Downside Up / by Richard Scrimger. 7.4.2017

Tundra Books ISBN 9781770498457

YA Grades 4-7 Rating: 3

Losing a loved one is never easy. Talking about it can be even harder. But finding a special place that makes the world right again can heal a hole in the heart.

Fred, a sixth grader, used to be happy and energetic, but now he’s often so sad that he doesn’t want to eat or get out of bed. All of that changes when, one day, he climbs down a sewer drain to retrieve a ball and finds himself in an upside down world, where everything feels right. He meets himself: the Fred whose family life is intact, and who has suffered no loss or heartache. When danger threatens his other self, it is Fred who rises to the challenge and helps to save the family and keep them together.

In Downside Up, Richard Scrimger creates an adventure into another realm that mirrors the experiences of children dealing with loss. The plot, filled with joy and wholeness, as well as danger and dragons, visualizes the emotional turmoil taking place within Fred. The story can encourage readers to verbalize their own pain, and help them to realize that they are not alone and that it’s okay to feel bad sometimes.

More importantly, Downside Up empowers the young to comprehend that they have the strength and resources within themselves to overcome and rise above all obstacles, sorrows, and tragedies.

Richard Scrimger’s book is an excellent stepping-stone for care-givers and children alike to discuss what happens when loved ones leave this earth.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification / by Thomas Schreiner. (The Five Solas Series) 7.3.2017

Zondervan ISBN 9780310515784

Adult Rating: *5

Author Thomas Schreiner provides a good summation of the book on page 179: “… this book is an introduction and a tour through the doctrine of justification –historically, biblically, and theologically…” This is precisely what the book provides.

In the first section of the book, the author moves the reader through samples of the writings of the early church fathers, culminating with the views of Augustine. The historical tour continues through the Reformers, consisting of an exposition of their understanding of the doctrine of justification as well their unique formulations of the doctrine. The reaction of the Council of Trent is also considered. The tour progresses through Puritan authors such as John Owen and Richard Baxter, among others. The section concludes by considering the views of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley.

The next section considers the biblical evidence for the doctrine of justification by faith alone and its theological implications. This is where the author truly begins to hit his stride. As a professor of New Testament as well as associate dean of Scripture and Interpretation, Schreiner allows his expertise and facility with the biblical text really shine through in this section. His tone is consistently irenic. He sets out his opponents’ position very well and then begins to refute that position. However, this is not done in a polemical tirade but a point-by-point, reasoned refutation.

The final section of the book considers how Sola Fide (faith alone) is being challenged currently in New Testament studies. The work of N. T. Wright is highlighted for special attention. Once again, Schreiner does not simply find fault. On several occasions, he voices his appreciation for the work of Wright and points out specific insights that Wright’s scholarship has given to him. In the end, however, Schreiner is setting forth a historical, biblical, and theological argument that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the most biblically faithful understanding of how man can be justified before God. The short concluding chapter to the book makes abundantly clear that the author holds to a Reformed understanding of the doctrine.

This book is highly recommended. Though intended as an introduction, it is not a light read and will challenge most readers. However, it is written in such a way that it does not presume any specialized knowledge on the part of the reader. In other words, if one is interested in the topic, this book would be a great resource for exploration. This book would be a welcome addition to public or private libraries. It also would likely function very well in group study.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Shine Like the Dawn: A Novel / by Carrie Turansky. 6.30.2017

Multnomah ISBN 9781601429407

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Carrie Turansky pens a new Edwardian novel where childhood friends reunite after the deaths of their parents.

In Shine Like the Dawn, Margaret (Maggie) Lounsbury works in her grandmother’s millinery shop while caring for her six-year-old sister, Violet. They lost their parents several years earlier in a boating accident. Maggie is bitter towards God (and Maggie’s childhood friend Nathaniel Harcourt) for abandoning them after their accident, not knowing that his family kept Nathaniel and Maggie apart.

When Nathaniel returns home to deal with his father’s illness four years later, he discovers an unpaid debt to Maggie’s father and is committed to repaying it after his father’s death. Nathaniel takes over his father’s engineering company, dealing with worker conditions and problems with his stepmother. Meanwhile, Maggie begins to suspect her parents’ death wasn’t accidental, and asks Nathaniel to help her search for answers. Will the person behind it cause more “accidents”? Will this bring them closer to one another when they discover the truth?

Turansky excels in her writing–her books are filled with rich characterization and descriptive narrative. Historical details give the reader a glimpse into life in an English village. The faith element is present but not heavy-handed. Maggie’s bitterness prevents her heart from healing, and her faith is struggling. Maggie’s grandmother and Nathaniel do not preach but serve as examples of being strong in their faith, despite life’s struggles.

Fans of Turansky’s novels will enjoy this new work. Shine Like the Dawn is a joy to read, with its family drama, clean romance, and the restoration of an estranged relationship to God.

Recommended for adults in public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

The Body Under the Bridge / by Paul McCusker. (A Father Gilbert Mystery) 6.29.2017

Lion Fiction ISBN 9781782641070

Adult Rating: 4 (Recommended with caution)

The Body under the Bridge finds former detective turned Anglican priest in a murder mystery that spans hundreds of years as well as natural and supernatural realms. A disturbing vision leads Father Gilbert to find a historic medallion of unknown worth and significance left behind on the belfry at St. Mark’s in Stonebridge, England. Following the vision and subsequent discovery, police investigate a well-preserved “bog-body” found under a historic bridge on land in the center of a development controversy. As Father Gilbert and Father Benson, the new, young curate at St. Mark’s, investigate further, more light is shed on dark matters until they fear for their own lives.

Father Gilbert’s personality is easy to love. Paul McCusker excels at creating sympathetic characters. Gilbert’s car is perpetually in the shop. He loves his church members and is dedicated to ministry and even prays occasionally for dead souls. Though he left Scotland Yard, the detective in him still can’t seem to resist solving a crime. The plot churns up dead bodies and adds an element of the supernatural–even of demonic influence–creating a mood of darkness and suspense.

An evil element oppresses certain characters making clear the difference between spiritual light and darkness. As Father Gilbert investigates further, he discovers that black masses have been held at St. Mark’s. There are non-explicit references to sexual temptation and orgies, and even Father Gilbert seems affected by some of the demonic activity and is shown to struggle with temptation. Gilbert and Benson witness a stabbing at a black mass that they stumble upon. Astral projections and near-death occurrences are mentioned. A couple of the secondary characters use mild expressions such as “Good Lord” and a “Good God.”

In spite of the darkness that shrouds this book, the redeeming element, besides a good who-dun-it, is the wisdom sprinkled throughout. “I know that coincidences, the pull of Truth, are all part of a providential conspiracy to get us to Him.” (p. 203) “Ironically it was death, his great nemesis, that pointed him to life.” (p. 72)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

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

God’s Good News: Devotions from Billy Graham / by Billy Graham; illustrated by Scott Wakefield. 6.22.2017

Tommy Nelson ISBN 9780718006303

INT Grades K-6 Rating: 5

God’s Good News by noted Christian evangelist Billy Graham offers 74 illustrated Bible stories for young readers. Graham opens with an inspiring note inviting parents and children to read about God’s love and good news; he closes with a heartfelt prayer for his readers.

The stories are evenly divided between the Old and New Testaments, using scripture quotations from The New King James Version of the Bible. Brief italicized segments provide contextual information when needed, and accompanying each story is a related sidebar from Billy Graham offering additional details, questions to ponder, and spiritual “takeaways.”

For the very young, God’s Good News Bible Storybook is a wonderful introduction to events from the Bible. This is a book that children can grow up with: first by having a parent describe the stories depicted in the illustrations, later as independent readers with a fuller grasp of the actual text, and eventually as “tweens” re-reading their favorite stories and considering some of the author’s devotional messages.

Bright illustrations by Scott Wakefield are bold and active, capturing the history, drama, and awe of the subject matter. The artist adds visual interest and stimulates the imagination by showing scenes from varying perspectives–from inside the pit with Daniel, eye-level with Noah and a giraffe, gazing up at Moses atop the mountain.

God’s Good News would be a treasured gift at any age. This attractive book with its padded hard cover, embossed lettering, and almost 200 heavy pages, is practically destined to find an enduring place on a child’s bookshelf or nightstand!

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

The Deity of Christ / by John MacArthur. (The John MacArthur Study Series) 6.20.2017

Moody Publishers ISBN 9780802495273

Adult Rating: 4

This book represents a compilation of sections of the MacArthur New Testament Commentary. The 10 chapters are divided into three parts titled: 1) The Divine Glory of Christ, 2) The Divine Authority of Christ, and 3) The Divine Claims of Christ.

The first section deals with both the eternal glory of Christ as well as his preeminence. This section primarily addresses the explicit claims by two New Testament writers. Christ is shown to be eternal and over all via the text of the New Testament.

The second section discusses the authority of Christ over various aspects of creation. Thus, the case for the deity of Christ in this section is often more implicit than explicit. Christ shows his authority over demons, sin and disease, the Sabbath, and Creation. The cumulative argument is that Christ is shown doing and saying things that only God can do. The demons cower in fear in the presence of Christ (p. 52). Christ forgives the sin of the paralytic borne of four (Mark 2:5). The Sabbath was established and ordained by God. So, by implication, Christ’s view of his preeminence over the Sabbath can only mean that this is an implicit claim to Deity (Mark 2:23-28). Christ’s ability to walk on the water during a storm shows his sovereignty over creation (Matt. 14:22-33).

In the third section, MacArthur deals with the explicit claims of Christ in the Gospels, with a heavy emphasis on the Gospel of John, where Jesus’ claims to Deity are quite a bit more vocal in comparison to the other Gospels.

John MacArthur stays true to his view of himself as a pastor/teacher dealing with the interpretation of the text. Though he may mention liberal challenges to the claims of the New Testament, for the most part he steers clear of these. This book is recommended for those who would appreciate a primer on the subject of the deity of Christ from a pastor’s perspective. It is recommended for private and public libraries.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Finding Sanctuary series / by Nancy Mehl. 6.19.2017

Gathering Shadows / by Nancy Mehl. (Finding Sanctuary, 1)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211577

Deadly Echoes / by Nancy Mehl. (Finding Sanctuary, 2)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211584

Rising Darkness / by Nancy Mehl. (Finding Sanctuary, 3)

Bethany House ISBN 9780764211591

Adult Rating: 4

The series takes place in Sanctuary, Missouri, where the population is predominately Mennonite and the townspeople are extremely protective of their privacy. Each book features different main characters, who go on spiritual journeys while trying to overcome challenges in their lives. Nancy Mehl has combined mystery, suspense, and light romance, along with inspirational messages of faith and hope not only for people who are going through difficult times but also for people who no longer trust God.

In Gathering Shadows, 23-year-old Wynter Evans is a television news reporter assigned to put together a documentary on small towns in Missouri. She decides to go to Sanctuary because she suspects a teenager who lives in the town is her long-lost brother, who was abducted at the age of seven and has been presumed dead. The abduction tore her family apart and destroyed her faith in God. After a chance encounter in Sanctuary with the teenager, she is convinced more than ever that he is her brother and is determined to prove it no matter the cost. Will Wynter find her brother and welcome God back into her life?

In Deadly Echoes, 24-year-old Sarah Miller is the school teacher in Sanctuary. Sarah’s life is thrown into turmoil when her sister, Hannah, is murdered. Sarah becomes the legal guardian of her 10-year-old niece, and it is not an easy transition for either of them. To complicate matters, the circumstances surrounding Hannah’s death are eerily similar to how their parents were killed. Because Sarah is dissatisfied with the police’s ruling in both cases, she decides to do some investigating on her own and runs into dangerous roadblocks. Is there a connection between the two cases that someone does not want her to find? Sarah is a woman of faith who struggles with self-esteem throughout the story. Will she be able to overcome putting herself down?

In Rising Darkness, 21-year-old Sophie Wittenbauer has turned her back on God, left her traumatic past behind, and created a new life for herself. She now goes by the name of Sophie Bauer and writes obituaries for the St. Louis Times, but she has her heart set on becoming a crime reporter. When she finds out from an old acquaintance that a fugitive believed to be dead may be alive and hiding out in Sanctuary, she uses a false identity to go undercover in the town. While trying to track the man down, she not only puts her life in danger but also sets her past and present on a collision course. Will Sophie get the story she so desperately wants? Because of her horrid childhood, Sophie believes God does not answer prayers. Will she change her mind?

Dianne Woodman, CLJ

God Made the Sun/ God Made the Moon / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley. 6.16.2017

God Made the Sun/ by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley.

Worthy Kids/Ideals ISBN 9780824919801

God Made the Moon / by Mary Manz Simon; illustrated by Lizzie Walkley.

Worthy Kids/Ideals ISBN 9780824919818

PRI PS-K Rating: 5

God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon are two preschool board books by the team of Mary Manz Simon and Lizzie Walkley.

Celebrating God’s creation of the moon and sun, the two books encourage children to see these natural wonders as gifts from God. Simon’s sweet rhyming quatrains are lilting and memorable, showing how the moon and sun light up our world both day and night.

In God Made the Sun, a young boy plays outdoors with his friends, swims, and enjoys a picnic with his family. In God Made the Moon, a young girl catches fireflies, listens to the crickets, and stargazes before her cozy bedtime bath and story.

Lizzie Walkley’s tender illustrations are brightly rendered, friendly, and heartwarming. The scenes are happy and loving, filled with charming details that toddlers will love to spot.

God Made the Sun and God Made the Moon are ideal first books for the very young. Sun and moon cut-outs on the cover and pages add visual and tactile interest for little ones. The small sturdy size (and wonderful rounded corners) of these companion books make them perfect for tucking into a stroller, diaper bag, or backpack.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ