Review: Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas – Sandra Bricker

Sandra Bricker. Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas. Bloomington, MN: Summerside Press, 2008.

To close out this year’s collection of Books and Biscuits Blog posts, I’ve decided to pull from my archive of unreleased book reviews. With yesterday’s wintry weather and the fact that we’re partway between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a seasonal book seemed like the most appropriate option. :) I’m delighted to feature this early book by Sandra Bricker, one of my favorite authors here on the blog (and a periodic guest to the comment section of the Blog’s Facebook page)!

In Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas, Lucy Binoche finds the beauty in the details of her job as head of guest services at a five-star hotel in Little Rock. When the Grace Community Church’s singles group decides to go on a week-long retreat to Snowball, Arkansas, Lucy is hesitant to go, until a handsome new addition displays an interest in all things outdoors and adventurous. Suddenly, Lucy finds herself willing to go and prove that she can be an outdoorswoman, too. Chaos ensues as Lucy encounters roadblocks to her plan. However, help and encouragement comes from her best friend, Matt, who believes that Lucy’s gifts lie in her simply being herself. What was intended to be a relaxing retreat soon turns out to be a life-changing experience for Lucy as she discovers that what she’s been chasing may have been right beside her all along.

Ms. Bricker displays her trademark style of laugh-out-loud moments and heart-warming characters in this addition to the Love Finds You series by Summerside Press. Similar to several of her other books, Ms. Bricker focuses this novel around an ultimate girly-girl, in this case, one without an outdoorsy bone in her body.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas. Ms. Bricker expertly captures the comedy of everyday life, expanding a relatively-small niche in the Christian fiction genre. Reminiscent of her Emma Rae Creations series, she writes scenes that vividly describe the fish-out-of-water moments and makes them seem entirely real to her readers. My favorite parts of the novel involved Lucy’s experiences during what is supposed to be a relaxing retreat, when a million things go entirely and hilariously wrong. In many ways, the novel encapsulates the Biblical truth behind the fact that everyone contributes unique and valuable gifts and abilities. By the end of the novel, I felt as if I had also returned from a great mental vacation with a great group of people, even if they are merely a spectacular cast of characters in a book. :)

Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas continues Ms. Bricker’s style of a fast-paced story and light-hearted romance. Fans of Janice Thompson will particularly enjoy this novel and Ms. Bricker’s other works, as they share similar pacing, style, and oftentimes involve surprisingly large casts of characters, who will capture the hearts of readers. Additionally, the novel includes mouth-watering recipes, including one for sweet potato bisque that I definitely have to try. :)

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Amazon – Love Finds You in Snowball, Arkansas

Review: Whispers in the Reading Room – Shelley Gray

Shelley Gray. Whispers in the Reading Room. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

It’s almost Christmas! While I’ve been busy with Christmas concerts at church, decorating the house, and the many random activities that seem to land in December, I’ve also been inundated by some rather spectacular books this month!

The third book in Shelley Gray’s Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, Whispers in the Reading Room takes place in the city of Chicago in the months following the Columbian Exposition. Lydia Bancroft loves her job as a librarian, even as the rest of her privileged world has fallen apart following her father’s death. Her mother hopes that Lydia’s engagement to a wealthy man will offer a way out of their reduced circumstances. However, Lydia finds herself being physically abused by her fiancé in public. Fortunately, the mysterious patron of Lydia’s library comes to her rescue. Sebastian Marks has made a name for himself in Chicago as the owner of an infamous saloon and gambling club. His time at Lydia’s reading room has remained his sanctuary from the otherwise unsavory world from which he has garnered his wealth. While he never anticipated befriending the librarian, Sebastian and his staff find themselves intimately involved in her life. When a murder at his club makes Sebastian a suspect, Lydia’s cultured life also comes under public suspicion.

Before Whispers in the Reading Room, I had only read Ms. Gray’s entry in Among the Fair Magnolias, a compilation of novellas by several other Christian authors whom I am much more familiar with from their novels. Overall, I was quite impressed with her writing and story development in this book. Although I am relatively unfamiliar with the other novels in the series (Secrets of Sloane House and Deception on Sable Hill), I found Whispers in the Reading Room to be quite accessible as an independent work. The nature of Ms. Gray’s characters and historical storyline felt somewhat similar to those developed by Elizabeth Camden and Deeanne Gist. In comparison to their works, I would have like to see more emphasis on historical research and details in this novel that would have furthered the overall story, particularly in connecting it more firmly to the World’s Fair. However, Ms. Gray produced an intriguing novel that will likely result in me reading the other works in the series.

Fans of Ms. Gray’s historical fiction works, especially her novels in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, will definitely enjoy Whispers in the Reading Room. Additionally, readers who enjoy historical fiction with mystery/suspense elements will find this to be an intriguing book. In comparison to the other works in the series, Whispers in the Reading Room may not be of as much interest to readers looking for books related to the Chicago World’s Fair. While many novels have been recently released on this topic, this book had few historical details to convincingly place it within that category. However, Ms. Gray’s characters and writing style made it a decent selection within the Christian historical fiction genre.

Special thanks to The Fiction Guild for the promotional copy of Whispers in the Reading Room!

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Amazon – Whispers in the Reading Room (The Chicago World’s Fair Mystery Series)

Review: One Enchanted Christmas – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. One Enchanted Christmas: A Novella. Kindle Edition, 2015.

If you happen to read Melissa Tagg’s blog or Facebook posts, you likely already know the entire backstory of One Enchanted Christmas. Inspired by her own unexpected crush on the cover model for her upcoming novel, Like Never Before (March 2016), Ms. Tagg will delight readers with this charming Christmas-themed novella.

One Enchanted Christmas follows successful author Maren Grant, who finds herself with a crush on Colin Renwycke, the handsome cover model for her debut hit novel. On their one and only date, Colin invites Maren to his family’s idyllic farm in Maple Valley, Iowa, as a perfect haven for her writing. When Maren finds herself a year later with a serious case of writer’s block, she decides to surprise Colin (and herself) with an unplanned visit. Rather than finding Colin at the Renwycke farm, Maren encounters his older brother, Drew. With a plan to save the family farm and bring his siblings together again for Christmas, Drew finds himself with unexpected company in the form of an author taking up residence in his attic. However, Maren may be the secret ingredient to making the old farmhouse into a home and bringing his siblings closer together after years apart.

Ms. Tagg revisits the town of Maple Valley (introduced in Three Little Words and From the Start) to bring this Christmas-themed novella to her readers. At only 113 pages, One Enchanted Christmas offers a surprisingly complete story in a relatively compact form.

Overall, I found myself loving every page of One Enchanted Christmas. Ms. Tagg incorporates her unique flair and style, which fans of contemporary Christian fiction have come to love. Additionally, the story is filled with wonderful references, details, and a hilarious narrator that could be lifted directly from the commentary on Ms. Tagg’s blog. Although One Enchanted Christmas serves as a self-published work, Ms. Tagg’s expert writing skills (with the help of an excellent team of editors and readers) have guaranteed a spectacular final product. I found myself laughing out loud while reading the story, in addition to being simultaneously impressed by the amount of detail and character development she achieves in the relatively short length of the story. If I could offer one small critique of the story, it would be that I simply found myself wishing for more of Ms. Tagg’s incredible characters, which will likely come in the form of later novels in the Walker Family series. To her credit, the novella is impeccably conceived, with a plotline and writing style that fits the novella length to perfection.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other novels and novellas will be absolutely delighted with One Enchanted Christmas! Readers who enjoy humorous, light-hearted Christian romance will definitely want to read this story, too. The novella is only available in e-book formats. However, I would highly recommend finding a copy to read, especially for readers familiar with Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series set in Maple Valley.

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Amazon – One Enchanted Christmas: A contemporary small-town inspirational romantic novella

Review: Until the Dawn – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. Until the Dawn. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

With the busyness of the Advent season, it’s sometimes much more challenging than normal to find time to read (and review) books. Fortunately, the excellent caliber of Elizabeth Camden’s novels made this week’s addition an absolute pleasure to read.

Ms. Camden’s newest release, Until the Dawn, follows the events and setting first introduced in Toward the Sunrise, an e-novella released in October 2015. Sophie van Riijn’s mother worked as the cook at Dierenpark, the Vandermark family’s mansion and estate located in the Hudson River Valley. As long as Sophie can remember, the mansion has been abandoned by its owners, left under the care of a very small staff. Since her mother’s death, Sophie has volunteered her services at the estate as cook, while running a volunteer weather station for the newly-formed Weather Bureau on the mansion’s roof. When members of the Vandermark family suddenly descend on Dierenpark with the express purpose of demolishing it, Sophie must do everything in her power to save it. Suddenly, the woman with her own tragic history becomes a light to a family otherwise without hope, as the secrets of Dierenpark and the reasons for the Vandermarks’ sixty-year desertion of the property are revealed.

With a delightful cast of characters and an enchanting setting, Until the Dawn proves once again that Ms. Camden continues to push the boundaries and expectations of the historical Christian fiction genre.

Overall, I was absolutely delighted with Until the Dawn. In reading Toward the Sunrise earlier this year, I was very excited about the unique setting and perspective that Ms. Camden utilized within her story. Likewise, its inclusion of an extended preview of Until the Dawn made me very eager to read the novel in its entirety. I can honestly say that the book far outpaced my high expectations! While Ms. Camden has been known for her complex and somewhat denser writing style than found in works by other Christian authors, Until the Dawn offers a more approachable style and somewhat faster pacing that will definitely expand her audience. Additionally, this work offers a more intensive focus on Christian themes and discussions of faith-related topics among the characters. While many Christian authors and publishers seem to be diluting these themes within their works, I am very excited to see this level of writing and Christian focus in Until the Dawn!

Fans of Ms. Camden’s other novels, especially the e-novella, Toward the Sunrise, will greatly enjoy Until the Dawn! Readers of Christian fiction and historical fiction works will also want to read the novel, as it is an excellent example of both genres. Until the Dawn remains true to Ms. Camden’s writing style and pacing, including her talent at creating elaborate storylines and character development within a similar length (approximately 346 pages) as other novels in the industry. Based on Ms. Camden’s focus on scientific and historical professionals throughout the novel, I am excited to add these tags to this review. :)

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of Until the Dawn!

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Amazon – Until the Dawn

Review: The Painter’s Daughter – Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen. The Painter’s Daughter. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2015.

Sometimes, the storylines in novels appear too convenient. Somehow, everything seems aimed at a particular theme or moral, almost a thesis in disguise. However, the concept of actions having consequences served as the central idea behind this week’s book, as well as many other aspects of my life during the past week.

In Julie Klassen’s latest novel, The Painter’s Daughter, Sophie Dupont hides her own artistic talents behind the scenes of her father’s portrait studio. A wealthy gentleman and visiting artist, Wesley Overtree, compliments Sophie’s beauty and abilities, gaining her affections and virtue. When the consequences of their time together becomes apparent, Wesley has already left for an opportunity in Italy and Sophie faces an uncertain life with the prospect of a forthcoming child. Captain Stephen Overtree comes searching for his elder brother and recognizes the mess that Wesley left behind. In an effort to save Sophie from the scandal of her situation, Stephen marries her and brings her to his family’s home. When Stephen returns to the battlefield and Wesley travels to Overtree Hall, Sophie must decide who holds her future and her heart.

Ms. Klassen returns with her classic style and British Regency-era setting in The Painter’s Daughter. Filled with fascinating descriptions of early-nineteenth-century portraiture and landscapes, the novel offers a riveting perspective on the production and collection of art among the affluent households of England.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading The Painter’s Daughter. After several of Ms. Klassen’s previous story concepts felt somewhat forced, this novel appears to be a much-appreciated return to her writing style and characters. The Painter’s Daughter offers a fascinating look at the real consequences of out-of-wedlock relations during the Regency era, including its short and long-term impact on entire families. Additionally, I though Ms. Klassen presented a unique approach to her military characters, as they reflect the real scars of war on the rest of their lives. While several moments within the story felt convenient, the novel offered an overall enjoyable offering among Ms. Klassen’s works. The characters and setting greatly resembled elements of The Maid of Fairbourne Hall and The Silent Governess (some of my favorite books by Ms. Klassen), while further investigating themes presented in Lady of Milkweed Manor.

Fans of Ms. Klassen will definitely enjoy reading The Painter’s Daughter. Readers who appreciate Regency era stories, Christian historical fiction, and even general historical romance will find the novel to be a worthwhile addition to their collections. Ms. Klassen continues to utilize an approachable writing style, with moderate pacing, and a relatively long and complex story totaling approximately 464 pages.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House for the advanced copy of The Painter’s Daughter!

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