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 Illusionist’s Apprentice – Kristy Cambron

Kristy Cambron. The Illusionist’s Apprentice. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Sometimes reviewing books comes with its own set of hazards.  Publishers release books on their own schedules, which means they are not necessarily evenly distributed throughout the year.  At the moment, I’m already reading and writing reviews for upcoming months, while waiting for books to arrive that release this week!  Fortunately, Kristy Cambron’s upcoming release arrived several days ago and I enjoyed every moment of this edge-of-your-seat historical mystery.

The Illusionist’s Apprentice follows the story of Wren Lockhart, a former apprentice to Harry Houdini who has made a name for herself on the vaudeville stage.  Together, Wren and Houdini successfully discredited magicians and spiritualists who misled the public with the promise of returning lost loved ones from the grave.  After Houdini’s death, one disgraced performer dares to regain the stage with the promise of returning a man to life.  However, the illusion’s tragic results quickly leads to an investigation by the burgeoning Boston division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The two agents in charge of the case turn to Wren as an expert illusionist capable of determining the truth behind the deadly vaudeville act.  However, the FBI’s investigation leads the agents to discover the true depth of illusionists’ secrets, especially those held by Wren to separate her glamorous stage life from the truth of her past.

Interweaving scenes from Wren’s past and present life, The Illusionist’s Apprentice will captivate readers with fascinating details of the Jazz Age and vaudeville life.  Ms. Cambron brings a rich vibrancy to her characters, while stepping into the arena of Christian suspense and mystery in her most recent novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Illusionist’s Apprentice!  Ms. Cambron continues to show remarkable growth in her writing from novel to novel, with The Illusionist’s Apprentice placing itself firmly at the forefront of her work.  The book offers a riveting depiction of American vaudeville life during the early part of the twentieth century, particularly in light of Harry Houdini and his fellow illusionists’ work capturing the public’s imagination through live performances.  While Houdini makes few actual appearances in the novel, the story reflects his influence on his chosen profession as a mentor and trendsetter.  Ms. Cambron’s choice to focus on Houdini’s work in debunking spiritualism and séance activity was particularly fascinating, especially when set against the public’s grief from the massive losses of World War I and the Spanish Flu.  At its heart, The Illusionist’s Apprentice ultimately focuses on the balance of truth and illusion in Wren’s life, even as she remains true to her faith.  The faith-based element of the story was relatively surprising and appreciated, although not necessarily overt, as Ms. Cambron’s other Christian novels have been known for their historical detail over the strength of their Christian themes. As an example of Christian suspense/mystery novels, The Illusionist’s Apprentice may be slightly spooky (there is a graveyard scene) for some readers.  However, it remains true to the relatively clean and accessible nature of Christian fiction.

Fans of Ms. Cambron’s previous historical novels, especially The Ringmaster’s Wife, will definitely want to read The Illusionist’s Apprentice.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Christian historical fiction set in the early twentieth century will also find this book to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of The Illusionist’s Apprentice!

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Amazon – The Illusionist’s Apprentice

Review: The Ringmaster’s Wife – Kristy Cambron

Kristy Cambron. The Ringmaster’s Wife. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

June continues to be an incredible month for Christian fiction.  I am thrilled to feature yet another 5-star review this month, this time for Kristy Cambron’s latest release.

The Ringmaster’s Wife balances two storylines, both revealing the power of courage and love experienced by two young women separated by a generation.  Mable leaves her family’s farm to experience a world of dreams at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Her experience leads her to a chance meeting with John Ringling.  In the 1920s, Lady Rosamund Easling dares to leave behind her predictable life to become a bareback rider for the Ringling Brothers’ circus.  There, she meets Mable Ringling and a fascinating cast of circus performers, who live a nomadic existence traveling across the United States each year.  Soon, Rosamund finds her own successes under the Big Top, even as she must choose between the comforts of her former life and chasing new dreams.

Ms. Cambron exhibits a new height in her writing, as she moves away from the World War II-era storylines of her previous novels.  Instead, The Ringmaster’s Wife captures the Jazz Age and the glitter of early-twentieth-century show businesses.

Overall, I was absolutely delighted with The Ringmaster’s Wife and the new direction of Ms. Cambron’s books.  While her previous work on The Butterfly and the Violin and A Sparrow in Terezin must be applauded, their subject matter regarding World War II concentration camps could be seen as admittedly depressing by readers.  In comparison, The Ringmaster’s Wife presents itself as a fantastic and glamorous story, filled with fascinating characters.  The novel is a wonderfully engrossing, in part due to the relative uniqueness of its characters and overall story development.  Ms. Cambron masterfully juggles two intertwined storylines, while remaining firmly in their respective historical periods.  After reading her previous books, I was thrilled to see Ms. Cambron’s growth as a writer, especially in her ability to utilize the two storylines and broader cast of characters to develop a stronger overall plotline.  Additionally, she brings her keen eye for artistic detail to the pages of her novel, utilizing her writing style to fully capture the sparkle of circus life and the Ringling’s home in Sarasota, Florida.  Based on the incredible caliber of The Ringmaster’s Wife, I am very eager to read Ms. Cambron’s future novels, including The Illusionist’s Apprentice, which will be released in March 2017!

Fans of Ms. Cambron’s Hidden Masterpieces series, including The Butterfly and the Violin and A Sparrow in Terezin, will definitely want to read The Ringmaster’s Wife.  However, the relative uniqueness of the storyline and the novel’s focus on the Ringling Brothers’ Circus definitely sets it apart from many other novels in the Christian historical fiction genre.  Honestly, the novel must be appreciated in its own right and I would highly encourage fans of great historical fiction to add it to the very top of their must-read piles.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of The Ringmaster’s Wife!

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Amazon – The Ringmaster’s Wife

Review: A Sparrow in Terezin – Kristy Cambron

Kristy Cambron. A Sparrow in Terezin. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Through the Books and Biscuits Blog, I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting an incredible community of people involved with writing, reviewing, and reading Christian fiction. Whether virtually or in person, these people have supported the work that we do at the Blog and have been an amazing encouragement along the way. One of these people has been Kristy Cambron, a fan of the Books and Biscuits Blog Facebook page and the author of recently-published novel, A Sparrow in Terezin!

Following the events of Ms. Cambron’s first novel, The Butterfly and the Violin, A Sparrow in Terezin continues the story of gallery owner Sera James, as she moves to California and marries her fiancé, William Hanover. However, not all is as it should be, as Sera and William are immediately faced with a court battle that has the power to tear apart their dreams of a life together. Their story becomes interwoven with the life of Kaja Makovsky, a native of Prague before the terror of the Nazi occupation destroys all that she has known. With God-given strength and courage that later inspires Sera’s generation, Kaja survives the Blitz in London before sneaking back to Prague to rescue her parents. When the unthinkable occurs, Kaja finds herself in the Terezin ghetto and concentration camp, teaching Jewish children art and an unfathomable lesson in hope.

Ms. Cambron brings together two divergent periods into a novel that inspires generations with its message of God’s consistency and provision. The historic sections of A Sparrow in Terezin are haunting in their depiction of Kaja’s life in World War II Europe, as she must choose between her own comfort and the safety of her family. In comparison, Sera’s present-day situation seems challenging, but never takes on the intensity or drama of the historical sections of the novel.

Overall, I thought that A Sparrow in Terezin was well done, but had a few weak points. Without question, Ms. Cambron thrives in the historical parts of the novel. Even with a more complex story that moves around Europe, she easily equates the caliber of her earlier book, The Butterfly and the Violin. Ironically, the continuation of Sera and William’s storyline never achieves the same level of the first book, as there is a less obvious connection between the historical and modern-day characters. Additionally, readers who are not familiar with the first book (or who have not read it recently) may have problems acclimating to the contemporary storyline and characters. The historic and modern storylines do eventually come together, but I felt that the present-day aspects detracted somewhat from the exceptional achievements of the historical characters and their story.

Fans of Ms. Cambron’s Hidden Masterpieces series, including The Butterfly and the Violin, will also enjoy A Sparrow in Terezin. Likewise, it shares attributes with Melanie Dobson’s Chateau of Secrets, particularly in its alternating modern and historical sequences. Readers who appreciate great World War II fiction may also want to read A Sparrow in Terezin. Although the novel contains dramatic and potentially disturbing concepts (I realize that children in a concentration camp will likely turn off certain readers), the novel’s moderate pace and style will be able to maintain readers’ interest.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of A Sparrow in Terezin!

Looking for this book? Support the Books and Biscuits blog, while shopping at:
Amazon – A Sparrow in Terezin (A Hidden Masterpiece Novel)
Christianbook.com – A Sparrow in Terezin