The Moonman Cometh: A Christmas Story / written and illustration by Casey Frisch. 12.31.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083550

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

The Moonman Cometh is a beautiful Christmas book with a unique illustration style that teaches an important message for all ages: while God grieves with us, he will not always fix everything in precisely the way that we would want—but he will ultimately meet our real needs through Christ’s ultimate gift of Himself. The story focuses on a fatherless child who wants his dad to come back, but the feelings it evokes—of longing and of lack and of frustration—are universal. This is a broken world. The other feeling it evokes at the end, namely that of hope, could be universal if people would accept Christ’s offer.

The Moonman Cometh wraps all these feelings, negative and positive, into a magical story with strong Christian echoes. The Moonman quotes the Bible, specifically incarnation passages; he brings hope from God to that fatherless boy; and he brings snow to a parched Christmas tree farm.

The feelings of the book are, perhaps, a bit clearer than the message. (Who is the Moonman? What exactly did his words mean—“I, the divine being…am your divine becoming”? Why was the absentee father crying as he drove away from his house?) But the introduction by the author makes the message clearer, and discussion questions at the end fill in pieces of authorial intent that are not present in the narrative. Taken together, and with the help of a wise adult reader (a Christian single mother, a grandparent?), this book could be a help and a comfort to many, especially fatherless children at a vulnerable time of year.

Mark L. Ward, Jr.

What Are We Doing Here? Essays / by Marilynne Robinson. 12.26.2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux ISBN 9780374282219

Adult Rating: 4

Marilynne Robinson is a set of self-described identities that are not generally found together: biblicist, Calvinist, mainline Protestant, theological (and all-around) liberal. Her essay collections, including the new What Are We Doing Here?, reflect these interests and proclivities—and likewise build up to something unique: an intellectual who writes about Christianity and the Bible with genuine knowledge of each and with a distinct voice.

Robinson is the author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning Housekeeping as well as several successor novels known for their theological themes, their classic American setting, and their excellent prose. Her essay collections bear all the same features. It was an odd experience for this reviewer to find himself more proud of the good ol’ U.S. of A. after reading certain essays: Robinson is something of a conservative liberal who refuses to throw under the utopian bus the traditions and institutions which made her who she was. Born in a no-name Idaho town during the thick of WWII, she was nonetheless given an education which, quite clearly, rivals that of any wealthy prep school elite.

Given her paradoxical self-descriptions, it is no surprise that some of Robinson’s viewpoints are less persuasive than others. She explicitly affirms “the authority” of the Bible, interprets it carefully and often, and yet feels free to go her own way on several key issues of contemporary import (e.g., she supports gay marriage). From the perspective of Christian theology, this is a weakness in Robinson’s ad hoc essay collection.

But Robinson’s strengths are so strong that, even when the reader does not agree, the reader profits. Her prose style is clear but demanding—in a way that confers respect upon those lucky enough to have the skill, time, and opportunity to read Robinson.

To evangelical Christians this reviewer says: do read Robinson. Read her for her critiques of scientism and Darwinism and materialism; read her for her rich understanding of the tradition of the Puritans both English and American. Read her for her careful insights into Scripture, despite and because of their unexpected source. Stick around for her critiques of various political ideologies. And then just enjoy the sheer pleasure of reading someone who knows how to write.

Just Let Go: A Novel / by Courtney Walsh. (Harbor Pointe, 2) 12.25.2018

Tyndale House ISBN 97814496421524

Adult Rating: 4

Author Courtney Walsh shares another contemporary romance set in Harbor Pointe, Michigan–a lakeside community where people really get to know and care for one another.

In Just Let Go, Quinn Collins buys the local flower shop to fulfill a childhood dream–to show her estranged mother she is capable of running the shop once owned by her. Her mother left town (and Quinn) over 20 years ago. Quinn also wants to win the floral design competition where her mother serves as head judge. Can Quinn let go of her hurt and forgive her mother for leaving?

Meanwhile short-tempered Olympic skier Grady Benson comes to town. After a heated confrontation resulting in property damage, Grady finds himself doing community service at Quinn’s shop. He is inspired by her hard work and determination to reach her goals, which in turn re-ignites his pursuit of Olympic fame. After a tense moment with his family, Grady pushes everyone away, including Quinn. Can Grady forgive himself and move forward?

Walsh pens a sweet small-town romance with main characters who annoy one another without realizing how alike they are. Both want to prove themselves to someone: Quinn to her mother, and Grady to his family. Just Let Go is the story of facing one’s past and finding joy even in the midst of disappointments. Filled with a clean relationship between Grady and Quinn, a very light faith element, and themes of forgiveness and letting go of the past, this story will remind the reader why Harbor Pointe is a place that readers like to visit again and again.

Recommended for public libraries and for high school readers. Fans of Beth Vogt, Liz Johnson, and Denise Hunter will welcome this new book!

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Fatal Trust / by Todd M. Johnson. 12.24.2018

Bethany House Publishers ISBN 9780764212352

Adult Rating: 4

Ian Wells dreamed of a practice in criminal law. His ambitions quickly derailed with the death of his father and a request from his mother. Years later, still running Wells & Hoy Law Office, Ian has nothing to show for his work except mounting bills, a possible lawsuit against the firm, his mother who now has Alzheimer’s, not enough income to cover his pending needs, and dreams that wake him up drenched in sweat.

Then he meets Sean Callahan and is offered the chance to earn more than enough to pay the bills, settle the lawsuit, and take care of his mother, and finally start his criminal law practice. All Ian must do is dig up the past on three possible trust recipients. But as Ian begins to dig up their past he soon realizes that his past is somehow connected. What he discovers could destroy his entire future.

Todd M. Johnson introduces a mysterious web connecting the past, present, and future of his characters in a swiftly spiraling plot full of intrigue. Fatal Trust brings the once mundane legal world of wills and trusts alive with riveting mystery.

Cicely K. Ben, CLJ

King’s War / by Jill Williamson. (The Kinsman Chronicles, 3) 12.21.2018

Bethany House ISBN 9780764218323

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Jill Williamson concludes her epic fantasy series for adult readers, with another volume filled with political and spiritual intrigue.

In King’s War, the growing battle between the Kinsman remnant governed by King Trevn of Armania and their enemies led by Barthel Rogedoth leads to a final conflict between good and evil, in Er’Rets and in the Veil (a shadow realm). The final battle is more dangerous than any can imagine, and allies change sides frequently. As new gifts and powers are discovered, new alliances are made and broken. Will the gifts of Arman be able to defeat the armies of enemies? How will the final prophecy be fulfilled?

Williamson produces another well-written volume with complex characters and plot twists. Although it is a lengthy tome (even longer than the previous two volumes!), the multiple points of view are identified by the character’s name at the beginning of each chapter. Originally published as three shorter ebooks–The Reluctant King, A Deliverer Comes, and Warriors of the VeilKing’s War concludes this epic fantasy satisfactorily.

Inspired by the corrupt kings of Israel, Williamson’s series is more appropriate for adults and young adults. Each volume includes a list of the key players, a map, and an author’s note; discussion questions and other supplemental material are available on her website. The Kinsman Chronicles series serves as a prequel to Williamson’s The Blood of Kings trilogy, set 500 years later.

Recommended for high school libraries, as well as adult fiction collections in public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles and Related Titles Reviewed by CLJKing’s Folly (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016) and King’s Blood (Apr/May/Jun 2017; from the Blood of Kings trilogy–By Darkness Hid (October 2010), To Darkness Fled (October 2010), and From Darkness Won (November2011).

Lady Jayne Disappears / by Joanna Davidson Politano. 12.11.2018

Revell ISBN 9780800728755

Adult Rating: 5

Aurelie Harcourt searches for answers in a house filled with secrets in Lady Jayne Disappears.

Upon her father’s death, Aurelie’s Aunt Eudora takes her in. To adjust to her new home at Lynhurst Manor, Aurelie tries to learn the rules of polite society. After all, being raised in a debtor’s prison doesn’t prepare one for life among gentry. But behaving well in public doesn’t stop her from searching for the truth behind her mother’s disappearance, nor does it stop her from writing. Layer by layer Aurelie delves into the secrets surrounding her mother, but even her wild imagination could not prepare her for the truth.

Joanna Davidson Politano weaves a spell-binding tale of mystery and love as she tells the story of Aurelie Harcourt. Mystery shrouds the well-paced plot. The loveable characters discover their flaws as they unpack what it means to love each other. The manor setting and the debtor’s prison both serve as an essential part of the story as they shape the characters and the plot. Politano’s writing is poetic without excessive wordiness, and it breathes life into the characters and setting and adds tension to the plot. Though not at all “preachy,” readers may learn some important lessons along with Aurelie and the rest of her family, one of the most important of which is, “What will be fixed must first be broken.” (p. 376)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Unbreakable / by Sara Ella. (The Unblemished Trilogy, 3) 12.10.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718081058

YA Grade 9 and up Rating: 5

Sara Ella returns with the thrilling conclusion to her Unblemished trilogy, a series that combines elements from fairy tales and fantasy to captivate the reader.

In Unbreakable, Eliyana Ember is the vessel of the Verity (the purest of souls)–only she can destroy the Void. But doing so will cost her everything she holds dear. The seven Reflections are now in danger, as are those dearest to her. She moves from one Reflection to another, seeking to destroy the Void. Both of her suitors–– Kyaphus Rhyen and Joshua David, each with their own secrets–have not given up on their pursuit of Eliyana’s heart. She is torn between memories leading her in one direction and her heart leading her in another.

Ella masterfully creates a realistic fantasy world, a story with a nod to pop culture and literary references. The inner dialogue of the main characters–Eliyana, Ebony, Joshua, and Ky–can confuse the reader if one doesn’t note the character name at the beginning of the chapter. The maps of the Reflections are a nice touch as well as the family tree!

Her Unblemished trilogy shows that there is a chance for lightness and darkness in all of us. Her allegorical story is filled with excellent narratives, engaging characters, and truths–and plenty of plot twists! The relationships are clean, the faith element is a light touch, and the violence is neither graphic nor inappropriate.

Recommended for public and school libraries, for fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings, for young adults and adults alike.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Unblemished and Unraveling (Oct/Nov/Dec 2017).

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match / by Elizabeth Eulberg. 12.7.2018

Bloomsbury USA Children’s ISBN 9781681190549

MS Grades 3-7     Rating: 4

Shelby Holmes is back with her best friend, John Watson, in the sequel to The Great Shelby Holmes, the middle school adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Young readers who love mysteries and mayhem will love Shelby’s story as she races into a new adventure that could change her life—and possibly end John’s.

When the caseload runs low in New York City, this pair of amateur sleuths is itching for a case to crack. Shelby, suspicious of the new teacher, is certain something is wrong—but John isn’t convinced. If Shelby’s hunch is right, though, Mr. Crosby could be in some serious trouble.

As a new case unfolds, Shelby seems to have a new nemesis who is always one step ahead. This anti-sleuth will do anything to beat Shelby, even create an unsolvable mystery. Can NYC’s greatest detective catch her nemesis at the scene of the crime?

While Shelby and John’s first adventure in The Great Shelby Holmes felt like a duplicate of the well-known Sherlock Holmes stories, Elizabeth Eulberg’s The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match feels like a unique story. Eulberg further develops Shelby and John’s personalities separate from Doyle’s original Holmes characters. Eulberg’s school setting allows John to explore middle school issues, like friendship, while listening to what his new classmates say about Shelby. John’s diary-style monologues allow readers to better connect with his character. Younger readers will also appreciate the variety of illustrations throughout the book that help tell the story.

The beginning pace of this second book is slower than the first book’s, which may deter some action-seeking readers. However, readers who can read until the new case surfaces will find all the action and mystery they could want.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Earlier Title Reviewed by CLJThe Great Shelby Holmes (Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr 2017).

Lone Witness / by Rachel Dylan. (Atlanta Justice, 2) 12.4.2018

Bethany House ISBN 9780764219818

Adult Rating: 4

Rachel Dylan pens another legal thriller in her new contemporary romantic suspense series set in Atlanta, featuring female lawyers and challenging circumstances.

In Lone Witness, prosecutor Sophie Dawson is the only eyewitness to a double homicide which occurs when she is in the midst of a corporate fraud case. All of a sudden, Sophie’s customary threatening letters escalate to a drive-by shooting and intentional car accident, putting her life in danger.

Former Atlanta police office Cooper Knight is hired by her father as Sophie’s bodyguard. Can he protect her as Sophie tries to find the truth in both cases? Who is behind the threats–the murder suspect who is also the brother of a gang leader, or the high-level executive trying to protect the company whose employee accused of fraud? Who will go to any length to prevent the truth from coming out?

Dylan returns with another legal thriller that will have the reader on an exhilarating ride as the plot twists and turns. Lone Witness has a solid and realistic faith element, clean romance, and a gripping storyline that will keep the reader guessing until the final plot twist. The relationship builds naturally between Sophie and Cooper, as the two cases Sophie is working on finally go to trial.

Readers will get an inside view of the legal profession, as characters from her first book return as secondary characters in this novel. Dylan creates strong characters who are willing to fight for justice, regardless of the cost to themselves. Her third book, Breach of Trust, will be available in 2019.

Recommended for public libraries, and fans of romantic suspense novels by Dani Pettrey, Irene Hannon, and Lynette Eason, and of legal thrillers by Cara Putman.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJDeadly Proof (Jan/Feb/Mar 2018).

Winning Miss Winthrop / by Carolyn Miller. (Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope, 1) 12.3.2018

Kregel ISBN 9780825445330
Adult Rating: 4
Australian author Carolyn Miller begins another engaging Christian Regency series, sure to delight her fans and Regency fans alike.
In Winning Miss Winthrop, Catherine Winthrop loses her home and social standing following the death of her father and the discovery of his gambling debts. When the new Lord Winthrop turns out to be Jonathan Carlew, her new impoverished life is even more challenging. Both Jonathan and Catherine believe their hearts were broken by the other person. Will the misunderstandings between them ever be resolved? Will they find their way past their shared rejection and painful memories, and back to one another?
Miller writes Regency novels with historical detail, excellent characterization, and clean romance, suitable for adults and older teens. Her characters face financial problems, others’ expectations, and faith issues, allowing the reader to more easily identify with them. The tension in the relationship between Jonathan and Catherine is reminiscent of books by Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen (e.g., Persuasion). Will Jonathan and Catherine find healing, forgiveness, and redemption? Will they find a future together?
Recommended for high school and public libraries. Fans of Julie Klassen, Jane Austen, Sarah E. Ladd, and Regency romances will enjoy this new series. Miller’s fans will enjoy the reappearance of some characters from her first series, Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace.
Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com