Best of 2017

This annual blog post has become a favorite because I’m sharing MY favorite reads from the year!!!!! 2017 has been a wonderful reading year. I’ve added several new all-time favorite books to my “shelves”, met some amazing new authors both through their books and on social media, and been blown away by story multiple times. At latest count, I’ve read 58 books! Whew! Comparing genres, I’ve read quite a few more contemporary stories versus historical, and my list here is representative of that slant. Most of these books were published in 2017, but a few were new discoveries I can’t believe I waited this long to read!

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But first, some ground rules: in an effort to NOT be long-winded and wordy, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review. (Click each title to visit Goodreads).

Historical

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green | Review

Poignant. Fleur-de-lys. Scars.

A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz | Review

Immersive. Frontier. Growth.

Many Sparrows by Lori Benton | Review

Epic. Grace. History.

A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White | Review

Loyalty. Books. Romance.

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin | Review

Spies. Secrets. Tenacity.

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall | Review

Letters. Love. Sacrifice.

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan | Review

Friends. Mysteries. Toronto.

Contemporary

Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility by Hillary Manton Lodge | Review

Tea. Sisters. Colonel Brandon.

True to You by Becky Wade | Review

Bookish. Romance. Forgiveness.

Just the Way You Are by Pepper Basham | Review

Redemption. Fairytale. Chocolate.

Reclaimed by Jennifer Rodewald | Review

Grace. Country. Pickle.

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner | Review

Honesty. The Sound of Music. Humor.

All This Time by Melissa Tagg | Review

Belonging. Security. Family.

Hometown Girl by Courtney Walsh | Review

Farmhouses. Siblings. Introverts.

Charming the Troublemaker by Pepper Basham | Review

Laughter. Trustworthiness. Closets.

Life After by Katie Ganshert | Review

Bittersweet. Peace. Letting go.

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay | Review

Bubble gum. Connection. Growth.

The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon | Review

Desert. Obedience. Strength.

Contemporary Action/Adventure (with romance, of course!)

Unblemished and Unraveling by Sara Ella | Book 1 Review | Book 2 Review

Disney. Twists. Enchanting.

Conspiracy of Silence and Crown of Souls by Ronie Kendig | Book 1 Review | Book 2 Review

Adventure. Dynamic. Heroes.

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey | Review

Suspense. Puzzles. Action.

Rescue Me by Susan May Warren | Review

Tension. Reconciliation. Encouragement.

Novellas

The Message in a Bottle Collection Romance Collection by Heather Day Gilbert, Amanda Dykes, Maureen Lang, Jocelyn Green, and Joanne Bischof | Review

Hope. Strength. Nautical.

I’ll Be There by Susan May Warren | Review

Faith. Spark. Peace.

Right Where We Belong Collection by Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, and Courtney Walsh | Review

Quaint. Lighthearted. Happiness.

Then Came You by Becky Wade | Review

Epistolary. Patience. Family.

Christmas Stories

Ordinary Snowflakes by Jennifer Rodewald | Review

Hot cocoa. Friends. Familiarity.

 A Cliché Christmas by Nicole Deese | Review

Dimension. Unconditional. Gloves.

WHEW! That’s it! These favorites are ones I can highly recommend and gush about for days. Have you read any of these? What are your favorite books of 2017? If you have a favorites blog post, share your link in the comments!

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Review: “A Cliché Christmas” by Nicole Deese


Though Christmas is already past, this is still the time of year to enjoy reading festive stories. One I just finished — and was quite blown away by — was A Cliché Christmas by Nicole Deese. I had the privilege of interviewing Nicole earlier this year, but I had not previously read a story of hers until now. That will be remedied in the near future. Before I made it half way through this story, I added the next 2 books in the “Love in Lenox” series to my virtual shelf! 2018 TBR, here I come!

About the Book

A Cliche ChristmasWriting happy endings is easy. Living one is the hard part.

Georgia Cole—known in Hollywood as the “Holiday Goddess”—has made a name for herself writing heartwarming screenplays chock-full of Christmas clichés, but she has yet to experience the true magic of the season. So, when her eccentric grandmother volunteers her to direct a pageant at Georgia’s hometown community theater, she is less than thrilled. To make matters worse, she’ll be working alongside Weston James, her childhood crush and the one man she has tried desperately to forget.

Now, facing memories of a lonely childhood and the humiliation of her last onstage performance, seven years earlier, Georgia is on the verge of a complete mistletoe meltdown. As Weston attempts to thaw the frozen walls around her heart, Georgia endeavors to let go of her fears and give love a second chance. If she does, will she finally believe that Christmas can be more than a cliché? 

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

Don’t let the title fool you. Yes, this book includes a few clichés, but it is unexpectedly deeper. It is a beautiful story of belonging with characters that have great dimension. And oh, the chemistry!!!! It reminds me of the spark-filled romance dynamic Kristen Heitzmann accomplishes, which is a top-notch compliment.

Weston and Georgia’s shared childhood memories and history work to strengthen their characters and solidify the constant pull between them. Add to that a building anticipation of something that the reader knows will test their newfound banter and friendship, and we have the makings of a sturdy story with a few surprises.

From laugh out loud moments, swoony interludes in the snow, to emotionally touching (especially when little Savannah is involved) and meaningful conversations, A Cliché Christmas is anything but commonplace and predictable. It is a story of forgiveness as much as it is of trusting the unconditional things in life; like the support of family, professed love, and the best unconditional gift given at Christmas: the love of a newborn Savior.

 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day…..

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!” Luke 2:14 HCSB

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 John 4:9 HCSB

To my friends, family, blog readers, #bookbesties, and anyone who may see this message, MERRY CHRISTMAS! I am grateful for each and every one of you, for your encouragement and love.

As you ponder the wonders of this season, I want to share a little of my heart with you all.  That verse of “I Heard the Bells”? The peace it mentions can only by attained one way: through the provision of our Savior. As we wish each other merry days and peace, just remember the source of true peace offered to mankind. That source is a Savior whose humble birth we celebrate each December, but that should mark our days and our very lives with its grace and free gift of salvation.

My prayer for you in the coming year is that you would truly know peace by knowing Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

 

First Line Fridays #8 Special Christmas Edition: The Story of the Other Wise Man

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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I have a little story behind my choice for this special Christmas edition of First Line Fridays….

I’m sharing the first line of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke. This classic tale was referred to in a favorite TV movie of mine: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas” as the story of the fourth wise man. When I was antique shopping earlier this year, I saw this little copy and realized it was the same story!!!! Though I haven’t read it through yet, I WILL before Christmas day comes. My little edition was printed in 1899! A little message is written in the front in pen “To Mama, from Bennie Bee. Christmas 1912”.

Preface:

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.

First Line:

The Sign in the Sky

In the days when Augustus Caesar was master of many kings and Herod reigned in Jerusalem, there lived in the city of Ecbatana, among the mountains of Persia, a certain man named Artaban, the Median.

What is your favorite classic Christmas story?

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

Mini Review: Ordinary Snowflakes by Jennifer Rodewald

This mini review is of the best variety: the kind that, if I did a full-blown review, I would give away surprising plot points with my eager praise. So, you get fewer words and more time to wonder, yourself, about this little gem of a story. I’m talking about Jennifer Rodewald’s Christmas novella, Ordinary Snowflakes. Bonus: it’s set in “Rock Creek”, so fans of Reclaimed will see familiar faces!


About the book: Someone has noticed me. A secret admirer? A man with a good heart, who sees how much I actually need help, even though I never admit it? Maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful story—a romance full of hope and second chances and love.

Maybe…

A secret Santa gift left on Kale Brennan’s front porch opens up a fresh view of her ordinary life, and perhaps of God. Maybe she does matter. Maybe God sees her—as does a new-to-town music teacher who has her seven-year-old daughter gushing and her own knees buckling with his killer smile. But as Kale embraces new possibilities, a staple in her life—a man who is kind and steady, not to mention necessary for her injured daughter’s recovery—also snatches her attention in an unexpected way. Will the one pursuing her with his secret gift and kind gestures be the one her heart longs for in the end?

Goodreads | Amazon

My thoughts: In the space of a novella, Jennifer has managed to create engaging and relatable characters I wanted to root for and encourage. Solely told from the perspective of Kale, this story is both sweet and emotionally beautiful. It shows important growth and moments of Kale’s life as she realizes the purpose and beauty in ordinary things, like her life, daily choices, and the possible simplicity of true romance. To say very much about the delightfully surprising direction the romance takes would give away way too much, but I’ll just say I loved it!!! And, it uses one of my very favorite tropes. (hint: it’s NOT a love triangle, as you might think from the synopsis.) You’ll have to read it to find out what I mean!

And oh, I cannot forget to mention Sydney. That little girl steals EVERY scene she’s in with her spunk and determination. She’s wise beyond her years, in so many ways 😉 .

Thank you to the author for providing a review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Enchanted: A Christmas Collection” by Melissa Tagg

As you regular blog readers might realize, any time Melissa Tagg releases a story, I HAVE to read it. As a wonderful treat the past 3 years, Melissa has released a Christmas novella series featuring a little family from (you guessed it) “Maple Valley”. This year the final story in the collection is out, One Enchanted Noël, AND the whole collection is available in a gorgeous paperback format! Today, I’ve compiled my past reviews plus my thoughts on this latest release.

Enchanted A Christmas Collection

A Collection of Heartwarming, Small-Town Holiday Romances 

One Enchanted Christmas

Goodreads | Amazon

Last December, author Maren Grant went on a magical date with her book’s cover model–Colin Renwycke. Fast forward one year. With a looming deadline, Maren is desperate to recapture her creative spark. Then she remembers Colin’s invitation to visit his family’s Iowa farm…

Drew Renwycke never planned to move home and take over the farm. But he’s spent too many years watching his siblings unravel–including Colin. When Maren lands on his doorstep, he realizes she may be the key to coaxing his brother home.

(originally published as a standalone in 2015)

One Enchanted Eve

Goodreads | Amazon

As a Denver Culinary Institute student, Colin Renwyke is out to embark on a new career as a pastry chef. But despite his skills in the kitchen, he’s a mess in the classroom and his ongoing disasters are proving too much for his prickly instructor. If he loses his spot at the school, he’s out of backup plans.

Culinary school instructor Rylan Jefferson has the chance to reclaim her dream of running her own bakery. But she only has until Christmas Eve to come up with the perfect recipe to impress an eccentric investor. She has no time for holiday parties or family plans . . . and especially not for her unruliest student baker.

But Colin has the one ingredient Rylan needs most–talent. Lots of it. And when he makes a proposal that just might solve both their problems, Rylan can’t say no.

(originally published as a standalone in 2016)

One Enchanted Noël

Goodreads | Amazon

When Seb Pierce agreed to work for his wealthy grandfather for one year–in return for an early draw on his inheritance–he never expected the agreement to land him in a quirky small town in Iowa at Christmas-time, renovating a dilapidated theater…and running into a woman he never thought he’d see again.

Although she’s finally settled in her hometown, Leigh Renwycke can’t shake the familiar restlessness that used to get her into trouble. When Seb Pierce waltzes into her world and begs for her help planning the theater’s holiday reopening, it might be enough to jumpstart a new career…and to prove once and for all that the new-and-improved Leigh is here to stay. Until old secrets and new sparks get in the way…

(brand new in 2017!)

Find the collection edition on Goodreads | Amazon

Review

One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg, mini reviewOne Enchanted Christmas

Melissa just makes me smile with her clever prose, the normalcy of her characters, and the laugh-out-loud situations her characters find themselves in. I literally laughed while reading this one!

Case in point: check out this line concerning the fashionable-yet-not-warm-for-snow attire of our main character, Maren. “But a girl didn’t meet a man who might be the love of her life dressed like an Eskimo”- chapter 1. That ought to make you smile!

Besides the heartwarming characters and storyline, one other unique element to this novella was the use of a “narrator”. The narrator set up the story and added a few little side commentary moments which were so clever! And, something new-to-me in fiction. This device allows the story to move faster and still flow, filling in necessary details without cheating on story, and revealing the true feelings of Drew and Maren like an all-knowing outside perspective.

If you’re looking for a quick, sweet, and touching read that’s perfect for the Christmas season, look no further One Enchanted Christmas! And did I mention it’s an independently-published endeavor by Melissa herself? Go support her spunk today.

One Enchanted Eveone-enchanted-eve

This novella proves there is always more to the story behind the seemingly antihero of the previous story, illustrating everyone has a journey and has trials. I love revisiting Maple Valley, especially the Renwyckes for Christmas. This is a must-read Christmas novella! The combo of drama, humor, and family is just perfect. And I can’t forget to mention the bonding that happens between Collin and Rylan over pastry and the flirting with recipe cards = swoon! In true “Tagg” style, this story is at once nostalgic and insightful, drawing out an emotional depth and realness from its characters, taking us home for Christmas and to blessings in unexpected little things.

One Enchanted NoelOne Enchanted Noël

Just when I think I couldn’t love Melissa Tagg’s storytelling more, she goes and does something surprising like this and writes two new, compelling lead characters – one of which is a COWBOY! A gentleman complete with a Texas drawl and plaid shirts, even if he does originally hale from California. I can’t see his name in print without pronouncing it in my head just like Leigh always calls him: Sebastian Parker Pierce III. He’s a catch! 🙂

And then there’s Leigh. The last of the Renwycke siblings to befriend. My heart just wants to hug her and tell her she is loved for who she IS and who she is daily choosing to BE. Thankfully, a host of family and a few friends, most notably Seb and his knowing care, encourage her along the way. She learns an important lesson of dreaming and reaching and trusting God to have insanely awesome plans for her life.

My movie-nerd self LOVED the fact that Sebastian is renovating a MOVIE THEATER!!! Speaking from personal experience in that setting, Melissa got her facts very straight except for one teeny, tiny detail that is totally forgivable for the sake of artistic license and the resulting cute scene 😉 . I could virtually hear the projectors whirring and smell the popcorn as I read.

One Enchanted Noël has the signature humor and pop culture I’ve come to expect from Melissa, set in the “enchanting” world of Maple Valley with its quirkiness. Among many other things, I LOVED getting to see the humor of Mayor Milt again and a “peek behind the curtain” of his attitude in one little scene. But at the heart of it all is a message of hope and dreams within grasp, of supporting family and embracing new beginnings.

Novella Review & Author {Christmas} Interview: “One Christmas in Winter” by Bell Renshaw


One Christmas in Winter is the debut novella from author Bell Renshaw. If it is any indication of what her work will be like, I know I will LOVE it all! #Iwanttoreadallthebooks Today I have the privilege of sharing my thoughts on the story plus a Christmas interview with Bell!

About the Book

One Christmas in WinterReba Farwell is finally getting a chance to live out her dreams. Sent to Winter, Montana to direct filming for a crucial, on-location shoot, she knows the next two weeks will make or break her career. And she could definitely use a break. As if that isn’t enough, she’s got a secret that none of her crew knows. All she’s asking for is two weeks of small town, Christmas beauty and a little bit of on-camera sizzle.

Five years ago, Hoyt Bradley’s heart and future shattered in one fell swoop that landed him back in Winter. Thankfully, making lemonade—or his father’s famous lemon meringue pie— out of lemons is what he does best. Running Bentley’s Diner has filled the gaps left in the wake of his heartbreak, even if it hasn’t healed him completely. Not wanting to relive memories of his rocky start in the film industry, Hoyt does his best to steer clear of the dreaded film crew, but Winter has a way of bringing people together.

After one fateful delivery and a score of icy bad luck, Reba finds herself in a bind and at the mercy of what Winter can offer. Will she pull the film together in time to salvage her name as a director? Or will the sparks flying off-camera create more of a distraction than she knows how to handle?

Come visit Winter, Montana in this Christmas Novella where the Christmas lights are always on and the snow falls most frequently when loved ones share a kiss.

Amazon | Goodreads

 

Review

One Christmas in Winter is the perfect little Christmas story, full of small-town charm, Christmassy things like fuzzy sweaters, fun things like sledding, and a sweet romance. Saying this story is just like a Hallmark movie is very accurate and a high compliment— specifically, a Hallmark movie I hope it becomes one day because it has a fresh and realistic slant some of that network’s productions lack. With equal parts humor and romantic depth, it explores family relationships and a feeling of belonging most keen this time of year, whether it be belonging on a career path or a homey place with the people you love.

More little things I loved about this story:

  • fictitious setting of Winter, Montana as a vivid and idyllic backdrop
  • the “Christmas movie” production! Dear Hallmark, this would be perfect to turn into a movie because IT WOULD BE LOW BUDGET! JUST FILM YOUR OWN CREW!
  • secondary characters I LOVED! Troy, Beau, Ansley, Mama Bradley, Mariah, Lloyd, etc!
  • to be a novella, it was a fully developed and complex story
  • Beau’s coffee shop. I want to visit.
  • the fill-in takeout delivery guy 😉
  • the NEXT novella (12/2018) hinted at near the end!

Thank you to the author for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

Do you have any Christmas traditions?

One that I absolutely love is doing some Christmas baking with my family. I love giving gifts and sometimes a plate of sweets is the best (most tasty) gift for friends and neighbors.

Hot coffee, cocoa, or hot tea? With or without Christmas cookies?

I would have to say tea or coffee (I’ve been loving the Celestial Seasonings Christmas teas recently!) and definitely WITH Christmas cookies 😉

Favorite Christmas song?

I like a lot of Christmas songs so it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. But one of my top favorites is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus!

Tell us about the story setting of Winter, Montana.

It’s actually really neat because Winter is based (very loosely) on the town I grew up in. It’s embellished, of course, but it’s got a few things that my home town does. I think it’s one of my favorite parts of this book (aside from the romance of course) because of the people. They really are what make up the town. You’ll be seeing more of Timon, Fred, the ladies at the hospital, and especially more of Beau and Ansley in book 2, and I can’t wait to showcase even more parts of Winter as well.

What was most challenging about writing this story?

Movie production! I did some research and really wanted to get the feeling of what it would be like to shoot a movie in a small town, but that’s not easy to do. I follow Candace Cameron Bure on Instagram and watching some of her stories actually helped me write some of the scenes!

Which character was your favorite to write?

Mariah! I love Reba and Hoyt and they were so fun to write, but Mariah has a mind of her own and I so enjoyed writing her character. She’s got spunk and says it like it is. I think she’s a mix of a few friends of mine and the kind of friend Reba really needs in her life.

What are you currently reading?

I’m in the Christmas spirit so I’m reading Royal Christmas Wedding by Rachel Hauck! I just love her writing.

Thank you, Bell, for sharing a little behind-the-scenes and your Christmas favorites! Readers, you can learn more about Bell and how to connect with her via her website and other links below.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest

 

 

YOUR TURN! What are some of your Christmas traditions or seasonal favorites? Do you enjoy Christmas novellas this time of year?