Review: Christmas at Carnton – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. Christmas at Carnton: A Novella. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Christmas stories start being released by publishers during the fall months, to the delight of readers eager for a new story from their favorite authors.  With an advanced copy of Tamera Alexander’s newest Christmas story, I actually ended up reading this book in July!  In spite of the holiday emphasis of the story, I found it to be enjoyable and appropriate for any time of the year.

In Christmas at Carnton: A Novella, Ms. Alexander launches her newest series set at the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.  The story occurs during the Civil War years, when the family is preparing for a Women’s Relief Society auction intended to benefit the Confederate soldiers.  Aletta Prescott recently lost her husband, as well as her job.  Desperate for a place to live for herself and her young son, she accepts a job cooking for the Women’s Relief Society’s auction and other Christmas season events at Carnton.  While there, she befriends Captain Jake Winton, who has been assigned to help with the auction during his recovery.  Aletta and Jake soon discover that their losses may have changed their lives, but God provides hope and restoration for them both during a season of war.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous works will be thrilled with Christmas at Carnton as the start of her newest series, featuring yet another Southern plantation.  With connections to the families featured in her previous series, Ms. Alexander makes a seamless transition to the family and location of the Carnton Plantation.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Christmas at Carnton!  Ms. Alexander’s stories have been improving steadily throughout her career, so I find it fascinating to see her development of a new series.  As a novella, Christmas at Carnton is quite a bit shorter than a standard novel, but the length fits the structure of this particular story.  Set during the Civil War, the novella seems slightly similar to other historical fiction works based around the same period.  However, readers interested in the forthcoming books of Ms. Alexander’s series will find the story worthwhile, as it introduces characters and settings relevant to future works that will be released.  Personally, I also found Ms. Alexander’s focus on the Women’s Relief Society’s efforts to be particularly interesting and enjoyable.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous works will definitely want to read Christmas at Carnton.  Additionally, those with an interest in historical Christian fiction works set during the Civil War will also enjoy this Christmas-themed story.

Ms. Alexander’s first full-length novel of this series will be released in the fall of 2018!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of Christmas at Carnton!

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Review: Just Look Up – Courtney Walsh

Courtney Walsh. Just Look Up. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Throughout her previous novels, Courtney Walsh expertly brings small towns to life.  Her characters jump off the page, while the towns themselves could easily be one’s next vacation spot.

In Just Look Up, Lane Kelley has made a name for herself as a Chicago-based interior designer.  Lane works tirelessly to achieve a much-deserved promotion, even as her colleagues know nothing about her personally.  When her brother ends up in a coma, Lane must travel back to her hometown and finally face her family after years of self-inflicted exile.  The town of Harbor Pointe, Michigan, offers little of the ideal escape for Lane, even as she encounters lifelong family friend, Ryan Brooks.  Ryan made his own escape via the military from a horrible family situation, but is excited to finally help the local area’s tourism through a business project of his own.  However, he needs Lane’s expertise in order to finish the project.  Together, Ryan and Lane must navigate their respective pasts in order to finally determine a way to build a future.

Ms. Walsh’s most recent novel points to the importance of looking up from one’s work and own problems to instead focus on other people and events beyond oneself.  Throughout much of the novel, Lane maintains a firm grip on her cell phone and work projects, even as she discovers that it negatively impacts her health and happiness.  As Ms. Walsh indicates in the author’s notes, the lessons of this novel are ones that many people encounter, including the author herself.

Overall, I rather enjoyed reading Just Look Up.  Personally, the novel was one of my favorites written by Ms. Walsh.  I really appreciated her contrast of Lane’s Chicago lifestyle with the quaint town of Harbor Pointe.  Additionally, the various characters were quite interesting and unique, fitting appropriately within their various settings.  In general, I wished to see more description of Lane’s interior design projects and process, as the “work” that she does makes up a significant component of the story.  Instead, these sections are glossed over, even as they may have offered some intriguing opportunities to build further dialogue and complexity among some of the main characters.  However, I realize that Ms. Walsh was probably attempting to keep a tighter focus on building her story.  I am curious to see if Ms. Walsh decides to continue to write stories based in and around Harbor Pointe or if her next novel will move in a different direction.

Fans of Ms. Walsh’s previous works, as well as other contemporary Christian fiction, will enjoy reading Just Look Up.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Just Look Up!

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Review: High as the Heavens – Kate Breslin

Kate Breslin. High as the Heavens. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

The last couple of months have been a little out of the ordinary, as some of you probably noticed the Blog’s brief hiatus in May.  With the addition of our newest (and littlest) member of the Blog team, time is definitely at a premium.  In the midst of the insanity, reviewing this novel ended up being slightly delayed, so I am very happy to finally post this review!

In High as the Heavens, Evelyn Marche grew up in Britain to a Belgian family.  After losing her husband during the early days of World War I, Evelyn returns to her family’s hometown, landing herself directly in the path of the German army.  She soon finds herself leading the nurses of a German hospital in Brussels, while serving as part of the Belgian resistance.  When British Captain Simon Forrester’s plane crashes in the middle of the city, Evelyn risks everything to preserve his identity and top-secret papers.  With the Germans intent on proving Simon to be a spy, he is forced to trust Evelyn with his survival and finding a way out of Brussels.  Together, they look forward to the day that they might dare to return to the dreams they once had before the war.

Ms. Breslin shares this intriguing story of World War I spycraft, delving into the fascinating perspective of the Belgian resistance and their work with the British Secret Service.  Fans of World War I-era stories will definitely want to check out this fascinating novel!

Overall, I found High as the Heavens to be a very unique novel.  Previous to reading this book, I had not encountered one focused on the Belgian perspective during World War I.  Personally, I would have greatly appreciated some additional context, as I was quite unfamiliar with the locations, people, and events described in the novel.  Even some additional description in an author’s note would have been very helpful to provide this kind of information.  While the characters were interesting and relatively well developed, I thought that the writing style and pacing of the story dragged at points, especially toward the beginning.  However, I’m sure that someone more familiar with this period and geography would have been much more comfortable moving more quickly through the story.

Fans of Kate Breslin’s other novels would definitely enjoy reading High as the Heavens.  Likewise, those with a particular interest in World War I would also find this to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House for the promotional copy of High as the Heavens!

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Review: Sweetbriar Cottage – Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter. Sweetbriar Cottage. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017.

Some authors are known for writing series, while others consistently write stand-alone novels.  Over the last year, a few authors have tried to attempt writing the opposite of their normal, with surprisingly positive results.

Acclaimed contemporary Christian fiction author, Denise Hunter, developed Sweetbriar Cottage as a stand-alone novel.  The story concentrates on the relationship of Noah and Josephine Mitchell, a young couple who unexpectedly discover that the paperwork for their divorce was never finalized by the judge.  In the midst of trying to rectify the final paperwork, Josephine finds herself stranded at Noah’s mountainside horse ranch in a historic blizzard.  After avoiding one another for months, Noah and Josephine are faced with an extended period of time in each other’s company.  When an emergency arises on the ranch, they must both head out into the storm, where they face nature’s wrath and risk their survival trying to return to the ranch.  In the midst of the storm, Josephine finally admits her painful history and the tragedy that eventually led to their divorce.  When faced with the real possibility of death, both must decide whether to love and forgive or finally give up on their relationship altogether.

In this story of unconditional love and forgiveness, Ms. Hunter writes a gripping tale of Josephine and Noah’s relationship.  Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, Sweetbriar Cottage offers an intense winter story with a Southern spin.

Overall, I appreciated the chance to read Sweetbriar Cottage.  While I’m not typically a huge fan of stories focused on broken marriages, Ms. Hunter’s books are of a consistently high caliber to try reading.  Using a series of flashback scenes throughout the novel, Ms. Hunter expertly intersperses the intense winter survival story with past moments of Josephine and Noah’s history.  Readers will find Josephine’s story to be particularly heartbreaking and intense, especially within a work of Christian fiction.  However, Josephine’s tragic past provides a significant and compelling springboard for Ms. Hunter to develop the rest of her plotline.   While some readers may not be comfortable with elements of this story, many will see the worth of this story as one of ultimate love and redemption.

Fans of Ms. Hunter’s past works will definitely want to read Sweetbriar Cottage.  While elements of this story may seem familiar to readers, Ms. Hunter’s storytelling ability shines through and illustrates why she may be one of only a limited number of authors capable of tackling this challenging story.

Ms. Hunter will kick off a new series with Blue Ridge Sunrise in November 2017!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for the advanced copy of Sweetbriar Cottage!

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Review: The Captain’s Daughter – Jennifer Delamere

Jennifer Delamere. The Captain’s Daughter. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

When reading a new book, it’s always fun to discover a surprising detail in the plot or setting that truly sets the story apart from others.  These details can make or break a novel, or at least completely captivate the right reader, who shares the author’s fascination with that topic.

The Captain’s Daughter is the first novel in the London Beginnings series by Jennifer Delamere.  Rosalyn Bernay grew up in a British orphanage before becoming the companion of a wealthy woman.  However, Rosalyn must flee her situation when the woman’s new husband accuses her of stealing priceless family items.  Stranded in London without her luggage, Rosalyn fortunately lands a job at a theater featuring Gilbert and Sullivan’s most recent comic opera.  Along the way, she encounters Nate Moran, a wounded veteran who splits his time between his own job at a local stable and working backstage at the theater to maintain his injured brother’s position.  Nate insists that his time in London is only temporary, as he plans to return to his military career in India, once his own battle wounds heal.  Together, Nate and Rosalyn navigate the ever-dramatic life of the theater, even as they discover new possibilities for their lives and careers.

Ms. Delamere brings a new voice to Christian historical fiction, building on an ever-expanding number of recently-released historical novels set in Britain.  Fans of stories set in the Victorian era will be thrilled to read this tale of life in Gilbert and Sullivan’s theater.

Overall, I quite enjoyed reading The Captain’s Daughter.  In general, Ms. Delamere develops a plotline that feels surprisingly different from many other recent historical novels set in Britain.  Her focus on Gilbert and Sullivan’s theater and the behind-the-scenes moments featuring their productions are a true highlight of this work.  Additionally, readers looking for pleasant Christian historical fiction will find that many of the characters remain true to the nature of the genre, although they may not be overly complex and developed.  Without providing any spoilers, I would have liked to see a stronger ending to the novel, as it felt somewhat truncated and underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the story.  As this is the first novel in the London Beginnings series, I am curious to see how Ms. Delamere continues this set of novels and which characters she chooses to develop further.

Fans of Christian historical fiction works set in Victorian Britain may find The Captain’s Daughter to be well worth reading.  Additionally, readers with an interest in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas may find particular enjoyment in this novel.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of The Captain’s Daughter!

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