It's always fun to look back at my favorite books on the year! It was hard to select only one for each genre, as there were so many good reads from 2017. You can click on any of the titles below to read my full review.

Historical Fiction




The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett


This story set in 1927 in Mt. Rainier National Park has all the charm of classic literature, including a heroine who is a true lady while also standing up for what she believes. 


Young Adult Fiction

kids playing basketball


The Lewis & Clark Squad Series by Stephen Bly


I revisited these childhood favorites and thoroughly enjoyed them! This is a six-book series about a group of teens participating in a summer basketball league. It's all about fun, faith, and friendship!


Contemporary Fiction




"Life After" by Katie Ganshert

The sole survivor of a terrorist bombing tries to come to terms with her new lease on life while being wracked with guilt that she lived when others did not. Very thought-provoking and well-written.


Non-Fiction




"Women Who Move Mountains" by Sue Detweiler


While this is supposed to be a book on prayer, I found it more to be a book on walking confidently and securely as God's child. So much good encouragement!


Classic Literature




"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens


This tale may be short, but it is packed full of wonderful lines and thoughtful reminiscing. Ebeneezer Scrooge's gratefulness to be alive and able to change his ways gets me every time!


Novella





"One Enchanted Noel" by Melissa Tagg

Delightful characters with emotional depth set in a charming fictional small town. The whole Enchanted Christmas Collection is a real gem!



 


Return to Maple Valley in this latest Christmas novella from Melissa Tagg! Wrapping up the stories of the Renwycke siblings, One Enchanted Noel follows in the footsteps of One Enchanted Christmas and One Enchanted Eve. This time our heroine is Leigh, the single mom who is trying to hold her life together. After a lot of bouncing around with plenty of messing up in her past, she's done well in Maple Valley - but now a familiar restlessness is stirring within her. She's unsure if she should buckle down on contentedness or step out in faith and see if she finds any open doors.

It's a busted-out window rather than an open door that catches Leigh's attention one December night. After reporting the vandalism, Leigh checks out the abandoned theater to see if the culprit is still on the premises. Much to her surprise, it's not a wayward youth but the new owner who is poking around! 

Sebastian Parker Pierce III has spent the past 15 years on a ranch in Texas, but now is on assignment from his grandfather to restore Maple Valley's theater. He recognizes Leigh instantly, having briefly met her several years before when she was at her lowest point. He's never forgotten the encounter, and he can't quite find a way to bring it up now that he sees she's turned her life around. When the timeline for the restoration job gets moved up and Mayor Milt insists on a big grand reopening only days before Christmas, Seb turns to Leigh for help with the event planning.

This is a wonderfully rich story that touches on deep subjects. Addiction recovery. Distant family members. Choices and consequences. It's also full of quirky moments and the hope that God always dreams bigger than we do. Seb and Leigh are both well-drawn characters who will win you over and stir your heart with their journey. 

Each of these novellas are available individually, or you can find them packaged together in a brand new release called Enchanted: A Christmas Collection. Perfect reading for this time of year!
 


Readers and fans have been waiting a long time for this final installment in the Walker Family series. We first met Raegan and Bear in the prequel novella Three Little Words, and followed them as minor characters through the stories of Walker siblings Kate, Logan, and Beckett. Raegan is the only Walker sibling who has never left home, keeping things lively in Maple Valley as she works her multiple part-time jobs, enjoys the wisdom of her father, and tries not to think too much about the man who broke her heart when he moved to Brazil.

South America has not been as kind to Bear as he was hoping it would be. Hounded by guilt and shame, this was supposed to be his way of righting wrongs from the past. The mission board sees otherwise, and Bear finds himself back in the States with the suggestion that he take care of the issues that keep coming up. Everything gets ten times more complicated when he's asked to take charge of his niece and nephew for a while. Knowing he at least has an apartment in Maple Valley, Bear loads the kids in his rental car and heads to Iowa.

Raegan has done her best to keep her life stable, with only a modicum of necessary change, and that seems to have helped her debilitating panic attacks. Her heart cries out for more, and Rae is beginning to explore her forgotten passion of making art. She is shocked when an opportunity comes up that would bring her art into the public eye, if she only has the courage to say yes. She needs courage for so very many things.

I think this may be my new favorite of Melissa Tagg's books, which is really saying something! Raegan's decision to go to counseling and address her anxiety plumbs deep into issues that readers might recognize from their own lives. This line about Bear really struck a chord in me: "Did he even know how to operate without carrying the world on his shoulders?" This novel is about two people with their fears, insecurities, desires, and dreams, and their journey to bridge the broken pieces of who they are into the people God is calling them to be. There's romance, there's suspense, there's Maple Valley charm. I loved this book and feel like all of Melissa's fans would feel the same way. We've been blessed to know the Walkers, and they will forever have a home on my bookshelf.
Here are my favorite reads from 2016! I hope you'll check some of them out for yourself. Click on any title to read my full review.

Historical Fiction



Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin

This World War II story focuses on a plucky female pharmacist and a Naval officer as they try to uncover a drug ring operating out of Boston Harbor.


Young Adult Fiction



The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson

A captivating retelling of The Little Mermaid, Melanie Dickerson again proves her brilliance as a fairy tale writer.


Contemporary Fiction



Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg

I loved the depth of the characters, and I really related to one of them in particular. I just love Melissa Tagg's stories!!


Non-Fiction

I've got to go with the autobiographies of two Olympians here! Weren't the Rio Olympics exciting??



Greater Than Gold by David Boudia

David's journey from an active tot to a world class diver, and how he found Jesus along the way.




Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

Leader of the Final Five and winner of five medals in Rio, this 4'9" gymnastics wonder shares her story from adoption to training to topping the podium.


Classic Literature



Mr. Harrison's Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell

This short novel, from which part of the miniseries Cranford was drawn, is laugh-out-loud funny and encompasses the delights of a small English village.


Novella

This category has two winners as well, because I couldn't choose between these two delightful Christmas stories.




One Enchanted Eve by Melissa Tagg

If you enjoy competitive baking shows, you'll love this story of a down-on-her-luck baker and her quest to find one wow-worthy recipe to land her dream job.





Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

All Alexis needs for Christmas is her home remodel to go well. When everything goes wrong it may be time to reevaluate the true meaning of Christmas.



In a setting just perfect for Christmas, chef Rylan Jefferson is on the cusp of running a bakery again. She just needs to come up with one show-stopping dessert to have the opportunity to win the job. While she's never been good at original recipes, Rylan receives an offer of help that she can't pass up - even if it is from the class clown of her culinary class. Maybe Colin's natural inspiration will transform a wish into a reality.

We first met Colin Renwycke in One Enchanted Christmas, when he was a rather disreputable teacher and model. He's never been good at life decisions, but last Christmas was a wake-up call. He's determined to make culinary school work and to become a successful chef, but he's still afraid to go home and face his family in Maple Valley, Iowa. In an effort to both help Rylan and bring a buffer of protection to himself, Colin invites her to spend a couple weeks on the farm inventing that wow-worthy recipe she needs.

Maple Valley is as charming and ever, as you know if you've read any of Melissa Tagg's other stories set there. While we do get glimpses of other characters we know, the story does a good job focusing on downtrodden but hopeful Rylan and bad-boy-attempting-to-turn-good-guy Colin. We get a look at their pasts, the way they think, and their family dynamics. These are two realistic and relatable characters striving to overcome mistakes and setbacks, dreaming of a hopeful future, and trying to make magic in the kitchen.

This novella was funny, thoughtful, inspiring, and yes, enchanting. A perfect holiday read from one of my favorite authors!



I really like Melissa Tagg, both as an author and a person. We've yet to meet face to face, but she just seems like one of my people. Her newest release, the third book in the Walker Family series, has been on my radar since the second one came out April. It was great to revisit the fictional Iowa town of Maple Valley, and the storyline did not disappoint.

Beckett Walker has stayed away from home for six years, and his first trip back is unceremoniously interrupted when he is almost immediately arrested for a warrant issued long ago over a youthful indiscretion. That is hardly the way he wanted to face his family and friends after such a lengthy absence! He's returned home to try to clear up this mess and get things lined up for joining the JAG Corps, but now everything is more complicated than ever. Sentenced to a significant amount of community service, Beckett has no recourse but to make Maple Valley home for the next couple months.

Also on her first trip back home is horticulturalist Kit Danby, who made a life for herself in England after she left her Maple Valley groom at the altar six years ago. But there's a longing in Kit's heart that prompts her to make her flight to Iowa a one-way trip, and when she sees her grandparents' orchard, the place where she was raised, so abandoned and neglected, she wonders if this is where her heart is supposed to be. The orchard is still in her family, and her absentee and nearly estranged father agrees to let Kit try to revive it, on the condition that she turn a profit her very first season.

Once childhood best friends, Beckett and Kit get to know each other again when he is able to arrange to serve his community service at her orchard. The pull of her heart to make this orchard work is just as strong as the pull of Beckett's heart to find adventure and fulfillment in his new career with the military. Even as they feel the draw of attraction which they never explored as kids, they brace themselves for the parting they know is coming.

While Melissa has explored plenty of deep emotions in her previous books, this one felt a little different for me. There was a maturity in the writing which set this story apart. Beckett's pain of always feeling on the outskirts made him a truly compelling protagonist, his emotions written in such a way that you truly understood the choices he made. He seems to be cursed with constantly missing big moments, and not knowing how to handle that grief keeps driving him away from the people he loves. Watching the beginning of Beckett's healing left me full of wonder and hope. There were some ways that I really related to Kit as well, nearly choking up with the ways God spoke to her heart because they were so familiar to me, echoing ways that God has spoken to mine.

The orchard setting makes this perfect autumn reading. As Beckett and Kit fight for the orchard and fight for a home for each of their hearts, you'll be drawn in to the wonderful place that is Maple Valley and its colorful cast of characters - and also to the love of God that keeps Him always holding on to us.

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