The Returning / by Rachelle Dekker. (A Seer Novel, 3) 8.7.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402295

YA Grades 8-12 Rating: 5

Carrington and Remko are back for the third and final chapter of the Seer series. It has been 20 years since baby Elise was taken, and her mother still hasn’t forgiven herself. While watching her second daughter mature, Carrington blames herself for letting Elise’s kidnapper get away. To cope, she writes letters to her firstborn. Carrington’s heart breaks again as her second child, Kennedy, is chosen as one of the Seven, a group prophesized to risk their lives to retake Authority City. How could the “loving” Father take two children from her?

Kennedy never knew Elise, but now she’s on a mission to find her older sister. If it wasn’t for a friend’s gift of dreams, Kennedy wouldn’t even believe her sister could be alive. Hopefully, the dream is also right that Elise is the key to overcoming brainwashing.

Elise believes she’s always lived in Authority City. Abandoned by her parents and immune to the brainwashing serum, Elise has lived in the care of the President and the Scientist. Dreams of darkness haunt her as the Scientist grows agitated by her presence, but Aaron is always there to show her the light within herself. Can the Seven find Elise before the darkness overtakes her?

Follow the next generation of Seers on their search for Elise and for a way to return the Father’s people home. Each of the Seven will have readers laughing at how closely he resembles his parents.

As with the first two books, elements of torture and evil conspiracy continue. This finale also plays heavily on the idea of demon possession. Because there is more darkness compared to the beginning books in the series, The Returning is also more overtly Christian.

Rachelle Dekker completes this series elegantly. Her writing style and characters have matured, forcing readers to feel a wide range of emotions. This idea, along with twists in the story, makes this novel the perfect conclusion to the Seer series.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJThe Choosing (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016); The Calling (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016).

Circle C Milestones series / by Susan K. Marlow. 8.4.2017

The Last Ride / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Milestones, 3)

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825443695

Courageous Love / by Susan K. Marlow. (Circle C Milestones, 4)

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825443701

YA Rating: 4

Andrea “Andi” Carter is growing up. Now a young lady, she must trade in her overalls for skirts and a side saddle. Thrilled that she is almost done with school for good, she is hopeful that her brother, Chad, will ignore the fact that she’s a girl and increase her responsibilities on the ranch.

In The Last Ride, Andi is paired with her cousin Daniel to teach him how things work on the Circle C. Sounds easy enough, but Daniel is a city-slicker who’d rather gamble and play pranks than work on a ranch or listen to a girl. Alternately rude and charming, he creates one dangerous situation after another. When his antics bring personal heartbreak to Andi, she closes herself off from her family and friends.

In Courageous Love, Andi has settled in to her ranch duties and racing her horse, Shasta. Convinced she is the only one who can work with Shasta, she is not happy when Chad puts wrangler Riley Prescott in charge of training all the horses, including Shasta. When some of her brother’s prize calves die, and the barn catches fire, Andi and Riley must put aside their differences for the sake of the Circle C.

As with books 1 and 2 in the Circle C Milestones series, each story is written in the third person and includes snippets from Andi’s diary, allowing the reader to experience her thoughts and emotions firsthand. Author Susan K. Marlow effectively captures the feelings of a teenage girl who struggles with growing up during a time when women’s options were limited. The series’ characters are further developed in these two sequels, and information about raising cattle and horses in the 1880s is provided through dialogue and description. Messages of faith, forgiveness, and God’s provision are presented in a natural way through characters’ conversations and prayers.

The Last Ride and Courageous Love are well-researched, highly readable fictionalized accounts of the life of a teenager in the Old West. Adults may also enjoy the Circle C Milestones series.

Linda Matchett, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Thick as Thieves and Heartbreak Trail (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).

Noble Servant / by Melanie Dickerson. 8.2.2017

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718026608

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 5

Award-winning author Melanie Dickerson continues her medieval retelling of fairy tales, this time focusing on the Little Goose Girl fairy tale.

In Noble Servant, penniless Lady Magdalen of Mallin travels to meet her future bridegroom, the Duke of Wolfberg. Their marriage will bring her the monies to free her people from poverty. En route to Wolfberg, Magdalen’s maidservant forces her to switch places as part of a conspiracy. While her former maidservant receives the honor due to her, Magdalen is forced to take care of the geese on the Duke’s estate.

While her maidservant poses as Lady Magdalen, she is unaware that the Duke is also an imposter–he is the Duke’s cousin. After being attacked and left for dead, the real Duke has returned incognito, working as a shepherd on his own estate. The real Duke and Magdalen become friends as they uncover a plot against Wolfberg. Together they learn the meaning of sacrifice and true nobility as they adjust to their new stations in life and watch the imposters try to take what isn’t theirs.

As in her earlier books, the faith element is not preachy but clearly evident. Lessons are learned about sacrifice and true nobility. Dickerson’s tales feature wholesome relationships while still building a strong attraction between the main characters, making this a good choice for teen readers. Dickerson is a masterful storyteller with a carefully crafted plot, richly-drawn characters, and detailed setting. The reader is easily pulled into the story. Does everything end happily ever after? Read it and see!

Recommended for young adults and adults who are young at heart.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Life After / by Katie Ganshert. 8.1.2017

Water Brook Press ISBN 9781601429025

Adult (YA) Rating: 5

Katie Ganshert’s novel Life After provides a narrative of brokenness and healing in the context of suffering. Paul Elliott and Autumn Manning, the main characters of the story, must figure out how to continue living after a train bombing turns their lives upside down. Paul loses his wife in the explosion and is left to navigate single father-hood. Autumn, the sole survivor, experiences severe trauma from the explosion itself, as well as emotional turmoil and guilt.

This narrative speaks to the nature of God in suffering. Through the events that bring Paul and Autumn together and the details of each character’s experiences with the incident, Ganshert suggests to the reader that God is still good, though circumstances do not always point to that conclusion. As family members of the victims share their experiences with Autumn, she comes to learn that though God does not promise to answer why some things happen, he does promise to be with His people in every circumstance.

As the story progresses, Paul and Autumn slowly recognize the truth of God’s goodness, allowing them to piece their lives back together. Ganshert uses the discovery of truth as a theme throughout the story. Characters often lean on or learn biblical truths. In addition, Autumn and Paul both learn how important truth is in their own lives. For Autumn, remembering or discovering the truth of past events shapes her view of the present and her ability to move on in her life. Paul, on the other hand, learns that much freedom can be found in even difficult truths.

This book is recommended for older teens and adults. Life After addresses the heavy subjects of death and adultery, though no graphic details are involved. Once again Ganshert has cleverly written an original story with unexpected events and results–a story that touches on raw human emotion and experiences and the arduous process of redemption that God works in the lives of His people.

Elisabeth A. Orr, CLJ

Deep Extraction / by DiAnn Mills. (FBI Task Force, 2) 7.28.2017

Tyndale     ISBN 9781496410986

Adult (HS)     Rating: 4

Award-winning author DiAnn Mills continues her contemporary romantic suspense series on FBI agents in the Houston area.

In Deep Extraction, Special Agent Tori Templeton is faced with a professional challenge: her best friend is the FBI’s prime suspect in the murder of her husband, an oil and gas corporation executive. Someone bombed his oil rigs earlier–was his death part of a larger conspiracy? Did someone hack into his pacemaker to cause his death or was it accidental?

Tori is joined by U.S. Marshall Cole Jeffers to investigate the executive’s business and personal affairs to discover the killer’s motives and identity. The closer they get to the truth, the more the killer is intent on silencing them. Will they unravel the mystery before it is too late?

Mills excels in plot development–the story keeps the reader’s attention until the final page. Flawed but realistic characters and a realistic plot with plenty of twists are what readers have come to expect from Mills. The faith element and the romance are present but not the main focus–the main characters are attracted to each other but keep the relationship light until the case is solved. Forgiveness and bitterness are themes in this book. Does one get better or bitter under trying circumstances?

Deep Extraction will appeal to readers who like suspenseful romance and carefully-researched details. Fans of Dee Henderson and Irene Hannon will also enjoy this series. An author note and discussion questions are also included.

Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Deadly Encounter (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016).

In 27 days / by Alison Gervais. 7.11.2017

Zondervan ISBN 9780310759058

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 5

Archer killed himself. Even though Hadley barely knew him, she can’t shake the sense of loss. Feeling guilty, she attends his funeral and meets his family–and Death. Death offers Hadley a deal: she could go back in time 27 days to convince Archer not to commit suicide, but if she fails, he will be lost forever and it would be her fault.

Hadley is tossed back in time as Death promised, and she is prepared to do anything to save Archer’s life–if only he wanted to be saved. Hadley’s borderline-stalking behavior sets Archer on edge. He doesn’t want to be friends with the most popular girl in school. She was probably faking kindness anyway. Hadley is at a loss. If he won’t let her help, how can she save him?

Death left out one detail. Hadley’s life is in danger. The more she pushes Archer toward hope and life, the more Havoc tries to substitute her life for Archer’s. Is Hadley willing to give up her life if it means Archer can keep his, or would she rather break her contract with Death and let her new friend die?

Race time with Hadley as she tries to force a relationship with the school misfit. Watty Award-winning author Alison Gervais will keep readers guessing whether Hadley can complete her mission before time runs out. Hadley and Archer’s relationship is one-of-a-kind as their banter and Hadley’s pesky intrusions develop into deep conversations and deeper feelings. Facing bullies, worst fears, and family drama, readers will experience through Hadley how much dedication it takes to be friends with someone who has PTSD and depression.

In 27 Days is an extremely well-written story. Readers will be forced to stop and think if they would follow in Hadley’s footsteps to save a stranger’s life. They will giggle while watching this rich girl literally work her way into a poor boy’s heart and home. Even his family will fall in love before he will.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

For Love & Honor / by Jody Hedlund. 7.10.2017

Zondervan ISBN 9780310749301

YA     Grades 9-12     Rating: 5

Award-winning historical fiction author Jody Hedlund presents the third book in her trio of related medieval young adult novels. For Love & Honor gives a nod to Beauty and the Beast.

In For Love & Honor, Lady Sabine is a young noblewoman. Although she is beautiful and wealthy, she has a physical flaw that could prevent her from making a good marriage as well as endanger her life due to 14th century superstitions.

Meanwhile, Sir Bennet is called home to rescue his family from financial ruin. His brother has incurred a debt that cannot be easily repaid. The only recourse is to marry a wealthy noblewoman, but Bennet doesn’t want to marry just for that.

Sabine travels to Bennet’s home, thinking she is purchasing some valuable art and unaware that her grandmother has her own plan. When Bennet’s home is attacked while Lady Sabine is there, they are forced to trust one another. Will they build a relationship based on love and honor? What will happen when Sabine’s blemish is revealed and she is called a witch?

Written from a dual viewpoint, the book employs two different fonts. Hedlund excels at showing how others judge by external appearances while God judges by the inward beauty. The spiritual element is evident but not heavy-handed.

Filled with descriptive narrative and endearing characters, For Love & Honor is an entertaining read–except for the necessary violence in the fighting scenes and Sabine’s imprisonment. Its believable plot has enough twists to keep the reader engaged. Fans of Lisa Bergren’s River of Time series, Dina Sleiman’s Valiant Hearts series, and Melanie Dickerson’s medieval young adult books will also enjoy Hedlund’s medieval stories. Recommended for teen collections in public libraries and school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

Earlier Related Titles Reviewed by CLJ An Uncertain Choice ( Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr 2015); A Daring Sacrifice (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016).

Grover Cleveland, Again! / by Ken Burns; illustrated by Gerald Kelley 6.26.2017

Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780385392099

YA Grades 5 & up Rating: 4

Grover Cleveland, Again! by noted documentarian Ken Burns is an illustrated collection of facts and stories about the U.S. presidents, culminating with Barack Obama.

Each two-page spread features biographical details, brief anecdotes, and a description of significant aspects of that president’s term. Burns provides historic and political context to help middle grade readers begin to understand the pertinent issues. Multiple sidebars throughout supply additional information to help capture each leader’s personality and legacy. The end pages offer related sites to visit and a glossary of terms.

Handsomely and chronologically arranged, Grover Cleveland, Again! features large scale pencil and digital color illustrations by Gerald Kelley. Kelley captures the presidents in active and dynamic poses against dramatic backdrops that truly add a sense of realism. Rich red and blue highlights on each page create a patriotic feel. Each president’s official portrait is also included.

The author’s conversational tone at times blurs the line between fact and opinion on challenging topics such as slavery, Native Americans, war, and the economy. Children interested in history will enjoy this lively book, though parents may need to help them approach some of the content.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story / by Caren Stelson. 6.23.2017

Carolrhoda Books ISBN 9781467789035

YA Grades 5-12 Rating: 5

Sachiko shares a Nagasaki bomb survivor’s story of the devastation that changed her family’s lives in 1945, chronicled through extensive interviews with author Caren Stelson.

Sachiko was six when a U.S. military plane dropped a second atomic bomb on Japan just prior to the end of the Second World War in the Pacific. Thousands of adults and children died that horrific day, including several of Sachiko’s siblings. More people, including Sachiko’s extended family, died in the days, weeks, and years that followed. As she matured, she wrote of the influence Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi had on her growing conviction to embrace non-violence and teach others to do the same. As a result, Sachiko decided to publicly share her story of the bombing and radiation sickness in the hope that it never happens again to anyone. Extensive bibliographical references and an index aid additional study.

The author inserts in-depth historical summaries of events and facts in special sections between episodes of Sachiko’s story. The carefully researched historical information add a wider and deeper context for the intimate details of Sachiko’s personal experiences, allowing knowledge and empathy to grow in readers. Tight writing, strong verbs, and original metaphors join with compelling themes and facts–all these transform this shocking and tragic story, a Robert F. Sibert Honor book, into a compelling revelation. Sachiko rises above painful ashes and waves a bright banner of hope that future tragedies can be avoided if difficult truths are known.

Connie Brown, CLJ

The Drum of Destiny / by Chris Stevenson. 6.2.2017

Stone Arch Books ISBN 9781496526731

YA Grades 5-9 Rating: 4

The American Revolutionary War is an exciting time for a boy, especially for a 12-year-old New Yorker. An avid reader and fluent in French (thanks to his patriot father who owned a book store and his mother’s French roots), Gabe suddenly finds himself orphaned and thrust into the home of a staunch British loyalist. The Reverend Loring, with ten children of his own, treats Gabe more like a servant than a child.

Crisis strikes during dinner one night when Gabe refuses to toast King George III of England and is cast out of the house. He finds himself on the street where the only families that exist are gangs of thieves or pickpockets. Spending a solitary night by a river, Gabe finds a drum that inspires him to travel to Boston in hopes of becoming a drummer boy in George Washington’s army. The only problem is that he doesn’t know how to play the drum. Would they still accept him? Can he make it on foot from New York City to Boston?

Through a series of mishaps on the road, Gabe learns the consequences of indecision and of ignoring good advice. He also painfully realizes that war recognizes no age.

Chris Stevenson leads the reader on a geographic tour and action-packed journey through old Manhattan and across King’s Bridge at the northern tip of the island toward Boston, as Gabe confronts troubles, dangers, and sickness, and finds friends as well as foes. He even meets Benedict Arnold! Significant historical information is conveyed through the characters’ eyes, making the facts meaningful in context and easy to remember.

Although Gabe’s resolve and determination are tested and often waver, he learns courage by staying true to his goals and to himself and grasps the importance of earning the respect of others by being truthful. The Drum of Destiny is an engaging historical adventure filled with life-lessons for young and old alike.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ