This Road We Traveled / by Jane Kirkpatrick. 1.1.2018

Revell ISBN 9780800722333

Adult Rating: 5

When her family decides to head west at the prompting of her adult son, Tabby Brown decides nothing will stop her from going–not her physical disability, her advancing age, or her children who believe she is too frail to make the long, treacherous journey to Oregon. She has survived many hardships in life and she is ready to face this new chapter with the same courage, determined spirit, and faith in God that has always carried her.

Pherne Pringle, Tabby’s daughter, feels her heart is being torn in two as her husband insists on going west, leaving behind all that is familiar and safe, as well as the resting place of their youngest son. Will she learn to find peace in letting go while walking this uncertain road?

Atage 17, the trip to Oregon is full of promise and a small measure of uncertainty for Virgilia Pringle, a blend of her independent grandmother and her cautious mother. Together will these three women have what it takes to survive the journey that lies before them, and if so, the fortitude to start a new life in an untamed land?

In This Road We Traveled, Jane Kirkpatrick uses the liberty and entertainment of fiction combined with true events and real people to capture the very essence of the pioneering spirit that drove men and women to carve out new roads and new lives to settle the West. Kirkpatrick’s thorough research and vivid descriptions allow readers to see the sights of the wild prairie and hear the creaking wagons and playful voices of children making their way across the Oregon Trail. Full of suspense, romance, and danger, the plot holds everything necessary for a grand adventure. However, it is the main characters, their growth, and wisdom that leave a lasting impression about the journey of life, which is always full of goodbyes and new beginnings, joys and sorrows, and holding on and letting go. The overarching theme is that life is constantly moving; one can either run from this reality or embrace it in faith and live fully.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Jada Jones series / Kelly Starling Lyons 12.29.2017

Rock Star, / Kelly Starling Lyons (Jada Jones, 1)

Penguin Workshop ISBN 9780448487519

Class Act / Kelly Starling Lyons (Jada Jones, 2)

Penguin Workshop ISBN 9780451534279

INT Grades 1-3 Rating: 4

Author Kelly Starling Lyons kicks off a new realistic fiction series for young readers, featuring fourth grader Jada Jones.

In Rock Star, Jada Jones misses her best friend Mari who moved away that summer. When her teacher assigns a group project on rocks and minerals, she is thrilled because rocks are her passion. But finding friends to work with who understand her can be a challenge. Will she rock the assignment and make new friends in the process?

In Class Act, Jada is back with another school story–this time she is running for student council! Being a candidate is challenging when others pressure her to make promises she can’t keep. The last straw is a rumor spread about her fear of public speaking. Who can she trust? Will she lose friends as a result of the election?

Lyons creates a likeable character in Jada Jones. She hits just the right note of spunk without being sassy to adults, and just the right note of vulnerability without being weak. Jada is an African-American fourth grader who appeals to young readers. She has her struggles but her stories promote good values such as believe in yourself, say no to drama, and try to fix your mistakes. Most of all, her stories show that to have a friend, one must be a friend.

Lyons’ books are delightfully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton in these easy-to-read chapter books. Readers in first through third grades will enjoy meeting Jada and her friends!

Recommended for school and public libraries. Fans of “Katie Woo” and “Ivy and Bean” will welcome this new series.

Carol R. Gehringer,

Hometown Girl / by Courtney Walsh. 12.28.2017

Waterfall Press ISBN 9781542045636

Adult Rating: 4

Courtney Walsh pens a contemporary romance with a mystery set in a small Midwestern hometown.

In Hometown Girl, Beth Whitaker dreamed of leaving her hometown behind and doing big things in the big city. A mistake in judgement caused her to return home. There she maked another mistake that may have contributed her father’s recent death. Beth doesn’t know what to do with her life anymore. Her sister Molly impulsively buys the fallen-down Fairwind Farm, and now Beth feels trapped.

Meanwhile Drew Barlow spent years trying to forget a tragedy that happened at the Farm when he was a young boy. When the farm’s owner dies and the sisters purchase the Farm, Drew decides to make peace with his past there. Can Drew and Beth restore the farm and make it a viable business? Can they solve an old mystery surrounding the tragedy Drew witnessed?

Walsh excels at her character development, creating individuals the reader can sympathize with and cheer on in their endeavors. Beth and Drew get caught up in Molly’s renovation plans for Fairwind. God gives both of them a second chance at letting go of past mistakes, finding healing and forgiveness. Hometown Girl is a story of redemption, second chances, and finding love and one’s life work, even in the face of repeated failures. Walsh does a good job of weaving the mystery and unraveling it, layer by layer, as the story unfolds.

Recommended for readers who want more than just a romance, the mystery element is handled well and is revealed slowly.

Carol R. Gehringer,

Glimmer Girls series / by Natalie Grant. 12.20.2017

London Art Chase / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 1)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752653

A Dolphin Wish / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 2)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752530

Miracle in Music City / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 3)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752509

Light Up New York / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 4)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752745

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Musician Natalie Grant pens her Glimmer Girls series for young girls, featuring the adventures of twins Mia and Maddie and their little sister Lulu.

In London Art Chase, the Glimmer girls travel to London to watch their singer mom, Gloria Glimmer, perform at a concert. During their sightseeing at the National Gallery, they stumble upon a mystery–a stolen painting. Maddie and her sisters track the clues throughout London to recover the stolen artwork.

In A Dolphin Wish, the Glimmer family is in San Diego. When they visit a nearby water park, the girls overhear animal workers discussing the problem of animals not staying in their habitats. The girls revisit the sea park to look for clues. Mia leads the adventure to keep the animals safe.

In Miracle in Music City, singer Gloria Glimmer wants her daughters to think of othersneeds. She gets them involved in an annual benefit and auction. The girls are involved in more than just raising money–they have another mystery to solve!

In Light Up New York, the Glimmer family is sightseeing while in New York for a benefit concert. As usual, the girls stumble across another mystery, and deal with sibling rivalry and random acts of kindness.

Grant pens a delightful series for young readers with a family similar to her own (she has twins and a younger daughter). The faith element is very evident, yet it is not preachy. The family prays together and tries to treat one another with kindness. The family motto is: “Glimmer Girls, Sparkle & Shine, But most of all, Be kind.” In each book, the girls investigate a mystery they stumble across. Together they learn lessons about being good friends, telling the truth, and following their instincts. The characters are appealing, the dialogue is genuine, and the storytelling is lively.

Recommended for school and church libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Alliance / by Jolina Petersheim. 12.19.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402219

YA (Adult) Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

When an airplane crashes in the field near her house, Leora rushes out to help, hoping for survivors. Together with a few of the local men, they pull a lone pilot out of the wreckage and carry him into Leora’s house. When he comes to, Moses, the pilot, reveals that an EMP–an electromagnetic pulse–knocked his plane out of the sky. An EMP, he explains, is a special warhead that wipes out technology, taking out the power grid and everything that relies on a computer, such as supermarkets. Moses, an Englischer outsider, must persuade the peaceful community of Montana Mennonites to prepare to defend themselves from the looting and crime that a food shortage will surely bring.

Astounded by the scenario that Moses depicts, the elders stand frozen in unbelief and inactivity. They never carry weapons and would never harm anyone. If they have food, they must share it. But teenage Leora, the sole care-taker of her grandmother, younger brother, and mentally-challenged sister, quickly realizes that she must protect her family. But how far is she willing to go to accomplish that? And where, in a time of crisis, does falling in love fit in?

In The Alliance, a community’s standards and collective beliefs are put to the test, and hardship, hunger, and danger, unveil each person’s strengths and flaws. The story asks the reader to consider the consequences of our dependence on technology and to examine what the need for survival might bring out in each of us. Petersheim asks, ”How does one keep faith and kindness alive while trying to preserve one’s own life?”

The Alliance suggests that we can only face our greatest fears and achieve peace when we surrender our lives to God. To discover whether or not Leora succeeds, the story continues in Petersheim’s next novel, The Divide.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Princess Academy series / by Shannon Hale 12.18.2017

Princess Academy / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 1)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781582349930

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 2)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781599908731

Princess Academy: Forgotten Sisters / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 3)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781619634855

INT Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

Prolific author Shannon Hale pens a series about a teen girl who prepares for life in a palace–but this is not an ordinary fairy tale.

In The Princess Academy, Miri was selected from her mountain village to attend an academy that prepares girls for a life as the prince’s prospective bride. Girls from all over the country are sent to the academy, where they compete to be chosen as the next princess at the end of the year-long process. A harsh headmistress, combined with rigid rules and practices at the academy, push Mira into a leadership role among the girls. Will she be chosen as the next princess? Does she want to be if it means leaving her village behind?

In The Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, Miri returns to the capital for the prince’s wedding. While she is there, Miri attends the school at the Queen’s Castle where she meets new friends who are planning a revolution. She is torn between a new attraction and an old love, as well as her loyalty to the new princess and her belief in the ideas being promoted by her new friends. Miri is offered the choice to study at the university or return to the mountain, to be a lady to the princess or the betrothed of a stone carver. What will she decide?

In The Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, Miri is ordered by the king to start a princess academy for three royal cousins in a faraway place. When she gets there, she finds her students aren’t interested in learning about etiquette, and they know almost nothing about their ancestry. The more time she spends with them, the more she realizes they are a well-guarded secret no one knows about and that those who do know will go to great lengths to keep it that way.

Hale is an excellent storyteller–her characters are well-developed and the plot moves along nicely. This isn’t your typical fairy tale; the happily-ever-after is not guaranteed. Mira grows and matures through the books.

Recommended for school and public libraries. Princess Academy (book 1) was a Newbery Honor nominee, and the sequels are noteworthy as well.

Carol R. Gehringer,

Blind Spot / by Dani Pettrey. (Chesapeake Valor, 3) 12.15.2017

Bethany House ISBN 9780764212963

Adult Rating: 5

Award-winning author Dani Pettrey continues her romantic suspense series set in coastal Maryland, about childhood friends with careers in law enforcement.

In Blind Spot, FBI Agent Declan Grey is chasing down leads to an imminent terrorist attack on US soil. When his investigation takes him to an immigrant community, he calls on Tanner Shaw for assistance. Tanner works with immigrants and refugees, and recently joined the FBI as a crisis counselor. They find themselves fighting the clock to neutralize the threat, even as they recognize the growing attraction between them. Can they stop the terrorists in time?

Pettrey’s series features strong personalities with real problems. Declan, Tanner, and their friends are people with flaws, problems in their past, and consequences in their future caused by the choices they made. The faith element is evident but not preachy: for example, Declan prays for his relationship with Tanner. Their relationship is clean (appropriate for high school readers). Pettrey excels at creating an ensemble of characters the reader cares about. Characters from earlier novels reappear, to the reader’s delight.

In addition to character development, Pettrey also excels in plot development. The plausible plot takes the reader on a thrilling roller-coaster ride until the end with a final plot twist! Blind Spot answers some but not all of the questions–which no doubt will be answered in Dead Drift (book 4), scheduled for July 2018.

Recommended for public libraries. Fans of DiAnn Mills and Irene Hannon will especially enjoy this series. Suspense, romance, and action add up to a thrilling read!

Carol R. Gehringer,
Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by 
CLJCold Shot (Mar/Apr/May/Jun 2016) and Still Life (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).

Pursued / by Lisa Harris. (The Nikki Boyd Files, 3) 12.14.2017

Revell ISBN 9780800724207

Adult Rating: 5

Nikki Boyd just wants to quickly return home from her work trip so she can finally be reunited with her boyfriend, Tyler Grant, who has been overseas for three months. On her flight back to Nashville, Nikki meets Erika Hamilton. Minutes after introducing herself to her seatmate, Nikki’s flight crash lands outside of Nashville. That’s where the critical first 48 hours begin.

There’s no record of Erika Hamilton on that flight to Nashville. Nikki knows she was on the flight–she sat right next to Erika. Now she’s missing and Nikki is asked by the FBI to be a part of the missing persons task force determined to find Erika. Taking on that responsibility means no time to see her family or Tyler, which leaves her distracted. Will Nikki successfully locate Erika before it’s too late? What about all the mystery surrounding the identity of this woman? Shouldn’t it be easy to at least find out who she was before she disappeared?

From beginning to end, this story is packed with action. Within the first few pages, readers are captivated by the characters and the mysterious elements of the plane crash and missing persons case. In true Lisa Harris fashion, Pursued is chock-full of drama and suspense as the story progresses and the plot grows more complex. This is a great read for mystery/thriller lovers. It is a continuation of The Nikki Boyd Files so it is recommended that readers start with the first two books in the series before delving into Pursued.

Dani Seilhamer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Vendetta and Missing (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016).

A Night of Great Joy / by Mary Engelbreit. 12.13.2017

Zonderkidz ISBN 9780310743545

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 4

In A Night of Great Joy, Mary Engelbreit uses her distinct illustrative style combined with simple text to retell the Nativity story for a primary audience. The illustrations depict a children’s Christmas pageant, complete with wooden props, paper stars hanging from string, a red wagon, children dressed in animal costumes, a rocking horse, and stuffed animals. This provides an engaging backdrop for the story of Christ’s birth, one that may inspire its young reader audience to recreate.

From Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay to angels appearing to the shepherds and the wise men following a bright star, the complete story unfolds in color-rich scenes visually mirroring the text, capturing both eyes and ears. The text on each page ranges from one to five sentences, appearing in varying font size with some color to create interest; however, the text does not detract from the full-page illustrations.

A subtle humor is sparingly added as some of the illustrations portray the unscripted actions of a few of the child actors, such as fighting over a stuffed sheep or a young cow falling asleep on stage. Children will enjoy pointing these out, while adults will find this touch of authenticity endearing. Overall, this is a charming rendition of the Christmas story that brings the joy of that wondrous night to life.

Justina McBride, CLJ

A J.B. Collins Novel series / by Joel C. Rosenberg. 12.6.2017

The Third Target / by Joel C. Rosenberg. (A J.B. Collins Novel)

Tyndale House     ISBN 9781414336282

The First Hostage / by Joel C. Rosenberg. (A J.B. Collins Novel)

Tyndale House     ISBN 9781496423283

Without Warning / by Joel C. Rosenberg. (A J.B. Collins Novel)

Tyndale House     ISBN 9781496406200

Adult Rating: 4

Joel C. Rosenberg holds the reader captive as the story of J.B. Collins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, unfolds. His storytelling builds anticipation and suspense, all while delivering the clear messages of salvation through faith, true sacrifice, and redemption.

The reader is first introduced to J.B. Collins in The Third Target. J.B. doesn’t make time for anything else but his stories and the truth until he interviews Abu Khalif, the head of the Muslim terrorist group ISIS. During the interview, J.B.’s suspicions are confirmed:  ISIS has possession of chemical weapons and they intend to use them. After Khalif’s escape from prison, J.B. wants nothing more than to warn the world of the dangers that are sure to come, but now his own life is in danger. Will he disobey the orders of the U.S. government? With the President of the United States about to oversee a peace agreement days from being signed by both Israel and Palestine, there is no time to lose.

The First Hostage picks up where The Third Target ends. Abu Khalif and ISIS will do whatever it takes to establish the global reign of their Islamic messiah, even kidnap the President of the United States and demand the allegiance of the entire nation to the radical Islamic Sharia law. J.B. joins the multinationally-led hunt for the president before time runs out. In so doing, he and his family become targets of the jihadist.

In Without Warning, J.B. realizes that despite his best efforts thousands of lives are lost or put in harm’s way, including those of his family and friends. He joins a classified Mossad Israeli team to find and eliminate Abu Khalif and put an end to the terrorist reign. The independent correspondent has never thought of sacrifice, death, or what happens after, but as he draws closer to eliminating Abu Khalif, J.B. begins to question whether or not he is ready for the end of this life and what sacrifices it will take to save the lives of those he loves.

Rosenberg’s knowledge of current political and geographical regions melds seamlessly with his fictional creations. Although one may question J.B. Collins’ unexpected ability to fight alongside elite trained soldiers from multiple countries, it is quickly set aside for the fast-paced plot and detailed vivid action. The series is recommended with caution, as there are many deaths that take place, from both chemical and military grade weapons. The descriptions, though not in depth, do describe the events in such a way a picture is painted in the mind of the reader.

Cicely K. Ben, CLJ