The Curiosity Keeper / by Sarah Ladd. (A Treasures of Surrey Novel, 1) 4.14.2016

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718011789

Adult Rating: 4

Sarah Ladd, author of the Whispers on the Moors series (see: Christian Library Journal, November/December 2014), kicks off a new nineteenth century historical series.

In The Curiosity Keeper, Camille Iverness lives with her father James in a London curiosity shop filled with unusual items. Camille becomes frightened when James angers some customers by disappearing for days, and customers tell Camille he has been cheating them.

Meanwhile, Jonathan is the village apothecary, caring for his sister since the passing of their mother. His father lost the family heirloom, the Bevoy–a ruby rumored to bless or curse its possessor. When Jonathan tries to locate the ruby in order to restore the family fortune, he traces it to the curiosity shop and its owner, just as Camille and the shop are being attacked. Jonathan rescues Camille and helps her get away.

Ladd writes descriptive narrative with hints of mystery and suspense woven into the plot. The book starts out slowly, as does the relationship between Camille and Jonathan. The historical details enrich the plot but the novel has a gothic feel to it. Her book is plot-driven with plenty of twists as Jonathan and Camille attempt to find the Bevoy. Who is behind the attack? Is it the curse of the ruby or something more sinister? Does Jonathan really care for her or is she a means to finding the ruby?

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries. The new series will appeal to fans of Regency fiction, Julie Klassen, and Jane Austen. Each book includes discussion questions for reading groups. The second book, Dawn at Emberwilde, will be available in May 2016.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear / by Lindsay Mattick. & Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh / by Sally M. Walker. 4.12.2016

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear / by Lindsay Mattick.

Little, Brown & Co. ISBN 9780316324908

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh / by Sally M. Walker.

Henry Holt ISBN 9780805097153

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Two recently published books tell the true story of the American black bear named Winnie and Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian–a story that inspired A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.

Veterinarian Harry Colebourn is on his way to England where he will tend to horses during World War I. En route, the captain rescues a bear cub and names her Winnie, after his Canadian hometown of Winnipeg. After traveling with Colebourn and becoming the mascot of his unit, Winnie is left at the London Zoo when Colebourn prepares to serve in Europe. Later Milne and his son Christopher Robin visit the zoo, forming a strong bond with Winnie, which ultimately inspires the Pooh stories.

Lindsay Mattick tells the story of her great-grandfather’s friendship with Winnie in her book, Finding Winnie. Mattick shares her family’s connection to Winnie by telling a bedtime story for her son Cole. Interjections from Cole are in italicized text sprinkled throughout the book (perhaps patterned after Christopher Robin’s voice interjected in Winnie the Pooh).

Winner of the 2016 Caldecott Award, Finding Winnie’s illustrator Sophie Blackall uses muted colors and rosy-cheeked characters to create a cozy book that readers will enjoy. Its back matter resembles a family album of photos and memorabilia with typed captions below each. Sadly there is not bibliography to document the resources consulted. Still, one knows that Mattick had access to the historical and family documents because of her involvement with the original exhibition in the UK.

Sally Walker’s Winnie is illustrated by Jonathan Voss, using watercolor with pen and ink, giving an old-fashioned feel to the book. Walker’s descriptive text provides the essentials of the story. There are photographs on its end pieces, as well as an author’s note with more information about Harry, American black bears, and A. A. Milne. Sources consulted and links to websites and vintage video are also included.

Although both books are written during World War I, neither focuses on Harry’s military life (no combat illustrations). If one looks closely at Blackall’s illustrations (soldiers being shipped out and soldiers returning), one notices the war injuries on some soldiers.

Both are well-written, but the personal connection makes the Finding Winnie the stronger book from an historical standpoint. Both books pair together nicely and would be welcome additions to libraries and readers of all ages.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

A Life Intercepted / by Charles Martin. 4.11.2016

Center Street ISBN: 9781455554669

Adult Rating: 4

Matthew “The Rocket” Rising seems to have it all—he married his high school sweetheart, Audrey, and is the top-ranked football player in the country as he transitions from playing college ball to joining the NFL. Then one night changes the script of his whole life.

Twelve years later, Matthew is released from prison with only one thing on his mind: finding his wife, who has been in hiding since Matthew entered prison. Playing professional football is not even on Matthew’s radar. He just wants his wife back. However, in the process of finding Audrey, Matthew meets Dee, a talented quarterback who just needs some solid coaching. Dee begs Matthew to help him, but doing so would violate his parole. Will he risk life in prison to help Dee and hopefully win Audrey back in the process?

A Life Intercepted is a story of unrelenting hope and selfless forgiveness. The characters overcome difficult relationship obstacles on the way to forgiveness. This inspirational story makes readers question whether they would be able to choose love over hate if they were ever in such a situation. Charles Martin has done a remarkable job crafting an entertaining story that leads readers to examine their own lives. The picture of hope, love, and forgiveness that Martin paints is simply beautiful.

Dani Seilhamer, CLJ

Firefly Chronicle series / by Tara McClary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins; illustrated by Daniel Fernandez. 4.13.2016

The Knight and the Firefly: A Boy, a Bug, and a Lesson in Bravery / by Tara McClary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins; illustrated by Daniel Fernandez. (Firefly Chronicle series)

B&H Publishing Group ISBN 9781433681196

The Pirate and the Firefly: A Boy, a Bug, and a Lesson in Wisdom / by Tara McClary Reeves and Amanda Jenkins; illustrated by Daniel Fernandez. (Firefly Chronicle series)

B&H Publishing Group ISBN 9781433681202

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: 4

The Knight and the Firefly and The Pirate and the Firefly compose the Firefly Chronicle series, adventure tales that incorporate Scripture into everyday lessons for children. The stories revolve around Oliver and his wise firefly friend, Phineas. The earnest and imaginative Ollie faces his everyday fears and problems with reassurances from his mother and Phineas that God is always loving and present.

In The Knight and the Firefly, “Oliver the Brave” plays wholeheartedly at being a mighty knight…until nighttime comes and his fear of the dark prevents him from getting to sleep. Phineas introduces Psalm 91 to show Oliver that God will protect and shelter him.

In The Pirate and the Firefly, Oliver wants to play pirate with the other kids…until their game involves actual stealing and bullying. Phineas uses Psalm 1 to remind Oliver that he can never go wrong if he has God as his leader and His Word as a treasure map.

The Firefly Chronicle books present situations and biblical messages that are easily relatable to young children. Oliver turns to his mom and faithful friend who are quickly able to offer God’s truths to help him navigate his troubles. The stories are charmingly illustrated by Daniel Fernandez with lots of action and expressive detail. The costumes, props, and intricately drawn outdoor scenes that are part of Oliver’s playacting enhance the clever tone and feel of the text.

Each book concludes with a Parent Connection page offering tips (“remember, read, think, and do”), which reinforce the lessonsand offer a simple related craft.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Once Beyond a Time / by Ann Tatlock. 4.10.2016

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas ISBN 9781941103906

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Ann Tatlock pens a novel that combines elements of time travel, science fiction, and mystery. Set in an old house in the mountains, Tatlock ‘s novel inspires the reader to grasp the “healing power of forgiveness” (back cover).

In Once Beyond a Time, the Crane family moves from Philadelphia to Black Mountain, North Carolina in the aftermath of the father’s extramarital affair. Former pastor Sheldon Crane is offered a job as car salesman. Sheldon’s wife is unwilling to forgive him, and their daughter is angry about the move away from her friends.

Eight-year-old Digger is the only one who is happy. When Digger disappears, they fear he is kidnapped or lost in the mountains. It takes this situation to break through the walls the family has built between themselves, as the Crane family interacts with past and future residents of the house.

Tatlock’s book uses multiple points of view, with each chapter identified by the character who provides the point of view. Once Beyond a Time starts off slowly, and reading the first part was challenging. The pacing picks up in the second half of the book: the characters change as they interact with other characters from other eras. They can’t touch one another but they can see and talk to one another. The time portal helps the reader understand the concept of God being the same yesterday, today, and forever.

A departure from her usual genre, this novel contains her signature rich prose and character development. Tatlock makes the reader think about her characters long after the final chapter is read.

Once Beyond a Time won the 2015 Christy Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Selah Award. Recommended for adult collections in public libraries and church libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Failstate: Nemesis / by John W. Otte. (The Failstate Series, 3) 4.5.2016

Enclave Publishing ISBN 9781621840336

HS     Grades 9-12     Rating: 4

John Otte concludes the adventures of Failstate–his teen superhero–in this sequel to his earlier novels, Failstate (reviewed in Christian Library Journal, June/July 2013) and Failstate: Legends(reviewed in Christian Library Journal, July/August 2014).

In Failstate: Nemesis, Robin Laughlin (aka Failstate) achieves his dream of being a licensed superhero. Robin is respected by his fellow superheroes, feared by criminals, and his relationship with his brother Ben (also a superhero) is good.

But when a family secret is revealed and a warning about Abaddon (a villain) is delivered by Lux, who supposedly died in Failstate’s arms a year ago, it shakes Failstate’s world. As Abaddon brings death and destruction to New Chayton, different but somewhat familiar superheroes appear on the scene. Why are they here? Can Failstate get to the bottom of Lux’s reappearance, the arrival of these new superheroes, as well as discover the truth about his father’s past while he tries to defeat Abaddon?

Otte does an excellent job of creating books with a comic-book feel to them. This novel is more plot-driven and slightly darker than the earlier books; nonetheless, it is full of twists to keep readers on their toes, especially concerning Abaddon.

While there is some violence, none of it is graphic; all of it is expected in a world where superheroes are battling evil villains. With its short chapters, comic-book feel, and mixture of humor, light romance, mystery, and adventure, Failstate: Nemesis–a Christy Award finalist (Young Adult) in 2015–is the perfect read for teens and adults.

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

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

House of Living Stones / by Katie Schuermann. 4.4.2016

Concordia Publishing House ISBN 9780758649454

Adult Rating: 4

House of Living Stones is a charming and heartfelt story revolving around the congregation of a Lutheran church in the small town of Bradbury, Illinois.

Emily Duke is hired by Pastor Michael Fletcher to fill the choir director position at Zion Lutheran Church. In her new job, Emily is faced with the bias of long-term parishioners who are resistant to change, as well as gossip, personality clashes, resentment, underhandedness, meddlesomeness, and misunderstandings. Will she be able to overcome these challenges and gain the respect of the congregation, or will she give up and resign from her position?

Kate Schuermann provides readers with an in-depth look into the effects of social norms on church parishioners living in a small town. There are not only painfully awkward moments in the story but also humorous incidents that give readers an entertaining glimpse into the funny side of church life. The majority of the story takes place during choir rehearsals at the church. The story flows smoothly with rich character development, and multiple storylines are effortlessly woven together.

Latin phrases are scattered throughout the story, and the translations are provided at the end of the book. Discussion questions are also included. The novel reflects both the intricacies and appeal of small town life.

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

A Broken Kind of Beautiful / by Katie Ganshert. 4.1.2016

Waterbrook ISBN 9781601425904

Adult Rating: 4

Ivy Clark is a fashion model, beautiful and poised in front of the camera–if only her beauty were more than skin deep. Ivy feels her brokenness and impurity so deeply, but when it comes to her line of work, only the outward appearance counts. No one really cares about what is going on inside her mind and heart.

Desperately, she agrees to be the new face of her stepmother’s line of bridal gowns, pretty ironic for a girl who is far from pure herself. But her current job is evaporating and she wants to continue in the fashion business, even though working for her stepmother and coming back to South Carolina is a very bitter pill to swallow for a big city girl who thought she had it made on her own.

Her future seems to be partly in the hands of the photographer, Davis Knight. He is an enigma, having given up the kind of fame and notoriety that Ivy has always desired. What is his motivation? What makes him do what he does and act as he acts? She is not used to being treated the way that Davis treats her nor can she understand a man who works in maintenance at his local church, a man whose goals are God-centered yet who is flawed himself.

Almost the entire cast of characters in A Broken Kind of Beautiful seems to challenge everything that Ivy has believed about herself and about the world in general. She has pictured herself as broken and cast aside. Could God view her differently–could he care for her and have a plan for her life?

Readers looking for a more unusual setting for a Christian read might find this setting of super models and the fashion industry an interesting change.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Handy American History Answer Book / by David L. Hudson, Jr., J.D. 3.31.2016

Visible Ink Press ISBN 9781578594719.

HS Grades 10-12 Rating: 5

The Handy American History Answer Book is a supplemental textbook-like tool for students. At the beginning of the book, a complete U.S. history timeline is provided. From there, the book is divided into time periods. Each major U.S. time period is explained thoroughly yet concisely. An additional sports section is included, as well as a music and entertainment portion. Each chapter includes enticing pictures that bring the topics to life. The detailed appendix boasts a states section that gives a brief profile of each state and a section on the presidents. The appendix concludes with the United States Constitution. An index is also provided. Each of these features makes this book thorough and helpful for students.

The detailed information in this Handy Answer Book makes it an ideal supplemental resource for high school and college students. It is helpful for research as well as general reading. The to-the-point writing style makes it both engaging and easily readable. Each topic is presented with a question, such as “Has the Wild West been romanticized in America” (pg. 133)? The information is revealed in answer format. This question-and-answer writing style helps readers feel connected to the content. While this guide is close to being a textbook, the writing style makes it much more interesting than the average textbook. Students and history lovers alike will enjoy this Handy American History Answer Book.

Dani Seilhamer, CLJ

Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo / written and illustrated by Cassandre Maxwell. 3.30.2016

Eerdmans Books ISBN 9780802854322

PRI Grades 1 to 4 Rating: 5

Interesting, colorful, and informational describes Fur, Fins, and Feathers well. Cassandre Maxwell’s biography of the inventor of the modern zoo captivates the young reader while providing much to linger in while at the same time imparting the reality that the happiness of animals is important.

The charming illustrations and engaging endpapers bring to life the story of Abraham Dee Bartlett’s love of animals and how he became “the walking animal encyclopedia.” Maxwell’s softly colored and cut-paper collage illustrations attract attention and make the animals the focal point of these spreads.

As a non-fiction picture book, this has just the right amount of information per page with layout so pleasing that one appreciates use of space and respect for illustrations. The unusual illustrations will capture children’s attention—cover, endpapers, and quotations related to the story along with the colorful artwork. The information about Abraham Dee Bartlett is probably little known, but his life and contributions to the modern zoo are intriguing and will likely enable children to gain new appreciation for zoos.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ