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: The Austen Escape – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. The Austen Escape. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Lately, I’ve been watching my fair share of British television, whether in the form of recent releases or some older productions that have been from years past.  Some of the most amusing have involved putting modern-day people in historical situations, as they rarely have the basic knowledge to make it through a historical day.  Ms. Reay’s most recent novel takes a look at a very similar situation, with hysterical results. :)

Ms. Reay’s newest novel, The Austen Escape, features the friendship of Mary Davies and Isabel Dwyer.  Mary has her life together with a great job as an engineer at a start-up with excellent prospects.  Through her job, she has met a handsome consultant, who has turned into a trusted friend and possibly more.  However, Isabel soon cuts in on Mary’s life, when she springs a two-week trip to England as an emergency that could further strain or fix their friendship.  Isabel depends on the trip as an essential piece of her dissertation research on recreating Jane Austen’s literature, leaving Mary to cram in reading of all of Austen’s works.  Without Isabel’s scholarly knowledge of Austen’s world, Mary is left floundering through the early days of living on an historic estate with period-costumed guests.  When Isabel loses her memory and believes that she really lives in Austen’s Regency era, Mary must save the day with the help of the rest of the manor’s guests and a few surprise assistants from home.

The Austen Escape proves Ms. Reay’s brilliance at interweaving classic literature with modern-day situational humor.  Fans of PBS’s historical dramas and reality shows will find themselves eagerly delving into this delightful novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Austen Escape!  This novel stands out as my personal favorite novel by Ms. Reay, as she brings a wonderful sense of humor to this story.  Additionally, her characters offer a very different cast from her other books, as well as those found in similar works in the genre of contemporary Christian fiction and literary-inspired novels.  Mary and Isabel serve as just the beginning of a highly-layered cast of characters, with their own faults and accomplishments shown to great effect in this story of misunderstandings, escape, and second chances.  While other storylines in books and television shows have explored the concept of modern-day people living in a Regency Era or Austen-inspired environment, Ms. Reay’s rendition offers a new level of humor and wit to this unique setting.  Particularly, the novel’s contrasting of Mary and her engineering mind in a world of manners and social occasions offers great moments that readers will find absolutely charming.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous novels will definitely want to read The Austen Escape.  Likewise, readers who enjoy literature-inspired contemporary fiction or Christian fiction will find this book to be well worth tracking down.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of The Austen Escape!

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Review: A Portrait of Emily Price – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. A Portrait of Emily Price. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Katherine Reay’s novels are always unique and enjoyable, as they interconnect classic literature with fascinating stories and characters.  Her most recent novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, is no exception!

Ms. Reay’s newest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, follows the adventures of the title character as she travels to Atlanta for her job as an insurance restoration specialist.  Along the way, she meets Ben Vassallo, an Italian chef determined to revitalize his aunt and uncle’s restaurant.  Ben and Emily bond over his project, even as they both realize that they must soon return to their respective homes.  They instead decide to marry and travel to Ben’s hometown in Italy.  Although Emily has made a name for herself due to ability to “fix” nearly anything, she soon discovers that the challenges Ben faces at home cannot be easily mended.  While historic buildings and works of art may be able to be restored, Emily realizes that the impending death of her father-in-law will open new wounds, even as he attempts to resolve family disputes in his last days.  Emily’s attempts to help are met with disdain, particularly by her mother-in-law.  When she is given the chance to return home to the United States, she must choose between her old life and the foreign land that has captured her heart.

A Portrait of Emily Price reaches across volumes of classical literature to explore the growth of a compelling set of fascinating characters.  The title character makes her mark in a new country, even as her husband’s family teaches her lessons of faith and restoration.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading A Portrait of Emily Price.  Ms. Reay masterfully captures the spirit of classic authors, while writing a captivating story that serves as fascinating literature in its own right.  Readers will be absolutely riveted by Emily’s world of history and art restoration, while Ben’s Italian family and home serve as an intriguing and unforgettable backdrop for the novel’s events.  Within an expertly-written book, Ms. Reay’s descriptions of the art and the artistic process of her characters stand out as some of the most enthralling depictions in the novel.  Even as this year’s selection of novels winds to a close, Ms. Reay’s novel holds a unique place in the Christian contemporary fiction genre, standing out even among the fiction genre at large.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous works will definitely want to read A Portrait of Emily Price.  Additionally, readers who particularly enjoy classical literature will find the integration of countless references within Ms. Reay’s stories to be well worth the read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of A Portrait of Emily Price!

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Review: The Bronte Plot – Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay. The Bronte Plot. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Do you ever find a book that simply draws you in, based on the concept alone? Katherine Reay’s novels have stood out for their unique ability to interconnect classic literature with her stories and characters. Suddenly, the books featured in my high school English class come to life as Ms. Reay’s well-read characters identify with the challenges and themes of renowned fiction in their own (fictional) lives.

In her third novel, Ms. Reay offers an enchanting take on the Bronte sisters and great British literature in The Bronte Plot. The novel follows Lucy Alling, an aspiring seller of rare books and antiques, who utilizes questionable means to achieve her goals. When her boyfriend, James, discovers the truth, Lucy finds herself looking back at her past to discover how she came to compromise both her personal and professional standards. Lucy receives a much-needed reprieve from her problems in the form of James’ grandmother, a wealthy woman seeking a companion and antiques expert for a trip intended to resolve her own past and revisit Britain’s literary and historical sites one last time. Along the way, Lucy finds herself learning from the wisdom and experience of both James’ grandmother and the literary figures that define the Bronte sisters’ works. With a different perspective on her situation, Lucy discovers the timeless lesson of endurance and the importance of facing the consequences of her actions, even if it means giving up everything she has spent years building.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Bronte Plot. From Ms. Reay’s debut in Dear Mr. Knightley, I have tremendously appreciated her ability to intertwine classic literature with contemporary fiction. Her work, including The Bronte Plot, makes for a thought-provoking read among so many other novels that barely challenge the reader to think, let alone connect with the canon of literature that has come to define the English language and culture. Among Ms. Reay’s novels, I would rank The Bronte Plot as her best so far. The book offers approachable and relatable characters that readers will find endearing, yet flawed, as they are placed within a story that highlights Ms. Reay’s ability to draw incredible lessons from classic stories in a unique way. In addition, The Bronte Plot has one of the most evenly paced and well-developed storylines of Ms. Reay’s novels, drawing the reader into the story and making the book nearly impossible to put down until the very end. It exhibits Ms. Reay’s writing as she matures as a seasoned and talented author within the Christian fiction genre. If I could offer one minute critique of the entire work, I would have loved to see more or stronger connections to the Christian themes one would expect from a publication released by Thomas Nelson.

Fans of Ms. Reay’s previous works, Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane, will definitely want to read The Bronte Plot. Additionally, readers who have a particular affinity for British and classical literature will find the integration of countless references within Ms. Reay’s stories to be an absolute delight.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Bronte Plot!

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