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 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: A Love So True – Melissa Jagears

Melissa Jagears. A Love So True. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

The next few months should be exceptionally busy here at the Books and Biscuits Blog!  We have an overabundance of new novels being released and I can only hope to keep up with reviewing all of these great books.  Hopefully, I can pull it off. :)

Ms. Jagears continues her Teaville Moral Society series with A Love So True.  Evelyn Wisely assists her parents in running the orphanage first established by local businessman, Nicholas Lowe.  However, her work for the Teaville Moral Society is never done, as she also hopes to assist the women who live in the town’s red-light district.  In order to gain Nicholas’ support for her idea, he insists that she first find several other businessmen in the community who are also willing to provide backing.  David Kingsman arrives in Teaville for a short-term business trip as a representative of his father’s company.  While he hopes to prove his business acumen by saving the family’s factory in Teaville, he soon finds a mutual interest in assisting Evelyn in her work with the women and orphans of the town.  While Evelyn has never shown interest in the other men of Teaville, David’s friendship becomes an increasingly important part of her life and work.  Together, they must overcome their past failings to finally discover what God has planned for their lives.

In A Love So True, Ms. Jagears builds upon a set of characters and situations first introduced in A Heart Most Certain.  Fans of the Teaville Moral Society series will greatly enjoy reading Evelyn and David’s story, as they continue the philanthropic efforts of the citizens of Teaville.

Overall, I quite enjoyed reading A Love So True, as an example of Christian historical fiction.  Ms. Jagears continues to focus her stories on the moral situations of her Christian characters, in a way that is not always the case in other novels.  The series’ overarching storyline also concentrates on the Teaville Moral Society and a group of concerned citizens who regularly assist orphans and prostitutes in their small town.  While this topic can make for some serious sections of the novel, Ms. Jagears expertly counters it with lighter elements related to her main characters and their interactions with one another.  Of the two novels in the series, A Love So True felt slightly more serious and dense than A Heart Most Certain.  However, fans of the series will find the sequel to be well worth reading as an extension of Ms. Jagears’ Teaville stories.

Fans of Ms. Jagears’ work, especially her Teaville Moral Society series, will definitely want to read A Love So True.  Additionally, readers who appreciate Christian historical fiction with a strong faith-based element may also find this novel to be a worthwhile read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of A Love So True!

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Review: The Elusive Miss Ellison – Carolyn Miller

Carolyn Miller. The Elusive Miss Ellison. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017.

In reading and reviewing books for the Books and Biscuits Blog, I have enjoyed learning about other readers’ preferences and approach to the Christian fiction genre.  Specifically, quite a few readers focus their attention on books being released from a specific author, publisher, or even those stories set in a specific historical period or place.

In The Elusive Miss Ellison, debut author Carolyn Miller brings the Regency era to life.  Lavinia Ellison has dedicated her life to helping the poor in her small village, as an extension of her father’s parish.  When the new Earl of Hawkesbury arrives in the area, Lavinia is determined that he should take responsibility for his tenant’s welfare and the condition of his properties.  After barely surviving his military service, Nicholas Stamford seeks peace and quiet, rather than his newfound responsibilities as earl.  Lavinia’s insistence on his caring for the villagers soon becomes the voice of reason in his head, even as it clashes with the social expectations thrust upon him by his mother and his social equals.  When Lavinia’s efforts for good place her in danger, Nicholas must choose between society’s expectations and doing right by her.

Ms. Miller writes a compelling and heartwarming Regency era story that readers will greatly enjoy.  Lavinia and Nicholas, as well as the townspeople of St. Hampton Heath, will leave readers wanting more of Ms. Miller’s stories in the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Elusive Miss Ellison.  While quite a few authors have written Regency era stories, Ms. Miller’s work feels true to the place and period.  In addition, the novel remains firmly grounded in the Christian fiction genre, with extensive references to Christian themes that are a natural extension of Ms. Miller’s characters and plotline.  After reading this novel, one is left to wonder why more novels in the genre do not succeed in including that level of Christian references in such a seamless manner.  While The Elusive Miss Ellison is published by Kregel Publications (a publishing house with which I am relatively unfamiliar), the novel is very well polished, edited, and produced.  In all honesty, I was surprised that this book was not released by one of the larger Christian publishing houses, due to the sheer caliber of the story.  While it may be slightly more challenging for some readers to find, I believe that this novel is well worth the effort to track down through a local library or bookstore.

Readers who enjoy great Regency era stories, especially those released by Christian publishers and authors, should definitely check out The Elusive Miss Ellison.  Fans of Julie Klassen, Georgette Heyer, Lori Wick, and Kristi Ann Hunter will find this novel to be well worth reading.

Ms. Miller will continue the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series with The Captivating Lady Charlotte in June 2017!

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Review: The Chapel Car Bride – Judith Miller

Judith Miller. The Chapel Car Bride. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

With such a great group of emerging Christian fiction authors releasing novels, it’s nice to also read books by those writers who have made an incredible mark on the genre.  I count Judith Miller among this set of prolific and classic authors who continue to represent historical Christian fiction at its finest.

In The Chapel Car Bride, Hope Irvine joins her missionary father in his ministry aboard a traveling chapel car.  While Pastor Irvine has made a life of this ministry, Hope has previously lived a relatively sheltered life in Pennsylvania living with her aunt.  Life aboard the chapel car brings new challenges and experiences for Hope, even as she seeks to use her skills as a musician and teacher to reach young children and families along their route.  The Irvine family spend the vast majority of their time serving mining families in rural West Virginia, a land much different from anything that Hope has previously known.  There, she befriends Luke Hughes, a young miner, and his sister, who become her confidents and partners in her ministry to reach the mining families, railroad workers, and those in the neighboring areas.  However, their ministry may be in peril when one of the mining manager’s offers of goodwill to the local families may be a front for illegal activities.  Together, Hope, Luke, and their families must discover the truth behind the mining manager’s activities before he places all of them and their ministry at risk.

Ms. Miller contributes her classic style and characters to this historical tale.  Fans of her work will greatly enjoy this story of the Irvine family’s ministry travelling the railroad lines of the eastern areas of the United States.

Overall, I found The Chapel Car Bride to be a pleasant example of historical Christian fiction.  Ms. Miller builds an intriguing concept around the Irvine family’s chapel car ministry, even as many aspects of the novel more closely feature the mining communities of West Virginia and the experiences of those living in these areas during the early twentieth century.  While the novel does not necessarily have an overly-complex plotline, readers will find themselves immersed in Hope’s world as she experiences life on the rails for the first time.  Additionally, Ms. Miller does an excellent job of focusing on the ministry aspects of the Irvine family’s work in West Virginia, while balancing the storyline with a villainous character who threatens to undermine their work.

Fans of Ms. Miller’s previously-released stories will definitely want to read The Chapel Car Bride. Readers who particularly appreciate evenly-paced novels in the style of classic historical Christian fiction will also want to read Ms. Miller’s most recent novel.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for the advanced copy of The Chapel Car Bride!

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Amazon – The Chapel Car Bride