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: High as the Heavens – Kate Breslin

Kate Breslin. High as the Heavens. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

The last couple of months have been a little out of the ordinary, as some of you probably noticed the Blog’s brief hiatus in May.  With the addition of our newest (and littlest) member of the Blog team, time is definitely at a premium.  In the midst of the insanity, reviewing this novel ended up being slightly delayed, so I am very happy to finally post this review!

In High as the Heavens, Evelyn Marche grew up in Britain to a Belgian family.  After losing her husband during the early days of World War I, Evelyn returns to her family’s hometown, landing herself directly in the path of the German army.  She soon finds herself leading the nurses of a German hospital in Brussels, while serving as part of the Belgian resistance.  When British Captain Simon Forrester’s plane crashes in the middle of the city, Evelyn risks everything to preserve his identity and top-secret papers.  With the Germans intent on proving Simon to be a spy, he is forced to trust Evelyn with his survival and finding a way out of Brussels.  Together, they look forward to the day that they might dare to return to the dreams they once had before the war.

Ms. Breslin shares this intriguing story of World War I spycraft, delving into the fascinating perspective of the Belgian resistance and their work with the British Secret Service.  Fans of World War I-era stories will definitely want to check out this fascinating novel!

Overall, I found High as the Heavens to be a very unique novel.  Previous to reading this book, I had not encountered one focused on the Belgian perspective during World War I.  Personally, I would have greatly appreciated some additional context, as I was quite unfamiliar with the locations, people, and events described in the novel.  Even some additional description in an author’s note would have been very helpful to provide this kind of information.  While the characters were interesting and relatively well developed, I thought that the writing style and pacing of the story dragged at points, especially toward the beginning.  However, I’m sure that someone more familiar with this period and geography would have been much more comfortable moving more quickly through the story.

Fans of Kate Breslin’s other novels would definitely enjoy reading High as the Heavens.  Likewise, those with a particular interest in World War I would also find this to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House for the promotional copy of High as the Heavens!

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Review: A Name Unknown – Roseanna White

Roseanna M. White. A Name Unknown. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Reading a new series is always a risk.  Even for a much-loved author, a new series offers an entirely different set of characters, settings, and situations that may be more or less appealing than their other stories.  However, I also find it to be a great opportunity to see an author’s growth as a writer.

Ms. White releases the first novel of her new Shadows Over England series with A Name Unknown.  In the months before World War I, Peter Holstein faces suspicion due to his German heritage.  As the British monarchy considers changing their family name to something less German, Peter must also prove his loyalty to England.  In an effort to justify his land holdings and citizenship, he hires Rosemary Gresham to find the family documents in his chaotic and disorderly library.  Unbeknownst to Peter, Rosemary arrives on his doorstep with ulterior motives.  She has been hired as a known thief to masquerade as a librarian to determine Peter’s allegiance to either England or Germany.  As Peter and Rosemary work together to find the family’s history, Peter’s activities behind locked doors raise suspicion.  However, the truth of his past and present activities may just be the key to his and Rosemary’s future.

A Name Unknown offers an intriguing storyline with a combination of romance, suspense, and humor that will delight fans of Christian historical fiction.  Rosemary, Peter, and the story’s other characters provide a fascinating perspective of the months leading up to the start of World War I.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Name Unknown!  While I had somewhat mixed feelings about Ms. White’s previous Ladies of the Manor series, this new release presents a significantly stronger example of her writing.  The concept behind this new series appears to be much more intriguing, capturing the imagination of the reader from the very beginning of the novel.  Additionally, A Name Unknown reveals a significant improvement from Ms. White’s previous series in terms of the quality of her historical research and ability to incorporate these details into the storyl.  With a strong plot, cast of characters, historical basis, and an unexpected sense of humor, this book serves as the whole package, presenting a new high for Ms. White’s work.  I look forward to seeing how she continues to build out this new series and her future novels, based on the level of excellence found in A Name Unknown.

Fans of Ms. White’s previous novels, including those found in her Ladies of the Manor, will definitely want to read A Name Unknown.  Additionally, readers who enjoy historical Christian fiction with a touch of mystery and intrigue will also find this novel to be well worth trying.

Ms. White continues the Shadows Over England series with her release of A Song Unheard in January 2018!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of A Name Unknown!

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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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Amazon – A Love So True

Review: To the Farthest Shores – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. To the Farthest Shores. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

I’m particularly excited to share this week’s review, as it has been a long time in coming.  Due to a series of delays, my copy of Elizabeth Camden’s most recent novel just arrived, even though it was supposed to release in February.  Fortunately, I’m a fast reader and the Blog had an available slot this week to feature this excellent book!

Ms. Camden’s novels regularly feature a wide variety of historical settings and locations across the United States.  Her most recent book takes readers to the coast of California in the years bridging the turn of the twentieth century.  Jenny Bennett works as a nurse at Presidio Army Base, where she happens to meet an intriguing naval officer in the months prior to the Spanish-American War.  However, Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher’s illness set back his secret mission for the U.S. government and he must once again leave the country, in spite of his feelings for Jenny.  Without an explanation for Ryan’s departure, Jenny continues her nursing career for another six years before rumors of his return accompany his arrival on the base.  Ryan’s homecoming to the United States follows six years of regrets and heartache, even as it places a continuing military mission at risk.  While Ryan has a plan for the overseas mission to succeed, he will have to convince Jenny to assist him and finally admit the truth behind his abrupt departure so many years ago.

Ms. Camden once again brings her award-winning research and writing skills to this story of forgiveness and second chances.  To the Farthest Shores will delight readers with a new cast of fascinating characters that could only be created by the brilliant mind of Ms. Camden.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading To the Farthest Shores.  While most of Ms. Camden’s previous works have taken place on the eastern coast of the United States, this novel’s California-based setting presents a marked contrast to her other books.  However, fans of her other work will find themselves right at home with this new cast of characters, as Ms. Camden continues to build stories around unique and intelligent individuals who seem to step out of the pages of history.  This novel’s focus on early attempts at international military intelligence, as well as the scientific study of pearls, presents fascinating historical subject matter for consideration, even beyond the scope of the book’s plotline.  In comparison to Ms. Camden’s last couple of novels, I found this story to have a slightly slower pace and more serious tone.  However, To the Farthest Shores fit well within the overall canon of her work, as a captivating example of Christian historical fiction.

Fans of Ms. Camden will absolutely want to read To the Farthest Shores.  Likewise, readers who enjoy expertly-researched historical fiction, even beyond the scope of Christian fiction, will definitely want to explore this novel.

Ms. Camden will release her next novel, A Dangerous Legacy, in October of 2017!

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of To the Farthest Shores!

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Amazon – To the Farthest Shores