing the heart of the Christian romantic fiction genre.

Overall, I was very impressed with The Wedding Chapel. Although fans of Rachel Hauck could easily conclude that The Wedding Chapel relates in some way to Ms. Hauck’s 2012 release, The Wedding Dress, the two books are entirely unconnected. However, I thought that Ms. Hauck did a masterful job of creating a unique and distinct storyline that seamlessly intertwines the perspectives of multiple characters over several generations. Likewise, she remains true to her roots in the Christian fiction genre, offering a convincing view of Christians’ obstacles and faith through her characters. While so many other novels have a watered-down version of “inspirational fiction,” The Wedding Chapel fearlessly forges ahead to push the boundaries and expectations of the genre. Fans of Ms. Hauck will not be disappointed with this novel, as they will find themselves entirely engrossed in her writing from the first page to the last.

Readers who have enjoyed Ms. Hauck’s previous novels will be delighted with The Wedding Chapel! Additionally, fans of contemporary Christian fiction and those who have always wanted to try the genre will also find the novel to be well worth reading. Ms. Hauck creates a compelling story with an excellent sense of pacing, character development, and writing style that has the power to disprove anyone’s preconceptions of Christian fiction as being an inferior genre.

Rachel Hauck will release The Wedding Shop, also set in Hearts Bend, in May 2016!

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Wedding Chapel!

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Amazon – The Wedding Chapel

Review: A Respectable Actress – Dorothy Love

Dorothy Love. A Respectable Actress. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

During a rather grey and dreary weekend, it was particularly nice to have a new book to read and review for the blog!

Dorothy Love’s newest novel, A Respectable Actress, returns her readers to the post-Civil War American South. In 1870, India Hartley has emerged as one of the foremost actresses of her day. After the death of her father, she plans on touring the South, starting with a play at the Southern Palace Theater in Savannah, Georgia. After a couple of rough performances, the unthinkable happens when an unplanned script change leads to a murder on stage. India finds herself at the center of a sensational trial, with an audience full of witnesses and few friends to defend her. As India continues to claim her innocence, she befriends Philip Sinclair, a successful lawyer with a few tricks up his sleeve to keep India safe. Throughout the trial, India and Philip discover the hope of second chances, while uncovering the unexpected truth behind several seemingly-unconnected deaths.

Ms. Love remains true to her strengths in building upon a legacy of Southern fiction set during the nineteenth century. A Respectable Actress offers a unique perspective into the world of theater when those within the profession were looked down upon by members of polite society.

Overall, I was left with mixed feelings after reading A Respectable Actress. While the topic and summary sound interesting, I found the story arch to be rather misleading, as the murder trial depicted on the back cover comprises a very small part of the overall book. Additionally, the novel had several key resolutions throughout the storyline, leaving me with the feeling that the book should have ended at multiple points, including during a section that was less than half-way through the book. In general, Ms. Love does a nice job creating good characters and a sense of place. However, I was rather disappointed to find little to no content or reference to Christian themes, especially with the inclusion of such themes as mental illness, murder, and suicide arising within the story. While the story was generally clean, I was left wanting a more cohesive story, more fascinating characters, and a more Christian-centric approach to the novel’s events.

Fans of Ms. Love’s other works will find the novel to be a worthwhile read. Based on the inclusion of several characters from Ms. Love’s The Bracelet, fans of that novel will find the continued story of Celia Browning Mackay to be the highlight of A Respectable Actress. Personally, I found her to be the most compelling character within this novel and would likely read The Bracelet as a result of the strength of that character specifically. Ms. Love offers a generally slower pace than other authors I typically read. However, her writing style and pacing remain consistent with many authors and works found in the Christian fiction genre.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of A Respectable Actress!

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Review: The Bronte Plot – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. The Bronte Plot. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Do you ever find a book that simply draws you in, based on the concept alone? Katherine Reay’s novels have stood out for their unique ability to interconnect classic literature with her stories and characters. Suddenly, the books featured in my high school English class come to life as Ms. Reay’s well-read characters identify with the challenges and themes of renowned fiction in their own (fictional) lives.

In her third novel, Ms. Reay offers an enchanting take on the Bronte sisters and great British literature in The Bronte Plot. The novel follows Lucy Alling, an aspiring seller of rare books and antiques, who utilizes questionable means to achieve her goals. When her boyfriend, James, discovers the truth, Lucy finds herself looking back at her past to discover how she came to compromise both her personal and professional standards. Lucy receives a much-needed reprieve from her problems in the form of James’ grandmother, a wealthy woman seeking a companion and antiques expert for a trip intended to resolve her own past and revisit Britain’s literary and historical sites one last time. Along the way, Lucy finds herself learning from the wisdom and experience of both James’ grandmother and the literary figures that define the Bronte sisters’ works. With a different perspective on her situation, Lucy discovers the timeless lesson of endurance and the importance of facing the consequences of her actions, even if it means giving up everything she has spent years building.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Bronte Plot. From Ms. Reay’s debut in Dear Mr. Knightley, I have tremendously appreciated her ability to intertwine classic literature with contemporary fiction. Her work, including The Bronte Plot, makes for a thought-provoking read among so many other novels that barely challenge the reader to think, let alone connect with the canon of literature that has come to define the English language and culture. Among Ms. Reay’s novels, I would rank The Bronte Plot as her best so far. The book offers approachable and relatable characters that readers will find endearing, yet flawed, as they are placed within a story that highlights Ms. Reay’s ability to draw incredible lessons from classic stories in a unique way. In addition, The Bronte Plot has one of the most evenly paced and well-developed storylines of Ms. Reay’s novels, drawing the reader into the story and making the book nearly impossible to put down until the very end. It exhibits Ms. Reay’s writing as she matures as a seasoned and talented author within the Christian fiction genre. If I could offer one minute critique of the entire work, I would have loved to see more or stronger connections to the Christian themes one would expect from a publication released by Thomas Nelson.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous works, Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane, will definitely want to read The Bronte Plot. Additionally, readers who have a particular affinity for British and classical literature will find the integration of countless references within Ms. Reay’s stories to be an absolute delight.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Bronte Plot!

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Amazon – The Brontë Plot