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

Why Am I Here? / by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin. 4.17.2017

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780802854773

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 4

In Why Am I Here? by Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin, a young girl ponders why and how a person is born in the exact place he or she exists rather than a number of other places that could have been possible in this great big world. The child wonders how she might have been different or the same if born in, for example, a bustling city or a dry desert, or if she had grown up in a country constantly at war. What would life be like and would she still have these same questions? Does anyone have the answers she seeks?

The focus–or rather theme–of this book is as old as time itself and as complex as the most intricate workings of the universe. The meaning of life, and of one’s very existence and purpose, have been reflected upon by some of the greatest philosophers of history. Yet, here the authors put such contemplations into thoughts that elementary children can understand and relate to. Much of the text consists of questions. As the girl reflects upon her questions about life, she never really comes to an absolute answer, though she draws some possible conclusions or suggestions. Ultimately, this allows the book to be a springboard for helping children consider life, purpose, identity, and belonging, without fully influencing their final conclusions, leaving that to the gentle, loving guidance of parents and guardians, as well as the child’s own feelings and convictions.

The text itself appears on a clean white background, drawing the reader’s eyes to the corresponding page’s beautiful illustrations. Overall, this book is a short, contemplative read that will inevitably lead to valuable conversation and reflection for young and old to share in together.

Justina McBride, 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

Waking Beauty / Sarah E. Morin. 4.10.2017

Enclave Publishing ISBN 9781621840435

HS Grades 9-12 Rating: 5

Seventeen-year-old Prince Arpien has devoted his life to training for this moment, his dramatic rescue of the Sleeping Beauty. Bending to place his waking kiss, he pauses at the 100-year-old layer of dust covering the beauty’s lips. This was definitely not accounted for in his rescuing plan; however, a quick dust with his sleeve rights the much-anticipated moment, or so he thinks.

One thing after another continues to infringe upon Arpien’s grandiose plans, not least of which is his fair maiden’s less than enthusiastic response to his spell-breaking kiss. How can Arpien rescue a sleeping princess afraid to wake up, afraid to hope, afraid to believe? What will it take to break the spell of Voracity’s evil curse? The prophecies of the old tales speak of the return of the Prince of Here and There, but who can depend on a prince no one has seen or heard from in over a century?

A Christy Award finalist for 2016, Waking Beauty by Sarah E. Morin is a beautifully unique allegorical spin on the traditional fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. The novel starts off slow and on a slightly silly tone; however, as the plot develops, a rich and rewarding tale unfolds, weaving its gentle spell until the final page. The characters and insightful Christian parallelism make this book a gem in its fantasy genre.

The story is told from the alternating perspective of the three main characters, each of whom possesses their own unique appeal. Pretentious Arpien with his flourishing speeches and bows grows to be an example of self-sacrifice and unconditional love. Brierly’s cold indifference and refusal to wake up will initially frustrate but her vulnerability will incite compassion. Nissa, daughter of the present ruling family, is the black velvet that makes the diamond shine more brilliantly, with her unwavering faith and servant heart. Without direct Christian references, the author carefully constructs a fresh picture of the spiritually fallen state of humanity and the redemptive work of Christ. Overall, as the characters discover, the task of waking beauty will slowly reveal a different kind of beauty, one tried by fire and gloriously refined.

Justina McBride, CLJ

 

No Ordinary Fairy Tale series / by R. J. Anderson 4.7.2017

Knife / by R. J. Anderson (No Ordinary Fairy Tale, 1)

Enclave ISBN 9781621840510

HS Grades 7-10 Rating: 4

Rebel / by R. J. Anderson (No Ordinary Fairy Tale, 2)

Enclave ISBN 9781621840596

HS Grades 7-10 Rating: 4

Arrow / by R. J. Anderson (No Ordinary Fairy Tale, 3)

Enclave ISBN 9781621840657

HS Grades 7-10 Rating: 5

Author R. J. Anderson pens an unusual fairy tale series, one that was previously published in the United Kingdom and is now available for American readers.

In Knife, a young fairy–Knife–is determined to discover why the fairy realm Oakenwyld has lost its magic and how they can get it back. Their numbers are dwindling and only female fairies are left. Fiercely independent Knife is unafraid of the crows, the humans, or even the Fairy Queen herself. She befriends Paul, a human, who joins in her quest to save her dying fairy realm. How will her friendship with Paul change all their lives?

In Rebel, fifteen-year-old Linden, Knife’s foster daughter, is the youngest and smallest fairy, yet the dying queen asks her to go out into the human world and find other fairies to save Oakenwyld. Fifteen-year-old Timothy is staying with his cousin Paul and his wife who are friends of the fairies. Disillusioned by his missionary parents’ faith, Timothy also doesn’t believe in fairies. When Linden begs him for help, Timothy gets caught up in the struggle against evil threatening both their worlds. Will they find the legendary white stone that could save her fairy realm?

In Arrow, fairy Rhosmari is one of the Children of Rhys who live on the magical Green Isles, with limited contact with the outside world and its evils. Sworn never to use violence against others, the Children of Rhys refuse to help when an evil fairy empress gathers an army to destroy the fairies at Oakenwyld and other locations in Britain.

Rhosmari leaves the Green Isles in search of her former betrothed Garan who took the Stone of Naming to Oakenwyld. Having lived all her life in a secluded community, she experiences culture shock when she meets the other fairies. The empress wants Rhosmari because of her access to the Children of Rhys. She is torn–if she fights the empress, she can never return home; if she refuses, she puts the others in jeopardy.

The writings of C. S. Lewis and Tolkien inspired Anderson to write fantasy stories from a Christian worldview for a general audience. Anderson does a good job creating the fairy world. Just like the human world, there are good and bad fairies, loyal and rebellious ones. These fairies are not like the fairies from Sleeping Beauty or Peter Pan; they are a community unto themselves with their own rules and roles (hunter, gatherer, healer, leader). Set in the United Kingdom, the fairies tie in with the Celtic legends in the area. Her No Ordinary Fairy Tale series has a light faith element in Knife and a stronger presence in Rebel and Arrow.

Knife received critical acclaim in the UK and was nominated for the 2009 Carnegie Award. Rebel was a 2016 Christy award nominee (Young Adult category). Arrow is a worthy conclusion to the series and potential future award winner.

Recommended for teen readers in public libraries and school libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ