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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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?

Review: “Christmas at Gate 18” Novella by Amy Matayo

You might be saying to yourself “What? Courtney is already talking about Christmas and Christmas novellas???”. Yes. Yes, I am, because Christmas fun starts early and any time is a good time for an Amy Matayo story. This novella happens to be a non-typical Christmas story —- sure, it’s set during Christmas and has the requisite gift exchange, mistletoe, and talk of Christmas traditions, but conventional stops there. As a matter of fact, the gift exchange doesn’t even involve pretty wrappings. 😉

About the Book

Supermodel Rory Gray just wants to go home. After wrapping up a three-day high-fashion photo shoot overseas, she’s exhausted and ready for the holiday. A holiday that involves Hollywood parties, air-kissing the industry elite, and a whole lot of fakeness…but whatever. Once she gets through that torture, she’ll head to her beloved Seattle and the life of anonymity she misses so much. In less than twenty-four hours, she’ll be there. 

Christmas at Gate 18Colt Ross has spent the past six months detaching himself from the Hollywood world he grew up in, and home is the last place he wants to be. But he’s been called back by his overbearing father for reasons he can only imagine. Likely reasons that involve taking over the family corporation or fund raising among Hollywood elite—something Colt has no interest in being part of. Not that he has a choice; when you’re the son of an industry executive, rubbing elbows comes with the territory. In less than twenty-four hours he’ll be home. After all this time away, home no longer appeals to him. Especially not at Christmas. Leave it to his father to ruin a holiday. 

But when a late-season hurricane grounds both of their flights in the Dominican Republic, Rory and Colt find themselves stuck at the airport far longer than anticipated. As weather conditions worsen, they both begin to realize that this Christmas will be spent with strangers packed inside a single airport terminal—specifically at gate 18. 

Rory and Colt are faced with a choice: band together in their misery or make this Christmas one they will never forget. For two people who aren’t real fond of the holiday, this Christmas might turn out to be the best they’ve ever had. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

If you’re looking for Christmas carols and hot apple cider, keep going. This story is not your typical gather-round-the-nativity with family and friends occasion, but it IS about relationships and wanting to know people for who they are and celebrating in unconventional ways. This is not your typical Christmas time story in the BEST way.

FB_IMG_1508799477051.jpgChristmas at Gate 18 has all the elements I’ve come to expect (and appreciate) from an Amy Matayo story: riveting character development, sarcastic and snarky humor, breath-stealing kisses (when they finally happen), and unexpected situations or people. The humor, in particular, is an added bonus. I love how Amy includes hilariously normal things like “Duck, Duck, Goose” or soft drink “suicides” and the need for a toothbrush to set a lighter tone while dealing with serious underlying issues. This story challenges boundaries of all kinds, with the storyline, flirtatious content, and raw hearts of the characters (especially when it comes to preconceptions vs. seeing and appreciating the heart.)

It would be appropriate to say Amy Matayo flirts with traditional boundaries when it comes to mild innuendos and actual boy-girl flirting. While the interaction between Colt and Rory never breaches the boundaries of propriety (except for that one short stay in a questionable motel HA! Trust me, it’s hilarious and sweet at the same time.), it still might challenge the comfort levels of the reader (or, at least it did for me and my normal inspirational-fiction comfort zone).

But, I think this is Amy’s intent in more than one way. To challenge boundaries. To delve deeper into the hearts of the characters with all of their insecurities, bagggage, and derailed dreams. To see beyond the surface (as a rich guy and professional model metaphorically represent all things superficial) and into the heart of who a person is and choosing to care about them, to accept their flaws, making them a better person in turn. This nearly-secular niche between messed up and redeemed characters is Amy’s sweet spot. Christmas at Gate 18 is a must-read if you’re looking for a story that challenges convention and makes you appreciate your own treasured family traditions during the Christmas season.

Thank you to the author and Relz Author Support Services for the opportunity to review a copy of this book. This is my honest review.

First Line Fridays #2: Christmas at Gate 18

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!
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Today I’m featuring the novella Christmas at Gate 18 by Amy Matayo because it just released this week! And because I love Christmas. *hums Jingle Bells*

Christmas at Gate 18

The first line:

Rory

Maybe the impending storm is putting me in a worse mood than usual, but there are only so many times a girl can repeat the exact same question in the exact same way to the exact same person without feeling her mind begin to unravel.

 

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: “Then Came You” novella by Becky Wade

This novella kicks off the new contemporary “Bradford Sisters Romance” series as the prequel and introduction to the sisters’ parents. It’s the very first book I’ve read by Becky Wade, but I have a feeling it’s just the start of discovering a new favorite author. I read it in 1 sitting, and that is a feat for me, even considering how short it is. And, I’m already in the middle of True to You, book 1 in this series. It’s bookish perfection already!

About the novella: A leather-bound journal. A single father. A woman in pursuit of freedom.

Then Came You

Garner Bradford, heir to the troubled Bradford Shipping empire, doesn’t know much about babies. But he’s going to have to learn fast because he’s just become a single father to his newborn daughter. As he confesses through his journal entries, he’s not entirely sure how to keep a newborn alive, whether or not he’ll ever patch together his shattered heart, or how to forgive himself for his mistakes.

Career girl Kathleen Burke is wholly uninterested in settling down. She has big dreams, and none of them include Garner and his small hometown in Washington State. Yet she can’t seem to get her handsome boss out of her head or her heart. There’s something extraordinarily tempting about his beautifully sad green eyes. . . .

 

Told through journal entries, phone conversations, and letters, Then Came You is a unique, heart-stirring romance novella by acclaimed author Becky Wade.

My thoughts: Epistolary (letter) stories or novels are a rare treat. This little novella happens to combine a few different mediums to tell the story of two separate people and a few ups and downs in their lives as they eventually intersect and end in a romance. It’s comprised of journal entries, phone messages and conversations, and letters. Becky has a way with words! (So does Garner, for that matter, especially with 1 particularly romantic letter <3.) With these personal musings, the reader sees deep truths about the characters as they are revealed in time. This story didn’t shy away from the messiness of life or the reality of consequences, but instead embraced it and shined a subtle light of grace on the tangled beauty of it all.

By the way, this is a FREE, indie-released ebook, so go snag it today at your favorite retailer! You just might fall in love with these characters as quick as I did.

Find the book on Goodreads | Amazon