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: All This Time – Melissa Tagg

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

Sadly, Melissa Tagg’s much-loved Walker Family series ends with her release of All This Time.  I’ve become a huge fan of Ms. Tagg’s work over the last several years, as she brings a thoughtful and ever-optimistic voice to her contemporary fiction.

All This Time focuses on the youngest Walker sibling, Raegan, and her journey into adulthood.  The local townsfolk of Maple Valley have come to expect Raegan to always fill the town’s part time jobs, whether at the pool, library, or anywhere else she’s needed.  Her dreams of being an artist were dashed in the midst of helping her family after her mother’s death.  However, she receives a second chance to live out her dream when she is chosen as the town’s artist for a national show that comes to the area.  In the midst of Raegan reimagining her career as an artist, her long-time crush and good friend, Bear McKinley, returns to Maple Valley with his niece and nephew in tow.  After his brother and sister-in-law disappear, Bear finds himself responsible for the two children, leading him to the one place he ever felt at home.  Together, Bear and Raegan discover how to face their fears and once again dream of the lives that they once put away to help others.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series will be absolutely thrilled with this final novel.  The entire Walker family returns to Maple Valley to support Raegan and her memorable debut.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading All This Time!  Ms. Tagg brings her unique flair and approachable writing style to this novel about overcoming one’s fears and embracing one’s God-given dreams.  Raegan receives a fitting story for her quirky personality and long-time crush on Bear, even as Ms. Tagg shows an impressive amount of maturity and depth in Raegan and the rest of her cast of characters.  Half the fun of Ms. Tagg’s novels, including All This Time, comes through her online commentary (Facebook) about her writing process and love for her own characters.  I would definitely recommend that fans of her books check out her blog and Facebook feeds to find out more about the behind-the-scenes work on her novels, as they will discover a surprising number of enjoyable hints and quirky plot points that make it into her final versions.  With this book marking the end of the Walker Family series, I am very interested to see what Ms. Tagg decides to write next, whether as a stand-alone novel or series.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other novels, especially the Walker Family series, will absolutely want to read All This Time.  Readers who enjoy light-hearted, contemporary Christian fiction, such as written by Becky Wade and Susan May Warren, will also want to read this delightful book.

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Review: One Enchanted Eve – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. One Enchanted Eve: A Novella. Middletown, DE: Larkspur Press, 2016.

As the season of Advent begins, Melissa Tagg returns with another Christmas novella, following the events of last year’s release, One Enchanted Christmas.  In One Enchanted Eve, Colin Renwycke is determined to make up for his behavior from the previous year.  He has finally found a purpose for his life through his incredible baking abilities at the Denver Culinary Institute.  However, his culinary school instructor, Rylan Jefferson, finds Colin to be her most disruptive student, as he continually experiments beyond the strict constraints of her recipes.  When Rylan must create an impressive recipe as part of an interview for her dream job, she turns to Colin’s creativity as her secret ingredient.  Colin persuades Rylan to travel with him back to Maple Valley, Iowa, as the perfect place to conduct her culinary experiments, even as he hopes for a second chance with his family.  With a Christmas Eve deadline for her recipe, Rylan and Colin will need to draw on Maple Valley’s small-town charm to achieve the second chance they both desperately need.

Ms. Tagg revisits the town of Maple Valley and the Renwycke family during the Christmas season, in this Christmas-themed e-novella.  Even as a short-form story, Ms. Tagg brings her delightful writing style and gift for fascinating characters to this work.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading One Enchanted Eve.  Ms. Tagg expertly builds on the characters introduced in One Enchanted Christmas, as well as her Walker Family series.  Throughout each work, she manages to expand upon Maple Valley as a convincingly real, yet idyllic setting for her stories.  One Enchanted Eve also includes a strong food component, as both of the main characters have culinary skills and aspirations.  As someone who enjoys reading about great food and recipes, this novella offered a fun look at these characters’ jobs.  Honestly, I would have loved to see this as a longer-form story, as Ms. Tagg brought her signature writing style and humor to this novella.  However, it left me wanting to see where she takes her characters next, especially as the work implies that a third novella will be released in this series, likely in time for Christmas 2017!

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other works will be absolutely delighted with One Enchanted Eve!  Readers who enjoy humorous, light-hearted Christian romance will definitely want to read this story, too.  The novella is only available in e-book formats.  However, I would highly recommend finding a copy to read, especially for readers familiar with Ms. Tagg’s Walker Family series set in Maple Valley.

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Review: Keep Holding On – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. Keep Holding On. Middletown, DE: Larkspur Press, 2016.

In recent years, I have become a huge fan of book series, especially those that feature families or other close-knit groups of people.  Melissa Tagg has spent the last several years building out the town of Maple Valley, Iowa, into the much-loved home of the Walker family and their neighbors.  I am thrilled to be able to review her newest novel, even before the release of the e-book version of the novel. :)

In this newest novel in the Walker Family series, Ms. Tagg features the youngest Walker son, Beckett, and his journey home to Maple Valley, Iowa.  When Beckett receives word that his life-long dream of becoming a JAG officer might finally come true, he leaves his job as a lawyer in Boston to finally resolve a long-ago incident in his hometown.  Beckett’s plan goes awry when he is arrested within minutes of his arrival.  His previous crime can be resolved with community service hours, but that means that he must stay in Maple Valley much longer than he intended.  Fortunately, Beckett’s childhood best friend, Kit Danby, desperately needs free manpower to save her family’s orchard.  After working as a horticulturalist at one of Britain’s universities, Kit arrived home to a deserted family farm and a crop of apples that may already be doomed to fail.  With a lifelong love of her ancestral home, Kit is determined to save the farm and finally make a profit, in spite of her family’s lack of confidence in the farm or Kit’s abilities.  However, they vastly underestimate the combined inspiration of these two best friends as they fight to save the orchard and discover their life purposes along the way.

Ms. Tagg brings her signature humor and heartfelt characters to Keep Holding On.  Fans of Maple Valley and the entire Walker family will be thrilled to read the continuation of this series.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with Ms. Tagg’s newest release!  Keep Holding On remains true to Ms. Tagg’s delightful characters and setting, while taking her writing to a whole new level.  Readers will find themselves laughing and crying throughout this story of friendship, determination, and faith.  Ms. Tagg continues to reach multiple generations of readers with this series, including Keep Holding On, as it tells the story of the entire Walker family and their quirky neighbors and friends.  Even as an independent novel released by a different publisher than the previous books of the Walker Family series, this novel remains true to the quality and caliber of Ms. Tagg’s other stories.  If anything, Keep Holding On proves once again that Ms. Tagg manages to surpass expectations and continues to grow as an exceptionally talented author of Christian fiction.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s previous novels, especially the Walker Family series, will absolutely want to read Keep Holding On.  Readers who enjoy light-hearted, contemporary Christian fiction, such as written by Becky Wade and Susan May Warren, will also want to read this delightful book.

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Review: Like Never Before – Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg. Like Never Before. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016.

Over the last year, Melissa Tagg has become a great friend to the Books and Biscuits Blog.  It all started with a fun review and quick note to Melissa about her book, From the Start.  A guest blog post, several emails, and countless Facebook comments later, I’m thrilled to finally review her newest release, Like Never Before.

For anyone who regularly reads Ms. Tagg’s Facebook and blog posts, Like Never Before is a long-awaited and much-anticipated addition to the Walker Family series.  Amelia Bentley is determined to save Maple Valley’s local newspaper from closing after her boss suddenly passes away.  Unbeknownst to anyone, the former newspaper owner willed the business to the most talented person ever in his employ, successful political speechwriter Logan Walker.  With the chance to work on a presidential campaign in his future, Logan returns to Maple Valley with the intent of selling off the newspaper to a corporate buyer. However, he never counted on the determination of Amelia to save her job and the small-town paper that has been her home for the past few years.  Together, Amelia and Logan find a story that just might save the paper, even as it changes the lives of everyone it touches.

Ms. Tagg shines in this novel about renewed hope in the face of adversity.  Building on the previous books of the Walker Family series, Like Never Before further expands upon the delightful town of Maple Valley and its quirky townsfolk.

Overall, Like Never Before surpassed my expectations, even in light of Ms. Tagg’s incredible build up to its release.  The novel fits seamlessly into the Walker Family series, while exploring new themes and characters that continue to push the boundaries of Ms. Tagg’s writing.  With Like Never Before, Ms. Tagg cements her position as a noteworthy contemporary Christian author, leading a generation of writers telling stories relevant to today’s up-and-coming readers.  Focusing on a younger generation of characters with complex roles as working professionals in a fast-paced era, Ms. Tagg brilliantly captures the foundational roles of faith, family, and home within her stories.  The challenges that her characters face leap off the page as relevant and timely, with just enough humor to make the novel a captivating and heart-warming read.

Fans of Ms. Tagg’s other novels, especially those in the Walker Family series, will definitely want to read Like Never Before.  Readers who enjoy light-hearted contemporary Christian fiction by such authors as Becky Wade, Rachel Hauck, and Susan May Warren will also want to check out this fun-filled novel.  Ms. Tagg utilizes a relatively light and fast-paced writing style that delves into the lives of a complex cast of characters.  Additionally, she contributes a uniquely Midwestern feel to her novels, as she brings small-town Iowa to life through the pages of the series.

Special thanks to Bethany House Publishers for an advanced copy of From the Start!

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Amazon – Like Never Before