Review: One Enchanted Eve – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. One Enchanted Eve: A Novella. Middletown, DE: Larkspur Press, 2016.

As the season of Advent begins, Melissa Tagg returns with another Christmas novella, following the events of last year’s release, One Enchanted Christmas.  In One Enchanted Eve, Colin Renwycke is determined to make up for his behavior from the previous year.  He has finally found a purpose for his life through his incredible baking abilities at the Denver Culinary Institute.  However, his culinary school instructor, Rylan Jefferson, finds Colin to be her most disruptive student, as he continually experiments beyond the strict constraints of her recipes.  When Rylan must create an impressive recipe as part of an interview for her dream job, she turns to Colin’s creativity as her secret ingredient.  Colin persuades Rylan to travel with him back to Maple Valley, Iowa, as the perfect place to conduct her culinary experiments, even as he hopes for a second chance with his family.  With a Christmas Eve deadline for her recipe, Rylan and Colin will need to draw on Maple Valley’s small-town charm to achieve the second chance they both desperately need.

Ms. Tagg revisits the town of Maple Valley and the Renwycke family during the Christmas season, in this Christmas-themed e-novella.  Even as a short-form story, Ms. Tagg brings her delightful writing style and gift for fascinating characters to this work.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading One Enchanted Eve.  Ms. Tagg expertly builds on the characters introduced in One Enchanted Christmas, as well as her Walker Family series.  Throughout each work, she manages to expand upon Maple Valley as a convincingly real, yet idyllic setting for her stories.  One Enchanted Eve also includes a strong food component, as both of the main characters have culinary skills and aspirations.  As someone who enjoys reading about great food and recipes, this novella offered a fun look at these characters’ jobs.  Honestly, I would have loved to see this as a longer-form story, as Ms. Tagg brought her signature writing style and humor to this novella.  However, it left me wanting to see where she takes her characters next, especially as the work implies that a third novella will be released in this series, likely in time for Christmas 2017!

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other works will be absolutely delighted with One Enchanted Eve!  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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Review: Finding Margo – Jen Turano

Jen Turano. Finding Margo. Wheaton, IL: Gilead Publishing, 2016.

Gilead Publishing, a new Christian publisher, recently began to release its first set of books.  As a reviewer of Christian fiction, I’m very excited to be able to feature one of its first earliest releases.  Based on the excellent caliber of this book, I am very much looking forward to reading more of their great books in the future.

Acclaimed author Jen Turano turns to a contemporary setting with her latest release, Finding Margo.  The first novel in the Finding Home series, the novel follows the experiences of Margo Hartman, an overworked pop star who desperately needs to escape after a national tour.  Leaving behind an entourage of managers, advisors, and assistants, Margo drives across the country with the hopes of keeping a low profile.  An unexpected incident leaves Margo stranded in a small Amish community in Ohio.  She soon finds herself turning to local deputy Brock Moore, who has also been working undercover for the FBI to solve a local murder.  Margo’s appearance in town and her uncanny resemblance to a local Amish girl quickly triggers questions from Brock and the townsfolk, as well as drawing the nation’s entertainment media to a community otherwise filled with quilts and buggies.  When Margo’s life is threatened, the FBI takes action and sends Brock to solve a decades-long mystery tied to Margo and the small town that continually prompts her unexplained memories of her childhood.

Ms. Turano expertly balances suspense elements with laugh-out-loud moments in her inaugural release for Gilead Publishing.  Based on the expert caliber and entertainment factor of this novel, fans of great Christian fiction will be thrilled to read this and other great books from this new Christian publishing house!

Overall, I could not get enough of Ms. Turano’s Finding Margo!  I have not previously read Ms. Turano’s other novels, nor am I typically a reader of books related to the Amish and their communities.  However, I could not put down this highly entertaining novel!  Ms. Turano creates a fascinating set of characters, while drawing readers in with a complex, yet approachable, storyline.  The characters jump off the page, while fitting well within the diverse settings of the novel, ranging from over-the-top concert venues to quiet Amish farms.  Ms. Turano also creates an intriguing storyline that will make for a fascinating series of novels, while providing a conclusion that will satisfy readers even as a stand-alone book.  Based on the book overall, I honestly cannot wait to read the next novel in this series and will likely track down Ms. Turano’s other releases at the earliest opportunity!  As the first novel that I have read from Gilead Publishing, Finding Margo has a very professional-level editing and formatting style (of the e-book), above the quality of quite a few of the other e-book releases of competing publishing houses in the market.  If this is the level that one can expect to see from Gilead’s future releases, I very much look forward to reading their other books!

Fans of Ms. Turano’s other novels will greatly appreciate this book, while readers who enjoy fascinating and unique contemporary Christian fiction should definitely check out Finding Margo.  As a combination of Christian suspense elements and a humorous writing style, the novel offers an approachable and entertaining storyline that will appeal to a broad audience of Christian fiction readers.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Gilead Publishing for the advanced copy of Finding Margo!

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Review: Child of the River – Irma Joubert

Irma Joubert. Child of the River. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Last fall, I featured Irma Joubert’s first novel that was released in English by Thomas Nelson.  This year, she is releasing a new book, exclusively featuring her home country of South Africa.

Child of the River follows Persomi as she grows up as a poor white girl living in the South African Bushveld.  While the farmers of the area enjoy a prosperous life before the events of the Second World War, Persomi and her family live as illiterate sharecroppers, dependent on the care and provision of the farm’s owners.  Persomi befriends the farmer’s children, but recognizes the inherent separation between their social positions.  When her family falls apart and exciting opportunities become available to her, Persomi begins to experience the wider world of educated children, loving families, and stable professions.  Through the years of World War II and apartheid, Persomi grows from a powerless child into a crusader for justice and equality in her homeland.

The hardship of Persomi’s family and growing up years offers a fascinating view of South African life during the mid-twentieth century.  Readers who enjoyed Ms. Joubert’s American debut, The Girl From the Train, will be thrilled to find a new release from this internationally-acclaimed author.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Child of the River.  Ms. Joubert produces a unique and compelling story for her audience, as she brings the life of rural sharecroppers to readers who have likely never known about the South African Bushveld.  In general, Ms. Joubert uses a writing style similar to that found in The Girl From the Train.  However, the novel focuses on historical elements more unique to South Africa, rather than the broader perspective of the global impact of World War II, which changes the nature of Ms. Joubert’s sources and character development.  In contrast to The Girl from the Train, I found that I never became entirely attached to the characters of Child of the River, in part due to their rather confusing relationships with one another.  Likewise, the quintessential “coming of age” storyline never completely caught my attention as much as the story devices used within Ms. Joubert’s previous novel.  However, I still thought that it was a strong novel that shows further growth and expansion of the Christian fiction genre globally.

Fans of Ms. Joubert’s previous release, The Girl from the Train, will want to try Child of the River.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Christian historical fiction, especially as related to the Second World War and the mid-twentieth century, may also want to check out this novel.

Special thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for the advanced copy of Child of the River!

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Review: A Portrait of Emily Price – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. A Portrait of Emily Price. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Katherine Reay’s novels are always unique and enjoyable, as they interconnect classic literature with fascinating stories and characters.  Her most recent novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, is no exception!

Ms. Reay’s newest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, follows the adventures of the title character as she travels to Atlanta for her job as an insurance restoration specialist.  Along the way, she meets Ben Vassallo, an Italian chef determined to revitalize his aunt and uncle’s restaurant.  Ben and Emily bond over his project, even as they both realize that they must soon return to their respective homes.  They instead decide to marry and travel to Ben’s hometown in Italy.  Although Emily has made a name for herself due to ability to “fix” nearly anything, she soon discovers that the challenges Ben faces at home cannot be easily mended.  While historic buildings and works of art may be able to be restored, Emily realizes that the impending death of her father-in-law will open new wounds, even as he attempts to resolve family disputes in his last days.  Emily’s attempts to help are met with disdain, particularly by her mother-in-law.  When she is given the chance to return home to the United States, she must choose between her old life and the foreign land that has captured her heart.

A Portrait of Emily Price reaches across volumes of classical literature to explore the growth of a compelling set of fascinating characters.  The title character makes her mark in a new country, even as her husband’s family teaches her lessons of faith and restoration.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Portrait of Emily Price.  Ms. Reay masterfully captures the spirit of classic authors, while writing a captivating story that serves as fascinating literature in its own right.  Readers will be absolutely riveted by Emily’s world of history and art restoration, while Ben’s Italian family and home serve as an intriguing and unforgettable backdrop for the novel’s events.  Within an expertly-written book, Ms. Reay’s descriptions of the art and the artistic process of her characters stand out as some of the most enthralling depictions in the novel.  Even as this year’s selection of novels winds to a close, Ms. Reay’s novel holds a unique place in the Christian contemporary fiction genre, standing out even among the fiction genre at large.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous works will definitely want to read A Portrait of Emily Price.  Additionally, readers who particularly enjoy classical literature will find the integration of countless references within Ms. Reay’s stories to be well worth the read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of A Portrait of Emily Price!

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Review: Where Two Hearts Meet – Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson. Where Two Hearts Meet. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2016.

After reading dozens of books over the last year, I still can’t decide if I enjoy the beginning of a series or the continuation of one more.  This week’s review features the second novel in a series first introduced in March of this year.  In this case, I can honestly say that I prefer the sequel to the first book in the set. :)

Ms. Johnson continues her Prince Edward Island Dreams series with Where Two Hearts Meet.  Following the events of The Red Door Inn, Caden Holt thrives as the executive chef of Seth and Marie Sloane’s inn on Prince Edward Island.  However, the Inn faces financial challenges without the necessary marketing to bring in new visitors.  Fortunately, a travel writer arrives on the Inn’s doorstep!  Marie insists that Caden show off the Island to their newest guest, in spite of Caden’s hesitancy to leave the safe world of her kitchen.  Adam Jacobs left behind his position as a journalist after his international story led to tragic results.  On a sabbatical, Adam needs the calm atmosphere of Prince Edward Island to regain perspective and hopefully rediscover his passion for writing.  In a case of mistaken identity, Adam finds himself as the subject of Caden and Marie’s marketing pitch for the Island, even as he finds the atmosphere of Caden’s kitchen to be the most effective form of recuperation.  Together, Adam and Caden must overcome their fears to find a way to save the Red Door Inn.

Where Two Hearts Meet offers a heartwarming continuation of Ms. Johnson’s Prince Edward Island Dreams.  In the novel, Ms. Johnson comes into her own as an author of contemporary Christian fiction.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Where Two Hearts Meet.  While The Red Door Inn made for pleasant reading, I never completely lost myself in the characters.  In comparison, Where Two Hearts Meet was a much more interesting story, with a more compelling plotline and better pacing that will keep readers fascinated.  Ms. Johnson benefits from having established much of her setting and quite a few characters in her earlier novel.  However, this book offers a story and characters that are strong enough to stand alone.  The setting on Prince Edward Island also comes into its own in this novel, as the food, culture, and location are featured heavily based on the travel writing and foodie emphasis of the characters and story.  After reading a brief preview of the next novel in Ms. Johnson’s series, I look forward to continuing to review her future books!

Readers who enjoy relatively light contemporary Christian fiction will enjoy Where Two Hearts Meet, especially if they appreciated Ms. Johnson’s previous novel, The Red Door Inn.  Also, fans of Christian fiction that takes place in Canadian or seaside settings will also want to read this series.  With the novel’s PEI connection, fans of L.M. Montgomery may find this series to be worthwhile.  However, the modern-day PEI and Ms. Johnson’s writing style are significantly different from Ms. Montgomery’s tales.

Ms Johnson will release the next novel in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series in the summer of 2017!

Special thanks to Revell Reads Blog Tour for the advanced copy of Where Two Hearts Meet!

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