Up From The Sea


If you enjoy stories with a vintage feel, debut author Amanda Dykes is one to add to your list. The tone of this story reminded me of early twentieth century writers like Eleanor Porter and Maud Hart Lovelace, which is a very positive connotation!

The year is 1925 and Savannah Mae Thorpe comes to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after the death of her parents. Though she is nearly old enough to claim her mother's land as an inheritance, her uncle threatens to sell it and invest the money. When Savannah declares she can find more value in the land, he insists that she prove it. With the help of a quiet young lumberjack, Savannah faces the mountain with a heart to discover her personal history and unravel a local legend that stretches back to the Revolutionary War.

Weaving in the true account of the King's pines, Amanda Dykes gives us a story about family, honor, and atonement. I only wished this prequel novella was longer, but that means it did its job! I eagerly await the release of Whose Waves These Are coming later this month.
Tracy Joy Jones


I first heard of Tracy Joy Jones in December 2017, when Tracy began offering a free Christmas novella to her newsletter subscribers. Recommended by none other than the fabulous Melissa Tagg, it was an easy choice to check out Tracy's story. I'm glad I did!! Now about 15 months later, I've read five of Tracy's novellas and not only am I a fan of her work, she's become a friend as well. Her novellas are sweet and funny while touching on deeper emotions that resonate within readers. Now that Tracy is beginning to release her books on Amazon, I asked her if she would drop by for an interview and let us get to know her a bit.

Q: Welcome, Tracy! I have loved your Mayberry Family novellas! Can you introduce the Mayberrys to those who might not have met them yet?


How Gretchen Stole Christmas A: Hi Erin, thank you so much for having me! I would love to introduce you to the Mayberry Family. I first met them the month before Christmas in 2017 when I had a crazy idea for a comedic story that just wouldn’t let go of me. The first person I met in that journey was the oldest daughter Gretchen, who arrives home from college to find a Santa look-alike climbing in her little sister’s bedroom window. Suspecting the perfect disguise for a burglar, she goes into attack mode and is horrified to discover she’s just rendered her ex-boyfriend unconscious.

I think I was surprised as anyone when TEN siblings poured out of the family home to go investigate the unconscious Santa! How was I ever going to keep up with them? One of my dearest friends in the world has ten siblings, and after years and years of listening to her wonderful and often hysterical stories, I got to live in the middle of my very own “imaginary” large family and loved every minute.

From there, we met the second oldest of the family, Amelia, in my second novella, “Unlucky in Love & Lyrics." When I first started writing Amelia, I knew immediately that I was going to love her. She grows so much through the stories, but I can’t help feeling that her story isn’t finished. Especially as it relates to her yummy drummer boyfriend, Zeke.


Q: The Mayberry novellas all take place around various holidays. How did you come to choose those special times of year for a setting?

A: That’s a great question. I honestly have no idea! I think Valentine’s Day came too quickly to get a novella out after Christmas, and I had this crazy idea to meet the family throughout the year. My husband’s birthday is March 19th, so we usually make a big deal out of St. Patrick’s Day. From then it was just spacing them at a reasonable pace throughout the rest of the year.

Fourth of July ended up being a challenging one for me because my kids were out on summer break. I’ve never been completely been happy with the way Gretchen and Will’s disastrous engagement turned out. However, I’m working on a re-write that I’m so excited to release in a couple months. I think their story will finally reach where I wanted it to go.

And it’s funny because the next novella was "sort-of” a Halloween release. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I actually don’t celebrate Halloween. However, I’m passionate about all things to do with the Fall. With a house full of Mayberry children, it just felt like the natural place for a story. I do love the way the story ended up being something completely different than I first intended. Kayla’s story celebrates everything fall all in one delicious love-hate mix-up.

And then I ended the stories full circle with a Christmas wedding. If I had to do it over again, I would definitely get married around Christmas. Although definitely not on the actual day.


Q: Do you have a favorite holiday?

A: Surprise! Christmas. Hands down. I decorate everything that moves, and love every part of creating memories for my friends and family. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t make more of an effort on other holidays. However, I think so much of what makes it so delightful is that you’re trapped by the cold, your kids and loved ones are home with you, and it seems like we really snuggle into family moments together. We play more games, build puzzles, and there is so much theme music to capture the memories. They say memories are bound by scent and taste and music, and I think that is what Christmas does better than any of the other holidays.

However, a very close second would be Groundhog’s Day, although for completely selfish reasons. It’s my birthday and always a big deal in our house. I decided to write
a new novella series this year centered around Groundhog’s Day, so maybe I’m just continuing the trend.


Q: What's next for the Mayberry family? You've mentioned the possibility of a full-length novel in the future. Can you give us any hints about that? (My guess is that it will be Amelia getting her own story!)

Unlucky in Love & Lyrics A: Yes!!!! Oh my goodness, I can’t wait. I can see the whole thing in my heart. When I wrote the last novella “A Very Mayberry Christmas” I was shocked that first of all, Zeke wasn’t there, and that secondly, Amelia was singing with someone else! What!?! I honestly didn’t know what to think about that development. My mom is one of my first-readers and called so mad at me. She hates tattoos but really loved Zeke.

“You better fix this,” she said.

And she’s right. I knew I had to fix it. I’m not sure exactly what format it will take, longer novella or full length book, but I can’t wait to “fix it” as my mom said. Amelia needs to do some more growing before she’s ready for the next part of her journey, but I can’t wait to be part of it and see her story come to life.


Q. Yay, I was right! I can't wait for this one to come together. What's up with the latest story that is available on your blog?

A: As I mentioned earlier, I get really excited about Groundhog’s Day because of my birthday. However, this year I had a strange kind of birthday. I was sad, and I’m not often sad. I love to travel, and we were home. It was freezing cold and miserable, and I just found myself wishing I could be part of something. My imagination started running away with me and out came a story.

I could have just written it for myself, but I’ve had so much fun sharing my novellas over the past year, I decided to share this one as I write it. I have a whole wacky crew of characters planned for the story, and can’t wait to see how Eden Parrish grows through her time reliving the movie Groundhog’s Day.
A Beautiful Day Once isn’t what you think, but I think it will be a lot of fun to live it with her.


Q: Confession: I haven't started on A Beautiful Day Once because I'm waiting for more installments to binge read together. 🙂 Can you tell us a little about your writing journey so far?

A: My writing journey began with my reading journey. I love books. I re-read books. I devour books. But because I love them so dearly, I never imagined I could write. My first real story idea came just over three years ago. It's the story of a girl who lost her parents to tragedy, got trapped in grief, hid out on her grandmother’s front porch, and the boy and a nest of eagles that finally gets her to rediscover the world around her.

Anyway, I sat down to write that story, not knowing if I could even write or what it would be like and five weeks later, I’d written an 85,000 novel. I moved on to the second, and then the third in that series. At that point, I started attending writer’s conferences as a writer. My husband and I own a
graphic design company and we have the privilege of working with many other authors. Consequently, we’ve been in the writing world for years, but joining as a writer has been an entirely different journey.

I was advised by my agent that YA wasn’t the best place to start, so I wrote two more books for adults and started trying to find a home for some of the books I was writing. I spent the past year editing and pitching and writing proposals, and, of course, writing the Mayberry family series. To date, I still haven’t found a traditional publishing home for “Calamity Jenn” and “Bye Bye Bailey.” It’s been a bit of an interesting journey for me, but I think that is where having the outlet of my novellas has really helped. I write every single day, as much as I can. I decided a short time after I discovered writing as a passion, that I would write for the rest of my life, even if no one read it.

I’ve learned over the past year that having readers is lightyears better than your stories never being read. However, I will always write for the rest of my life. I’m still praying about the self-publishing road. I think it is the right fit for my novellas, but I haven’t made a final decision for my full-length books.


Q: Who are some of your favorite authors to read?

A: Oh goodness, who don’t I like? I read everything. I mean everything. Except for tear-jerker women’s fiction. I hate crying when I’m getting ready for bed or trying to get ready in the morning or cooking dinner. I just don’t want to do it. And if a story doesn’t have romance of some kind, I struggle. It doesn’t even have to be much. I love the Lord of the Rings, and there’s barely anything romantic in there, but at least it’s there.

In Christian fiction, it feels like I’m picking my favorite child. I love
Melissa Tagg to pieces. Both personally and as a writer, she’s delightful. I love Katherine Reay, especially her first book, "Dear Mr. Knightley." I love Kristi Ann Hunter, Susan May Warren, Joanne Bischoff, Denise Hunter. Kara Isaac and Jenny B. Jones make me laugh, which is one of my favorite things to do. And I adore “Lady Jane Disappears” by new author Joanna Davidson Politano. Such an unexpected read. In Biblical fiction, my dear friend Mesu Andrews rocks my world with every book she writes. She is releasing a new book this month, “Of Fire & Lions” on the life of Daniel. There are also classics I read every single year like “Jane Eyre,” “Keeper of the Bees,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “The Blue Sword,” and “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.”

Honestly, I could talk books forever. My favorite quote is by Pam Allyn and it says, “Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.” It fills my lungs just to write that.


Q: Where can readers find you online?


A:
I touch base most days and am available on my author Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/TracyJoyJonesAuthor/
You can also reach me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/tracyjoyjones/
I have Twitter, but I think I have too many words for Twitter. I agonize forever getting them down and usually give up. 😉
And of course on my website, www.tracyjoyjones.com If you join my newsletter, you’ll get to stay up to date with all of my writing journey and news. I’d love to have you along for the journey!

When Fireworks Fly
Thanks so much for having me, Erin. It’s been a joy to relive the Mayberrys' journey and I hope your readers will get the chance to meet the Mayberrys as well. “
How Gretchen Stole Christmas” and “Unlucky in Love & Lyrics” are now available on Amazon and the third novella “When Fireworks Fly” will be for sale by summer.

It's been a pleasure chatting with you, Tracy! Readers, check out Tracy's books at the links below, and be watching for more releases soon!

How Gretchen Stole Christmas          Unlucky in Love & Lyrics
I recently read three stories from this novella collection, being on a western kick to end 2018, and thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

Witemeyer


"A Cowboy Unmatched" by Karen Witemeyer
Neill Archer left his home two years ago on a quest to prove himself. Now he's almost ready to return, but his trip is delayed when he is hired by an anonymous benefactor to repair the roof of a widow's house. He isn't prepared when the widow is young, very pregnant, part Comanche, and in a heated long-standing battle that may be more than she can win without his help.


Jennings


"An Unforeseen Match" by Regina Jennings

Grace O'Malley's world is disappearing - literally. With blindness encroaching, Grace has had to give up teaching and is trying to settle into the cabin that has been provided for her. Things sure would be easier if she didn't have to live by herself. When a passing cowboy agrees to help with a few things around the cabin, the two find they share a lot in common - including some surprising things that may drive them apart.


Connealy

"Meeting Her Match" by Mary Connealy
Life keeps jerking the rug out from under schoolmarm Hannah Taylor's feet. Hannah has taken great pride in being a discreet behind-the-scenes matchmaker, but now that she's in such a vulnerable place herself, the women of the town turn the tables and try to make sure Hannah is taken care of by someone who has long loved her from afar.
Novellas offer us a chance to see different sides of authors we enjoy. While occasionally I find the short form holds some drawbacks, there are other stories that rise to the top and leave their mark with the depth they are able to achieve. Here are three such that I read this year.

Click on any title for more information on each story.

Bound and Determined


 Bound and Determined by Regina Jennings

She's determined to stop her father from bringing home a train of camels, but the Army officer assigned to assist her father has a lot at stake if the job is not accomplished. Two stubborn people and a group of unique animals - what a great cast of characters!


Unlucky in Love and Lyrics


Unlucky in Love & Lyrics by Tracy Joy Jones

Amelia Mayberry has been gifted with a beautiful singing voice, but the moment she steps on stage she cannot remember song lyrics. Can help come from an unlikely source? A fun story with a St. Patrick's Day theme.


Then Came You


Then Came You by Becky Wade

This was a very different kind of read, as it was written in epistolary form. Containing no traditional dialogue, interaction, or narration, it still captivates one's attention. Though not for young readers due to content, it really stood out for its uncommon approach.
Christmas Remedy


Holly Zook has respectfully pressed beyond the Amish social norms to become a pharmacy tech, and she is even pursuing further education with the support of her bishop. She sees the need for her people to realize that consistent medical care can save lives and reduce physical suffering. Understanding that this strange passion may lead her to a life of singleness, since working outside the home is frowned upon once a woman marries, Holly is willing to make the sacrifice.

Working at Greene's Pharmacy has been fulfilling for her, not just because she's able to help people, but also because pharmacist Lyle Greene has become a father figure in Holly's life after her own father's early passing. As our story opens Lyle is facing a health crisis of his own, and the complications that come with it may mean that the pharmacy has to permanently close its doors.

While fighting for her friend and the business close to her heart, Holly must work with Lyle's son Brandon, who is on the verge of receiving his pharmacist's license himself, and Joshua Smucker, a young Amish man from a neighboring district who has liked Holly from afar. As Christmas approaches, can they save Greene's Pharmacy and bring better awareness of medical care to Holly's beloved Amish people?

I appreciated Holly's determination to help her community and her willingness to push past tradition. I confess I found it hard to get into this book at first for a few reasons, but the more I got into the story the more I enjoyed it. I liked that the obstacles our characters faced all carried weight and were not easily overcome, because it gave the story a level of reality as they worked for a good outcome through all the trials.

If you enjoy heartwarming Amish fiction or holiday stories, this might be one for you to pick up!

I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.


 
This Christmas novella collection was excellent company over my recent travels. The stories were engaging but short enough that I felt I could read significant portions of them in small snatches of time while in a vehicle or before falling asleep in a hotel room. These novellas feature one family's treasured heirloom as it passes from one generation to the next, beginning in Regency Era England and ending in current day Washington state. 

"Legacy of Love" by Kristi Ann Hunter
Sarah Gooding works as a companion to the elderly Lady Densbury, whose grandson Randall she secretly admires from afar. When Lady Densbury's health begins failing and her family is not respecting her wishes, Randall may be Sarah's biggest ally in making sure the woman's final holiday is full of joy and peace.

"Gift of the Heart" by Karen Witemeyer
From Regency England to 1800s Texas, our heroine is now Ruth Fulbright, a widow with a young daughter who hopes to support herself by moving to a resort town and getting a job as a cook. She's forced to pawn her family heirloom in order afford housing, and as she gets to know the town's reclusive banker, finds that her second chance in life may hold more than she ever imagined.

"A Shot At Love" by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Fleeta Brady is not like most girls in 1950s West Virginia. She's loved hunting and sportsmanship as long as she can remember, and she's been saving to purchase her own gunsmith shop. Through twists, turns, and an unexpected friendship, Fleeta finds that there may be more love in life than she expected with her orphaned background.

"Because of You" by Becky Wade
In modern day Washington, Maddie Winslow is paired up with widower Leo for a church holiday project - which is both wonderful and terrifying because she's had a crush on him for a long time. Working closely together for the benefit of others will force them to reevaluate if their friendship is growing to mean more to each other as well.

Easy to read but overflowing with the delights of the season, The Heirloom would be a nice addition to your holiday reading list.

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.
 Bound and Determined


Do you love a good adventure with fun and unique angles? "Bound and Determined" checks all the right boxes, and was a pure delight with its originality and wit.

Private Bradley Willis will be familiar to readers of Jennings' Fort Reno series. As someone not always in good graces with his superior officers, Bradley often finds himself needing to prove his merit and worth to the cavalry. After another questionable incident, Bradley is given the task of escorting a retired captain across Indian territory. How hard could that be?

It turns out Major Adams left out a few details about his assignment. The captain has acquired a train of camels and is seeking to travel overland with them to his Texas home. The assignment also didn't mention Captain Herald's daughter Ambrosia, who is along for the journey and is sweetly but stubbornly on the lookout for ways to convince her father to abandon the camels.

Ambrosia is worried about her father's health and she doesn't want to give up their garden to house a bunch of smelly camels. She thought if she couldn't convince her father to change his mind that she'd at least be able to find ways to dissuade anyone who was sent to help them. It turns out she's met her match in Private Willis. As determined as she is to find ways to abort this mission, he's equally as determined to see it through.


The camels add a wonderful amount of personality to this novella. I learned a lot of things about these wonderful animals that I never knew before! I laughed out loud at Bradley and Ambrosia's antics, and there's enough action and danger to keep you glued to the pages. A highly recommended story from Regina Jennings!

 Then Came You


"Then Came You" is a short, easy-to-read novella that is written in epistolary form.  Setting up Becky Wade's Bradford Sisters series, this is the story of Garner Bradford, a man who just became a single dad after some poor relationship choices. He begins keeping a journal to help deal with his crushing disappointment and the stresses of being solely responsible for a newborn. The majority of the story is related through Garner's journal entries.

The rest of the novella is devoted to Kathleen, a young woman who wants independence and is working towards her dream job at a big company. While we learn about Garner through his journal, we learn about Kathleen through the transcripts of her phone calls with her mother and friend, as well as letters and postcards that she writes.

While there is no traditional dialogue, interaction, or narration, it's amazing how the author does a wonderful job drawing the reader in. I could feel the emotions and easily followed the journey with our characters. That was well-done indeed!

I would recommend this novella if you want to read something with a different style, or if you plan to go on and read Wade's series. I would caution against this novella or the following series for anyone younger than 18 due to content.
 a woman in a mask


If you have read Roseanna M. White's "Ring of Secrets," you won't want to miss this follow-up novella that tells us the rest of Isaac Fairchild's story. When last we saw him he had lost his suit to win the hand of Winter Reeves, but now it is 1789 and Isaac is back in his native Europe. Agreeing to a special task, Isaac travels to France to search for a friend's wife and daughter.

Julienne has captivated the French court at Versailles, and has been receiving particular attention from Remi, a crafty courtier who has been promising soon to make Julienne his wife. Julienne knows Remi is dangerous and has no desire to marry him, but she has no idea how to escape his grasp. When she meets someone at a masquerade it seems as if there might still be reason to hope for faith and goodness in the world. But who is he? Will she ever see him again?

Isaac must find a way to reveal not only his own identity to Julienne, but also the fact that hers is not what she has been led to believe. It will be a precipitous path to get out of Versailles and Remi's clutches, but first she must believe him.

This is a nice companion book to White's Culper Ring series, though not a story I would recommend on its own. I can't wait to read the next book in the set!
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!
 


Kristi Ann Hunter's Hawthorne House series kicks off with this Regency era novella. I've been wanting to check out this author so this was a nice starting point.

Our heroine for this story is Amelia Stalwood, a somewhat quirky young woman who has been largely forgotten by her guardian, left to be raised by the household staff in his seldom-used London home. Amelia, as a result, is much better friends with her own servants and the servants of neighboring homes than any of the gentry who reside in them. One day she's caught fulfilling a maid's duties in a marquis's home, and while she escapes without giving her name, she is quite embarrassed and knows it's a close call.

The marquis is intrigued by this unusual creature who had appeared in his library, and more so when he bumps into her in his garden only days later. How can he discover who she is? Anthony has a past full of regret and shame, and has only recently ventured back to London after spending a few years avoiding the follies which had previously engulfed him there.

Twists and turns bring Amelia and Anthony together again, but the death of Amelia's guardian and the uncertainty of her future leave their budding relationship in question. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of this novella. Amelia seemed like a breath of fresh air and someone I would like to know. However, I felt this went the way of many novellas, with choppy plot movements and insufficient character development. I do plan to read the first full-length book in this series, as many of these defects tend to sort themselves out over the length of a novel, and the author did a good job giving us a glimpse into the Hawthorne family through their friendship with both Amelia and Anthony.
A woman in 1800s garb holding a purse 


This free novella is a prequel to Hedlund's upcoming Orphan Train series, the first of which released last week and I will be reviewing soon. "An Awakened Heart" reads more like an extended prologue than a self-contained story, although it does have a plot and will hold your attention. I would recommend reading it with the next book in hand so you can move straight on into the next part of the story.

Set in 1850s New York City, our story opens with Christine Pendleton having a burden to help women who are trapped by horrid working conditions and tenement living. She has begun attending the outreach services at Centre Street Chapel, but feels that preaching without practical help is not what would best serve these women. While Christine has resigned herself to spinsterhood, she is grateful to have enough wealth to not be worried about her own living, and is ready to find a way to use her money for the improvement of her community.

Minister Guy Bedell has never met anyone who is as passionate about real, practical reform as the soft-spoken Christine. As he catches her vision and desires to help those who are poverty-stricken, he realizes that his benefactors, the Ladies Home Missionary Society, may think her views too radical. He may have to choose between employment and following God's call.

Woven alongside Christine's story is that of Elise Neumann, a teenager who finds herself responsible for her younger sisters after the death of their parents. Although she works all day sewing, she cannot bring in enough to support all of them. Refusing to accept prostitution as a way to pay the rent, Elise is desperate but determined. While her path crosses with Christine's almost randomly, it soon becomes clear that Miss Pendleton's help may be exactly what is needed for the Neumann sisters.

I am looking forward to seeing this story continue in "With You Always."
A woman in 1800s dress holding a hammer


Katie Ellen likes to keep things orderly and within her control. One thing she can't control - Josiah Huckabee and his strange behavior towards her. Once she thought he must have been sweet on her, but ever since their kiss at the church picnic two years ago he's seemed distant and skittish. A series of Ozark mountain gully washers leaves Katie Ellen stranded while her parents are out of town, but she's not alone. Josiah managed to be on her side of the creek before the bridge washed out, as well as a stranger whose intentions are quite questionable.

Determined that no one is going to hurt Katie Ellen, Josiah tells the stranger that she's his wife. He wants to make her his wife pretty soon anyway, even if she is contrary and stubborn as all get out. Can they manage to keep up the charade of being married long enough for the stranger to be on his way? 

This novella is short and amusing, though I wouldn't say it's the author's best work. It's a fun premise, and it's nice to read Josiah's story after having gotten to know him in the Ozark Mountain Romance series. Those are novels I'd recommend for fans of funny historical fiction.



"Right Where We Belong" is a collection of novellas set in the authors' favorite fictional towns. As a huge fan of Melissa Tagg and her stories set in Maple Valley, I've been waiting for this release for several months. Here's a brief look at each of the tales in this compilation.

A Langhorne Romance by Deborah Raney.
Lily runs a bakery out of her house and begins finding reason to order supplies more frequently when she meets her handsome new delivery driver. This story contained every reason I typically don't read novellas. I know novellas are by nature shorter and therefore you will lose some things that you could develop more in a full-length book, but I do like some believability and depth to be present. I will say that while I didn't like the story, at least it was written well. 2 stars

A Maple Valley Romance by Melissa Tagg.
If you've read Melissa's Walker Family Series, you know about Megan, the barista and single mom who is friends with the Walkers. Megan meets Eric, the owner of the local halfway house, and he begins helping her with some renovation projects. Things become complicated when the father of Megan's little girl comes on the scene, finding out about his daughter and threatening to take her away from Megan. The theme of this story is the question "Can people change?," and it's one Megan and Eric grapple with in several different strained relationships. I loved getting to see parts of Maple Valley we'd never seen before! Looking forward to final Walker Family novel coming out in August! 4 stars

A Sweethaven Romance by Courtney Walsh.
Within the first pages of this story I was struck by how well Courtney Walsh writes small towns! All the characters were distinct and so much fun, no matter if they appeared in one scene or several. This was my first trip to Sweethaven but I might have to go back and read the previous books. Our heroine is Eleanor, the director of the Historical Society, who is on the verge of a momentous Founder's Day festival that will include the unveiling of the time capsule buried in Sweethaven by the original settlers. But when the time capsule turns up something unexpected - a mystery that can only be solved with the help of town bad boy Jason Holloway - Eleanor knows she'll face extreme disapprobation if she chooses to unravel the clues. The most surprising find may be that Jason doesn't deserve his reputation! 3 stars
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!



Katie is in love with Micah, but when he unexpectedly and very publicly proposes marriage to her when she's just met his extended family, she has no choice but to say no. And it's Christmas week at his grandparents' rural Minnesota homestead, so it's not like she can just catch the next flight home to Florida. There's no way she can accept Micah's proposal until she can talk through the reasons she said no, but privacy is hard to come by with Micah's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins filling every nook and cranny of the cottage.

In disbelief that the Binder family is still being so amazing and welcoming to her even though she may have broken Micah's heart, Katie tries her best to walk the tightrope of forming relationships while not letting herself get too close. It's hard, though. The Binders are so full of love and commitment and making the most of every moment - if she believed she could make a marriage last, this would definitely be the family she'd want to marry into.

As Christmas draws closer, there are surprises of both the happy and not-so-happy variety headed to the Binder farm. For this family who tries to celebrate each holiday as if it might be the last, what if it really is the last for one of their members? Sentiment threatens to become reality and leaves everyone scrambling.

This novella captured me from the opening page. Anyone who has a large extended family will enjoy the scenes of a packed home and family togetherness -- including waiting in line for the bathroom and sleeping anywhere you can find space to fit an air mattress. Those are all-too-familiar sights for some of us! Katie's emotional dilemma kept me reading more to find out when she and Micah would talk and if they could work things out. Through the ups and downs of this unforgettable holiday, love will see this family through - the same endless Love that will always be there for each one of us. Cynthia Ruchti weaves a sweet tale about family, faith, and finding yourself.



Christmas can't be relaxing when you're trying to ratchet your career up to the next level. Interior designer Alexis Blake is competing for her own show on the Home Project Network, and the last step is a Christmas-themed home renovation. If she can beat out the other two finalists she'll achieve her dream. She knows things won't be easy, but she arrives on location near Door County, Wisconsin, to find that the homeowner doesn't want to cooperate and her videographer has sustained an injury that will sideline him from the project. This is not a promising start.

Elsie has lived many years in the fieldstone home which her father built. She's not happy that her neighbor submitted her house for the Restoring Christmas project, and she's very set on having her say in making sure Alexis doesn't change too much. She's also prone to taking mysterious trips and will shut down any conversation that broaches the subject of family. She begins to regret her begrudging consent to allow Alexis and the crew into her personal space.

While respected videographer George Langley can't be a part of the special, he insists his son Gabe is more than capable of stepping in. Alexis isn't convinced, but Gabe is larger than life with his optimism and generosity. As he sweeps away her objections and finds unusual solutions to plaguing problems, Alexis agrees to let him in on the project, but can't help wondering what's behind all the charm and personality.

While Elsie's house is under construction, so are the hearts of all those working on it. Gabe is dealing with his first Christmas since his mother's death. Alexis feels the stress and pressure of meeting deadlines and having everything turn out the picture-perfect way she's envisioned it - while meeting resistance from Elsie at every turn. Elsie's shrouded past and sensitivity to change keeps everyone guessing and on edge as to what she'll object to next.

In a story about the true meaning of Christmas and learning to listen to one another, Cynthia Ruchti has crafted a heartwarming novella that will leave you sighing with contentment. I'd highly recommend this for all readers, and especially if you enjoy shows like Fixer Upper. This story introduced me to the song Still, Still, Still, which I have a feeling will be a regular feature on my holiday playlist this year. Are you ready to have your own heart examined before we reach the height of this busy season? Check out "Restoring Christmas" and let the message soak into your spirit.

Thank you to the author for my copy of the novella. All opinions in this review are my own.



"The Incense Road" is a collection of novellas by Tracy Higley that follows the trek of the magi as they leave their Parthian home and seek the newborn King of the Jews. At first they are a large group of traders, soldiers, and scholars, each with their own motivation for the journey.

In the first novella, "Star of Wonder," we meet Misha, son of the main character from Higley's previous book, The Queen's Handmaid. Misha is a first-level mage who is sure he can find shortcuts to get what he wants in life. He heads towards to the ancient country of Judea planning to steal a Jewish artifact called the Nehushtan for the gain of his own family and to keep it from the evil clutches of the sorcerer Zahir. Misha's best friend Reza, a soldier who is also possibly the rightful heir of the Persian throne, is leading the band of guards on who are accompanying the various sects of scholars on the trip. Another first-level mage, Kamillah, is of Egyptian heritage and has captured the interest of Misha, Reza, and Zahir as well. She is seeking freedom, truth, and a way to return home to Egypt.

Each of these main characters feels the pressure of the heavens. The star announcing the arrival of a World Savior calls to them in a way they've never felt before. They are aware of a spiritual battle over their journey but they don't know if the heavenly forces fight for them or against them. Misha and Zahir are focused on finding the Nehushtan, while Reza and his soldiers plot to bring Persia out from under Parthia's rule upon their return home.

Things become unpredictable when they reach Judea and each must decide where their loyalty lies. Through battle, imprisonment, and the continuous call of the star they will be forced to examine their motives and goals. Who will remain standing to lay their treasures at the feet of Jesus?

I enjoyed this story, especially the final novella "Royal Beauty." I would recommend reading The Queen's Handmaid before The Incense Road, as it gives rich backstory to the characters and setting. I teared up at the heart-responses of those who met the young Messiah, having their fears stilled and faith affirmed by the One True God's own small Son. This book does deal quite a bit with spiritual warfare so if that makes you uneasy you should probably pass on this one. Otherwise it is a fascinating look into what the magi might have faced on their holy quest.

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