Cry, Heart, But Never Break / by Glenn Ringtved. 8.8.2017

Enchanted Lion Books ISBN 9781592701872

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by award-winning author Glenn Ringtved, uses Death as a character to explain why dying is both inevitable and good. Four children, living with their aging grandmother, must face this reality when Death arrives at their door. One child asks Death why their grandmother must die, and Death responds with a story about two sets of twins, Sorrow and Grief, and Joy and Delight.

Through Death’s narrative, Ringtved suggests that joy and delight cannot fully be appreciated outside of the context of their counterparts, sorrow and grief. He then parallels this with life and death, suggesting that life is not truly itself, and cannot be fully appreciated, without death. The character, Death, speaks the title phrase, “Cry, Heart, but never break,” to the children. This phrase captures the essence of Ringtved’s message: that mourning is good and right, but that death is not entirely or essentially bad.

Charlotte Pardi’s detailed and vivid illustrations help set the tone for Ringtved’s narrative, adding to the reading experience with colors and tones that reflect the mood being depicted. For example, the scenes with Joy and Delight are bright and playful, while scenes regarding Death, Grief, or Sorrow, are gray and subdued.

Though it is often true that good things can be more fully appreciated in the context of their negative counterparts, the author presents a secular view of death and a pragmatic approach to teaching the young about this difficult subject. He suggests that death itself is a part of what makes life meaningful and good.

Elisabeth A. Orr, CLJ

The Returning / by Rachelle Dekker. (A Seer Novel, 3) 8.7.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402295

YA Grades 8-12 Rating: 5

Carrington and Remko are back for the third and final chapter of the Seer series. It has been 20 years since baby Elise was taken, and her mother still hasn’t forgiven herself. While watching her second daughter mature, Carrington blames herself for letting Elise’s kidnapper get away. To cope, she writes letters to her firstborn. Carrington’s heart breaks again as her second child, Kennedy, is chosen as one of the Seven, a group prophesized to risk their lives to retake Authority City. How could the “loving” Father take two children from her?

Kennedy never knew Elise, but now she’s on a mission to find her older sister. If it wasn’t for a friend’s gift of dreams, Kennedy wouldn’t even believe her sister could be alive. Hopefully, the dream is also right that Elise is the key to overcoming brainwashing.

Elise believes she’s always lived in Authority City. Abandoned by her parents and immune to the brainwashing serum, Elise has lived in the care of the President and the Scientist. Dreams of darkness haunt her as the Scientist grows agitated by her presence, but Aaron is always there to show her the light within herself. Can the Seven find Elise before the darkness overtakes her?

Follow the next generation of Seers on their search for Elise and for a way to return the Father’s people home. Each of the Seven will have readers laughing at how closely he resembles his parents.

As with the first two books, elements of torture and evil conspiracy continue. This finale also plays heavily on the idea of demon possession. Because there is more darkness compared to the beginning books in the series, The Returning is also more overtly Christian.

Rachelle Dekker completes this series elegantly. Her writing style and characters have matured, forcing readers to feel a wide range of emotions. This idea, along with twists in the story, makes this novel the perfect conclusion to the Seer series.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJThe Choosing (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016); The Calling (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016).

Circle C Milestones series / by Susan K. Marlow. 8.4.2017

The Last Ride / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Milestones, 3)

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825443695

Courageous Love / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Milestones, 4)

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825443701

YA Rating: 4

Andrea “Andi” Carter is growing up. Now a young lady, she must trade in her overalls for skirts and a side saddle. Thrilled that she is almost done with school for good, she is hopeful that her brother, Chad, will ignore the fact that she’s a girl and increase her responsibilities on the ranch.

In The Last Ride, Andi is paired with her cousin Daniel to teach him how things work on the Circle C. Sounds easy enough, but Daniel is a city-slicker who’d rather gamble and play pranks than work on a ranch or listen to a girl. Alternately rude and charming, he creates one dangerous situation after another. When his antics bring personal heartbreak to Andi, she closes herself off from her family and friends.

In Courageous Love, Andi has settled in to her ranch duties and racing her horse, Shasta. Convinced she is the only one who can work with Shasta, she is not happy when Chad puts wrangler Riley Prescott in charge of training all the horses, including Shasta. When some of her brother’s prize calves die, and the barn catches fire, Andi and Riley must put aside their differences for the sake of the Circle C.

As with books 1 and 2 in the Circle C Milestones series, each story is written in the third person and includes snippets from Andi’s diary, allowing the reader to experience her thoughts and emotions firsthand. Author Susan K. Marlow effectively captures the feelings of a teenage girl who struggles with growing up during a time when women’s options were limited. The series’ characters are further developed in these two sequels, and information about raising cattle and horses in the 1880s is provided through dialogue and description. Messages of faith, forgiveness, and God’s provision are presented in a natural way through characters’ conversations and prayers.

The Last Ride and Courageous Love are well-researched, highly readable fictionalized accounts of the life of a teenager in the Old West. Adults may also enjoy the Circle C Milestones series.

Linda Matchett, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Thick as Thieves and Heartbreak Trail (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).

The Bishop’s Family series / by Suzanne Woods Fisher. 8.3.2017

The Imposter / by Suzanne Woods Fisher. (The Bishop’s Family, 1)

Revell ISBN 9780800723200

The Quieting / by Suzanne Woods Fisher. (The Bishop’s Family, 2)

Revell ISBN 9780800723217

Adult Rating: 5

Sisters Katrina and Abigail Stoltzfus are highlighted in this series about family struggles, hard decisions, and trusting God with life choices in the Amish world. In The Imposter, Katrina sees her future plans and dreams crumble before her, so she eagerly starts on a venture that she believes will take her mind off her broken relationship and give her a new purpose in life. An unwelcome intrusion arrives in the form of a farmhand who seems too good to be true. Katrina has had her trust broken before–she will not allow it to happen again.

In The Quieting, Abigail has been assisting her father in his genealogical research. Although she is definitely interested in the subject of family history, she also hopes her part in it will help dispel the depression her widowed father is experiencing. Her grandmother has different plans for her. Hoping to play matchmaker, Mammi is insisting that Abigail come to Stoney Ridge to take her pick of the many bachelors there.

The Stoltzfus family is facing serious problems in the church and at home. One problem is that everyone in the community expects David, as a minister, to fix things and to fix them fast. But David doesn’t work fast; he waits for God to change hearts. The question on the hearts of many in this Amish district is whether a quieting–the revoking of the ordination of a bishop, minister or deacon–is the answer.

Fisher writes delightful stories of the Amish replete with the customs of this very interesting group of people, drawing the reader into their daily lives and tribulations. The astounding spiritual wisdom of the father is a highlight in both of these books. Very thought-provoking and inspirational and highly recommended.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Noble Servant / by Melanie Dickerson. 8.2.2017

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718026608

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 5

Award-winning author Melanie Dickerson continues her medieval retelling of fairy tales, this time focusing on the Little Goose Girl fairy tale.

In Noble Servant, penniless Lady Magdalen of Mallin travels to meet her future bridegroom, the Duke of Wolfberg. Their marriage will bring her the monies to free her people from poverty. En route to Wolfberg, Magdalen’s maidservant forces her to switch places as part of a conspiracy. While her former maidservant receives the honor due to her, Magdalen is forced to take care of the geese on the Duke’s estate.

While her maidservant poses as Lady Magdalen, she is unaware that the Duke is also an imposter–he is the Duke’s cousin. After being attacked and left for dead, the real Duke has returned incognito, working as a shepherd on his own estate. The real Duke and Magdalen become friends as they uncover a plot against Wolfberg. Together they learn the meaning of sacrifice and true nobility as they adjust to their new stations in life and watch the imposters try to take what isn’t theirs.

As in her earlier books, the faith element is not preachy but clearly evident. Lessons are learned about sacrifice and true nobility. Dickerson’s tales feature wholesome relationships while still building a strong attraction between the main characters, making this a good choice for teen readers. Dickerson is a masterful storyteller with a carefully crafted plot, richly-drawn characters, and detailed setting. The reader is easily pulled into the story. Does everything end happily ever after? Read it and see!

Recommended for young adults and adults who are young at heart.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Life After / by Katie Ganshert. 8.1.2017

Water Brook Press ISBN 9781601429025

Adult (YA) Rating: 5

Katie Ganshert’s novel Life After provides a narrative of brokenness and healing in the context of suffering. Paul Elliott and Autumn Manning, the main characters of the story, must figure out how to continue living after a train bombing turns their lives upside down. Paul loses his wife in the explosion and is left to navigate single father-hood. Autumn, the sole survivor, experiences severe trauma from the explosion itself, as well as emotional turmoil and guilt.

This narrative speaks to the nature of God in suffering. Through the events that bring Paul and Autumn together and the details of each character’s experiences with the incident, Ganshert suggests to the reader that God is still good, though circumstances do not always point to that conclusion. As family members of the victims share their experiences with Autumn, she comes to learn that though God does not promise to answer why some things happen, he does promise to be with His people in every circumstance.

As the story progresses, Paul and Autumn slowly recognize the truth of God’s goodness, allowing them to piece their lives back together. Ganshert uses the discovery of truth as a theme throughout the story. Characters often lean on or learn biblical truths. In addition, Autumn and Paul both learn how important truth is in their own lives. For Autumn, remembering or discovering the truth of past events shapes her view of the present and her ability to move on in her life. Paul, on the other hand, learns that much freedom can be found in even difficult truths.

This book is recommended for older teens and adults. Life After addresses the heavy subjects of death and adultery, though no graphic details are involved. Once again Ganshert has cleverly written an original story with unexpected events and results–a story that touches on raw human emotion and experiences and the arduous process of redemption that God works in the lives of His people.

Elisabeth A. Orr, CLJ

God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe / by J. Warner Wallace. 7.31.2017

David C Cook ISBN 9781434707840

Adult Rating: 4

J. Warner Wallace uses his experience as a cold-case detective to explore the origin of the universe from a unique perspective. God’s Crime Scene follows the format of a court case, beginning with an opening statement, followed by the presentation of evidence and then the closing argument. Wallace discusses whether or not the universe was created by natural means or by the intervention of a Divine Intruder. He applies the same investigative techniques used in solving murder cases to evaluating evidence found at a crime scene. Just as a detective has to look at evidence both “inside” and “outside” the crime scene area to determine motive and intent, Wallace presents evidence from which the “prosecution” argues for the existence of God and His divine intervention in creation, while the “defense” claims that natural forces are behind how the world was created. It is left up to the readers to evaluate the evidence and come to their own conclusion.

Side bars, hand-drawn black-and-white illustrations, personal police investigation stories, and case files provide additional information beneficial for explaining the scientific and philosophical theories behind Wallace’s investigation into whether the universe was designed and brought into existence by God. The side bars include a detective’s approach to solving a cold case and how that relates the question of universe’s origin, qualifications of key witnesses, ways to evaluate evidence, references to pages in the book for further information pertinent to each chapter, and an on-going “suspect” profile. Some of the key witnesses include physicists, philosophers, theologians, and evolutionary biologists.

The book concludes with three sections of case files. The first section gives readers an opportunity to examine detailed explanations of the evidence presented in each chapter that adheres to a more academic way of thinking. The second section provides information not only about whether the expert witness is on the “prosecution” or “defense” side of a case but also the names of books they have written. The third section includes Wallace’s case notes that he put together for his investigation into the creator of the universe.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

Deep Extraction / by DiAnn Mills. (FBI Task Force, 2) 7.28.2017

Tyndale     ISBN 9781496410986

Adult (HS)     Rating: 4

Award-winning author DiAnn Mills continues her contemporary romantic suspense series on FBI agents in the Houston area.

In Deep Extraction, Special Agent Tori Templeton is faced with a professional challenge: her best friend is the FBI’s prime suspect in the murder of her husband, an oil and gas corporation executive. Someone bombed his oil rigs earlier–was his death part of a larger conspiracy? Did someone hack into his pacemaker to cause his death or was it accidental?

Tori is joined by U.S. Marshall Cole Jeffers to investigate the executive’s business and personal affairs to discover the killer’s motives and identity. The closer they get to the truth, the more the killer is intent on silencing them. Will they unravel the mystery before it is too late?

Mills excels in plot development–the story keeps the reader’s attention until the final page. Flawed but realistic characters and a realistic plot with plenty of twists are what readers have come to expect from Mills. The faith element and the romance are present but not the main focus–the main characters are attracted to each other but keep the relationship light until the case is solved. Forgiveness and bitterness are themes in this book. Does one get better or bitter under trying circumstances?

Deep Extraction will appeal to readers who like suspenseful romance and carefully-researched details. Fans of Dee Henderson and Irene Hannon will also enjoy this series. An author note and discussion questions are also included.

Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Deadly Encounter (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016).

The Jesus Experience: Journey Deeper into the Heart of God / by Bill Myers. 7.27.2017

Shiloh Run Press ISBN 9781630589899

Adult Rating: 5

Award-winning author Bill Myers shares his personal journey of how he falls deeply in love with God. The transformation of his walk with God does not happen overnight. After becoming overworked from all of the numerous projects he is doing in trying to please God, Myers comes to realize that he is emulating Martha from the Bible story of Martha and Mary. This is a turning point in his mindset and attitude regarding God and leads to his developing an intimate friendship with God. Meyers discusses three Scriptures that have had a major impact on his relationship with Jesus Christ and are the key elements of his deep, unwavering joy for God.

The Jesus Experience: Journey Deeper into the Heart of God offers practical ways for both recent converts and long-time believers in Jesus Christ to avoid the pitfall of allowing works of service to become the priority in their lives, instead of spending time with God and enjoying His company. The book is written in an easy-to-understand style, and Myers recounts his story with candor, insight, and humor. The anecdotes, personal testimony, Bible verses and passages, inspirational examples of God’s unfailing love, and challenging chapter questions to reflect on at the end of the book makes this an inspiring story for readers to explore their own relationship with God.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

Circle C Stepping Stones series / by Susan K. Marlow. 7.26.2017

Andi Saddles Up / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Stepping Stones, 1)

Kregel ISBN 9780825444302

Andi Under the Big Top / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Stepping Stones, 2)

Kregel ISBN 9780825444319

INT Grades 3-5 Rating: 3

Prolific children’s author Susan Marlow kicks off a new historical fiction series set in the Wild West in the late 1800s.

In Andi Saddles Up, nine-year-old Andi Carter wants to learn to do a trick on her palomino Taffy, but her older brother Chad doesn’t want her to do it. She disobeys her brother and injures herself, preventing her from riding for a month. Andi meets a new friend, Sadie, and they are caught up in a boundary quarrel between Andi’s brother and Sadie’s father. Will their friendship endure despite the fight between their families?

In Andi Under the Big Top, the circus comes to town and nine-year-old Andi can’t wait to see it, especially the bareback rider. She meets a young boy–Henry–selling concessions under the big top. When he tells her that he ran away from home to join the circus, she thinks he has the perfect life! But she learns his life with the circus is not as pleasant as she thinks. Problems develop when Andi wants to help him return home.

Marlow has written three historical fiction series for girls: Circle C Beginnings (ages 6-9), Circle C Stepping Stones (ages 7-10), Circle C Adventures (ages 9-13). She also has a series for boys: Goldtown Adventures (ages 8-12). The Circle C books follow Andrea “Andi” Carter at different ages and are set in California in the 1880s.

The faith element is light but present, and the books focus more on character than plot development. Marlow does a good job of telling the story and keeping young readers engaged. These would be a good addition to a home school library, a church library, or a school library.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com