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: Messenger by Moonlight – Stephanie Grace Whitson

Stephanie Grace Whitson. Messenger by Moonlight. New York, NY: FaithWords, 2016.

It’s been a particularly busy week around the Books and Biscuits Blog as more books for the summer months have just arrived. However, I made to make the time to read Stephanie Grace Whitson’s newest release, Messenger by Moonlight.

Annie Paxton and her brothers are forced to leave their childhood home after their father’s death.  They head to St. Joseph, Missouri, in the hopes of settling down in the city and finding worthwhile jobs for all three of them.  However, the Pony Express is searching for young and daring riders, an opportunity that the Paxton brothers cannot pass up.  Soon, the Paxtons are on their way to a remote Pony Express station in the Nebraska Territory.  While the Paxton brothers are racing horses across hundreds of miles of barely-settled territory, Annie cooks and cares for the guests of the Pony Express station, with the help of its surly owner, George Morgan.  In comparison, the officers of Fort Kearny seem like gentleman.  When the nation turns to war and the Pony Express encounters its own set of challenges, Annie must finally choose between the relative safety she has always known and embracing the real-life adventure of the Pony Express.

Ms. Whitson continues to focus her recent novels on unique female characters during the mid-nineteenth century.  Messenger by Moonlight tells the story of the Pony Express, while presenting a fascinating perspective of the women who helped to keep the stations running and fed.

Overall, I really enjoyed Messenger by Moonlight.  Ms. Whitson always writes thoroughly-researched, yet surprisingly accessible stories about the western frontiers.  This novel fits well with A Captain for Laura Rose and Daughter of the Regiment, in that it focuses on the unique perspective of women placed in extraordinary situations during times of political and familiar struggle.  From a historical perspective, I would highly recommend that reader’s pay attention to Ms. Whitson’s author’s notes, as she clearly indicate just how little historical resources are available to support the primary concept of the novel.  In general, I thought she did an excellent job of remaining close to the general details of the period, even without having exceptional amounts of primary or secondary documentation focused on the women’s perspective of the Pony Express stations.  In the end, I thought that Ms. Whitson’s resulting novel was masterfully accomplished and a convincing, yet exciting, interpretation of the Pony Express.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Whitson’s other novels will definitely want to read Messenger by Moonlight.  Fans of mid-nineteenth century historical Christian fiction, especially focusing on the nation’s western migration, will find the novel to present a particularly fascinating perspective not often found in other books.  With moderate pacing and an accessible writing style, the novel makes for a relatively fast read, even at 327 pages.

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Review: Among the Fair Magnolias – Alexander, Gray, Love, and Musser

Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser. Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Sometimes I find new books by tracking my favorite authors or series of books. Other times, I simply fall in love with a book’s cover and can’t wait to read it. For authors Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser, their latest compilation of novellas in Among the Fair Magnolias has all of the above, making it a must read this month!

Among the Fair Magnolias brings together some of Christian fiction’s great authors, who contribute stories that depict the American South during the period around the Civil War. Through four diverse love stories, they bring the period to life and show the undeterred nature of America’s women in the face of some of life’s greatest challenges.

Ms. Love’s “Heart So True” tells the story of Abigail Clayton as she faces the choice between following her father’s wishes for a spouse or finally marrying the man who has captured her heart. With a pleasant storyline and a wonderful sense of place, “Heart So True” builds on characters introduced in Carolina Gold, while highlighting Ms. Love’s storytelling ability in what is certainly my favorite piece so far by this author.

“To Mend a Dream” by Ms. Alexander continues the story of a secondary character first introduced in To Win Her Favor. Susannah Darby lost her family’s home after the Civil War and finds herself having to redecorate the house as part of a commission for her work as a seamstress. When Northerner Aidan Bedford encounters Susannah admiring his newly-acquired land, his view of the future suddenly changes. “To Mend a Dream” is a sweet and poignant story that showcases Ms. Alexander’s flair for characters and historical detail.

Ms. Musser’s “Love Beyond Limits” offers a surprising, but well-placed, addition to Among the Fair Magnolias. Having grown up on her father’s plantation, Emily Derracott pushes cultural norms in the South with her insistence on educating her family’s former slaves. When her father insists that she marry a long-time neighbor, Emily must choose between her politics and social convention in a reconstructed South. Ms. Musser builds upon historical themes and characters similar to those found in Ms. Alexander’s novels. However, this story contained several historical details that did not necessarily fit with the period.

Lastly, “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Ms. Gray takes readers to post-Civil War Texas, where the effects of the war continue to touch the lives of one small town. Russell Champion returns to his hometown after spending the last seven years running from his past. When he finally revisits his mother and the girl he left behind, Russell must choose between leaving again or finding a new life with those he loves. Through the use of a different writing style, Ms. Gray’s story offers the greatest deviation from the rest of the collection. However, the ultimate themes of renewal, choices, and overcoming obstacles tie this story to the rest of the book.

Overall, I was quite thrilled with Among the Fair Magnolias. Fans who enjoy any of the authors’ novels and other stories will definitely appreciate the book, as it offers many connections with characters, settings, and storylines first depicted in the authors’ other works. Additionally, those readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also appreciate the compilation. In general, I thought the stories fit fairly well together. The book reminded me of compilations of L.M. Montgomery’s wonderfully sweet and inspiring short story collections, with a slight change in geography. At several points, the stories in Among the Fair Magnolias shared similar themes and premises to examples of Ms. Montgomery’s work, which I found to be absolutely delightful.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of Among the Fair Magnolias!

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Review: Daughter of the Regiment – Stephanie Grace Whitson

Stephanie Grace Whitson. Daughter of the Regiment. New York, NY: FaithWords, 2015.

Some of my earliest historical fiction books focused on the Civil War and it seemed like the perfect place to start the Christian fiction genre. Those books seemed quintessentially American and far enough in the past to present unique stories and characters that seemed sufficiently removed from my own life. Over the years, I have significantly diversified my reading list and the historical periods represented within it. However, in periodically returning to Civil War-era books, I’m finding that authors are more frequently choosing to depict stories far outside of the mid-Atlantic military campaigns and instead showing many other perspectives and regions involved in the war.

Stephanie Grace Whitson’s Daughter of the Regiment focuses on the unique position of Missouri in the Civil War. In a region that directly pitted neighbor against neighbor, the novel follows two women who come to represent the polarizing nature of the conflict and the enormous socio-economic differences present among the population. Before the war, Irishwoman Maggie Malone spends her time working alongside her brothers and uncle to manage their family farm. After receiving word that her brother has been injured fighting for the Union, Maggie becomes a vital member of the Irish Brigade. Nearby, Elizabeth Blair lives with her brother on his successful hemp plantation, living a lifestyle not far removed from her childhood in Tennessee. When her brother forms the Wildwood Guard to fight for the Confederate cause, Elizabeth soon finds herself protecting the plantation from Union forces, including her neighbors serving in the Irish Brigade. While Elizabeth discovers the maturing effect of imminent war, Maggie realizes how her unorthodox childhood may have perfectly prepared her to serve “her boys” in the regiment.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Daughter of the Regiment. However, as I’ve found to be the case with other books that present multiple character perspectives, there always seem to be sections and people that seem far more interesting than others. By far, Maggie’s perspective on the war and her involvement in the Irish Brigade were the most fascinating parts of the novel. Her work as the “daughter of the regiment” raises awareness of this significant, yet infrequently described, women’s role during the Civil War. In comparison, Elizabeth serves as an interesting foil to Maggie, although she seems typical enough to the genre that her sections feel less intriguing as a result. Altogether, the novel feels true to Ms. Whitson’s writing style, historical research, and character development. While the timeline of the book seems relatively limited in terms of the overall war, Ms. Whitson utilizes this focused period to thoroughly develop her story and characters.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Whitson’s other novels will definitely want to read Daughter of the Regiment. Fans of mid 19th century historical Christian fiction, especially about the Civil War, will find the novel to present a particularly fascinating perspective not often found in other books. With moderate pacing and an accessible writing style, the novel makes for a relatively fast read, even at 312 pages.

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