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: A Stranger at Fellsworth – Sarah Ladd

Sarah E. Ladd. A Stranger at Fellsworth. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

I’m rather amazed at the sheer number of authors and series that focus exclusively on England’s Regency era.  However, readers are generally excited about new novels of this kind being released on a regular basis.  As a reviewer, I find that I rather enjoy them myself. :)

In mid-May, Sarah Ladd releases A Stranger at Fellsworth, the third novel in her Treasures of Surrey series.  Having grown up in London, Annabelle Thorley has only ever known life under her father’s tyrannical rule.  After her parents’ deaths, Annabelle is left under the care of her brother, who proves to be just as cruel to her as her father.  When Annabelle realizes that she will be forced into an equally harsh marriage to satisfy her brother’s debts, she decides to escape the only home she has ever known for her uncle’s school in Fellsworth.  Fortunately, she turns to a kind and helpful stranger, Owen Locke, who serves as gameskeeper for one of Fellsworth’s local landowners.  As Annabelle settles into her new position as a teacher, Owen finds himself distracted from his usual duties.  Poachers threaten the local estates, as well as Owen’s dream of owning his family’s ancestral land. Together, Annabelle and Owen must discover the connection between the poachers and the Fellsworth school in order to finally pursue the peaceful future they both seek.

Ms. Ladd offers a romantic and suspenseful novel set in England’s Regency Era.  Annabelle and Owen’s story will delight readers who enjoy tales of second chances.

Overall, I quite enjoyed reading A Stranger at Fellsworth.  While I appreciate a variety of historical fiction stories, Ms. Ladd develops novels that masterfully combine elements of historical, romance, and suspense storytelling.  A Stranger at Fellsworth juxtaposes the significant differences between life in London and the English countryside during the Regency period.  Owen’s role as an estate gamekeeper and Annabelle’s position at her uncle’s school offer fascinating insight into some of the historical roles of men and women during the period, which are oftentimes missed in other novels.  In the midst of these historical details, Ms. Ladd also includes strong faith-based themes that will resonate well with fans of Christian fiction.  In general, the novel provides a satisfying conclusion to the Treasures of Surrey series, even as it may serve equally as well as a stand-alone book.

Fans of Ms. Ladd’s work, especially the other novels in the Treasures of Surrey series, should definitely read A Stranger at Fellsworth.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Christian fiction set during the Regency era will also find this book to be well worth exploring.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of A Stranger at Fellsworth!

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Review: A Love So True – Melissa Jagears

Melissa Jagears. A Love So True. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

The next few months should be exceptionally busy here at the Books and Biscuits Blog!  We have an overabundance of new novels being released and I can only hope to keep up with reviewing all of these great books.  Hopefully, I can pull it off. :)

Ms. Jagears continues her Teaville Moral Society series with A Love So True.  Evelyn Wisely assists her parents in running the orphanage first established by local businessman, Nicholas Lowe.  However, her work for the Teaville Moral Society is never done, as she also hopes to assist the women who live in the town’s red-light district.  In order to gain Nicholas’ support for her idea, he insists that she first find several other businessmen in the community who are also willing to provide backing.  David Kingsman arrives in Teaville for a short-term business trip as a representative of his father’s company.  While he hopes to prove his business acumen by saving the family’s factory in Teaville, he soon finds a mutual interest in assisting Evelyn in her work with the women and orphans of the town.  While Evelyn has never shown interest in the other men of Teaville, David’s friendship becomes an increasingly important part of her life and work.  Together, they must overcome their past failings to finally discover what God has planned for their lives.

In A Love So True, Ms. Jagears builds upon a set of characters and situations first introduced in A Heart Most Certain.  Fans of the Teaville Moral Society series will greatly enjoy reading Evelyn and David’s story, as they continue the philanthropic efforts of the citizens of Teaville.

Overall, I quite enjoyed reading A Love So True, as an example of Christian historical fiction.  Ms. Jagears continues to focus her stories on the moral situations of her Christian characters, in a way that is not always the case in other novels.  The series’ overarching storyline also concentrates on the Teaville Moral Society and a group of concerned citizens who regularly assist orphans and prostitutes in their small town.  While this topic can make for some serious sections of the novel, Ms. Jagears expertly counters it with lighter elements related to her main characters and their interactions with one another.  Of the two novels in the series, A Love So True felt slightly more serious and dense than A Heart Most Certain.  However, fans of the series will find the sequel to be well worth reading as an extension of Ms. Jagears’ Teaville stories.

Fans of Ms. Jagears’ work, especially her Teaville Moral Society series, will definitely want to read A Love So True.  Additionally, readers who appreciate Christian historical fiction with a strong faith-based element may also find this novel to be a worthwhile read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of A Love So True!

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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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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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