Review: Christmas at Carnton – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. Christmas at Carnton: A Novella. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Christmas stories start being released by publishers during the fall months, to the delight of readers eager for a new story from their favorite authors.  With an advanced copy of Tamera Alexander’s newest Christmas story, I actually ended up reading this book in July!  In spite of the holiday emphasis of the story, I found it to be enjoyable and appropriate for any time of the year.

In Christmas at Carnton: A Novella, Ms. Alexander launches her newest series set at the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.  The story occurs during the Civil War years, when the family is preparing for a Women’s Relief Society auction intended to benefit the Confederate soldiers.  Aletta Prescott recently lost her husband, as well as her job.  Desperate for a place to live for herself and her young son, she accepts a job cooking for the Women’s Relief Society’s auction and other Christmas season events at Carnton.  While there, she befriends Captain Jake Winton, who has been assigned to help with the auction during his recovery.  Aletta and Jake soon discover that their losses may have changed their lives, but God provides hope and restoration for them both during a season of war.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous works will be thrilled with Christmas at Carnton as the start of her newest series, featuring yet another Southern plantation.  With connections to the families featured in her previous series, Ms. Alexander makes a seamless transition to the family and location of the Carnton Plantation.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Christmas at Carnton!  Ms. Alexander’s stories have been improving steadily throughout her career, so I find it fascinating to see her development of a new series.  As a novella, Christmas at Carnton is quite a bit shorter than a standard novel, but the length fits the structure of this particular story.  Set during the Civil War, the novella seems slightly similar to other historical fiction works based around the same period.  However, readers interested in the forthcoming books of Ms. Alexander’s series will find the story worthwhile, as it introduces characters and settings relevant to future works that will be released.  Personally, I also found Ms. Alexander’s focus on the Women’s Relief Society’s efforts to be particularly interesting and enjoyable.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous works will definitely want to read Christmas at Carnton.  Additionally, those with an interest in historical Christian fiction works set during the Civil War will also enjoy this Christmas-themed story.

Ms. Alexander’s first full-length novel of this series will be released in the fall of 2018!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of Christmas at Carnton!

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Review: On Love’s Gentle Shore – Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson. On Love’s Gentle Shore. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

Sometimes, I find it very challenging to decide which book in a series I like the best.  However, this series does not have that problem, as the author showed tremendous growth throughout the development of her novels, culminating in her final and most recent book.

Ms. Johnson finishes her Prince Edward Island Dreams series with On Love’s Gentle Shore.  Natalie O’Ryan grew up on Prince Edward Island under less than ideal circumstances.  While she was taken under the wing of some of the families in her hometown, she continued to face cruel gossip as a result of her parents’ poor choices.  After leaving PEI at the end of high school, Natalie never planned to return to her hometown, until her fiancé decided to surprise her with planning their wedding there.  In the weeks leading up to the event, Natalie finds herself making final preparations by herself, even as her plans continue to fall apart.  With the help of her childhood best friend, Justin Kane, Natalie finally begins to make progress planning a party worthy of her fiancé’s Nashville friends.  However, the opportunity to work together soon rekindles old memories and a second chance for them both.

On Love’s Gentle Shore serves as a heartwarming conclusion to the Prince Edward Island Dreams series.  Readers will enjoy seeing many of their favorite characters return once again, while gaining a fresh perspective on the townsfolk and staff of Rose’s Red Door Inn.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading On Love’s Gentle Shore.  Ms. Johnson shows continued growth in her writing and character development throughout this series, reaching a new high with this novel.  I especially thought that her pacing was much improved in this novel, as readers will feel much more connected to this set of characters than some introduced in other books in the series.  Natalie and Justin’s story also presents a greater focus on the families of the island, rather than characters that arrive from outside of the area.  As a series focused on island life, I would have expected to see a greater focus on these types of characters and stories much earlier on in Ms. Johnson’s other novels.  However, the inclusion of these aspects makes for a much more interesting and entertaining story in On Love’s Gentle Shore.

Readers who enjoy relatively light contemporary Christian fiction will enjoy On Love’s Gentle Shore, especially if they appreciated Ms. Johnson’s previous novels in the series, including The Red Door Inn and Where Two Hearts Meet.  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.

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Review: Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate. Before We Were Yours. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2017.

For many of the novels that I review here on the Books and Biscuits Blog, I can honestly recommend them to anyone.  However, some books have more appropriate audiences than others.  This week’s book is an incredible and poignant read, but I would not recommend it to those people (including some in my own family) who are easily bothered by stories in which parents and/or children are hurt or lost.

Before We Were Yours is based on the true story of the cruel operations of Georgia Tann and her adoption agency that used its connections to adopt poor children from Tennessee to the wealthy, leading to one of the greatest scandals of its kind in American history.  The novel presents two interconnected stories, one set in Depression-era Tennessee and the other based in the present day.  As a federal prosecutor in Maryland, Avery Stafford has made a name for herself, separate from her family’s connections and father’s career as a senator.  When her father receives a cancer diagnosis, Avery returns home to South Carolina to assist him with his campaign, leading her to encounter a mysterious family history that she never knew.  During the Great Depression, Rill Foss and her siblings were kidnapped from their home on a Mississippi River shantyboat.  Their experience living at an orphanage run by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society ripped apart their family and changed their lives forever.  Bridging past and present, Rill’s story reveals her attempts to reunite her family and the powers at work trying to keep the truth hidden.

Acclaimed author, Lisa Wingate, writes a compelling story about the secrets of a past generation and the tragic story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage.  Her characters jump off the page, making this incredible tale come to life.

Overall, I was very impressed with Before We Were Yours.  Although it’s not released by the Christian publishers that I normally read and review, I depended on the fact that Ms. Wingate is a long-time author within the genre.  The novel does not have any outright Christian themes, but remains relatively clean in terms of language and theme.  The story itself would not be considered G or PG rated, although I was impressed at how Ms. Wingate did write it in such a way to leave much to the imagination, without any graphic scenes or descriptions.  From a historical perspective, the novel is absolutely fascinating and very well researched, with Ms. Wingate utilizing her characters to add an emotional depth to the facts behind the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal.  While I am not typically a person to read a book about children placed in a cruel situation, the novel provides enough resolution to that storyline through its contemporary plotline to leave the reader well satisfied with the novel overall.

Fans of Ms. Wingate’s previous work may find Before We Were Yours to be well worth reading.  Additionally, those who appreciate the split historical/contemporary storyline format may also enjoy this novel.

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Review: An Inconvenient Beauty – Kristi Ann Hunter

Kristi Ann Hunter. An Inconvenient Beauty. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

I hope that all of you had a fun and relaxing Labor Day weekend!  September kicks off a great batch of fall releases from Christian publishers and I am very excited to share them with you.

An Inconvenient Beauty serves as the much-anticipated conclusion of Ms. Hunter’s Hawthorne House series.  Griffith, the Duke of Riverton, is the last of the Hawthorne family to be left unmarried.  He has spent his life cultivating a serious and logical persona, along with an equally logical plan to choose a bride.  However, he soon discovers that love and logic do not mix.  Isabella Breckenridge delayed her debut in order to help save her family’s farm.  As a last effort, she promises to help her conniving uncle to fulfill his political ambitions during London’s social season, in exchange for helping to relieve her family’s debts.  However, she never expected to attract the attentions of a duke.  In spite of their plans, Griffith and Isabella soon find themselves as unintentional partners in several unplanned adventures, defying anything one would expect of an overly-logical duke’s pursuit.

Fans of Ms. Hunter’s Hawthorne House series will be delighted with the conclusion of An Inconvenient Beauty.  She creates a fitting novel to encapsulate one of the series’ most anticipated love stories.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with An Inconvenient Beauty.  While reading the Hawthorne House series, I always wondered how Ms. Hunter would manage to write a fitting love story for Griffith, in part due to his logical and fatherly personality.  Somehow, Ms. Hunter manages to far exceed this reader’s expectations for the story, while contributing her unique brand of humor and light writing style to the novels.  Altogether, the series has been a wonderful set of books to read, with a highly accessible style that makes it appealing to a wide audience.  With such a successful series under Ms. Hunter’s belt, I very much look forward to seeing what she manages to write next, even as she promises that the next series will build off of at least one of this series’ favorite characters.

Readers who enjoy An Inconvenient Beauty will definitely want to read Ms. Hunter’s other stories in the Hawthorne House series.  Fans of Julie Klassen, Lori Wick, and Carolyn Miller, as well as other Christian Regency-era fiction, will also find Ms. Hunter’s novels to be a worthwhile read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of An Inconvenient Beauty!

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