The House on Foster Hill / by Jaime Jo Wright. 6.4.2019

Bethany ISBN 9780764230288

Adult Rating: 5

Jaime Jo Wright makes her debut with this Gothic dual-story novel, sure to keep the reader turning the pages–and looking over their shoulder.

In The House on Foster Hill, San Diego resident Kaine Prescott is convinced her husband’s death was not an accident. She impulsively buys the house on Foster Hill in her grandfather’s Wisconsin hometown. Imagine her surprise when Kaine realizes her house comes with its own mysterious reputation. Has her husband’s killer followed her or are the strange things happening connected to the house’s history?

Almost a hundred years ago, an unidentified woman is discovered dead on the Foster Hill property. Ivy Thorpe works with Joel Cunningham to seek to discover the truth about her death, but someone is closely guarding that secret. Will they find out the truth before someone silences them?

Wright tackles some hard issues that are unexpected in a gothic-type novel, namely human trafficking. The descriptions are not gory, but the narrative is descriptive. The author does an excellent job of weaving in hope and trust in God, even in evil situations. There is almost a creepiness to what happened in the past, and to the lengths to which someone would go to preserve the legacy of one’s family in covering up the truth.

The relationships between Ivy and Joel, as well as Kaine and Grant, are clean romances. They build solid friendships as they work to uncover the truth of what happened in the house.

Recommended for adult collections. Wright’s second book, The Curse of Misty Wayfair, is also available.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Lacemaker / by Laura Frantz. 6.3.2019

Revell ISBN 9780800726638

Adult Rating: 5

The imminent revolution in America revolutionizes life for Elisabeth Lawson in The Lacemaker. An interrupted letter from the governor’s wife prevents Elisabeth from joining her father, lieutenant governor of Williamsburg, and Williamsburg’s other leaders as they escape danger presented by the rebel patriots. Instead, Elisabeth is left alone with only a couple of servants when drunken patriots ransack her family home. Help for the newly homeless Elisabeth does not come from her fiancé, but from Noble Rynallt, a patriot. Not wanting to abuse the generosity of her benefactor, Elisabeth makes her own way by making lace and mending clothes. When confronted with an accusation of spying, Elisabeth decides she might be useful to a good cause by entering the world of intrigue. Noble, who has fallen in love with Elisabeth, does not like this decision one bit.

Winner of the Catherine Marshall Christian Fiction Award of Excellence (a Christy Award), Laura Frantz brings history to life through her writing. A key location in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War, Williamsburg and its surrounding areas are vital to the story. The plot moves quickly as the changing structure of society sucks all the characters into its vortex. As Elisabeth confronts her new reality, she grows from a compliant daughter of a domineering man and into a compliant daughter of the Lord, willing to work hard and make scary decisions. All the characters are well-written and feel like acquaintances or friends–or enemies. One theme that runs throughout the book is the importance of looking to God at all times, especially in times of trouble.

God hasn’t forgotten us, Isabeau. There’s been no revolution up above, remember.” (p. 115)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Many Sparrows/ by Lori Benton. 5.31.2019

Waterbrook ISBN 9781601429940

Adult Rating: 4

Set in pioneer, pre-revolutionary America, Many Sparrows focuses on Clare Inglesby’s difficult journey. It begins with a husband who haphazardly launches them into the wilderness with dreams of homesteading on newly opened territory. A difficult situation turns impossible though when in the span of 24 hours, Clare is widowed, gives birth to her pre-term baby in the woods, and finds her 4-year-old son has been abducted by Indians. She has every reason to lose hope in a God who allows such things to happen. At her weakest moment, however, she meets Jeremiah Ring who believes he can help her get her son back if she is willing to trust him and to trust God.

Many Sparrows deals with the challenging topic of walking in a relationship with God when difficult things happen. The reader journeys with Clare, and other characters, as they wrestle with trusting God despite how they feel. Intertwined within this intense story is a peek into a tumultuous time in America’s history. With careful research and a basis in real historical events, Denton is able to flesh out her characters in a way that makes them believable and relatable. There is some violence, but it isn’t described in detail.

Tatyana Claytor, CLJ

Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis / by Patti Callahan. 5.28.2019

Thomas Nelson   ISBN 9780310104803

Adult Rating: 5

I knew the story, or so I thought, of the romance between Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, yet was intrigued with this book and read it as though it was all totally new to me. Callahan’s writing is smooth and easily read and brings fresh understanding into the relationship between Davidman and Lewis as well as insights into each of their personalities.

Joy, a woman endeavoring to be her own person in the 50s, a time when that was not easy to say the least, and Lewis, a professor who is a lifelong bachelor living with his brother, begin an improbable correspondence long before they meet in England as Joy begins a time there of rest and recuperation. Their friendship and rapport build, but this bond is not a “fly by night” thing but a relationship that develops over years.

This is a book to be savored and perhaps reread, both for the story and for Callahan’s beautiful writing. Readers who love biographical fiction and/or are fans of C.S. Lewis will enjoy Callahan’s telling of this story, and anyone who has enjoyed or profited from the writings of C.S. Lewis will be intrigued by the romance with his future wife, Joy.

A list of suggested reading is included at the end of the book.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

(Used by the kind permission of the Evangelical Church Library Association)

 

Awakened / by Morgan L. Busse. (The Soul Chronicles, 2) 5.27.2019

Enclave ISBN 9781683700760

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Morgan Busse pens another book in her steampunk series, The Soul Chronicles.

In Awakened, former bounty hunter Stephen Grey rescues Kat Bloodmayne from her mad-scientist father’s lab. But can she outrun the dark power he has awakened that continues to grow and threatens to consume her very soul? Stephen will do everything he can to help Kat overcome the monster within–even though she struggles to forgive him and barely trusts him. Will they find Dr. Latimer, the only person who might be able to save her from the dark power that threatens to consume her very soul?

Busse creates a believable world (Victorian steampunk era) with sky pirates, mad scientists, automatons, bombs, and bounty hunters. Kat battles with the evil within herself and questions the existence of God, while Stephen faces guilt over his earlier betrayal, but slowly comes to accept God’s grace. Both are broken people readers can relate to. Their relationship is a clean romance that overcomes incredible odds.

Although this is the second book in the series, one could read it as a stand-alone. The author has done an excellent job of providing enough backstory to the reader to follow the plot. After their escape, Kat is re-captured by bounty hunters and returned to her father’s lab for additional experimentation. Stephen and Dr. Latimer mount a rescue operation. Will they be able to save her before the monster within overcomes her completely? Will Dr. Latimer’s cure overcome the darkness and at what cost?

Recommended for high school and adult collections. Awakened is a Christy Award 2018 (Visionary) finalist and the 2018 Carol Award winner.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The City of God and the Goal of Creation / by T. Desmond Alexander. 5.24.2019

Crossway ISBN 9781433555749

Adult Rating: 4

T. Desmond Alexander opens the concluding chapter of his book The City of God and the Goal of Creation (in Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series) with this redemptive-historical summary statement: “God’s purpose in creating this world is to establish a resplendent metropolis that will fill the earth, where God will reside in harmony with humans. Progress toward the construction of this city, however, is not straightforward” (163).

In eight chapters, Alexander traces that progress and that construction, drawing together contributions to the theme from both testaments. Alexander is a recognized leader in the field of biblical theology, and this short, workmanlike book shows why: he is skilled in drawing together the entire Bible’s teaching on a given theme. In this case, that theme is the city of God—the one whose builder and maker is God, the one which ends Revelation, the one which God has already begun to establish (it is already and not-yet) in Jerusalem but will one day build to massive size.

Alexander’s book is not about “the city of God” in the Augustinian sense, but rather the more literal sense. Alexander is not so much contrasting the “two kingdoms” (except in a portion of the penultimate chapter, in which he contrasts eschatological Babylon and the New Jerusalem) as focusing on the geographical center of one of those kingdoms. He shows how Zion fulfills God’s plans for creation:

New Jerusalem brings to completion what God intended when he first created the earth.… The situation described in New Jerusalem involves the restoration of [the divine-human] relationship. Only in the garden of Eden and New Jerusalem do God and humanity coexist in perfect harmony. (16–17)

One theme Alexander made more clear for me was the role “the mountain of God” plays in the development of the city of God theme in Scripture. He quotes Gowan helpfully:

By predicting that “the mountain of the house of the Lord” will become “the highest of the mountains,” Isaiah anticipates a time when God’s sovereignty over all the earth will be fully acknowledged by all the nations. As Gowan remarks, “This is a theological, not a topographical, statement.” (45)

Another insight Alexander’s work produced was that it was not an accident that Babylon was God’s tool for conquering Jerusalem and deporting his people away from it. In this key moment in redemptive history—the time when things seem to go backwards—Babel/Babylon shows itself again to be the “prototypical Godless city,” the one that “typifies every proud human enterprise that seeks to exalt the creature over the creator.” (25–26) It is the height of irony that Babylon is chosen to be Jerusalem’s conqueror. But at the same time, it was God who did the choosing.

As always happens in biblical theology books—precisely when they are good and worthwhile—a few of Alexander’s highly educated guesses at thematic connections were more speculative and less persuasive.

The link between Mount Sinai and the portable sanctuary is highly significant; it enables the Israelites symbolically to transport “the mountain of God” to the Promised Land. Consequently, “the tabernacle becomes an important way of carrying the Sinai experience forward during the subsequent wanderings.” (53, quoting Larsson)

But this reviewer wishes for his biblical theologians to err on the side of faith-fueled creativity (Iain Provan is known for this; Alastair Roberts, too). We may find when we reach that City, ruled by its “servant King” (114), that there were more types and hints and significances in the Old Testament than we now perceive.

The New Testament draws some of these connections: Christians are a “spiritual temple”; we are part of a “kingdom.” And we become so by the sacrificial love of that same servant King.

Alexander’s final words are drawn from John Newton. He quotes five full stanzas of Newton’s amazingly perceptive and beautiful “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, Zion City of Our God”—a fitting end to a worshipful, insightful book.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ

A Time to Stand / by Robert Whitlow. 5.21.2019

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718083762

Adult Rating: 4

In the small southern town of Campbellton a white police officer has shot an unarmed black teen. The African American community led by a new pastor begin to shout for justice. Aunt Josie, who used to walk the streets of Campbellton lifting it up in prayer, suffers a stroke that lands her in the hospital. Adisa, a talented young lawyer raised by Aunt Josie, returns to Campbellton to help care for her recovering aunt and takes up a position at a local law firm with one requirement: she must help defend the white police officer.

Following the path she believes the Lord has laid on her heart, Adisa agrees to the terms. She must stand against her African American community and the pastor that she can’t help but like. Can the forgiveness and love that flow from Christ truly heal the hurt and change the hearts of a community divided by hate and anger?

Robert Whitlow portrays the real and true strength of love and forgiveness believers can bestow on the hearts of others and the healing that takes place within all those touched by it. Whitlow beautifully describes the power of submitting our lives and every decision to the Lord in prayer and the blessings that are bestowed on the individual and the community when believers follow where He leads.

Cicely Ben, CLJ

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck / by Bethany Turner. 5.20.2019

Revell ISBN 9780800727666

Adult Rating: 5

Sarah Hollenbeck processes her divorce from her philandering high school sweetheart by writing an extremely provocative book in The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. She never meant to share her book, but when it spills out of her handbag at a writer’s group the ladies help pick up the pages, reading them as they do so. One lady has a connection to a publisher and helps push Sarah to publication. Following three best-selling, explicit books, Sarah’s friend leads her into a relationship with Jesus. Her first day at church as a brand new believer, Sarah literally runs into the new pastor, Ben, and they are instantly attracted to each other. However, controversy and shame threaten to overwhelm Sarah and ruin her hope for the future.

Bethany Turner’s witty and engaging writing reads like a visit with a new best friend or sneaking a peek at a journal. Sarah’s remarkable conversion includes turning from writing shockingly explicit books to a shockingly committed relationship with the Lord. She does have struggles, such as with shame over what she has written, how to move forward with her book contract without defying her conscience, and how to keep a God-honoring physical relationship with her pastor-boyfriend. Her best friend is an excellent mentor, and Ben also helps Sarah through her struggles. The refreshing way Sarah and Ben communicate their desires and seek to honor God and each other by waiting until marriage for sex, as well as the way they establish boundaries for their physical relationship, could serve as guidelines for daters. Through a couple of passionate kisses and their verbal communication, it is clear that they plan to enjoy sex once they are married. The plot, which takes a backseat to the characters up to this point, moves quickly as a congregant threatens to ruin Sarah and Ben. The very valuable lesson that Sarah has to learn is voiced well by her friend Piper. “So when your crazy insecurities start to rise to the top, you rest in the peace and glory of our Lord, and you trust in the love Ben has for you…God has big plans for you – that much is clear.” (p. 227)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

A Dangerous Legacy / by Elizabeth Camden. (Empire State, 1) 5.17.2019

Bethany House ISBN 9780764218811

Adult Rating: 5

Award-winning author Elizabeth Camden pens a new historical fiction series: The Empire State series, set in New York in the early 20th century.

In A Dangerous Legacy, hardworking Lucy Drake works as a telegraph operator at the AP news agency. When the charming Sir Colin Beckwith arrives to work at the British news agency in New York City, sparks fly as Lucy and Colin compete for business. Despite their initial attraction, each knows that nothing more can happen, for Colin must marry for money to fix his family estate back in England. That is his legacy.

Meanwhile, Lucy and her brother Nick are embroiled in a 40-year-old legal battle with their uncle, trying to recover a fortune their uncle cheated their father out of. Lucy and Nick spend their hard-earned money on the lawsuit, even as their uncle deals with them underhandedly. That is their legacy. Will they ever see justice for their inheritance?

Camden writes with vivid historical detail as she tells the story of two rival new agencies competing in this turn of the century world. The historical details are interesting but don’t slow down the book’s development.

While the faith element is extremely light, the values of the main characters are admirable and their relationship is wholesome and clean. The story moves along with its elements of mystery and intrigue weaving their way throughout the story. The intrigue will keep the reader’s attention until the final page and have them eagerly awaiting the next installment. Nick’s story will be told in A Daring Venture, the next book in the series. A Dangerous Legacy was nominated for the 2018 Christy Award (historical romance).

Recommended for historical fiction fans and public library collections.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Man He Never Was / by James. L. Rubart. 5.16.2019

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718099398

Adult Rating: 4

Toren Daniels thinks he’s just missed a workout with a friend when he wakes up. When he realizes he’s in a strange hotel room and the hotel staff inform him he’s been missing and presumed dead for eight months, it turns out that he’s missing a lot more. Not only that, but the titanic rage that lost him his position as an NFL player and drove him away from his family seems to have vanished. Toren starts putting things back together, hoping his wife and children will forgive him for the past. But an old friend with a grudge has returned and Toren’s search for what happened during the mysterious eight months is leading places he never expected.

Rubart doesn’t flinch from showing the visceral anger the main character feels, or from describing the abusive background he comes from and ends up creating for his own family. Ultimately though, there’s nothing gratuitous about the way Rubart describes these scenes of domestic abuse, and he makes it clear throughout the book how terrible abuse is. As hard as it is to describe abuse without giving too many details, it’s equally hard to convincingly describe a character healing and moving past those wounds, and yet Rubart excels in that area as well. Some of the book’s other elements don’t reach the same level, particularly the thriller elements which end up coming across as just a bit too implausible or hard to reconcile with the book’s theological message. However, the book still presents a vivid and even life-changing picture of pain and redemption, which makes it worth reading at least once.

  • G. Connor Salter, CLJ