Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer / written by Stephen McCaskell and Aaron Armstrong, Illustrated by Rommel Ruiz. 1.10.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083512

YA Grades 7-12 Rating: 5

Luther is a beautifully and uniquely illustrated book containing edifying biographical teaching about the premier figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. This is a useful book for parents to read to kids, but it is not a kid’s book per se. It is what may only be called a serious kid’s book.

Several factors contribute to the serious character of the book. First, there is a lot of text in this book. The amount on each page is limited, but it is a big book and it adds up. In this reviewer’s judgment, a child would have to be at least eight and a strong reader to listen patiently, let alone read on his or her own. Second, all of the illustrations are done in grayscale. The look is very striking and memorable—and it lends an overall gravity to the book’s contents. This is not a hagiography or a light treatment. Third, the book is divided into multiple parts, making it suitable for nightly reading in successive evenings. Finally, the book ends with something like an altar call, a homiletical application.

This reviewer has a serious desire to use the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to impress upon his children the importance of the Christian doctrines retrieved in that time period. The Luther book is a valuable tool for this weighty and joyful task.

The book is something of a companion to a documentary on Luther which is also worth viewing; the illustrations in the book derive from those used in the film.

Mark L. Ward, 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

Unblemished series / by Sara Ella. 12.1.2017

Unblemished / by Sara Ella. (Umblemished, Book 1)

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718081010

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 5

Unraveling / Sara Ella. (Umblemished, Book 2)

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718081034

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

Sara Ella is a new voice in young adult fiction. She combines elements from fairy tales and fantasy to create young adult fiction that will captivate the reader.

In Umblemished, Eliyana Ember has a large facial birthmark. Joshua David, her closest friend, treats her as if the birthmark is normal, even a thing of beauty, leading her to finally believe she is worthy to be loved. She is just a few weeks short of her eighteenth birthday when tragedy strikes.

Her mother is presumed dead when she doesn’t come home one night. Joshua becomes her legal guardian, complicating their relationship. Things get strange quickly, from a hooded stalker, to travel to a parallel world, to being pursued by an evil man.

Soon she is faced with two possible suitors: her guardian Joshua, and Kyaphus. On top of this, Eliyana discovers her birthmark is a symbol of hope in this new world. How can she be the one to save others when she can’t even decide between them?

In Unraveling, Eliyana will be crowned queen soon. Joshua who was raised to be king, wants Kyaphus out of the picture because Eliyana is torn between her feelings for both of them. Those feelings have a devastating effect on those around them.

Eliyana’s dream life begins to unravel. Both Joshua and Kyaphus love her, but who does she really love–the man she fell in love with over the past three years or the one who knows her better but for a shorter time? Our princess faces two charming suitors who care for her differently–which one is her true love? And how will her choice affect those around her? What lengths will they go to, in order to win her hand forever?

Ella gives readers a strong heroine who overcomes adversity to take her place in the battle of good vs. evil. Callings (gifts) play a role in the story and are symbols for a life of faith. Ella gives us a tale of the not-so-beautiful-in-our-world princess who is beautiful in another world because of her blemish.

Unblemished was nominated for the INSPY Award (Literature for Young People), 2017 Christy award, and 2017 Carol award. Unbreakable (Book 3) is expected in May 2018.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ


The Evaporation of Sofi Snow / by Mary Weber. 11.27.2017

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9789716080907

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

Mary Weber, author of the Storm Siren trilogy, pens a new science fiction series, incorporating video gaming, futuristic fantasy, adventure, and alien invasions.

In The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, 17-year-old Sofi Snow is an online gamer and hacker, working behind the scenes to protect her younger brother Shilo, a contestant in the Earth’s Fantasy Fight, where real and virtual blood sport mix. When a bomb destroys the gaming arena, Sofi is certain Shilo is still alive, despite the evidence of his death. Sofi’s nightmares about him are so vivid that she is convinced he is on the Delonese ice-planet where only Earth’s ambassadors and the Delonese live. She convinces her friend Miguel to take her to the ice planet to find him. Will she find Shilo in time? What is really going on behind the scenes on Delon? Can she uncover the conspiracy before the mastermind behind it strikes again?

Weber creates a credible future world where cameras monitor one’s every move and no detail of one’s life is private. For 19-year-old Miguel, one of Earth’s ambassadors, that constant scrutiny makes him a blackmail target. Can Miguel help Sofi find Shilo without being exposed by his blackmailer? Alien invasions, interplanetary politics, and human trafficking are at play in this gripping novel by Weber.

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is told in alternating first-person points of view (Sofi’s and Miguel’s), with the viewpoint indicated at the beginning of each chapter. Discussion questions are also included. The book ends on a cliffhanger with unanswered questions. Hopefully they will be answered in her forthcoming book, Reclaiming Shilo Snow in the March 2018.

Recommended for public libraries for adults and older teens.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

When Tides Turn / by Sarah Sundin. (Waves of Freedom, 3) 11.23.2017

Revell ISBN 9780800723446

Adult (YA) Rating: 5

In When Tides Turn, Quintessa Beaumont tires of being known for her beauty and fun personality, desiring instead to be useful. She dumps her “princess” name for “Tess” and joins the Navy’s WAVES, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service. In so doing, she will be useful–and she can finally give up the idea of a relationship with Dan Avery, since WAVES are not allowed to marry Navy men under any circumstances, not that Dan is interested in her. In addition to new duties, Tess notices something mysterious going on with her friend Yvette and determines to find out what it is.

Though he would prefer to be at sea, Dan Avery is stuck in Boston doing a desk job. Dan continually tries to focus on his naval career advancement and getting back out to sea, but thoughts of Tess tend to distract him. When he gets a chance to serve at sea again, he takes it, happy to serve under his mentor, Admiral Howard. He learns some hard lessons from the Admiral that change the way he thinks when he returns to Boston. When the Navy lifts the restriction against dating WAVES, Dan wonders if Tess could possibly ever be interested in a bore like him.

Once again, Sarah Sundin combines an intriguing mystery with a budding romance and a splash of character transformation to create another compelling WWII-era novel. The war weighs heavily on the characters, lending a serious tenor to the story. Tess and Dan undergo some serious transformation and soul-searching throughout the book. Moments when Tess, Dan, and their friends are together lighten the mood, and also provide insights into America during the 40’s. All too quickly this story concludes, wrapping up the Waves of Freedom series.

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJThrough Waters Deep (Nov/Dec 2015); Anchor in the Storm (Oct/Nov/Dec 2016).

The Lost Girl of Astor Street / by Stephanie Morrill. 10.24.2017

Blink ISBN 9780310758402

YA Grade 8 and up Rating: 5

Stephanie Morrill, author of the Ellie Sweet series, pens her first young adult mystery, set during the Jazz Age, a time of citywide corruption due to the gangsters and of changes in women’s rights.

In The Lost Girl of Astor Street, motherless, 18-year-old Piper Sail is convinced the police aren’t looking in the right place after the disappearance of her best friend, Lydia, and begins her own investigation into Lydia’s disappearance. Friends since childhood, both girls grew up in Chicago’s affluent neighborhoods under the expectations of what that means for their lives.

Daughter of a well-known mobster attorney, Piper takes her search for the truth into some unsavory neighborhoods. But a handsome Italian policeman–Detective Mariano Cassano–is determined to keep her safe and find the answers to Lydia’s disappearance. As she discovers more about her father’s profession and connections in the city, Piper questions the detective’s family’s relationship with her father. Is she willing to risk her life to dig deeply enough to uncover the truth? Where do Mariano’s loyalties lie? Is his interest in her genuine?

Morrill delivers a gutsy, intelligent heroine, a twisting mystery plot, and descriptive historical details (the Roaring Twenties!). The faith element is light and the relationships are clean. The Lost Girl of Astor Street engages the reader from the beginning, keeping one’s attention until the very end. Piper embodies the changing freedoms and restrictions that young women were facing in the Roaring 20s. With its descriptive narratives and well-developed characters, this title will have readers clamoring for more mysteries starring this intrepid amateur sleuth.

Recommended for public and school libraries for high school, young adults–and even adults who enjoy a historical mystery.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Another Me: A Novel / Eva Wiseman. 10.20.2017

Tundra Books ISBN 9781770497160

YA Grades 10-12 Rating: 4

When his merchant father is severely beaten by some of the hateful citizens of Strasbourg, 17-year-old Natan takes over his father’s work and, as a result, meets Elena, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Unfortunately, the two come from opposite worlds–with her being a Christian and him a Jew, they might as well be oceans apart. With the severe restrictions placed on the Jewish community and the Black Death spreading blame and suspicion, Natan and Elena must keep their blossoming love a secret.

One night on his way home from meeting Elena, Natan stumbles upon a group of men trying to poison the city’s well with the intent to cast blame on the Jews of the city. With this discovery, the fate of his people and loved ones now rests in Natan’s hands. Before he can act, Natan’s plans to save his people are struck a fatal blow–or so it seems. However, in a twist of fate or by Hashem’s will, Natan finds the help he needs in the most unexpected way.

Amidst the historical setting of the Middle Ages, Another Me by Eva Wiseman brings to life the factual events of the devastating bubonic plague and the Jewish persecution in Strasbourg through a fictional story of young love and sacrifice, with a central plot shrouded in Jewish mysticism. The story is told from the alternating first-person perspectives of Natan and Elena. This gives readers a more complete understanding of the events that occur and insight into the thoughts and emotions of both main characters, creating empathy for each one’s inner conflicts.

The unique plot is full of suspense and mystery, driven by an underlying need to discover Natan and Elena’s ultimate fate. The mood of the story is somber and bleak, befitting its time and place, the grim circumstances of death and persecution, and the foreboding sense of heartache to come. Through the pain and suffering of loss, however, a story of self-less love shines through the darkness, providing a victory all its own.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Defiance: A Post-Apocalptic YA Tale of Survival / by L. R. Burkard. (Pulse Effex series, 3) 10.16.2017

Lilliput Press     ISBN 9780998966304

YA     Grade 10 and up     Rating: 4

With Defiance, L. R. Burkard concludes her story of three teen girls (Andrea Patterson, Lexie Martin, and Sarah Weaver) living in a post-apocalyptic United States. The story is told through their viewpoint, as they experience life after an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disaster.

Over the course of the three books, the girls grow from spoiled, self-centered girls to mature young women, capable of holding their own in a world very different from what they knew. They learn to value simpler things, to work as a team, to see value in life as it now exists. In the face of foreign soldiers, nuclear strikes, and guerrilla armies, the girls learn to adjust to life beyond survival. They make the best decisions they can, given the circumstances, relying on God to get them through the darkest of times. Can they face these times with defiance and carve out a new life for themselves?

Burkard excels at telling an engaging story; the first-person point of view helps to create real characters the reader can relate to, even if the reader doesn’t agree with their choices. Unlike the earlier books in the series, in Defiance other characters’ points of view are added to the girls’ voices in the narrative. Andrea and Lexis have teen romances, but their relationships are chaste. Adults will find it a clean read (no drugs, alcohol, or sex) with no graphic violence, and it may cause them to think about how they would face such a disaster.

Recommended for public and school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Pulse (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016), and Resilience (Jan/Feb/Mar 2017).

A Teen’s Guide to the 5 Love Languages: How to Understand Yourself and Improve All Your Relationships / by Gary Chapman. 10.12.2017

Northfield ISBN 9780802414359

YA Grades 7 and up Rating: 5

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, is joined by Paige Haley Drygas in this book aimed at teenagers and their relationships.

Chapman builds on the concepts he first wrote about in the first book: (1) service, (2) words, (3) gifts, (4) touch, and (5) time. The premise of A Teen’s Guide to 5 Love Languages is that if someone is speaking our primary heart language, we feel loved. Everyone wants to be loved but how we want to be loved is different. By learning about one’s primary language, it is easier to learn another’s language. We tend to show our love through our primary language, but that might not be the way others experience love.

The authors apply these languages to a teen’s relationships: friends, dating, and family. By understanding one’s primary language, a teen can strengthen their friendships, decrease conflict, socialize comfortably, connect more deeply with others, and lessen relationship drama, especially when dealing with anger and forgiveness.

A Teen’s Guide is a short but practical book–less than 200 pages. It has a number of illustrations, quizzes, reflection questions, main points set in a different font and type size (making them easy to find), and everyday examples to demonstrate different dialects of these languages. For example, words have the following dialects: appreciation, encouragement, praise, and kindness. For the language of words: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Recommended for teens and young adults, school libraries, and public libraries. Sixteen young adults and teens wrote reviews praising this book–although it is aimed at a teen audience, adults and parents could benefit from reading it.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Arena / by Holly Jennings. 10.11.2017

Random House ISBN 9781101988763

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4 (Not Recommended)

Among virtual reality athletes, Kali Ling is the best. She glorifies in killing other gamers and putting on a bloody show for her fans. But as soon as Kali unplugs and returns to the real world, she feels out of her element. The celebrity life barely tides her over—provocative photoshoots, screaming fans, drugs, and extramarital sex—until she can return to the game.

Her handler dubs her first female captain in RAGE tournament history and life couldn’t get better…until she wakes up next to her overdosed lover/teammate.

The VR organization hides his cause of death, and Kali is traumatized by how cruel reality can be. Their new teammate seems to be nothing more than a pretty face, but Kali knows he’s hiding something.

With the pre-season ending and the fight for the RAGE championship beginning, Kali must reunite her team before she goes from the top of the gamer world to the bottom. But when you die hundreds of times like Kali, the bigger battle may be remembering which world is the real one.

Holly Jennings’s Arena paints a picture of the famous lifestyle that leads readers to understand why many celebrities turn to substance abuse and scandal to survive. Kali begins as a selfish, unlikeable character but develops into a dynamic teen who fights to overcome her addiction to the VR world by committing to a greater cause. Her teammates, though unchanging, are solid supports for Kali’s development, and the ominous pressure from her fans and the RAGE sponsors provide enough resistance for the change to seem challenging.

While this book cannot be recommended because of vivid violence, descriptive sex scenes, extreme substance abuse, and overuse of obscenities, the story arch for this Alex Award-winning novel is phenomenal. Through beautifully descriptive language, the book shares the dangers of virtual reality and great reasons behind why we should place our identity in more than the opinions of others and our jobs. Readers will feel compelled to hunt for overlooked atrocities and seek ways to correct them.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ