Review: The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories – Celeste Fletcher McHale

Celeste Fletcher McHale. The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Celeste Fletcher McHale’s The Secret of Hummingbird Cake was one of the most surprising and unique debut works that I reviewed last year.  In sharing it with several family members, they were incredibly impressed with the overall story and characters.  When I had the chance to preview an advanced reader’s copy of Ms. McHale’s upcoming release, I jumped at the opportunity.  After finishing the book in record time, I can honestly say that the novel is well worth the read!

Stranded on a rooftop during a devastating Mississippi flood, Jacey becomes attached to her fellow survivors, a poor mother, her four sons, and a man named Colin.  Over the course of three days, Jacey and Colin formed an indescribable bond forged by their life-and-death situation.  When a chance at rescue separates Jacey and Colin, they promise one another that they will reunite, only to have their contact information and Jacey’s memory wiped away in a tragic accident in the flood waters.  A year later, Jacey and Colin are unexpectedly reunited at a friend’s wedding.  Jacey’s faulty memory, triggered by her tragic accident, begins to return after talking with Colin and reestablishing their relationship in the normalcy of their real lives.  However, the flood waters were not the only complication that Colin and Jacey encountered in the years prior.  To move forward, each must have faith to overcome their previous challenges and fears, even if it means setting aside the relationship that they each have sought to relocate after the flood.

Ms. McHale shows herself to be a resonant voice in Southern fiction, writing in a style that reaches beyond traditional Christian fiction and into the real world challenges of everyday people.  The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories will leave readers wanting far more of Ms. McHale’s stories.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories!  After reading Ms. McHale’s debut novel, The Secret of Hummingbird Cake, I was left unsure as to whether she could ever write another story of equal caliber.  In The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories, she shows herself to be an incredible (and surprisingly consistent) storyteller.  The novel features complex and compelling characters faced with incredible, yet realistic, challenges, leaving the reader reflecting on the story long after it ends.  While some aspects of the novel may fall outside of the norm for Christian contemporary fiction, Ms. McHale’s story offers a fresh and genuine tale that will resonate with a Christian audience.  Additionally, the storyline, including the characters’ faults and challenges, will also ring true for a general readership.  In this purely Southern tale, Ms. McHale offers an insightful look at the true meaning of redemption and second chances, whether for a family, marriage, friendship, or romantic relationship.

Fans of Ms. McHale and The Secret of Hummingbird Cake will definitely want to read The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories.  Likewise, readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also want to check out this novel.  Ms. McHale writes for a broad audience, with moderate to fast pacing of her story.  Some readers may dislike some of the novel’s language and actions of the characters, which may impact the age-appropriateness of this story.  However, the novel is well worth the read for those who can appreciate the overall plotline and the characters’ redemption, in spite of their imperfections.

Special thanks to the author (Celeste Fletcher McHale) and BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories!

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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: The Lady and the Lionheart – Joanne Bischof

Joanne Bischof. The Lady and the Lionheart. Idyllwild, CA: Mason Jar Books, 2016.

I find great books to feature on the Books and Biscuits Blog through a variety of avenues.  Lately, I have found some great novels via recommendations by Christian authors, especially through their affiliated Facebook pages and newsletters.  This particular book came by recommendations from both Melissa Tagg and Kristy Cambron!

Joanne Bischof brings the thrills of the Big Top to life in her newest release, The Lady and the Lionheart.  Ella Beckley has escaped the memories of her past through a career in nursing.  During one particular night in the pediatric ward, Ella meets a mysterious man and a feverish baby girl who desperately need her help.  Putting her skills to work soon finds Ella following Charlie Lionheart to the circus, where he works as the resident lion tamer.  While Ella and Charlie work together to heal his niece, they also discover each other’s secrets and the love that has the power to overcome their tragic pasts.  However, protecting Charlie’s niece comes with a price, one that may place everything he loves at risk.

Ms. Bischof brings the very best elements of Christian fiction to her writing in The Lady and the Lionheart.  Readers will be absolutely riveted by this larger-than-life story of redemption in the shadows of the legendary Big Top.

Overall, I thought that The Lady and the Lionheart was absolutely superb!  As this novel is an independently-published book, I was not sure what to expect, particularly in terms of the quality of the writing and printed copy.  However, there is absolutely no wonder why RT Book Reviews named this novel a 5 Star Top Pick!  Ms. Bischof writes an incredible emotional complexity into her characters, while transporting her readers into another world of lions, acrobats, and the darker members of the circus sideshow.  She incorporates a fascinating allegorical component in the novel, while making the story fresh and unique in the genre.  Additionally, The Lady and the Lionheart includes a pleasantly-surprising amount of Biblical verses and discussion, which makes for an absolutely delightful read for fans of great Christian fiction!  Altogether, the adventures of Ella, Charlie, and the rest of the characters will leave readers wanting more of the same from Ms. Bischoff, no matter where she decides to publish her next book.

Readers who have previously read Ms. Bischof’s books will definitely want to read The Lady and the Lionheart.  Likewise, fans of Kristy Cambron’s The Ringmaster’s Wife will find this novel to be equally thrilling.  I would also recommend this book to anyone who particularly appreciates great Christian historical fiction, as this is definitely one to check out this year!

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Review: When Love Arrives – Johnnie Alexander

Johnnie Alexander. When Love Arrives. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2016.

Many fans of Christian fiction particularly appreciate relaxing and enjoyable stories that focus on fascinating characters.  Those readers will definitely welcome Johnnie Alexander’s most recent release, When Love Arrives, the second book of her Misty Willow series.

Following the events of Where She Belongs, When Love Arrives focuses on the story of Brett Somers.  Based on the positive influence of his cousin, Brett is seeking forgiveness for his past actions, even while actively making changes to his once questionable lifestyle as a confirmed bachelor.  When he encounters Dani Prescott, he finds a kind heart and someone who makes him want to be a better man.  Unknowingly, he manages to befriend the one woman who was most hurt by his former life in the news.  Under the positive influence of Brett and his family, Dani soon begins to find healing from her own scarred past, even as she must choose whether or not to bring her connection to Brett to light.  Together, Brett and Dani consider the price of their secrets and fears, even as they discover the Truth that may offer them both a second chance.

When Love Arrives serves as a close sequel to Where She Belongs, continuing the Misty Willow series and the story of its much-loved characters.  Readers will particularly enjoy the continued narrative focused around the history of Misty Willow and the family of characters at its heart.

Overall, I found When Love Arrives to be a relaxing read.  Without a series of strong external events, much of the novel focuses on character-driven plotlines.  As a result, the book has a slightly slower pacing than many of the other novels that I typically read in the genre.  However, I really appreciated a nice, clean novel, especially during a series of cold, wet days.  Ms. Alexander builds upon her core cast of characters from Where She Belongs, even as some new readers to the series may feel slightly lost without the detailed explanations found in the previous book.  Fans of the previous novel will be very pleased to see that Ms. Alexander continues to include a significant focus on Misty Willow’s history and related characters, as the historical components have previously been a strength of her other stories.

Readers who have enjoyed Ms. Alexander’s Misty Willow series, including Where She Belongs, will find When Love Arrives to be a worthwhile read.  Likewise, fans of contemporary Christian fiction with a strong focus on character development and related plots will also find this to be a good book.

Ms. Alexander will release the next book in the Misty Willow series in the summer of 2017!

Special thanks to Revell Reads Blog Tour for the advanced copy of When Love Arrives!

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Review: Love’s Faithful Promise – Susan Anne Mason

Susan Anne Mason. Love’s Faithful Promise. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016.

The last several months have been particularly busy here at the Books and Biscuits Blog.  After overcoming a few scheduling and delivery challenges with some of the books, I am very excited to finally review Susan Anne Mason’s most recent novel, Love’s Faithful Promise.

Love’s Faithful Promise marks the dramatic conclusion of Susan Anne Mason’s Courage to Dream series, released by Bethany House Publishing.  In the years following World War I, Dr. Matthew Clayborne has made it his life’s work to help the wounded soldiers through the therapeutic practices that returned the use of his own wounded leg.  However, his Toronto-based practice slowly declines as more soldiers are finally healing and returning home.  When the matriarch of the O’Leary family suffers an unexpected stroke, the family will do anything to return her to health.  Deirdre O’Leary has succeeded as a nurse and finally has begun her own studies to become a pediatrician.  However, her mother’s health crisis forces Deirdre to travel to Toronto to persuade the one man who can help her mother.  Only after Dr. Clayborne’s daughter’s own health problems force him to leave the city does he travel to Irish Meadows, where he finds the love, peace, and healing that has the power to benefit both him and his daughter.  The novel also follows the many members of the O’Leary family introduced throughout the Courage to Dream series, offering a satisfying and heart-warming conclusion to this historical trilogy.

Love’s Faithful Promise extends Ms. Mason’s Courage to Dream series into the years following World War I, while further expanding upon the dramatic legacy of Irish Meadows and the O’Leary family.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Love’s Faithful Promise.  Within the Courage to Dream series, Ms. Mason shows her extensive growth as a writer, especially as evidenced in her latest novel.  She manages to create a complex groups of interconnected characters, building the O’Leary family legacy throughout the three novels.  Love’s Faithful Promise also illustrates Ms. Mason’s improved use of historical research to further augment her stories.  The historical details behind this most recent set of characters made for a significantly stronger and more realistic story.  Based on the excellent quality of this novel, I am very much looking forward to Ms. Mason’s future books within the Christian fiction genre!

Fans of Ms. Mason and her Courage to Dream series will definitely want to read Love’s Faithful Promise.  Readers who enjoy the books of Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller, especially in relation to their works related to Irish families in America, will also want to read this series.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of Love’s Faithful Promise!

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