A Note Yet Unsung / by Tamera Alexander. 1.25.2018

Bethany ISBN 9780764230066

Adult Rating: 5

After ten years studying music in Austria, Rebekah Carrington returns to Nashville, Tennessee in 1871 in A Note Yet Unsung. Following the death of her grandmother, Rebekah’s mother and stepfather claim they can no longer support Rebekah’s study overseas and order her to return. While Rebekah willingly returns to Nashville, she seeks employment and housing because home represents a danger she is unwilling to face. Though her heart’s desire is to play her violin, Maestro Whitcomb refuses to allow a woman in the orchestra. Thankfully Adelicia Cheatham hires Rebekah to tutor her daughter on violin, providing room and board in exchange for doing so. However, if Rebekah is ever to save any money, she needs another job.

Maestro Tate Whitcomb has two secrets he cannot afford to tell, and he desperately needs a friend. He also needs to complete his symphony. Both Rebekah and Tate will need help if they are ever to offer their music to the world.

Tamera Alexander’s third book in the Belmont Mansion series well deserves the 2017 Christy Award for historical romance. Flawed characters triumph as they deal with the blows of life including concerns about health, relationships, and work. The plot moves quickly with unexpected twists and pushes forward with increasing tension. The setting unfolds and completes the process of taking the reader on a journey as the characters walk the streets of 1871 Nashville or travel to the back hill country, as they ride the train or face the gender bias that refused women a place in orchestras, or as homeless orphans wander the streets selling papers or stealing money. As the book comes to a close, Rebekah realizes: “Never could she have orchestrated the events in her life in such a way that this would happen. Only God. The true Master Conductor.” (p. 422)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Long Way Gone / by Charles Martin. 1.24.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718084738

Adult Rating: 5

How is it that the Father draws the prodigal back to Himself? Charles Martin explores this enduring question in Long Way Gone, a story that engages all of a reader’s emotions. As in his other novels, Martin takes the reader deeply into the character’s world–in this case, the musician’s world.

Cooper grows up as the son of a gifted evangelist and guitarist, who teaches Cooper all he knows about music. His dad’s gifts are from the Lord, he believes, and only through giving them away will his heart be satisfied. During a frightening, torrential rain that takes the canvas top off the revival tent, Cooper reveals even greater gifts than his father’s, and the very angels are present to listen. He plays the piano for the crowd, calming fears, but also drawing the attention of sharks who want to sign him to a record label. Misreading his father’s concern that he not be naively taken in for a desire to control him, Cooper steals all their money, his dad’s guitar, and their truck, and takes off for Nashville. Through treachery, he loses all—his success, his fiancée, the songs he wrote for her, his guitar, even his health.

The novel begins in the present time, when after 20 years of living without hope, Cooper is reunited with his love, and begins to consider the possibility of going home. Through flashbacks, the reader learns about his past, his plunge into despair, and how the Lord gradually lifted him up. This isn’t a book one can read without tears; Martin’s storytelling is impeccable, giving life to the prodigal’s story and hammering in the truth that one can always go home. Martin adds an epilogue that describes his intentions for the book and invites the reader, also, to come home to the Lord.

Diane Carver Sekeres, CLJ

The Mark of the King / by Jocelyn Green. 1.23.2018

Bethany ISBN 9780764219061

Adult Rating: 5

French midwife Julianne Chevalier is wrongly imprisoned and branded for murder in Mark of the King. While languishing in prison, Julianne hears reports of potential for exile with the John Law Company who is trying to populate Louisiana with French citizens. Julianne joins the company, seizing not only the opportunity for freedom, but also the chance to find her brother who moved to Louisiana four years earlier. However, she doesn’t realize the price for her freedom is forced marriage and enforced consummation of the marriage. Upon arrival in Louisiana, a flicker of hope for the future ignites in Julianne, only to be snuffed out by multiple tragedies. Some days it seems God’s grace and peace will elude her forever.

Jocelyn Green’s writing well earns its Christy nomination. She masterfully crafts a novel around several true historical events. Staying faithful to history, Green’s book is far from an idealized account of history and includes sometimes gritty and perhaps even gruesome details, though she is not gratuitous in the presentation. The cast of characters is varied, but the main characters grow into their new lives as they accept the past, put it in God’s hands, and attempt to accept His grace as they move into the future. Of course, the opposite is true of the antagonists, who do all they can to thwart good.

The author includes some superb plot twists in a compelling story. The dialogue feels natural and plentiful. The lovely descriptions and Green’s lyrical writing help breathe life into this story of romance and intrigue. The very difficult nature of some of the historical events presented–including the enforced (and observed) sex of the newly married couples, murder, and attempted rape–makes this a book better suited for more mature readers. The theme is best summarized by the following passage: “God owes you nothing, and yet He made you His daughter. You are a child of the King; it is His image you bear. King Louis marked you with judgment, but the King of Kings covers you with grace.” (p. 382)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

When Death Draws Near / by Carrie Stuart Parks. (A Gwen Marcey novel) 1.19.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 978140690472

Adult Rating: 4

In When Death Draws Near Gwen Marcey, a forensic artist, has taken a job in Kentucky under the apathetic eye of Sheriff Clay. Gwen is determined not to focus on the possibility of her cancer returning, how she’ll pay for its treatment, or her daughter’s future education, so she plunges into the job. Regardless of the near hit-and-run or the snake placed in her bed, Gwen is resolved to unravel the thread that ties together a serial rapist, a promising presidential hopeful, mysterious deaths, vanishing witnesses, and an illegal serpent-handling church. Gwen’s faith in answered prayer will be repeatedly tested. Will she hear God’s answer?

Moving at a quick easy pace, Parks allows the reader to sink under a cloud of entertainment, implying a sense of escape while lost in the fictional tale. The coiled labyrinth of motives emerging from characters leaves the longed-for feeling of justice bestowed on the villain overshadowed by unmet expectations.

Cicely K. Ben, CLJ

Earlier Series Title Reviewed:  A Cry from the Dust (Jan/Feb 2016); The Bones Will Speak (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).


Stars in the Grass / by Ann Marie Stewart. 1.18.2018

Barbour Publishing ISBN 9781634099509

Adult Rating: 5

Stars in the Grass is the account of one family’s journey through tragedy, told in the voice of nine-year-old Abby McAndrews, whose eloquence leavens the weightiness of the subject with humor and the wonders of a child’s perspective and resilience.

During the summer of 1970, the McAndrews family enjoys an idyllic vacation by the beach–until Abby’s three-year-old brother Joel is killed in a car accident. The story follows the grief and pain experienced by each family member: Abby’s father, a minister, who cannot return to his pulpit and withdraws even from his own family; her mother, who tries to hold everyone together but eventually reaches a crossroads; her brother, who responds by making poor choices. Abby herself has trouble returning to her former life at school, church and with friends. There is hope in the end, but this book does not gloss over the fact that healing requires the passage of time, the support of family and community, and turning to God even when the reasons He allows suffering are not clear.

Author Ann Marie Stewart gives Abby a poetic voice, and her writing conveys the depth of the characters’ feelings, the nostalgia of an earlier time, and ultimately hope for those going through unspeakable loss.

Angela L. Walsh, CLJ

The Red Door Inn / by Liz Johnson. (Prince Edwards Island Dreams, 1) 1.17.2018

Revell ISBN 9780800724023

Adult Rating: 4

Author Liz Johnson writes a novel set on Prince Edward Island in a new contemporary romance series.

In The Red Door Inn, Marie Carrington flees to Prince Edward Island to hide out from her father’s business dealings. Marie begins working for a bed and breakfast undergoing a renovation. She is hired to decorate the inn while Seth Sloane, nephew of the owner, helps his uncle to restore the inn. Neither Seth nor Marie agree on much, except that the inn must open on time, in just two months. They must find a way to work together. In the process, they might find something they didn’t expect–love.

Johnson pens an endearing story about new beginnings on an island of dreams. Her descriptive detail lets the reader experience the beauty of the island. Seth and Marie are wounded adults. Life has dealt them some hard blows–Seth’s fiancée broke his heart, and Marie’s father wanted to use her to broker a business deal. Yet both of them manage to leave the past behind and find hope in a future on Prince Edward Island. The faith element is light-handed but apparent, as Seth and Marie discover the truth about God’s love and second chances.

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Her One and Only / by Becky Wade. (Porter Family, 4) 1.16.2018

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211102

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Becky Wade returns with the final novel in her Porter Family series, a contemporary romance set in Texas, this one featuring the only daughter in the family.

In Her One and Only, former Marine Dru Porter works as a bodyguard, and her newest client is Gray Fowler, a ruggedly handsome football player. Sparks fly as they get to know one another, even though Dru goes out of her way to avoid a romance with Gray. Determined to find Gray’s stalker, Dru digs into his relationships and his mysterious past for clues to the stalker’s identity.

Wade creates a family of siblings with flaws, genuine emotion, and growing faith. She already excels at character development, creating characters the reader can relate to and care about. Characters from the other Porter Family books continue their story (Meg and Bo Porter have twins after dealing with infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy complications) and readers of the earlier titles will greet them like old friends.

With Her One and Only, Wade weaves suspense into this final book in the Porter Family series. With several plot twists, the stalker’s identity and Gray’s reaction will be a surprise. The book’s overall theme is about letting go, offering forgiveness, and moving on. For example, Gray grew up in an abusive home situation which colors his relationships with others. He cannot have a real relationship until he lets go of the past, and he allows God to lead him through forgiveness and opening up to trust others.

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries; suitable for older teen readers as well. Fans of Susan May Warren’s Christenson Family series will also enjoy this series.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Like A River from Its Course / by Kelli Stuart. 1.15.2018

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825444142

Adult (YA) Rating: 5

Life sometimes takes us to unexpected places that we did not plan, and that we might not be prepared for.

Like A River from Its Course, based on careful research and hundreds of interviews, fictionally recreates the lives of four unconnected people who are thrown off balance and swept away in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II.

Kelli Stuart masterfully captures the voices of her characters to tell the story from each one’s perspective. Ivan puts himself and his loved ones at risk in order to help a Jewish child and endures the consequences that follow. Maria, taken away from her family, tries to return to them, hoping also to find the child she once was, and whom she believes still lives somewhere inside of her. Luda, a young girl, tries to conceal that she has fallen in love with someone she is supposed to hate. Frederick, a German soldier and the son of a highly respected commander, strives to please his father and serve his country, but his disillusion with Nazi ideology lead to a tragic decision.

Like A River From It Course is a remarkable story of how war ravages a person in the core of their being, inflicting a pain that never leaves. “It always leaves a mark, a scar as a reminder that life and love aren’t free. Pain changes everything.” (pg. 27)

Every word matters in this must-read story because Stuart’s own characters, despite their sufferings, provide the answers to how one can go on living after a tragic ordeal. Pain and heartache, they realize, are not unique to any of us and life will go on. More importantly, when one believes, life has meaning and purpose outside of the hardship. The gem to take away from Like A River From Its Course is that no matter what happens, it is God who holds life together.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The NKJV Unapologetic Study Bible: Confidence for Such a Time as This / ed. Emmanuel Kamporis. 1.11.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780310080367

Adult Rating: 3

The NKJV Unapologetic Study Bible: Confidence for Such a Time as This is a fruit of the ministry of the Kairos Journal, a conservative evangelical publication dedicated to making timely application of the Bible to the cultural season in which we find ourselves in the Western world.

This edition features over 200 page-long article inserts drawn from Kairos on multiple topics, all of which are related somehow to the passages of Scripture near which they are inserted. The article inserts are well written and generally careful, though their connections to surrounding passages are not always equally obvious. The articles are not generally expositional: their purpose is not, like many (most?) study Bibles, to explicate the biblical text but to apply it to current issues. Quotations from prominent Christians (both historical and contemporary) also dot the text, including Ambrose of Milan, Frederica Mathewes-Green, John Adams, and Tertullian. Profiles of other prominent Christians are also included, including brief articles on Nell Bridges, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Justin Martyr and Jim Elliot.

The selection of current issues is indeed timely: “Family: Homosexuality and Transgenderism,” “Sanctity of Life: Euthanasia and Suicide,” “Government: Peace and War,” and “Education: Evolution and Intelligent Design” (though readers may wonder how much the Bible has to say specifically about “Economics: Taxation”—and explanatory notes in this study Bible acknowledge that indeed they are looking for principles more than explicit statements).

Brief introductions are provided for Bible books; red letters are provided for Jesus’ speech; a table of monies, weights and measures is provided in the back; a helpful index of all study material is also given.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ

A Stranger at Fellsworth / by Sarah E. Ladd. (A Treasures of Surrey Novel, 3) 1.9.2018

Thomas Nelson     ISBN 9780718011857

Adult     Rating: 4

Sarah Ladd pens the third novel in her 19th century historical series set in the English countryside.

In A Stranger at Fellsworth, Annabelle Thorley is at the mercy of her brother when she is abandoned by her fiancé and must set aside her life in high societybecause of her deceased father’s debts. She runs away to Fellsworth, where her uncle serves as the superintendent. But a life of ease does not await her, for she must work for a living now.

She meets Owen Locke, widowed gamekeeper at Fellsworth. His goal is to keep poachers at bay and earn enough money to purchase land of his own for him and his young daughter. But mysterious strangers, poachers, and other forces threaten his plan and the budding relationship with Annabelle. Will they uncover the person behind the poaching and find a life together?

Ladd writes descriptive narrative with hints of mystery and suspense woven into the plot. As in her earlier novels in this series, the historical details enrich the plot, and the story is plot-driven with plenty of twists. The faith element has a light touch; the relationship between Annabelle and her suitor develops appropriately to the storyline.  Each book includes discussion questions for reading groups.

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries. Older teen readers will find it a clean read. It will appeal to Julie Klassen and Jane Austen fans.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed:  The Curiosity Keeper (Mar/Apr/May/Jun 2016); Dawn at Emberwilde (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016).