Review: Sweetbriar Cottage – Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter. Sweetbriar Cottage. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Some authors are known for writing series, while others consistently write stand-alone novels.  Over the last year, a few authors have tried to attempt writing the opposite of their normal, with surprisingly positive results.

Acclaimed contemporary Christian fiction author, Denise Hunter, developed Sweetbriar Cottage as a stand-alone novel.  The story concentrates on the relationship of Noah and Josephine Mitchell, a young couple who unexpectedly discover that the paperwork for their divorce was never finalized by the judge.  In the midst of trying to rectify the final paperwork, Josephine finds herself stranded at Noah’s mountainside horse ranch in a historic blizzard.  After avoiding one another for months, Noah and Josephine are faced with an extended period of time in each other’s company.  When an emergency arises on the ranch, they must both head out into the storm, where they face nature’s wrath and risk their survival trying to return to the ranch.  In the midst of the storm, Josephine finally admits her painful history and the tragedy that eventually led to their divorce.  When faced with the real possibility of death, both must decide whether to love and forgive or finally give up on their relationship altogether.

In this story of unconditional love and forgiveness, Ms. Hunter writes a gripping tale of Josephine and Noah’s relationship.  Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, Sweetbriar Cottage offers an intense winter story with a Southern spin.

Overall, I appreciated the chance to read Sweetbriar Cottage.  While I’m not typically a huge fan of stories focused on broken marriages, Ms. Hunter’s books are of a consistently high caliber to try reading.  Using a series of flashback scenes throughout the novel, Ms. Hunter expertly intersperses the intense winter survival story with past moments of Josephine and Noah’s history.  Readers will find Josephine’s story to be particularly heartbreaking and intense, especially within a work of Christian fiction.  However, Josephine’s tragic past provides a significant and compelling springboard for Ms. Hunter to develop the rest of her plotline.   While some readers may not be comfortable with elements of this story, many will see the worth of this story as one of ultimate love and redemption.

Fans of Ms. Hunter’s past works will definitely want to read Sweetbriar Cottage.  While elements of this story may seem familiar to readers, Ms. Hunter’s storytelling ability shines through and illustrates why she may be one of only a limited number of authors capable of tackling this challenging story.

Ms. Hunter will kick off a new series with Blue Ridge Sunrise in November 2017!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of Sweetbriar Cottage!

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Review: Threads of Suspicion – Dee Henderson

Dee Henderson. Threads of Suspicion: An Evie Blackwell Cold Case. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!  I’m happy to return with our regularly-scheduled book review this week, featuring Dee Henderson’s latest release.

Ms. Henderson follows her acclaimed Traces of Guilt novel with Threads of Suspicion, which continues the tales of the cold cases of Evie Blackwell of the Illinois State PoliceBased on Evie’s previous successes as a cold case investigator, the governor has appointed her to the new statewide Missing Persons Task Force.  Evie and the team are under pressure to produce results in these cases, even as they face tremendous odds and communities that are suspicious that these murders can ever be solved.  Along with her new partner, David Marshal, Evie arrives in suburban Chicago to solve two of these cases, one involving a missing college student and the other focused on a skilled private investigator.  When the two cases collide, Evie and David must use all of their knowledge and abilities to finally bring resolution to both local mysteries.

Filled with moments of suspense and faith, Threads of Suspicion marks the return of Evie Blackwell and Ms. Henderson’s world of crime-fighting and mystery-solving characters.  Fans of Traces of Guilt and Ms. Henderson’s other novels will be thrilled to see more high-stakes suspense from this acclaimed Christian author.

Overall, I was quite excited to finally have the chance to read Threads of Suspicion.  Ms. Henderson’s suspense novels are consistently among my favorites of the genre.  In general, the Evie Blackwell Cold Case novels have been nice, as they continue to build upon the world of characters featured in Ms. Henderson’s previous novels, especially those released by Bethany House.  As I have really enjoyed those main characters, I appreciate their periodic reappearances in these most recent books.  However, the character of Evie Blackwell sometimes comes across as being somewhat one-dimensional in comparison to the other characters in this novel, as well as those found in Ms. Henderson’s other published stories.  Threads of Suspicion features Evie’s case-solving abilities and the cases themselves, but does not include as much content focused on Evie’s relationship with the rest of the task force and other people of interest.  Instead, the strongest relationships and personal interactions exist between the other characters, leaving Evie to appear less interesting and well-rounded than her partner and more minor characters.  For fans of Ms. Henderson’s work, Threads of Suspicion functions as a continuation of the author’s high-caliber storytelling abilities in the suspense genre, independent of one’s attachment to the characters themselves.

Fans of Ms. Henderson’s work, especially Traces of Guilt, should definitely read Threads of Suspicion.  Additionally, readers who enjoy Christian suspense novels will find Ms. Henderson’s novels to be well-worth checking out in the near future.

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of Threads of Suspicion!

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Review: The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories – Celeste Fletcher McHale

Celeste Fletcher McHale. The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Celeste Fletcher McHale’s The Secret of Hummingbird Cake was one of the most surprising and unique debut works that I reviewed last year.  In sharing it with several family members, they were incredibly impressed with the overall story and characters.  When I had the chance to preview an advanced reader’s copy of Ms. McHale’s upcoming release, I jumped at the opportunity.  After finishing the book in record time, I can honestly say that the novel is well worth the read!

Stranded on a rooftop during a devastating Mississippi flood, Jacey becomes attached to her fellow survivors, a poor mother, her four sons, and a man named Colin.  Over the course of three days, Jacey and Colin formed an indescribable bond forged by their life-and-death situation.  When a chance at rescue separates Jacey and Colin, they promise one another that they will reunite, only to have their contact information and Jacey’s memory wiped away in a tragic accident in the flood waters.  A year later, Jacey and Colin are unexpectedly reunited at a friend’s wedding.  Jacey’s faulty memory, triggered by her tragic accident, begins to return after talking with Colin and reestablishing their relationship in the normalcy of their real lives.  However, the flood waters were not the only complication that Colin and Jacey encountered in the years prior.  To move forward, each must have faith to overcome their previous challenges and fears, even if it means setting aside the relationship that they each have sought to relocate after the flood.

Ms. McHale shows herself to be a resonant voice in Southern fiction, writing in a style that reaches beyond traditional Christian fiction and into the real world challenges of everyday people.  The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories will leave readers wanting far more of Ms. McHale’s stories.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories!  After reading Ms. McHale’s debut novel, The Secret of Hummingbird Cake, I was left unsure as to whether she could ever write another story of equal caliber.  In The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories, she shows herself to be an incredible (and surprisingly consistent) storyteller.  The novel features complex and compelling characters faced with incredible, yet realistic, challenges, leaving the reader reflecting on the story long after it ends.  While some aspects of the novel may fall outside of the norm for Christian contemporary fiction, Ms. McHale’s story offers a fresh and genuine tale that will resonate with a Christian audience.  Additionally, the storyline, including the characters’ faults and challenges, will also ring true for a general readership.  In this purely Southern tale, Ms. McHale offers an insightful look at the true meaning of redemption and second chances, whether for a family, marriage, friendship, or romantic relationship.

Fans of Ms. McHale and The Secret of Hummingbird Cake will definitely want to read The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also want to check out this novel.  Ms. McHale writes for a broad audience, with moderate to fast pacing of her story.  Some readers may dislike some of the novel’s language and actions of the characters, which may impact the age-appropriateness of this story.  However, the novel is well worth the read for those who can appreciate the overall plotline and the characters’ redemption, in spite of their imperfections.

Special thanks to the author (Celeste Fletcher McHale) and BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories!

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Review: True to You – Becky Wade

Becky Wade. True to You: A Bradford Sisters Romance. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Last week, I featured Becky Wade’s prequel novella, Then Came You, on the Books and Biscuits Blog.  Typically Ms. Wade only releases one full-length novel a year, which is always a highlight of the warmer months.  Her newest book, True to You, actually releases today and is definitely worth reading!

True to You focuses on Nora Bradford, the middle sister of a legendary and talented trio of sisters.  As the resident genealogist and director of the local historical village, Nora has created a life for herself surrounded by books, history, and the occasional fictional hero.  Nora avoids heartbreak after a serious relationship years ago went awry, until the day that a former Navy SEAL walks into her life.  John Lawson has made a name for himself as a security expert, but needs Nora’s help to find out the truth about his birth mother and an inherited health condition that may undermine his entire career.  Together, this unlikely duo discover that they may not be quite as different as they once thought, as they bond over shared tragedy, faith, and the pursuit of truth against all odds.

Fans of Ms. Wade will be absolutely thrilled with True to You and the beginning of the Bradford Sisters series.  Set in the Pacific Northwest, this book offers a technicolor view of a very different setting from those featured in Ms. Wade’s past stories.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading True to You!  For readers of Ms. Wade’s works, I would highly recommend starting with Then Came You, which serves as the novella prequel for the Bradford Sisters series.  The novella provides additional backstory that will help readers to understand the history of the Bradford family and the unique relationship between Nora and her sisters, while also introducing Ms. Wade’s style of using additional forms of correspondence (emails, texts, phone calls, etc.) to further her story.  In True to You, Ms. Wade uses these relatively unorthodox components to a lesser extent, as the correspondence builds upon a more standard storytelling structure, rather than functioning on its own.  As an overall story, True to You is equally as strong as Ms. Wade’s previous novels and series, which is particularly impressive for the first book in a new series.  Readers will definitely enjoy meeting the Bradford sisters in this book and will be left wanting far more of their stories in Ms. Wade’s future novels.

Fans of Ms. Wade’s previous novels and other stories will definitely want to read True to You, especially if they enjoyed Then Came You: A Bradford Sisters Novella.  Likewise, readers who enjoy light-hearted contemporary Christian fiction by such authors as Melissa Tagg and Susan May Warren will also find this novel and Ms. Wade’s other works to be well worth checking out.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of True to You!

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Amazon – True to You

Review: Then Came You – Becky Wade

Becky Wade. Then Came You: A Bradford Sisters Novella. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017. E-novella.

An increasing number of authors and publishers are producing e-novellas to introduce new series or expand upon characters and stories.  While many of these stories are eventually released in collections, they are periodically released as stand-alone novellas, including this week’s featured book.

Becky Wade releases the first novel in her new Bradford Sisters series this May.  To kick off this series, she has recently released a novella (in electronic and print formats) entitled Then Came You, which offers some of the backstory related to the Bradford sisters’ parents and their history.  Garner Bradford will inherit the Bradford Shipping empire, but he is convinced that day will arrive far into the future.  First, he faces his own personal challenges, as he finds himself suddenly thrust into the position of single father.  After rapidly gaining responsibilities as both a family man and eventually the head of the corporation, he must face his past to become the man he needs to be for all of the people depending on him.  Along the way, he meets Kathleen Burke, a woman interested in moving up in her career, in spite of the efforts of her family and their wishes for her to take on a role in the family business.  When Bradford Shipping faces dark days, Garner and Kathleen must work together to solve the business’ challenges, as well as those that keep them apart.

Ms. Wade utilizes a combination of correspondence types to tell Garner and Kathleen’s story.  Filled with heartbreak, hope, and redemption, Then Came You offers a fascinating introduction to the Bradford Sisters series.

Overall, I thought Then Came You was well worth the read.  While I initially had mixed feelings about the structure of the story, it does offer compelling and integral history of the Bradford family, particularly the parent figures of the series’ main characters.  At 158 pages in the printed edition, Then Came You remains firmly grounded in the novella length and format.  However, the writing style and pacing varies widely, based on the style of correspondence used in each section, which varies between journal entries, phone calls, letters, and other forms.  After reading True to You, the first novel in the series, I would highly recommend that readers of the series also read the novella.  While True to You and the rest of the series may be able to be understood without the novella’s backstory, Then Came You provides rather vital information for the series and its characters to be best appreciated by readers.

Fans of Ms. Wade’s other novels and novellas will likely enjoy reading Then Came You.  Readers of the Bradford Sisters series will particularly appreciate the backstory offered in this prequel to the series.

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Amazon – Then Came You