Review: All This Time – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. All This Time. Middletown, DE: Larkspur Press, 2017.

Sadly, Melissa Tagg’s much-loved Walker Family series ends with her release of All This Time.  I’ve become a huge fan of Ms. Tagg’s work over the last several years, as she brings a thoughtful and ever-optimistic voice to her contemporary fiction.

All This Time focuses on the youngest Walker sibling, Raegan, and her journey into adulthood.  The local townsfolk of Maple Valley have come to expect Raegan to always fill the town’s part time jobs, whether at the pool, library, or anywhere else she’s needed.  Her dreams of being an artist were dashed in the midst of helping her family after her mother’s death.  However, she receives a second chance to live out her dream when she is chosen as the town’s artist for a national show that comes to the area.  In the midst of Raegan reimagining her career as an artist, her long-time crush and good friend, Bear McKinley, returns to Maple Valley with his niece and nephew in tow.  After his brother and sister-in-law disappear, Bear finds himself responsible for the two children, leading him to the one place he ever felt at home.  Together, Bear and Raegan discover how to face their fears and once again dream of the lives that they once put away to help others.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series will be absolutely thrilled with this final novel.  The entire Walker family returns to Maple Valley to support Raegan and her memorable debut.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading All This Time!  Ms. Tagg brings her unique flair and approachable writing style to this novel about overcoming one’s fears and embracing one’s God-given dreams.  Raegan receives a fitting story for her quirky personality and long-time crush on Bear, even as Ms. Tagg shows an impressive amount of maturity and depth in Raegan and the rest of her cast of characters.  Half the fun of Ms. Tagg’s novels, including All This Time, comes through her online commentary (Facebook) about her writing process and love for her own characters.  I would definitely recommend that fans of her books check out her blog and Facebook feeds to find out more about the behind-the-scenes work on her novels, as they will discover a surprising number of enjoyable hints and quirky plot points that make it into her final versions.  With this book marking the end of the Walker Family series, I am very interested to see what Ms. Tagg decides to write next, whether as a stand-alone novel or series.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other novels, especially the Walker Family series, will absolutely want to read All This Time.  Readers who enjoy light-hearted, contemporary Christian fiction, such as written by Becky Wade and Susan May Warren, will also want to read this delightful book.

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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: To Wager Her Heart – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. To Wager Her Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

When I was young, my dad would take the family to various museums and other locations to see trains.  They always seemed immense and captivating, especially to a tiny kid.  Even now, I have an odd fascination with trains and found this novel’s inclusion of detailed descriptions of nineteenth-century railroads to be an odd highlight of the story. :)

To Wager Her Heart, the third book of Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation series, returns readers to post-Civil War Nashville, Tennessee.  Alexandra Jamison escapes an arranged marriage, forcing her to look elsewhere for a job to support herself.  With teaching skills acquired from her deceased fiancé, Alexandra finds a position as a teacher at Fisk University, a freedmen’s university in Nashville.  Unfortunately, the position comes with few perks and a tiny salary, resulting in her accepting a tutoring position with Sylas Rutledge.  Originally from Colorado, Sy readily admits that Southern manners leave him perplexed.  With a chance of a lifetime to partner on a venture with General William Giles Harding of Belle Meade Plantation, Sy must impress the General and Nashville society to ensure the success of his Northeast Line Railroad.  Sharing unorthodox opinions about education and society, Sy and Alexandra soon find themselves risking everything to stand up for their beliefs.  However, a tragic train accident that connects them may be the one thing keeping them apart.

Ms. Alexander returns for the final volume of her fascinating Belle Meade Plantation series.  Fans of her work will applaud her development of this story, as it bridges intriguing historical events and people found in the region’s history.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading To Wager Her Heart!  Ms. Alexander expertly develops her characters, drawing in the reader from the very first chapter.  The novel includes an unexpected thread focused on the Fisk University Jubilee Singers and their attempts to save the university from insolvency.  While music, education, and railroads seem like an odd combination within a story, Ms. Alexander somehow makes it a perfect fit!  The level of research to pull together such diverse topics, while developing a wonderful sense of place throughout the novel is exceptionally impressive.  Additionally, this novel shows Ms. Alexander’s further growth as a writer, as this and her last several books have started to have an even smoother writing style, better pacing, and tighter storylines.  While I have always enjoyed Ms. Alexander’s novels, I am looking forward to her future work even more as a result of this growth.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous novels, especially those in the Belle Meade Plantation series, will definitely want to read To Wager Her Heart!  Likewise, readers who appreciate great Christian historical fiction with a focus on the post-Civil War era South will also find this novel to be well worth reading.

Ms. Alexander kicks off a new series with her release of Christmas at Carnton: A Novella this October!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for the advanced copy of To Wager Her Heart!

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Review: The Writing Desk – Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck. The Writing Desk. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

Following a bit of advice from one of the Christian authors that I regularly review, I upgraded my Kindle to better handle its near constant use.  As I’ve discovered over the last several months, reading paperback books can be fairly tricky with a newborn, but an e-book reader works great one-handed!  The Writing Desk happened to be the first novel that I read with my new e-book reader and I can honestly say that the technology has significantly improved from what it was four or five years ago.

In The Writing Desk, Tenley Roth comes from a long line of accomplished authors.  After losing her father, she writes an unexpected bestselling novel inspired by his life.  With an upcoming deadline for her sophomore novel, she soon finds herself facing a severe case of writer’s block.  Escaping her life in New York, Tenley travels to Florida to assist her mother through her cancer treatments.  While there, she meets Jonas Sullivan and his family, as well as finding some much-needed inspiration in the form of a writing desk in her mother’s library.  The desk’s owner was once an author herself.  Growing up in the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn was forced to choose between social success and love.  In the face of family disapproval, Birdie turns to her storytelling abilities, finding that God’s will for her life does not look like the typical romance story of her age.  Birdie and Tenley’s respective journeys as authors come together across time, as deceptions fall away in the face of truth.

Fans of Ms. Hauck’s previous contemporary novels, including The Wedding Dress and The Wedding Chapel, will be delighted with this newest release.  The Writing Desk continues Ms. Hauck’s style of intertwining stories from the past and present, even as they reveal timeless themes and challenges encountered by her characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Writing Desk!  While Ms. Hauck’s previous novels, specifically The Wedding Shop, The Wedding Chapel, and The Wedding Dress, have been well received, I honestly enjoyed The Writing Desk even more.  Both the contemporary and historical components of the story were absolutely riveting, with a tight writing style accessible to all readers.  Ms. Hauck is definitely in the top tier of authors that I review and this book was an absolute delight to read.  The Gilded Age storyline was well worth the effort and extra research that Ms. Hauck admits in the author’s note that she had to put into it.  That historical plotline was strong enough that she could have easily turned it into a stand-alone book.  However, it will definitely reach and be greatly appreciated by an even wider audience when combined with the contemporary storyline.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Ms. Hauck’s novels, especially The Wedding Shop, The Wedding Chapel, and The Wedding Dress, will be absolutely thrilled with The Writing Desk.  Likewise, fans of contemporary Christian fiction, especially by authors such as Susan May Warren, will also want to read this book.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Writing Desk!

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Review: Just Look Up – Courtney Walsh

Courtney Walsh. Just Look Up. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Throughout her previous novels, Courtney Walsh expertly brings small towns to life.  Her characters jump off the page, while the towns themselves could easily be one’s next vacation spot.

In Just Look Up, Lane Kelley has made a name for herself as a Chicago-based interior designer.  Lane works tirelessly to achieve a much-deserved promotion, even as her colleagues know nothing about her personally.  When her brother ends up in a coma, Lane must travel back to her hometown and finally face her family after years of self-inflicted exile.  The town of Harbor Pointe, Michigan, offers little of the ideal escape for Lane, even as she encounters lifelong family friend, Ryan Brooks.  Ryan made his own escape via the military from a horrible family situation, but is excited to finally help the local area’s tourism through a business project of his own.  However, he needs Lane’s expertise in order to finish the project.  Together, Ryan and Lane must navigate their respective pasts in order to finally determine a way to build a future.

Ms. Walsh’s most recent novel points to the importance of looking up from one’s work and own problems to instead focus on other people and events beyond oneself.  Throughout much of the novel, Lane maintains a firm grip on her cell phone and work projects, even as she discovers that it negatively impacts her health and happiness.  As Ms. Walsh indicates in the author’s notes, the lessons of this novel are ones that many people encounter, including the author herself.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Just Look Up.  Personally, the novel was one of my favorites written by Ms. Walsh.  I really appreciated her contrast of Lane’s Chicago lifestyle with the quaint town of Harbor Pointe.  Additionally, the various characters were quite interesting and unique, fitting appropriately within their various settings.  In general, I wished to see more description of Lane’s interior design projects and process, as the “work” that she does makes up a significant component of the story.  Instead, these sections are glossed over, even as they may have offered some intriguing opportunities to build further dialogue and complexity among some of the main characters.  However, I realize that Ms. Walsh was probably attempting to keep a tighter focus on building her story.  I am curious to see if Ms. Walsh decides to continue to write stories based in and around Harbor Pointe or if her next novel will move in a different direction.

Fans of Ms. Walsh’s previous works, as well as other contemporary Christian fiction, will enjoy reading Just Look Up.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Just Look Up!

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