Christmas Surprise! – Top 10 Book Picks of 2017

Each year, I publish reviews for about 52 books or so here at the Books and Biscuits Blog.  However, I’ve never attempted to rank them beyond the ratings I post on Amazon, GoodReads, and similar websites.  To celebrate Christmas and the end of the year, I put together my inaugural (hopefully annual) list of my top 10 favorite books from 2017.

While I have given more than 10 books 5-star reviews, these are my absolute top picks.  The remainder are listed below as “honorable mentions” for their 5-star rankings.  These books are listed in alphabetical order, as I really had no ability to rank them beyond a top 10 grouping.  Enjoy

Tamera Alexander. A Note Yet Unsung. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

As a musician, I could not get enough of this beautiful book by Ms. Alexander!  She manages to expertly wrap up one of her much-loved series, while leaving her readers wanting even more of her stories.

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

2017 was a big year for Ms. Alexander!  She wrapped up two series, as well as releasing the prequel novella for her next one.  To Wager Her Heart is one of my favorite books by Ms. Alexander, as a direct result of her in-depth historical research and focus on several almost unknown stories and topics.  The Fisk University connection is particularly fascinating!

Lynn Austin. Where We Belong. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Where We Belong may be one of my favorite releases from Ms. Austin in the past ten or so years.  Her research into the lives of her characters is absolutely incredible, especially as she shows their faith and personality in the presence of momentous historical situations.

Kristi Ann Hunter. An Inconvenient Beauty. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Ms. Hunter wraps up her first published series this year with An Inconvenient Beauty.  Throughout the series, I wondered how she would pull off a worthy novel for the quiet and complex main character, but she pulled it off!

Kara Isaac. Then There Was You. Bellbird Press, 2017.

I’ve read Ms. Isaac’s other books, but Then There Was You is by far my favorite one!  She left me laughing and crying along with memorable characters in this twist on a fish-out-of-water story.

Joanna Davidson Politano. Lady Jayne Disappears. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

Ms. Politano makes one of the most impressive debuts of the year with Lady Jayne Disappears.  Initially, I was hesitant to read this novel, as the summary seemed rather dark and depressing.  However, Ms. Politano expertly writes this story with faith and joy that permeates a unique storyline.

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

What can I say about this novel, other than the fact that it wraps up Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series.  Anyone who follows Ms. Tagg on her blog knows her personal love of her characters and stories, which permeates her stories.  With a flair for romantic comedy, Ms. Tagg’s works consistently end up on my must-read list every year.

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

2017 seemed to be a year of authors either wrapping up series or beginning new ones.  Ms. Wade’s previous series was incredibly strong and I wondered if she could pull it off again.  True to You proved that Ms. Wade is brilliant at writing enjoyable contemporary Christian fiction, even as she builds an entirely new cast of characters.

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

A Name Unknown came out of the blue for me, as I was not a huge fan of Ms. White’s previous works.  With the beginning of a new series, Ms. White manages to create a fascinating set of characters and situations that pulled me in from the very first chapter.  After this book, I am eagerly anticipating the chance to review her next novel, which is due out in January of the new year.

Karen Witemeyer. Heart on the Line. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Last, but certainly not least, Ms. Witemeyer always makes it onto my list of favorite authors and books.  She consistently brings a quirky set of characters to life, while remaining true to the best of the historical Christian fiction genre.  I particularly appreciate the sense of humor that she always brings to her story, as I found myself gravitating toward lighter storylines over the past year or so.

Honorable Mentions:

I hope that all of you have a blessed Christmas and a very happy New Year!

Review: A Dangerous Legacy – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. A Dangerous Legacy. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

Elizabeth Camden has taken a spot in my group of must-read authors from the release of her very first novel.  Her works consistently explore fascinating moments in history, with intriguing plots and complex characters.

In A Dangerous Legacy, Lucy Drake pursues justice for generations of her family, who have been plagued by an ongoing legal battle over her grandfather’s invention.  While her uncle’s family gains a fortune from over-pricing a water valve, Lucy hopes that one day the price will be lowered to allow it to be used to bring fresh water to the poor living in tenements.  Without a fortune to her name, Lucy works as a telegrapher for the Associated Press, where she puts her skills to the test to beat out the agency’s British rival.  Working only floors apart in a Manhattan skyscraper, the staff of the Associated Press and Reuters are constantly pitted against each other.  When Sir Colin Beckwith arrives at Reuters, he brings a particularly high-class approach to his work, even as it leads to conflict with Lucy’s work several floors away.  After Lucy and Colin learn each other’s secrets, they develop an alliance that just may place them both in more danger.  However, they may also be the key to unwinding a plot that could destroy the nation’s largest international undertaking.

Ms. Camden brings her particular flair to a story of international intrigue and charm.  Lucy and Colin’s exploits will delight readers, even as they reveal fascinating moments in the history of American politics and journalism.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Dangerous Legacy!  While I have appreciated some of Ms. Camden’s books more than others, this novel is definitely one of my favorite.  The setting of the novel and its focus on two famous news agencies at the beginning of the twentieth century offers a unique perspective on a topic that is not often explored in fictional works.  Likewise, the plot that Colin and Lucy uncover involves additional historical topics and situations that are lesser known in the genre.  I thought that Ms. Camden’s plot and development of this story were particularly well done, as they present an even pacing that will keep the reader captivated throughout the entire novel.   Likewise, I felt that the characters were among the top tier developed by Ms. Camden for her collection of novels.  After finishing A Dangerous Legacy, I was definitely left wanting to see what happens next with this particular set of characters, even though I would be equally excited to see what other unique concepts Ms. Camden explores in the future.

Fans of Ms. Camden will absolutely want to read A Dangerous Legacy.  Likewise, readers who enjoy expertly-researched historical fiction, even beyond the scope of Christian fiction, will definitely want to find a copy of this novel.

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of A Dangerous Legacy!

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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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Review: From This Moment – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. From This Moment. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016.

June has already been a landmark month here at the Books and Biscuits Blog.  May had some extraordinary books and June just keeps getting better, with new releases by other award-winning Christian authors.

Elizabeth Camden’s newest release, From This Moment, builds on a group of characters first introduced in the “Summer of Dreams” novella. Romulus White and his cousin, Evelyn, rebuilt Scientific World from a floundering publication list to an internationally-acclaimed magazine.  As close as brother and sister, these cousins are determined to succeed in their business, even if their idiosyncrasies have gotten in the way of their personal lives.  In the hopes of further improving the magazine, Romulus has made it his mission to finally hire Stella West, an American artist living in London, to bring the best in color illustrations to his publication.  However, Stella has left her art career behind and arrived in Boston to solve the mystery of her sister’s sudden death.  After a chance encounter, these two forceful personalities come to an arrangement: Romulus’s political connections for Stella’s famed artistic talent.  Together, they finally have a chance to solve a mystery and take a chance on trusting someone else with their greatest secrets.

Ms. Camden creates yet another historical masterpiece with From This Moment.  The novel explores the riveting political battlegrounds of nineteenth-century Boston, even as it develops a riveting romantic plot that will leave readers sighing for more flawed, yet brilliant, characters.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with From This Moment.  Ms. Camden continues to expand and improve her ability to develop a dynamic story, even while creating compelling and intelligent characters.  This novel also involves a complex cast of powerful characters, with intriguing motivations and backstories of their own.  Ms. Camden masterfully interweaves vital historical details into the novel’s plot, bringing the age of scientific discovery and engineering marvel to life, including the building of Boston’s subway system.  Based on the storyline and character development of the “Summer of Dreams” novella and From This Moment, I would definitely recommend reading both stories.  While most novels and novellas can stand independently, I thought that much of the context required to understand the backstories of From This Moment’s main characters originates in “Summer of Dreams.”  Personally, I understand why Ms. Camden created a separate novella.  However, readers will much better appreciate From This Moment after reading the novella, too.

Fans of Ms. Camden’s previous novels will definitely want to read From This Moment.  Additionally, readers of 19th century-era historical fiction novels by Christian authors and publishers will find this book to be a fascinating read.  Ms. Camden has a slightly denser style than some other authors in the genre and oftentimes utilizes far more historical detail.  Additionally, she has made a name for herself in her development of highly intelligent characters, including actively-employed and brilliant women, who are oftentimes ahead of their time within the settings of her novels.

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of From This Moment!

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Review: Summer of Dreams – Elizabeth Camden

Elizabeth Camden. Summer of Dreams: A From This Moment Novella. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016. Ebook.

Next month, Elizabeth Camden will be releasing From This Moment, which sounds like another tremendous novel from this acclaimed author.  As a result, I was very excited to hear that she was going to release a prequel in the form of an e-novella this month!

Summer of Dreams introduces some of the lead characters for Ms. Camden’s upcoming novel, From This Moment.  Evelyn White has never spent more than six months in any one home.  She has spent her childhood living in the guest rooms of a wide assortment of family members as her father travels the country in his role as the general in charge of the Army’s Corps of Engineers.  For one glorious summer, she finally spends several months in her father’s home, under the supervision of her admittedly idiosyncratic cousin, Romulus.  Together, they build an exceedingly complex greenhouse, but they lack the necessary technical skills to fully achieve their vision.  Fortunately, one of the local West Point cadets is assigned to their project.  Clyde Baxter has an incredible mind for engineering feats, particularly in cutting-edge electrical technology.  He has a promising career ahead of him, as long as he can stay out of trouble for long enough to complete his training.  Their summer together offers each one an unparalleled opportunity to explore their dreams, even while Clyde and Evelyn find an unexpected bond with one another.  When the summer ends and real life challenges come their way, each must choose to accept their fate or have faith and forge a new path.

Ms. Camden returns with a unique tale that will captivate her readers.  Summer of Dreams brings the excitement of late-nineteenth century technology to life, alongside the mesmerizing backdrop of the famed West Point Academy.

Overall, Summer of Dreams once again captured my attention as one of Ms. Camden’s excellent stories.  The novella offers a fascinating introduction to a new cast of characters, as well as a different setting than many of her past books.  Readers who enjoyed Siri Mitchell’s recent novel, Flirtation Walk, will appreciate the intriguing comparison with Ms. Camden’s depiction of West Point Academy nearly three decades later.  I was very interested to see how both Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Camden focused on the Academy’s engineering emphasis, rather than a pure military role.  Within Summer of Dreams, Ms. Camden also presents an extended excerpt of From This Moment, revealing some of the fascinating cross-over moments that feature both Evelyn and Romulus White nearly ten years after the events of Summer of Dreams.  However, the novella serves as a strong stand-alone story that is equally enjoyable with or without the accompanying (and forthcoming) novel.

Fans of Elizabeth Camden will definitely want to read Summer of Dreams.  Likewise, readers interested in Christian historical fiction, particularly focused on scientific and engineering topics, will find this to be an interesting story.  Additionally, fans of Ms. Mitchell’s Flirtation Walk and other military-focused stories will find Summer of Dreams to be a worthwhile read.

P.S. Summer of Dreams is currently available for free on Amazon.  Just click on the link below!

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