Excitement for 2016 Christian Fiction Releases

In about seven hours the new year will ring in, and a new year of reading will be born. My 2015 to-read list consisted of about eighty books, of which I read about half. I was disappointed with my inability to read all of those eighty books, so for the new year I committed myself to cutting down on my to-read list. Friends, it’s still too long–and my to-read list will always be too long. So in an effort to not overwhelm you (and me) with a plethora of titles to look over, this post will house the books to be published in 2016 that I am most excited about. Like, jump up-and-down, wait outside in the pouring rain for the store to open excitement. No doubt I will find more books to add the list as the year progresses (I am a bibliophile, after all!), but here are books I sincerely hope you will consider reading because the authors–and their stories–are truly fabulous.

Happy New Year and happy reading!

ReluctantDuchess_mck.inddGiver of Wonders12141649_10207821471475424_6414826805133351175_nA Twist of Faith

Anchor in the Storm

Undaunted HopeAn Elegant FacadeClose to You

From This Moment    The Beautiful PretenderA Spy's Devotion   The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With This RingCourageousDawn at EmberwildeHer One and OnlyLike Never Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ringmaster's Wife12068807_1124677164210820_3730471026328748365_oThe Cowboy's Bride CollectionThe California Gold Rush Romance CollectionAusten in Austin 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 fiction I want to read but books do not yet have covers:

A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White

The Inkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall

The Marked Mademoiselle by Jocelyn Green

Austen in Austin Volume 2 novella collection

A Lesson in Love and Murder by Rachel McMillan

 

 

2015 Fiction Favorites

2015 is rapidly approaching its end, and soon those of us with reading challenges for the year will celebrate the completion of another year of books. This has been a year of truly fantastic fiction: newly published authors have shared beautiful stories, smaller publishing houses published quality fiction, and many authors crossed lines to write fiction different from their usual genres. If fiction is a form of escapism, 2015 provided a plethora of worlds for readers to escape to.

This past year has been an unusually busy for me–a new job, a new city, new friends and my first apartment. One constant through all these changes was my books, which in spite of all the moving and changes I made certain to make time for.

Below are my favorite books of 2015. Books filled with romance and history, drama and redemption, but most of all, love: of God, of faith, of family, of friends, and of country. Links to each review are within the picture.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, reader friends!

The Lost HeiressThe Thorn BearerHearts Made Wholea noble masqueradeA Refuge at Highland Hall

through waters deep SurrenderedOne Enchanted Christmas   Catch of a Lifetime

Book Review: The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson

The Golden BraidThe Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson (Hagenheim #6, Thomas Nelson, November 2015)

The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.

Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man around. And her skills as an artist rival those of any artist she’s met. But for a woman in medieval times, the one skill she most desires is the hardest one to obtain: the ability to read.

After yet another young man asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides they need to move once again, but this time to a larger city. Rapunzel’s heart soars—surely there she can fulfill her dream. But Mother won’t let her close to a man. She claims that no man can be trusted.

After being rescued by a knight on the road to the city, and in turn rescuing him farther down the road, Rapunzel’s opportunity arrives at last. This knight, Sir Gerek, agrees to educate Rapunzel in order to pay back his debt. She just has to put up with his arrogant nature and single-minded focus on riches and prestige.

But this Rapunzel story is unlike any other and the mystery that she uncovers will change everything—except her happily ever after.

REVIEW:

According to the ABC series “Once Upon a Time” character Mary Margaret Blanchard, fairy tales are classic stories because they give people the ability to hope.  Mary Margaret, whose alter ego, Snow White, is the epitome of hope in the epic fairy tale mash up,  (“blanch, in various languages, translates to “white”), persistently demonstrates the positive qualities that make these stories beloved by so many: kindness, goodness, gentleness, strength, and love. Snow White’s counter-part German princess, Rapunzel, has yet to visit Storybrook or the Enchanted Forest in “Once Upon a Time,” but after reading The Golden Braid I think I could make a strong case for bringing her storyline into the show to ABC Studios.

No one writes better fairy-tale retellings in the CBA than Melanie Dickerson. While I openly admit that that statement is my own humble opinion, social media indicates that most readers of Christian fiction say the same about this prolific author. The Golden Braid is the latest of Dickerson’s young adult Hagenheim Fairy Tale series set in Hagenheim, Germany. While I am sad to say–because I loved visiting Hagenheim with some of my favorite princesses–that this is the final novel in the series, The Golden Braid is a beautiful story that completes this series in an exciting and thought-provoking manner.

Rapunzel is a fiery and independent leading lady, and The Golden Braid inspired me to consider my role within my family and society as she did the same back in medieval Hagenheim. Desperate to achieve great things and better herself, Rapunzel’s desire to learn to read really made me think about how much I take for granted the gift of learning, reading, purchasing books, and attaining an education. Despite the challenges in front of her as a single women in a medieval society, Rapunzel focused on her goals, took charge of her life, and made her dreams happen. Dickerson’s ability to inspire and encourage me through the authenticity of her writing–both with characters and story–has made her one of my favorite authors.

Dickerson wove a sweet romance into The Golden Braid that parallels the action and adventure of Rapunzel’s story. Sir Gerek’s bravery is just the kind of behavior you can imagine of knights during the medieval period. The relationship between the two leading characters is real and true to both historical details of the time as well as the ages and  responsibilities of the hero and heroine. The details on medieval Hagenheim enhance the romance between Sir Gerek and Rapunzel, with their relationship evolving naturally around the restrictions of the time period. Dickerson’s story also shines with the theme of family intertwining beautifully between the romance and main plot of The Golden Braid.

I truly enjoyed this rendition of the Rapunzel story and plan to recommend The Golden Braid to anyone who enjoys fairy tale retellings. My preference for fiction centers on adult literature, so I did notice the distinction in reading level and would most likely recommend The Golden Braid first to teenage readers and then adults. Fans of medieval fiction and YA fiction written by Jody Hedlund, Dina Sleiman, and Rachelle Rea will love Dickerson’s YA medieval fairy tales, especially The Golden Braid.

RATING: 3.5 stars

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

2528780Melanie Dickerson is the author of Medieval fairy tale retellings, including The Healer’s Apprentice and The Merchant’s Daughter, both Christy Award finalists, winner of The National Reader’s Choice Award for 2010’s Best First Book, and winner of the 2012 Carol Award in Young Adult fiction. She earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama. She has taught children with special needs in Georgia and Tennessee, and English to adults in Germany and Ukraine. Now she spends her time writing and taking care of her husband and two daughters near Huntsville, Alabama. Visit her on the web, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Book Review: Surrendered by Kariss Lynch

SurrenderedSurrendered by Kariss Lynch (December 2015, FaithHappenings Publishers)

With a promise to love, will one final test break them apart?

With a wedding on the horizon, Nick Carmichael and Kaylan Richards prepare to commit themselves to one another and their future together. But for Kaylan, every step closer to the big day brings with it more disaster as she struggles to learn the sacrifice of joining the Navy SEALs. While she gains a new family, she will also gain all the secrets that come with it.

In the middle of wedding plans, Nick is called away on one last mission. And this time, he will be forced to cooperate with the woman he fears and hates above all others: known terrorist, Janus. Can Nick find a way to forgive the woman who threatened his family and fight with her to take down one of the world’s biggest arms dealers?

As the clock ticks closer to the wedding day, Kaylan and Nick fear Janus’s actions will cost them everything. Putting aside their uncertainty, they battle for their love, for family, and for the boldness to do what is necessary. Victory is possible, but as they come to find, it will only come with surrender.


 

REVIEW:

Our interests and passions can stir a thirst for knowledge in much more than just that one particular topic that originally peaked our curiosity in a certain subject. For me, that movie, Pearl Harbor (Jerry Bruckheimer, 2001), while the beginning of my interest in World War Two history, also initiated a passion to preserve and understand the lifestyle that members of the United States military, along with their families, live for every day. Writers such as Kariss Lynch, author of the Heart of a Warrior series, bring stories of the military life to readers and show the struggles and joys of those committed to defending the United States of America.

Surrendered, the third book in Lynch’s debut series, is a beautiful story of a Navy seal and his fiancee as they learn to give love and life to each other and their Savior in the midst of a military career and new relationship. I absolutely loved this book and cannot recommended both Surrendered and Lynch’s other two books in the series enough. Surrendered is filled with authentic characters, heart-wrenching emotion, nerve-wracking dilemmas, and lessons of faith, love, and hope in God and family. By the end of the first chapter I knew that Surrendered would be on my favorites of 2015 list–in fact, it is my favorite contemporary of the year–and I had to force myself to read slower because I did not want to finish the book.

Lynch writes with straightforward prose that embodies the authenticity of everyday life. Main characters Kaylan and Nick are so real that I felt as if I had known them my entire life. I cheered for these two as they fought to understand each other and give the other their desires and needs. Oftentimes when reading contemporary fiction I find bits of advice to follow from the characters, but with Surrendered the relationship between Kaylan and Nick demonstrated in its entirety that one based on Christian values is not necessarily easy but most definitely fulfilling . Lynch’s characters strove to better themselves as individuals in an understanding that the other could not fulfill the role of a perfect companion. This portrayal is both necessary and a beautiful because both general market and Christian fiction typically sugar-coats romance with unrealistic expectations. With the backdrop of an oftentimes challenging and frightening profession influencing every aspect of Kaylan and Nick’s relationship, Lynch shares with readers how her couple is able to rely on God and their faith when so much is out of their control.

The culture of the United States is one that thrives on independence, determination, community, and success. We rarely take “no” for an answer and believe we can do anything we set our minds to. Surrender is not an option to Americans. But Lynch shows readers in this final book in her Heart of a Warrior series that surrendering can be beautiful when we put our trust in God and others before ourselves. This story is one that will forever be on my bookshelf. I am so excited to see what other stories Lynch will bring to readers and believe God has big plans for this author.

P.S. If my review hasn’t shown my love for this series enough, consider this story. Despite that Christmas time is usually for giving gifts to others, on December 23rd I visited my local Family Christian store to buy two gifts for myself: Shaken and Shadowed, the first two books in the Heart of the Warrior series. Nope, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to see if these books would be under the tree. I had to have them now, Santa!

RATING: 4.5 stars


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kariss LynchKariss Lynch began her writing career in third grade when she created a story about a magical world for a class assignment. Chasing her dream into college, she received a degree in English at Texas Tech University and fell in love with writing faith-based fiction about characters with big dreams, adventurous spirits, and bold hearts. Kariss is a diehard Texan, born and bred in Dallas, where she now works as a writer for a local communications ministry.

 

Novel Review: The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah E. Ladd

The Curiosity Keeper

The Curiosity Keeper (A Treasures of Surrey Novel) by Sarah E. Ladd (Thomas Nelson, July 2015)

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whoever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille must allow a mysterious stranger to come to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content to work as the village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may be the answer to his many questions.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, these two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, they will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.


REVIEW:

As an good Austenite does, I am always on the lookout for new books set in the Regency time period. A Regency novel set within the framework of Christian fiction? Now that just sets my heart aflutter. And so, within my first few moments of picking up Sarah Ladd’s newest Regency novel, The Curiosity Keeper, I found not only a new-to-me author, but a renewed interest in Regency fiction because this woman’s writing far belies the tropes associated with this genre. The Curiosity Keeper is a wonderful novel that captivated me with its mystery, history, and romance spun into a hero and heroine’s tale of self-worth and love.

I have read a fair share of both Christian fiction and general market Regencies since first becoming acquainted with Jane Austen novels in college. The style and tropes of Regencies for me, therefore, were fairly well known until I came across The Curiosity Keeper, which implemented mystery into the storyline so well that I am anxious to read the rest of Ladd’s novels for more inclusion of that plot. Ladd’s writing style is a beautifully crafted blend of romance and mystery, and hooked me the entire time as I attempted (my mind is not wired to solve mysteries) to discover the culprit in The Curiosity Keeper. At times I became tired of the emphasis placed on the missing items, and I do admit that I would have liked to have read more romance and less mystery. But personal tastes aside, I found the mystery in this novel to be well done and expect to be further intrigued by mysteries in her stories.

Ladd’s straightforward style dropped me directly into the dark and dank streets of London as her heroine, Camille Inverness, worked in her father’s curiosity shop. A horrid place to live and work in 1800s England, London in The Curiosity Keeper utterly fascinated me as a character all its own. I yearned with Camille as she fought to make a safe life of her own in the beautiful English countryside rather than the soot-covered backstreets of London. And once Ladd dropped me into the second setting of The Curiosity Keeper, charming village of Fellsworth, I knew for certain that this author’s books would automatically stay on my bookshelves. Fellsworth’s charms were so beautifully conveyed that I could visualize the visual in Camille’s mind of what it would be like to run through green fields and have golden trees on fire in my backyard. If I never make it to England, at least The Curiosity Keeper brought me close to knowing in my heart what it would be like to visit that country.

The characters in Ladd’s fourth novel drive the storyline of The Curiosity Keeper. Camille is one of the strongest heroines I have come across in Christian fiction, and I truly hope to read more about her in the upcoming novels of this series. She stands on her own two feet, taking her life by charge and refusing to let others do what she knows she is capable of. Jonathan is a charming hero that took my heart quickly–his desire to protect others and do well by his family, but still find his own way, was probably my favorite aspect of this novel. The Curiosity Keeper includes secondary characters that bring this story to life, including a sister who I am hopeful will hold a starring role in another book in The Treasures of Surrey series. A poignant redemptive relationship between Jonathan and his father round out The Curiosity Keeper as a beautiful story revolving around family relationships.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Curiosity Keeper and am so excited for the future Treasure of Surrey novels and Ladd’s earlier series, The Whispers on the Moors. I recommend The Curiosity Keeper for readers who love Regency romances and are fans of Julie Klaassen novels.

Rating: 3.5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Sarah E. LaddSarah E. Ladd has always loved the Regency period — the clothes, the music, the literature and the art. A college trip to England and Scotland confirmed her interest in the time period and gave her idea of what life would’ve looked like in era. It wasn’t until 2010 that Ladd began writing seriously.  Shortly after, Ladd released the first book in the Whispers on the Moors series. Book one of the series, The Heiress of Winterwood, was the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Genesis Award for historical romance. Ladd also has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing. She lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

Novel Review: The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck

The Wedding Chapel

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck (Zondervan, November 2015)

An old, forgotten chapel holds the key to love and forgiveness.

Retired hall-of-fame football coach Jimmy Westbrook never imagined anything would come of his labor of love—building a wedding chapel for Collette Greer, the woman he fell in love with in 1949. But now a realtor wants the land the chapel sits on, and he sees no reason to hang onto the past.

Photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. Leaving her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, she put a lot of things behind her, including her family’s string of failed marriages. When she falls head-over-heels for Jack Gillingham, a top ad man, their whirlwind romance and elopement leave her with doubts. Jack, while genuine in his love for Taylor, can never seem to find the right way to show her he really cares.

When a post-mortem letter from Taylor’s Granny Peg shows up, along with an old photo, she is driven to uncover family secrets and the secret to her own happiness, starting with an assignment to photograph an unknown, obscure wedding chapel back in Heart’s Bend.

Taylor begins a mission to convince Jimmy that the chapel is worth saving—and that forgiveness and healing might happen within the chapel’s walls . . . for both of them.


REVIEW:

Wedding chapels evoke a sense of mystery and peace all in one. Stained glass windows filter in sunlight that illuminates the ethereal, while old-style arches and wood-worn pews speak of times past. With this picture of gorgeous old chapel filling my mind, I eagerly approached Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Chapel in anticipation of a story that draw me into a story that shares the best of history and contemporary within one book.

Hauck, a veteran writer of Christian fiction, knows how to pen a beautiful story. Her themes are always strong, her writing is always graceful, and her storylines are always intricately crafted. The Wedding Chapel holds all of these elements and in many ways, even though this is not my favorite of her books (I’m just a fan of royalty, what can I say?), make this novel one of her best yet. A dual-set story set in the charming Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, and New York City, in The Wedding Chapel readers are maneuvered between two time periods: one with heart-wrenching history and the other relatable in its modernity.

Themes of restoration, forgiveness, family, love, hope, and second chances blend into the stories of two couples: Jack and Taylor Branson, and Jimmy Westbrook and Collette Greer. I absolutely loved Jimmy and Collette’s story because–and this is personal taste coming out–we witnessed the evolution of a tale beginning in time’s past and moving into today. As a lover of historical fiction, I enjoyed Hauck’s technique of weaving in history through a romance. Jimmy and Collette’s story is just beautiful and contain the strongest themes in The Wedding Chapel. Although half the story would have been missing otherwise, I almost wished while reading the book that the story was just about these two characters. Taylor and Jack are amiable characters, but I never connected to them as I did to their counterparts and their story did not stir me the same way. The connection between the four of them did, however, make for an endearing story that will surely bring smiles to many readers.

I am by far pleased with this latest addition to my Rachel Hauck novel collection and recommend The Wedding Chapel for those who enjoy romance, contemporary, and dual-time novels.

Rating: 3.5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

rachel hauckRachel Hauck is a USA Today Best Selling, and award-winning author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince.

Rachel began writing full time in 2004. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship at their annual conference. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker.

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets, and writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Connect with Rachel online: website, Facebook, Twitter

Novella Review: One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg

One Enchanted ChristmasOne Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg (December 2015)

Last December, mystery author Maren Grant had the most perfect night of her life. On a glimmering winter evening, she got to watch the photo shoot for her very first book and ended up on a magical date with the cover model himself—Colin Renwycke.

Fast forward one year. This December, with a looming deadline, restless spirit and her creative spark long since gone, Maren is desperate to get unstuck. And she can’t get Colin out of her head…or his year-old open invitation to spend a couple weeks writing at his family’s farm.

Drew Renwycke never planned to come home and take over the Renwycke family farm. But he’s spent too many years watching his siblings unravel, including his brother, Colin, after one terrible family mistake. If moving to Maple Valley, Iowa, renovating an old farmhouse and switching careers is what it takes to put the Renwycke family back together, he’ll do it.

But his simple plan upends when a scrappy author lands on his doorstep. And she just might be the key to coaxing his brother home. But what if he wants her all to himself? Drew will have to choose between his Christmas wish and the enchantment of a holiday romance that just might be the happy ending they all long for.

REVIEW:

Close your eyes just for a moment. Picture yourself lying on your couch covered in a warm fleece blanket, a cup of hot chocolate by your side, the fireplace crackling and sparkling a bright orange. It’s evening, and the glow of the full moon softly fills your room as Bing Crosby’s smooth voice serenades you with thoughts of a white Christmas as you watch the first snow of the season cover the ground.

It’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? The kind of enchanted winter evening we often imagine as the Christmas season fills the last month of the year. Here’s the best thing about this scenario, though: it’s not just an imagined scene. Melissa Tagg, author of Christian contemporary romance, has written a novella that blends our dreams of the perfect Christmas romance into a story that is, to borrow from the title, simply enchanting.

I’ve long been a fan of Melissa’s novels (and the author herself), so my expectations for One Enchanted Christmas were high because I am familiar with her signature writing style: heart-pounding romance set within a contemporary time-frame and sprinkled with old-style humor that lends itself to a believable and endearing story. One Enchanted Christmas, her first novella, utilized all of Melissa’s style–and if it’s even possible, made me fall even more in love with her stories because those signature techniques came in faster, smoother, funnier, and more swoon-worthy in order to fit within a shorter story. To complement her style even further, One Enchanted Christmas is written in the style Melissa frequents on her personal blog, which makes the novella come across as if she directly narrates the story to her readers. I absolutely loved this aspect of One Enchanted Christmas and hope to this technique used in her future stories.

Melissa excels at creating story-lines and characters that are endearing and charming. In One Enchanted Christmas hero Drew Renwycke and heroine Maren Grant are simply wonderful; from the first sentence, I fell for the adorable heroine who reminded me of all my romantic fantasies as a girl, and more significantly I fell for the hero, who is far and above the kind of man all women should strive to meet. Can we also just take a moment to appreciate how great Drew is an uncle, please? Thank you, Melissa, for giving one of your characters a role that mirrors just how special uncles are in real life. Maren and Drew are just the sort of people you could expect to find in the typical American small-town: sweet and loving, witty and hardworking, imperfect but as good-hearted as you can get. You really could not ask for two better characters to cheer for as they find their way in life and love.

In this particular novella, I noticed Melissa took steps as an author that I fully believe strengthen her as a writer and will mark One Enchanted Christmas as the story that pushes CBA boundaries. This novella is slightly more mature in tone, meaning that characters have gone through some tough situations that are not always brought up in Christian fiction. I, for one, am thrilled that Melissa wrote these situations into One Enchanted Christmas because it brings a lifelike quality to the story that depicts the experiences of readers. The fact is that even though Christian fiction models hope, we live in an imperfect world where people do make mistakes. One Enchanted Christmas takes an example of true life family challenges and places it within the framework of Christian love during the most magical time of the year. The themes of Christmas make the perfect background for the Renwycke family to find that hope of love, redemption, forgiveness, and grace.

One Enchanted Christmas is simply a perfect novella for Christmas–although in all honesty, I would recommend it for any time of year. *Disclaimer: yes, I call this novella perfect, and in doing so would like to apologize in advance for any undue pressure on Melissa to further write “perfect” stories. I just love your novella, Melissa, and can’t help sharing my excitement! =)

Rating: 5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant-writer and total Iowa girl. She’s also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever–not that she’s biased–watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. She’s passionate about humor, grace, and happy endings. Melissa loves connecting with readers at http://www.melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Instagram.