2016 Favourites

some-kind-of-courageSome Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
Genre: Middle Grade
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: January 26, 2016

Synopsis: Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony–fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her.
Joseph can sure enough get her back, though. The odds are stacked against him, but he isn’t about to give up. He will face down deadly animals, dangerous men, and the fury of nature itself on his quest to be reunited with the only family he has left.
Because Joseph Johnson may have lost just about everything; but he hasn’t lost hope. And he hasn’t lost the fire in his belly that says he’s getting his Sarah back–no matter what.

Laura’s Thoughts: This book spoke to my inner child. It took me back to when I was horse crazy and gave me the nostalgic feeling that adventure waits outside my front door. The main character, Joseph, is courageous and compassionate. He makes a unlikely friend on his journey and together they form a bond that will have you rooting for their success till the end.

MiriamMiriam by Mesu Andrews
Genre: Biblical Fiction
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Publication Date: March 15, 2016

Synopsis: The Hebrews call me prophetess, the Egyptians a seer.
But I am neither. I am simply a watcher of Israel
and the messenger of El Shaddai.
When He speaks to me in dreams, I interpret. When He whispers a melody, I sing.
At eighty-six, Miriam had devoted her entire life to loving El Shaddai and serving His people as both midwife and messenger. Yet when her brother Moses returns to Egypt from exile, he brings a disruptive message. God has a new name – Yahweh – and has declared a radical deliverance for the Israelites.
Miriam and her beloved family face an impossible choice: cling to familiar bondage or embrace uncharted freedom at an unimaginable cost. Even if the Hebrews survive the plagues set to turn the Nile to blood and unleash a maelstrom of frogs and locusts, can they weather the resulting fury of the Pharaoh?
Enter an exotic land where a cruel Pharaoh reigns, pagan priests wield black arts, and the Israelites cry out to a God they only think they know.

Melissa’s Thoughts: This is a gorgeous story that captures not only the despair and oppressive fear of slavery, but also the depths of God’s love and vengeance. The book brings to life historical figures and intimately connects them with the reader, showing how their journey isn’t that much different than our own. Miriam is a wonderful book that highlights not only Pharaoh’s stubbornness, but the burgeoning faith of the Israelites.

Song of SilenceSong of Silence by Cynthia Ruchti
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication Date: April 5, 2016

Synopsis: Lucy and Charlie Tuttle agree on one thing: they’re committed to each other for life. Trouble is, neither of them expected life to look like this. While Charlie retired early, Lucy is devoted to a long-term career . . . until the day she has no choice.
Forced to retire from her position as music educator in a small Midwestern K-8 school, Lucy can only watch helplessly as the program her father started years ago disintegrates before her eyes. As the music fades and a chasm separates her from the passion of her heart, Lucy wonders if her faith’s song has gone silent, too. The musical score of her life seems to be missing all the notes.
When a simple misstep threatens to silence Lucy forever, a young boy and his soundless mother change the way she sees–and hears–everything.

Carrie’s Thoughts: One of the things I enjoy so much about Cynthia Ruchti’s books – including Song of Silence – is her writing voice. It’s graciously down to earth with a dry wit that has me grinning even through tears, laughing even around the lump in my throat, and always always unable to put down the story until I’ve savored every word.

A Flight of ArrowsA Flight of Arrows by Lori Benton
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Publication Date: April 19, 2016

Synopsis: Twenty years past, in 1757, a young Redcoat, Reginald Aubrey stole a newborn boy—the lighter-skinned of Oneida twins— during the devastating fall of Fort William Henry and raised him as his own.
No one connected to Reginald escaped unscathed from this crime. Not his adopted daughter Anna. Not Stone Thrower, the Native American father determined to get his son back. Not Two Hawks, William’s twin brother separated since birth, living in the shadow of his absence and hoping to build a future with Anna. Nor Lydia, who longs for Reginald to be free from his self-imposed emotional prison and embrace God’s forgiveness— and her love.
Now William, whose identity has been shattered after discovering the truth of his birth, hides in the ranks of an increasingly aggressive British army. The Redcoats prepare to attack frontier New York and the Continentals, aided by Oneida warriors including Two Hawks, rally to defend it. As the Revolutionary War penetrates the Mohawk Valley, two families separated by culture, united by love and faith, must find a way to reclaim the son marching toward them in the ranks of their enemies.

Melissa’s Thoughts: I am in awe of Lori’s writing. This is not an easy book by any means. There is a large quantity of historical information to sort through, settings for both the Americans and the Oneidas, cultural details, battles, and much more, just to bring the reader into 1777 colonial America. Lori does an excellent job of paring down and incorporating a healthy amount of historical information without overwhelming the reader. Her balance is spot on.

closeClose to You by Kara Isaac
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Howard
Publication Date: April 26, 2016

Synopsis: A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.
Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.
Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.
When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?

Rachel’s Thoughts: From the moment that Allie called Jackson out for his poor coffee taste and ordered him a flat white (my drink of choice—why hasn’t it become more popular in the US? You guys are missing out!) I knew that I was going to like this book. Kara Isaac’s voice is a wonderfully refreshing addition to the genre, and while the trope of the rich guy whose girlfriend ran off with his money/business ideas has been done before, having the heroine dressed as a Hobbit tour guide for most of the novel definitely mixed things up a little.

Megan’s Thoughts: This story contained qualifications to secure a spot on my keeper list: humor, romance, a happily-ever-after, but the Tolkien thread nudged it to become one of my favorite reads of this year. Not because I’m a Lord of the Rings fan, but because it gave the story something rememberable. Something that hasn’t been overdone. Something that stayed with me even after I moved on to other books. And for that, I think it was a must read for 2016.

Together at the TableTogether at the Table by Hillary Manton Lodge
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Publication Date: May 3, 2016

Synopsis: Three months ago, Juliette D’Alisa’s world changed.
In a bittersweet series of events, her mother’s health took a turn for the worse. Juliette and her brother opened their restaurant together to rave reviews, but her romance with Memphis immunologist Neil McLaren ended in anger and tears.
As autumn sweeps into the Pacific Northwest, Juliette feels that she’s finally on the cusp of equilibrium. The restaurant continues to thrive, and her family is closer than ever. She and sous-chef Adrien are seeing each other, both in and out of the kitchen. Just when she thinks her world might stop spinning, a trip to the waterfront lands a familiar face into her path.
Rather than dwell on her personal life, Juliette throws herself into work and research. After reading her grandmother’s letters from war-torn Paris, she still wants to know the full story – and she’ll travel across countries and oceans to find it.
But even Juliette can’t outrun the man who stole her heart. As she finally uncovers the truth about her family history, what will it mean for her own chances at lasting love?

Beth’s Thoughts: It’s not often that a contemporary novel is the perfect blend of warmth, realism and romance. Juliette’s story goes beyond being a typical romance or simply being “foodie fiction,” but rather provides readers with a sense that her story will continue on past the pages of this book.

The AllianceThe Alliance by Jolina Petersheim
Genre: Dystopian
Publisher: Tyndale House
Publication Date: June 1, 2016

Synopsis: When Leora Ebersole sees the small plane crash in her Old Order Mennonite community, she has no idea it’s a foreshadowing of things to come. Once the young pilot, Moses Hughes, regains consciousness, they realize his instruments were destroyed by the same power outage that killed the electricity at the community store, where Englischers are stranded with dead cell phones and cars that won’t start.
Moses offers a sobering theory, but no one can know how drastically life is about to change. With the only self-sustaining food supply in the region, the Pacifist community is forced to forge an alliance with the handful of stranded Englischers in an effort to protect not only the food but their very lives.
In the weeks that follow, Leora, Moses, and the community will be tested as never before, requiring them to make decisions they never thought possible. Whom will they help and whom will they turn away? When the community receives news of a new threat, everyone must decide how far they’re willing to go to protect their beliefs and way of life.

Beth’s Thoughts: In The Alliance, Jolina relies on her knowledge of the Mennonite faith, while bringing in the element of societal collapse. I love books that make me question myself, especially when I’m challenged and humbled by the initial direction of my thoughts, and this story definitely did that for me.

courageous-bridesThe Encumbered Bride by Donita Kathleen Paul (in The Courageous Brides Collection)
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Barbour Books
Publication Date: July 1, 2016

Synopsis: Compassionate Heroism Attracts Male Suitors to Nine Spirited Women.
Ride into adventures alongside nine determined women of yesteryear whose acts of compassion and bravery attract male attention. Marcy helps displaced Indians. Emmy tends wounds at Fort Snelling. Ronnie stows away on a cattle drive. Daisy disguises herself as a Pony Express rider. Elinor becomes an abolitionist. Mae tames wild horses. Hannah gets help for accident victims. Lucy’s curiosity unnerves criminals. Kate nurses soldiers on the battlefield. Will real dangers douse the sparks of love?

Megan’s Thoughts: Now, I’m not saying The Courageous Brides as an entire collection made it on my list, but The Encumbered Bride was, hands down, my favorite novella I read this year. And to be quite honest, it took me by surprise. Especially since the injured hero couldn’t even see what was going on during the first portion, but that never hindered the story. A big deal breaker on a book for me can be how kids are portrayed. Are their actions, words, thoughts believable? But props to Ms. Paul, each orphaned child was not only unique, but was written like they were actual real-life children. The humor. The sweetness. The ahh-factor makes this novella a total keeper for sure.

Rise the DarkRise the Dark by Michael Koryta
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: Little Brown & Co
Publication Date: August 16, 2016

Synopsis: Mark Novak’s greatest mystery may be his own…
Rise the dark. These were the last words written in Lauren Novak’s notebook before she was murdered in a strange Florida village. They’ve never meant anything to the police or to her husband, investigator Markus Novak. Now the man he believes killed her is out of prison, and draws Markus to the place he’s avoided for so long: the lonely road where his wife was shot to death beneath the cypress trees and Spanish moss in a town called Cassadaga.
In Red Lodge, Montana, a senseless act of vandalism shuts the lights off in the town where Sabrina Baldwin is still trying to adjust to a new home and mourning the loss of her brother, who was a high voltage linesman just like her husband, Jay. As the spring’s final snowstorm calls Jay deeper into the mountains, chasing the destruction on the electrical grid, Sabrina is abducted by Garland Webb, the man Markus Novak believes killed his wife. Drawing them all together is a messianic villain who understands that you can never outpace your past. You can only rise against the future.

Melissa’s Thoughts: In most of Michael’s books, the setting is a character in and of itself. Whether it’s the mountains, a big cat refuge, or a cave, the setting is a living, breathing character. In this book, it isn’t just the location, but electricity as well. Without weighing the book down, there are some immersive details that helps the reader catch a glimpse of how electricity flows and how the electrical grid operates. As the story approaches its climax, what starts as a minor part of the story, becomes a live component, resulting in tense moments and strong suspense.

newtonNewton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace by Jody Hedlund
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Publication Date: September 20, 2016

Synopsis: Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Now remembered as the author of the world s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father until the night he hears Polly Catlett s enchanting voice, caroling. He s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.
An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?
Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

Beth’s Thoughts: One thing I have come to adore about Jody’s writing is how she highlights women of history who may otherwise be overlooked or overshadowed by the famous men they loved. In this story, Polly Catlett’s life as a young woman is brought into focus, and although it’s fiction, Jody is respectful of the true events in history. Newton and Polly is an utterly absorbing story that captivated me with superb historical setting and details, as well as a love that came to life. The plot flows effortlessly, the characters endear themselves so quickly, and the emotions of the romance are poignant and realistic. Jody just knows how to pen an engaging, entertaining story.

the-cautious-maidenThe Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Whitaker House
Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Synopsis: Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents’ New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks; but when Violet’s own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries. In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance; Vance Everstone. As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU. With danger stalking her and a new fiance who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust and who to leave behind.

Carrie’s Thoughts: Vance Everstone completely captured my heart. And Dawn Crandall once again reminded me why she is one of my very favorite authors. Her ability to paint an exquisite story shines in The Cautious Maiden, and her talent at writing romance – and REDEMPTION – has never been better displayed.

Megan’s Thoughts: Prior to this summer, I’d never read anything by Ms. Crandall, but I zipped through the entire series in a few weeks. Releases this year seemed to be full of plots that centered on the basic rogue male character who becomes the hero he should have always been. Vance Everstone very much fit those specifications, and for whatever reason, I always liked him. (Even when I probably wasn’t supposed to.) However, what anchored The Cautious Maiden near the top of my 2016 list was how it was written in 1st Person POV. I love that. Wish there was more of it!

where-two-hearts-meetWhere Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: October 18, 2016

Synopsis: In her kitchen at the Red Door Inn, executive chef Caden Holt is calm, collected, and competent. But when her boss asks her to show off their beautiful island to impress a visiting travel writer and save the inn, Caden is forced to face a world much bigger than her kitchen–and a man who makes her wish she was beautiful.
Journalist Adam Jacobs is on a forced sabbatical on Prince Edward Island. He’s also on assignment to uncover a story. Instead he’s falling in love with the island’s red shores and Caden’s sweets.
When Caden discovers Adam isn’t who she thought he was, she realizes that the article he’s writing could do more than ruin the inn’s chances for survival–it might also break her heart.
Readers will discover hope for the hurting, joy for the broken, and romance for the lonely at the enchanting Red Door Inn.

Rachel’s Thoughts: The romance between Caden and Adam is incredibly sweet, but not annoyingly or unrealistically so. They were cautiously adorable, and they’re probably one of my favourite couples from this year’s batch of romance novels—and I read a lot of romances. Although they had their arguments over misunderstandings and withheld information, they resolved them pretty quickly and were, on the whole, a really relatable, lovable couple.

forest-childForest Child by Heather Day Gilbert
Genre: Historical
Publisher: WoodHaven Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2016

Synopsis: Viking warrior. Dauntless leader. Protective mother.
Determined to rise above her rank as the illegitimate “forest child” of Eirik the Red, Freydis launches a second voyage to Vinland to solidify her power and to demand the respect she deserves. She will return home with enough plunder to force her brother, Leif, to sell her the family farm in Greenland.
But nothing can prepare her for the horrors she must confront in Vinland…and nothing can stand in her way when her family is threatened.
In her race to outrun the truths that might destroy her, Freydis ultimately collides with the only enemy she cannot silence—her own heart.
Historically based on the Icelandic Sagas, Forest Child brings the memorable, conflicted persona of Freydis Eiriksdottir to life. This immersive tale is Book Two in the bestselling Vikings of the New World Saga.

Laura’s Thoughts: I have to say I don’t usually gravitate towards historical fiction novels but this one has blown me away. I love the ferocity of the main character Freydis and how vivid the world is. It is so interesting to learn what drives her to make the decisions she does and exciting to see the story unfurl.

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddThe Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: November 1st 2016

Synopsis: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Laura’s Thoughts: I could write a book about why I like this book. It would mostly consist of gibberish and me repeating myself because of how important it is that I get the point across to everyone that this book is GOLD. The characters are so well written and lovable. Yoon pulls off a diverse, humorous, and heartwarming love story that all happens within 24 hours. The ending, oh the ending. It will satisfy even the most picky readers.

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