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: 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: 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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Review: A Note Yet Unsung – Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander. A Note Yet Unsung. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

The last time that I featured one of Tamera Alexander’s magnificent books was back in 2015!  I am absolutely delighted to see that she will be releasing two books during 2017, with A Note Yet Unsung completing her Belmont Mansion series this winter.

In A Note Yet Unsung, Rebekah Carrington returns to her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, after spending years training as an instrumental musician in Europe.  However, only two orchestras in the United States have begun accepting women as members, with Nashville holding firm to the opinion that women do not belong among its male instrumentalists.  The city’s new conductor, Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb, has grander projects to complete than prove that women belong in his orchestra.  Instead, he must finish his symphony before the opera hall’s inaugural performance.  With time running out, he turns to the one musician in the city that has ever truly impressed him, Rebekah.  Together, Tate and Rebekah must create a musical masterpiece before time runs out and the city discovers the master violinist playing backstage is actually a woman.

Ms. Alexander brings her own level of brilliance to this fascinating tale of musical genius at work.  Rebekah and Tate will capture readers’ imaginations, as their struggle to fulfill their dreams meets with inevitable challenges.

Overall, I was absolutely thrilled with A Note Yet Unsung!  As a trained musician, I felt that Ms. Alexander remained true to the nature of musicians’ temperaments and approach to their art.  Simultaneously, she creates a compelling historical story that will reach the hearts of readers who enjoy great Christian fiction.  As the final novel in Ms. Alexander’s Belmont Mansion series, A Note Yet Unsung offers a fascinating conclusion to an overarching storyline including Adelicia Acklen Cheatham, the ever-memorable owner of the Belmont Mansion and famed Nashville-area philanthropist.  Altogether, the novel offers a fascinating plot with well-developed characters who face enormous challenges to their dreams.  Ms. Alexander remains true to the period, while writing a satisfying conclusion to the story and the series.

Fans of Ms. Alexander’s previous historical novels, especially those in the Belmont Mansion series, will definitely want to read A Note Yet Unsung!  Readers who enjoy great historical Christian fiction, especially those set in the American South and those that take place during the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  Additionally, I would highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy stories that focus on characters who are highly-trained classical musicians, particularly in a historical setting.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Bethany House for the advanced copy of A Note Yet Unsung!

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Review: Among the Fair Magnolias – Alexander, Gray, Love, and Musser

Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser. Among the Fair Magnolias: Four Southern Love Stories. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Sometimes I find new books by tracking my favorite authors or series of books. Other times, I simply fall in love with a book’s cover and can’t wait to read it. For authors Tamara Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser, their latest compilation of novellas in Among the Fair Magnolias has all of the above, making it a must read this month!

Among the Fair Magnolias brings together some of Christian fiction’s great authors, who contribute stories that depict the American South during the period around the Civil War. Through four diverse love stories, they bring the period to life and show the undeterred nature of America’s women in the face of some of life’s greatest challenges.

Ms. Love’s “Heart So True” tells the story of Abigail Clayton as she faces the choice between following her father’s wishes for a spouse or finally marrying the man who has captured her heart. With a pleasant storyline and a wonderful sense of place, “Heart So True” builds on characters introduced in Carolina Gold, while highlighting Ms. Love’s storytelling ability in what is certainly my favorite piece so far by this author.

“To Mend a Dream” by Ms. Alexander continues the story of a secondary character first introduced in To Win Her Favor. Susannah Darby lost her family’s home after the Civil War and finds herself having to redecorate the house as part of a commission for her work as a seamstress. When Northerner Aidan Bedford encounters Susannah admiring his newly-acquired land, his view of the future suddenly changes. “To Mend a Dream” is a sweet and poignant story that showcases Ms. Alexander’s flair for characters and historical detail.

Ms. Musser’s “Love Beyond Limits” offers a surprising, but well-placed, addition to Among the Fair Magnolias. Having grown up on her father’s plantation, Emily Derracott pushes cultural norms in the South with her insistence on educating her family’s former slaves. When her father insists that she marry a long-time neighbor, Emily must choose between her politics and social convention in a reconstructed South. Ms. Musser builds upon historical themes and characters similar to those found in Ms. Alexander’s novels. However, this story contained several historical details that did not necessarily fit with the period.

Lastly, “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Ms. Gray takes readers to post-Civil War Texas, where the effects of the war continue to touch the lives of one small town. Russell Champion returns to his hometown after spending the last seven years running from his past. When he finally revisits his mother and the girl he left behind, Russell must choose between leaving again or finding a new life with those he loves. Through the use of a different writing style, Ms. Gray’s story offers the greatest deviation from the rest of the collection. However, the ultimate themes of renewal, choices, and overcoming obstacles tie this story to the rest of the book.

Overall, I was quite thrilled with Among the Fair Magnolias. Fans who enjoy any of the authors’ novels and other stories will definitely appreciate the book, as it offers many connections with characters, settings, and storylines first depicted in the authors’ other works. Additionally, those readers who enjoy Southern-inspired Christian fiction will also appreciate the compilation. In general, I thought the stories fit fairly well together. The book reminded me of compilations of L.M. Montgomery’s wonderfully sweet and inspiring short story collections, with a slight change in geography. At several points, the stories in Among the Fair Magnolias shared similar themes and premises to examples of Ms. Montgomery’s work, which I found to be absolutely delightful.

Special thanks to BookLook Bloggers for the advanced copy of Among the Fair Magnolias!

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