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: Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate. Before We Were Yours. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2017.

For many of the novels that I review here on the Books and Biscuits Blog, I can honestly recommend them to anyone.  However, some books have more appropriate audiences than others.  This week’s book is an incredible and poignant read, but I would not recommend it to those people (including some in my own family) who are easily bothered by stories in which parents and/or children are hurt or lost.

Before We Were Yours is based on the true story of the cruel operations of Georgia Tann and her adoption agency that used its connections to adopt poor children from Tennessee to the wealthy, leading to one of the greatest scandals of its kind in American history.  The novel presents two interconnected stories, one set in Depression-era Tennessee and the other based in the present day.  As a federal prosecutor in Maryland, Avery Stafford has made a name for herself, separate from her family’s connections and father’s career as a senator.  When her father receives a cancer diagnosis, Avery returns home to South Carolina to assist him with his campaign, leading her to encounter a mysterious family history that she never knew.  During the Great Depression, Rill Foss and her siblings were kidnapped from their home on a Mississippi River shantyboat.  Their experience living at an orphanage run by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society ripped apart their family and changed their lives forever.  Bridging past and present, Rill’s story reveals her attempts to reunite her family and the powers at work trying to keep the truth hidden.

Acclaimed author, Lisa Wingate, writes a compelling story about the secrets of a past generation and the tragic story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage.  Her characters jump off the page, making this incredible tale come to life.

Overall, I was very impressed with Before We Were Yours.  Although it’s not released by the Christian publishers that I normally read and review, I depended on the fact that Ms. Wingate is a long-time author within the genre.  The novel does not have any outright Christian themes, but remains relatively clean in terms of language and theme.  The story itself would not be considered G or PG rated, although I was impressed at how Ms. Wingate did write it in such a way to leave much to the imagination, without any graphic scenes or descriptions.  From a historical perspective, the novel is absolutely fascinating and very well researched, with Ms. Wingate utilizing her characters to add an emotional depth to the facts behind the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal.  While I am not typically a person to read a book about children placed in a cruel situation, the novel provides enough resolution to that storyline through its contemporary plotline to leave the reader well satisfied with the novel overall.

Fans of Ms. Wingate’s previous work may find Before We Were Yours to be well worth reading.  Additionally, those who appreciate the split historical/contemporary storyline format may also enjoy this novel.

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Review: Freedom’s Ring – Heidi Chiavaroli

Heidi Chiavaroli. Freedom’s Ring. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

Lately, several authors have written particularly impressive novels based on surprisingly recent events.  With the length and intensity of the publication process, I find their perspective on contemporary life to be worth exploring, just as much as their views of similar themes set in other historical periods.

In Freedom’s Ring, Annie David finds herself the victim of the Boston Marathon bombing.  While Annie escaped with few injuries, she feels guilty for placing her family members in danger, including her niece who lost a limb in the blast.  However, Annie clings to the memories and ring of her rescuer, who remains a mystery until she happens across his contact information several years later while visiting her niece.  In rediscovering one another, Annie and Brad are determined to piece together the mysterious history of his ring and the hope and strength that it inspires.  Their historical research brings them to the story of Liberty Caldwell, a young women who encounters love, loss, and hope in the period before the American Revolution.  In discovering the unexpected origins of the ring, Annie also finds the strength to overcome her own fears and once again run the race of her life.

Bridging historical and contemporary periods, Ms. Chiavaroli offers a thought-provoking perspective on faith, as it unites her characters across time and place.  Freedom’s Ring serves as a fascinating debut for this new and compelling author.

Overall, I found Freedom’s Ring to be quite an interesting read.  While several aspects of the novel’s plotline may seem familiar to readers of the genre, Ms. Chiavaroli adds elements and details that certainly present a fresh perspective on these themes.  Particularly, her inclusion of the Boston Marathon bombing and the viewpoints of survivors adds to the uniqueness of the novel.  Freedom’s Ring does include some plot points that may be considered inappropriate for some younger readers (sexual assault, war/military battles, and PTSD).  However, Ms. Chiavaroli does not include any graphic details, as she focuses the novel on Christian themes.  Additionally, readers who enjoy learning about the work of historians and genealogists may find this novel to be particularly interesting, based on the main characters’ research throughout the story.  While I found many aspects of their research journey to be delightfully convenient and simple, I appreciated Ms. Chiavaroli’s inclusion of this process as a significant component of her novel.

Fans of Christian fiction that includes both contemporary and historical timelines will likely enjoy reading Freedom’s Ring.  Additionally, those with a particular interest in the Revolutionary War and the Freedom Trail area will also find this story to be a worthwhile read.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of Freedom’s Ring!

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Review: The Promise of Breeze Hill – Pam Hillman

Pam Hillman. The Promise of Breeze Hill. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017.

I always enjoy trying new author, new series, and stories that explore new places and historical periods.  Fortunately, Pam Hillman’s latest release fits all of these criteria.

The Promise of Breeze Hill begins Ms. Hillman’s Natchez Trace series, set in Natchez, Mississippi, in the late eighteenth century.  Connor O’Shea intends to indenture himself and his skills as a carpenter to bring his brothers to America from Ireland.  Without the necessary skilled labor to rebuild her father’s plantation, Isabella Bartholomew purchases Connor’s indenture, counting on a successful harvest to provide the necessary funds to carry out her side of the agreement.  Together, Isabella and Connor work toward rebuilding Breeze Hill Plantation in the face of an unknown threat that has led to the loss of Isabella’s brother, the destruction of part of the plantation house, and left her father severely injured.  As the threats continue, Isabella must choose between marrying a wealthy neighbor or following her heart, as she hopes that one path may lead to the peace and reassurance that she has been looking for all of along.

Set in the late eighteenth century, The Promise of Breeze Hill offers a fascinating plot unique to its location and period.  Ms. Hillman presents a compelling beginning to her Natchez Trace series.

Overall, I quite enjoyed reading The Promise of Breeze Hill.  Although I am otherwise unfamiliar with Ms. Hillman’s work, this story set itself apart from many other concepts frequently found in the historical Christian fiction genre.  I would have liked to see a little more context, possibly in the form of an author’s note at the beginning of the book, to explain more about the place and period of the book, as I could see quite a few readers being completely unfamiliar with this setting.  However, readers will find that it is well worth reading the book, especially to learn about the mixture of cultures and influences in the Netchez area during the late eighteenth century.  Additionally, I really enjoyed seeing a significant Christian component in this novel.  In general, I thought the book (at least in its ARC form) would have benefited from some additional editing, but I’m sure that a significant amount of those errors would have been fixed by the time of the novel’s official release.  Based on the unique storyline and characters of this novel, I am looking forward to seeing where Ms. Hillman takes this series next.

Fans of Ms. Hillman’s previous works will likely enjoy reading The Promise of Breeze Hill.  Additionally, readers who appreciate unique examples of historical Christian fiction will find this story to be well worth reading.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Tyndale House Publishers for an advanced copy of The Promise of Breeze Hill!

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Review: To Wager Her Heart – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. To Wager Her Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

When I was young, my dad would take the family to various museums and other locations to see trains.  They always seemed immense and captivating, especially to a tiny kid.  Even now, I have an odd fascination with trains and found this novel’s inclusion of detailed descriptions of nineteenth-century railroads to be an odd highlight of the story. :)

To Wager Her Heart, the third book of Ms. Alexander’s Belle Meade Plantation series, returns readers to post-Civil War Nashville, Tennessee.  Alexandra Jamison escapes an arranged marriage, forcing her to look elsewhere for a job to support herself.  With teaching skills acquired from her deceased fiancé, Alexandra finds a position as a teacher at Fisk University, a freedmen’s university in Nashville.  Unfortunately, the position comes with few perks and a tiny salary, resulting in her accepting a tutoring position with Sylas Rutledge.  Originally from Colorado, Sy readily admits that Southern manners leave him perplexed.  With a chance of a lifetime to partner on a venture with General William Giles Harding of Belle Meade Plantation, Sy must impress the General and Nashville society to ensure the success of his Northeast Line Railroad.  Sharing unorthodox opinions about education and society, Sy and Alexandra soon find themselves risking everything to stand up for their beliefs.  However, a tragic train accident that connects them may be the one thing keeping them apart.

Ms. Alexander returns for the final volume of her fascinating Belle Meade Plantation series.  Fans of her work will applaud her development of this story, as it bridges intriguing historical events and people found in the region’s history.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading To Wager Her Heart!  Ms. Alexander expertly develops her characters, drawing in the reader from the very first chapter.  The novel includes an unexpected thread focused on the Fisk University Jubilee Singers and their attempts to save the university from insolvency.  While music, education, and railroads seem like an odd combination within a story, Ms. Alexander somehow makes it a perfect fit!  The level of research to pull together such diverse topics, while developing a wonderful sense of place throughout the novel is exceptionally impressive.  Additionally, this novel shows Ms. Alexander’s further growth as a writer, as this and her last several books have started to have an even smoother writing style, better pacing, and tighter storylines.  While I have always enjoyed Ms. Alexander’s novels, I am looking forward to her future work even more as a result of this growth.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous novels, especially those in the Belle Meade Plantation series, will definitely want to read To Wager Her Heart!  Likewise, readers who appreciate great Christian historical fiction with a focus on the post-Civil War era South will also find this novel to be well worth reading.

Ms. Alexander kicks off a new series with her release of Christmas at Carnton: A Novella this October!

Special thanks to NetGalley and Zondervan for the advanced copy of To Wager Her Heart!

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Amazon – To Wager Her Heart