Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion / by Jody Hedlund. 4.20.2017

WaterBrook Press ISBN 9781601427625

Adult Rating: 5

Award-winning author Jody Hedlund pens another award-winner with this story of the relationship between Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora.

In Luther and Katharina, Martin Luther is leading the reformation of the Catholic Church and promoting the value of marriage over celibate life. As nuns and monks leave their cloistered life, it awakens in them a desire for marriage and family, even as they are persecuted for leaving their former lives. Noblewoman Katharina von Bora is one of those. She is attracted to Luther who is determined to remain single, despite his growing feelings for Katharina. Both are strong-willed individuals. Could it be God’s will that they support and love one another as husband and wife?

Hedlund showcases their relationship against the backdrop of 16th century Germany, weaving in carefully-researched historical detail with fiction. Katharina is proud and strong-willed, while Luther is plagued by physical ailments and a strong sense of his mission. They become unlikely allies who support one another. Their relationship is clean, even in their expression of physical affection as a married couple.

Their love story is filled with faith and courage in the midst of a turbulent time in church history. Together they face several attempts on Luther’s life, a kidnapping, and spies in their midst. So Luther and Katharina has romance, adventure, history, and more–a little something for everyone!

Recommended for adult readers in public and school libraries due to the torture and violence pervasive in the 16th century. Luther and Katharina won the 2016 Christy Award, and was the 2016 Carol award finalist.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Girl from the Train / by Irma Joubert. 4.19.2017

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780529102379

Adult Rating: 5

Little Gretl must never cry or tell the truth. That’s what her sister and Oma said. Gretl isn’t allowed to tell anyone that she’s a German Jew, especially not in Catholic Poland. With her entire family taken from her, Gretl’s only hope lies with a young Polish rebel named Jakob.

Jakob planted the bomb that killed most of Gretl’s family. How could he have known that an unscheduled train would take those tracks before the Germans? Jakob takes the orphan in, and he knows one thing for sure: she’s not Polish. With the rebellion going on, he has little time to think of his orphan until a serious injury sends him home. He becomes dependent on her, but his family can’t afford another mouth to feed. To give Gretl her best chance, Jakob must send her away with even more lies. Will he ever see Gretl again or will time and war take their reunion from him too?

Beginning with a girl falling off a train, readers are immediately thrown into the action. Even in the slowest moments of the novel, Irma Joubert gives energy and motion to the scenes. All her characters feel real. Each new character introduces new lessons, is chased by their pasts, and begins viewing God in new ways.

This Christy Award Historic Finalist allows readers to walk in the shoes of a curious young refugee and a guilty soldier post-WWII. Gretl and Jakob mature in their narrative and develop new perspectives throughout the story. Readers will love watching these broken humans’ stories intertwine. Experience the heartbreak of a little girl as she tries to force away all the nightmares of her past. Share in her love for language and learning as she begins to heal and embrace her identity as an Afrikaner- and Polish-speaking Jewish-Christian German.

Readers will experience a range of emotions as they delve into the many themes of The Girl from the Train: love, war, learning, deception, family, mourning, and death. This piece of historic fiction focuses on the tensions between religious groups and ethnicities, including stories of the Jewish concentration camps.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Anna’s Healing /by Vanetta Chapman. (Plain and Simple Miracles, 1) 4.18.2017

Harvest House ISBN 9780736956031
Adult Rating: 5

A tornado rips through Cody’s Creek, Oklahoma and changes Anna Schwartz’s life forever. Left partially paralyzed in a wheelchair, Anna has to rely on her friends Chloe Roberts and Jacob Graber and her grandmother Ruth to be the anchors that keep her tethered to her faith and sanity as she comes to grips with her disability.

But it seems that just as she has accepted her situation, Anna is inexplicably and totally healed. Just as she had questions when she was confined to her wheelchair, Anna is now asking why? how? how long will it last? And the notoriety and attention she and her community are receiving is so unwanted, so counter to the teachings of her people, the Amish.

Whether the reader’s believes in miraculous healings or not, Anna’s healing will cause one to consider their beliefs and reflect on this miracle. Was it truly from God? Some wonder if Anna was ever actually paralyzed. The book is very thought-provoking and insightful.

Fans of Amish fiction will be eager to read this first title in Chapman’s new series but will find it is deeper and contains more meat than some Amish fare.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

Secrets She Kept / by Cathy Gohlke. 4.14.2017

Tyndale House ISBN 9781496400802

Adult Rating: 5

Award-winning historical fiction author Cathy Gohlke pens a novel with two parallel stories: one set in Hitler’s Germany (1943-1945), the other in more contemporary times (1973).

In Secrets She Kept, a young woman wants to find out about her estranged mother’s mysterious past after her mother’s death. Hannah Sterling takes a leave from her teaching job to sort through her mother’s house and finds letters that connect her to a grandfather still living in Germany. When Hannah travels to Germany and gets to know her grandfather, she discovers he is hiding secrets of his own.

During the war, Hannah’s grandfather (Lieselotte’s father) planned on marrying his daughter off to advance his career in the Nazi party. But Lieselotte loves another (Lukas), of whom her father disapproves–and she doesn’t know to what extent her father will go to in order to prevent her marriage to Lukas.

The stories are told from Hannah’s and her mother’s viewpoints. The secrets of their past are intertwined. The book is well-researched and rich in historical detail, realistically depicting life in Nazi Germany. Hannah’s grandfather resists disclosing his secrets until he is on his deathbed. The discovery of his secret explains her mother’s past and threatens Hannah’s future. The overall theme of the book is forgiveness, even in the midst of evil. The focus is on family secrets that shape the destiny of future generations.

Secrets She Kept is the 2016 Christy Award Winner and the 2016 Carol Award Winner. A hidden gem in Secrets She Kept is the lesson on forgiveness Hannah learns from a Dutch Christian whose identity is revealed in the final chapter.

Highly recommended for adult collections in public library collections and World War II historical fiction fans.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Five Times I Met Myself : a novel / by James L. Rubart. 4.13.2017

Thomas Nelson     ISBN 9781401686116

Adult Rating: 5

Brock knows life isn’t perfect but hopes that his rut is just a phase. He’s lost the effort behind his relationship with his wife, Karissa; he holds a flame for his high school sweetheart; and he struggles for power against his brother in their father’s coffee company. After dreaming about his late father, Brock digs into his past. Brock takes control of his dreams and talks to his younger self to remember who he was. When Brock wakes, however, his conversations with his past-self changes his present. Brock sees an opportunity to rekindle the flame with his wife and reconnect with his family, but everything goes horribly wrong.

Young Brock is wary of the older man claiming to be him. But everything the man shares is true. He knows too much to not be Brock. But the more he follows Future Brock’s advice, the more Future Brock says goes wrong. How could his life, that’s going so well, suddenly change for the worst?

Journey with Brock as he relives the pivotal moments in his past and tries to create a brighter future–without destroying his life.

The Christy Awards’ Book of the Year and Visionary 2016 winner, The Five Times I Met Myself, is an addictive read. James L. Rubart’s use of sensory detail is impeccable and will weave readers into the book’s pages. While this story begins slowly, readers will be eating up this well-written story by the end. This story adds a new twist on Charles Dickenson’s A Christmas Carol as Brock goes back and forth between the past and the present to see how his actions shape his future.

While this book toys with the fantastic, it realistically depicts how the real struggles of marriage, kinship, crime, and separation destroy a person. It also shows how finding yourself starts with forgiveness and getting right with God.

While some may consider this book preachy, the use of biblical examples and Christian language packs a punch for this book’s message: prayer and surrendering all to God will lead Christians to God’s perfect plan–not always a perfect life.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Falling Like Snowflakes / by Denise Hunter. (Summer Harbor, 1) 4.12.2017

Tyndale House ISBN 9781496400802

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Denise Hunter kicks off a new series set in Summer Harbor, Maine and revolving around the relationships of the Callahan brothers.

In Falling Like Snowflakes, widowed Eden Martelli is on the run with her five-year-old son. Part of the Witness Protection program, they saw the murder of the U.S. marshall who was in charge of their security. When Eden arrives in Summer Harbor with a broken-down car, an expensive repair, and no money, she has no choice but to stay in Summer Harbor for the time being.

Meanwhile Beau Callahan left his sheriff’s job to take over the operations of the family Christmas tree farm after his parents’ death. Beau is facing his first Christmas without them. When Beau’s aunt needs someone to help her while she recuperates after a hospital stay, Beau thinks Eden is the answer to prayer–and Eden needs the job, even if he can’t check her references. When he starts to investigate her background, Eden’s past catches up to her, putting them in danger.

As they get to know one another, they find themselves attracted to one another. Can Beau protect Eden and her son? Will they find a future together as they rebuild trust and let go of their fears?

Hunter is known for her adult inspirational contemporary romances. Falling Like Snowflakes is different from her earlier works with its danger and suspense, while still having romantic tension. The faith element is light but evident.

Falling Like Snowflakes is the first in Hunter’s new series and a Christy 2016 finalist (Contemporary Romance/Suspense). The book includes discussion questions for book clubs.

Recommended for church and public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

To Win Her Favor / by Tamera Alexander. 4.11.2017

Zondervan ISBN 9780310291077

Adult Rating: 5

In To Win Her Favor, Tamera Alexander exposes the ugliness of the bigotry and prejudice prevalent in the post-Civil War South, especially toward freedmen and immigrants. She counters with the unfailing love of God that gently reprimands, lovingly restores, and gives extravagant gifts.

The two main characters are beautifully introduced in the first pages. Maggie is a daughter of the South, living in Nashville in 1869. Her family has suffered the loss of her four brothers and mother, their land is at risk of foreclosure, and her father ill–but Maggie has a plan. She will continue to race the mare she has raised and trained and use the winnings to stave off their creditors. Maggie is naïve and brash, but a good friend and good-hearted, with a rare talent for teaching riding and training horses. Cullen McGrath is an Irish immigrant. He left England to travel to America with his wife and small daughter, both of whom died of pestilence on the journey. He is determined not to repeat the mistakes of his past, and to follow through with his family’s dream. Cullen’s first transaction, to buy a horse, culminates in a fistfight, as a bystander challenges his character. In his search for land, the Lord leads him to Linden Downs, Maggie’s farm. Her father has trusted the Lord throughout his long life, and he uses that confidence in the Lord’s leading to make a deal with Cullen: win Maggie’s favor, take her hand in marriage, and Linden Downs is his.

Alexander’s writing carries the story effortlessly, creating a landscape rich in the scents and sights of the Reconstruction era and a cast that includes a villainous banker, a wealthy patriarch, and a noble freedman, among others. Through the difficulties overcome and the refining of their characters, Cullen and Maggie learn to trust the Lord with their future, as the Lord redeems their pasts through their struggles. The story’s complexity provides abundant storylines for future books with these characters.

Diane Carver Sekeres, CLJ

Rescue Me / by Susan May Warren. (Montana Rescue, Book 2) 4.6.2017

Revell     ISBN 9780800727444

Adult     Rating: 5

Susan May Warren continues her new contemporary romance series set in Montana and featuring park rescue professionals living in a close-knit community.

In Rescue Me, Deputy Sam Brooks is convinced Sierra Rose is perfect for him–she’s practical and organized, and totally opposite to her free-spirit sister, Willow, who has been secretly in love with Sam for years. Willow wants her sister to have a happily-ever-after ending with Sam, despite her own feelings for him. Sam thinks Willow, a volunteer youth leader, is naïve in her faith and her assessment of what the teens in the youth group need.

When circumstances force Sam and Willow to rely on one another for their safety and that of the kids in the youth group, they fight a strong attraction to each other. Will they recognize their feelings and God’s purpose in their lives?

Warren does a superb job of creating a dramatic story of survival in Glacier National Park where the characters fight an angry grizzly bear, a wintry storm, and a car crash on several field trips. Both have a lot to learn about relying on God and appreciating the different ways that God gifts a person. In Rescue Me, one learns that only God can rescue us from ourselves.

Characters from earlier stories make reappearances, and their stories continue to move along, but this is mainly Willow and Sam’s story. Packed with excellent character and plot development, Warren draws vivid word pictures in her stories, with a faith element that is present but not preachy. Action, drama, adventure, flawed individuals, and emotional and spiritual challenges are hallmarks of Warren’s books.

Recommended for public libraries and church libraries. The next book in the series, A Matter of Trust, is due latter this year (2017).

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJWild Montana Skies (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016).

The Wedding Chapel / by Rachel Hauck. 4.4.2017

Zondervan ISBN 9780310341529

Adult Rating: 5

Rachel Hauck, who serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a conference speaker, provides another work that endears her to many. Contributing to an enjoyable reading of The Wedding Chapel is the dual timeline which prompts readers to keep turning the page. This timeline offers a current-day narrative about Taylor and Jack as well as the history of Jimmy and Colette from the 1940-50s. In The Wedding Chapel she enables the reader to see the story from various perspectives as the story alternates between the four main characters.

Readers who enjoyed Hauck’s earlier The Wedding Dress will again note her ability to portray strong characters that relate to real life. The fact that a variety of relationship journeys are explored–e.g., Jimmy and Collette in their teen years and Taylor and Jack’s development from their first meeting–adds interest to the story’s progression. Hauck’s ability to have the complex characters of Taylor and Jack deal with very real issues conveys a message of forgiveness and hope with ease. Some readers will feel like they are on a sort of time-travel because the story moves back and forth from Heart’s Bend, Tennessee in 1948 in the story of Jimmy and Colette’s lost love and then flashes to today where one encounters the contemporary love story of Jack and Taylor’s troubled marriage in New York. The image of the chapel –built as a monument to true love and ultimately an instrument of reconciliation – as holding the heartbeat of God complements the romance of the story.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Hawthorne House series / by Kristi Ann Hunter. 3.30.2017

A Noble Masquerade / by Kristi Ann Hunter. (Hawthorne House, 1)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764214325

An Elegant Façade / by Kristi Ann Hunter. (Hawthorne House, 2)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764218255

Adult Rating: 5

In A Noble Masquerade, Miranda Hawthorne is the epitome of a lady–calm and reserved, showing little emotion. Inwardly, Miranda’s passionate nature threatens to shatter her outward mask, as she struggles with the insecurities of entering her fourth season and jealousy over her younger, spoiled sister. However, she has a secret coping method that would be a complete scandal if ever revealed. Since she was a child, she has been expressing her deepest feelings in letters addressed to the Duke of Marshington, an old friend of her brother’s and someone she has never met. The letters, of course, are never sent, until her brother’s mysterious new valet Marlow finds one and mails it. Miranda panics, certain of her ruination, but much to her shock, the duke writes back. As Miranda and the duke’s correspondence continues, a sinister plot that Marlow seems to be caught up in is unfolding on her brother’s estate and Miranda finds her own life and those she loves in danger.

To high society and her older sister Miranda, Lady Georgina Hawthorne appears confident and perfect, with an air of superiority bordering on snobbery. However, this flawless façade is really a shield, one she has spent years crafting to conceal her disgraceful secret and ensure she makes the match of the year. In An Elegant Façade, the wealthy and begrudgingly handsome but untitled Colin McCrae is a real threat to Georgina’s plans, her secret, and possibly her heart. Will Georgina achieve her lofty ambitions or discover that what she needs is far greater than what she wants?

The “Hawthorne House” series by Kristi Ann Hunter is full of Regency romance, charm, and animated discourse. The first book in the series rightfully earns its honor as a finalist in the 2016 Christy Awards for First Novel by introducing and developing a host of uniquely memorable characters, romantic intrigue, and thrilling mysteries. The main character will instantly charm and endear herself with her inward battles, dry humor, and passion for life. The second book naturally builds upon the first by advancing the plot of two of the formerly supporting characters, revealing a surprising insight that turns a spoiled, unlikeable younger sister into a heroine that readers will grow to love and sympathize with. Each romance holds its own sweetness and heartache. The underlying theme of learning to be oneself is woven throughout both novels, yet in its own unique way.

Justina McBride, CLJ