The Lady and the Lionheart / by Joanne Bischof. 1.31.2018

Mason Jar Books ISBN 9780997513707

Adult Rating: *5

Twenty-year-old Ella Beckley is a nurse in training, running from a past she wishes she could forget. Charlie Lionheart is a lion tamer in a circus, working to repay a debt he is bound by contract to fulfill. Though from worlds as opposite as night from day, each has scars they bear—hers on the inside, his on the outside—and each has experienced society’s harsh and unforgiving treatment because of those scars.

From the moment their paths cross, they are drawn to each other, Charlie needing her services for his sick baby girl and Ella being pulled by, yet fearful of, the quickening of life the two stir in her shattered heart. Together, can two broken people find healing, true love, and the freedom that comes through forgiveness and trust?

In The Lady and the Lionheart, Joanne Bischof authentically brings to life the dazzling sights and sounds of the circus and the alluring pull of the gypsy life. The circus scene provides such a unique backdrop for an equally unique and skillfully woven plot that captures readers with its powerful message, element of mystery, unforgettable characters, and gentle romance. The writing flows effortlessly with the grace and fluidity of an aerialist: each word, each line building together in one harmonious symphony. It is a story full of emotional depth, moving readers to tears of sorrow and joy.

Charlie Lionheart is the hero of every heart, the man whose selfless love and sacrifice paint a picture of God’s love for His children and Christ’s redeeming work for His bride, the church. Ella is the perfect picture of so many who long for the healing that comes through forgiveness and unconditional love. This is a story for the outcasts, those that are different, those that have been looked down upon by society for reasons often beyond their control. Ultimately, this novel is a message to every broken heart best summed up in Charlie’s own words to Ella, “You are loved and you’ll not be forgotten” (p. 317).

Justina McBride, CLJ

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer / by James L. Rubart. 1.30.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9781401686130

Adult Rating: 4

James Rubart, author of The Five Times I Met Myself, pens an inspirational contemporary fantasy for adults.

In The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, Jake Palmer is a successful corporate trainer who coaches others to see their potential. Broken and unsure of life after an accident and recent divorce, Jake agrees to a vacation at Willow Lake with friends. There he meets an old man who tells him about a corridor leading to a place where hurts are healed and dreams come true. Can he find that place and its promises?

Rubart weaves a story with twists and turns, one that draws the reader into Jake’s journey as he explores the ways he thinks others see him. Jake is a broken man on a journey to rediscover his self-worth.

Rubart shows we all are flawed, buying into the labels we think others put on us (or we put on ourselves based on what we think they think about us). The Long Journey to Jake Palmer shows us that we can be free of those labels, and reveals Jake’s self-reflection in such a way that the reader clearly sees the themes of emotional healing and forgiveness. It is not a typical fantasy, filled with talking animals or mythical beings, yet it touches one’s heart by asking, what if there really is a place where my dreams can come true?

Recommended for adult collections in public libraries and church libraries. The Long Journey to Jake Palmer is a winner in both the Visionary category in the 2017 Christy Awards and the Speculative category in the 2017 ACFW Carol Awards.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Promise of Jesse Woods / by Chris Fabry. 1.29.2018

Tyndale ISBN 9781414387772

Adult Rating: 5

Chris Fabry has created a compelling coming-of-age story, set both in 1972 and 1984.

When Matt Plumley hears of his childhood friend’s upcoming marriage, he is pulled back to his hometown of Dogwood, West Virginia, in an attempt to change her mind and thwart the wedding. Memories abound of his growing up there as a pastor’s kid and his two very unlikely friends, Jesse Woods and Dickie Darrel Lee Hancock. Although Matt has not seen Jesse in years, he feels he still loves her and that she is making a big mistake in marrying Earl Turley.

The author takes the reader back and forth between the two time periods, providing the back story to the relationship between these three: the things they did together, the places they hung out, and the secrets they kept.

Matt ends up learning more about himself during his time home in Dogwood than he actually changes the course of history for his friends.

The book includes discussion questions and, as always, Fabry’s writing is superb. Readers will be caught up in the story almost as if it were their own. Matt’s Christian faith is evident in the story and a Christian worldview is apparent.

Highly recommended.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus / by Beth Moore. 1.26.2018

Tyndale ISBN 9781496416476

Adult Rating: 5

Beth Moore, noted author of devotionals, has done a marvelous job on her attempt at writing fiction, even being nominated for the prestigious Christy Award.

Taking advantage of a free trip to New Orleans seems like a great idea to Jillian at the time of her estranged father’s death. She doesn’t really know why she agreed–they weren’t close, and in fact she didn’t even like him–but a change of scenery might be just what she needs. Adella Atwater explained all expenses would be paid and she could stay at her grandmother’s apartment house where Adella is the manager. Ha! Apartment house? Saint Silvanus is hardly a house at all and the disparate bunch of strangers who live there would give anyone pause.

But as is the case in life sometimes, Jillian finds herself drawn into the drama and lives of the residents (“the colorful collection of saints and sinners,” as the author calls them, again rather like life in general). Her father’s death is discovered to be a murder and Jillian becomes more entwined with the lives at Saint Sans as well as the police.

Many subjects, some considered taboo, arise in this book: abortion, tarot cards, drugs, use of God’s name in vain. The author has made it real for the reader and not pulled any punches while at the same time presenting Christianity.

The characters are intriguing, the story is compelling, and changes of heart allow one to see Christ at work in people and their relationships.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

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

If You’re Gone / by Brittany Goodwin. 1.22.2018

Edge of 22 Publishing ISBN 9780997579000

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

Lillian never dreamed she’d ever go out with Brad, the boy who had always frightened and tormented her when they were younger. Yet she’s been his steady girlfriend for five months now and very much in love…until the day he disappears. She is terrified that something awful has happened to him, but given his shady past, the police are convinced he’s missing “by choice.”

Instead of spending her summer relaxing, preparing for her senior year of high school, and filling out college applications, Lillian embarks on an intense physical and emotional search for Brad. The town rallies to canvas the area. Lillian worries that if he’s hurt she has to find him quickly. But, she wonders, what if, like the cop said, he left because he wanted to? And if so, why didn’t he tell her?

If You’re Gone is a novel that reveals the capacity of young adults to love deeply despite their tender age, and to act with determination in times of deep emotional and spiritual crises. Brittany Goodwin uses the story of the missing teen to explore ideas of love, forgiveness, peer relationships, and community support (both religious and secular).

Lillian’s search for Brad, and the self-knowledge she develops, makes If You’re Gone an excellent choice for a classroom, youth group, or teen book club because it provides a point of engagement for profitable discussions. What are the actions of a true friend? Is there a difference between loving and being in love? Why is forgiveness important? How do you handle pain and/or loss so that you can go on living?

Lillian’s discovery is not what she expected, and the reader must decide whether or not Lillian makes the right choice.

Veronica Jorge, 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