Life / by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. 2.5.2019

Beach Lane Books ISBN 9781481451628

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: *5

Life by Cynthia Rylant is a picture book view of many special facets of life and living.

Lovingly told across a series of marvelous pages, the story reminds readers that life begins small, and then grows–with stretches of wilderness, new roads to take, things to love and protect, and hope for each tomorrow. The author’s calming words are gentle and poetic, with some unexpected and lighthearted observations that will appeal to readers of all ages. “But the turtle loves life,” Rylant muses. “How could it not, with so much rain on its back?”

Brendan Wenzel’s illustrations are delightful. His wide-eyed animals have immediate personality and charm, and his scenes depict a beautiful world. The soft hues, varied perspective, and fine details in the artwork add a visual dimension that perfectly complements the heartwarming text. Even the weight and the texture of the pages are inviting.

Life appears to be a children’s book but is so much more. Readers of all ages and life stages could well appreciate its quieting and reassuring reflections and hopeful tone.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Creation / written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant. 2.4.2019

Beach Lane Books ISBN 9781481470391

PRI PS-Grade 3 Rating: 4

Creation by Cynthia Rylant is a picture book presentation of God’s creation of the world.

The first two chapters of the book of Genesis (King James version) are told across sparse scenes of varied color and texture. Rylant uses bold acrylic paint strokes to capture each day, as darkness and the light, the sea and the sky, grass and trees, and “every living creature that moved” come into being.

The visual simplicity of Creation leaves the focus on the biblical text, making the book a good choice for introducing young readers to the creation story. Fittingly, the seventh day of rest, with its accompanying scene of the night sky, transitions well to bedtime! Children already familiar with this part of Scripture will enjoy the familiar verse and the anticipation of what comes next with each turn of the page.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

True to You / by Becky Wade. (Bradford Sisters, 1) 2.1.2019

Bethany House ISBN 9780764219368

Adult Rating: 5

Award-winning author Becky Wade pens a new contemporary romance series featuring three sisters in Merryweather, Washington.

In True to You, the reader meets Nora Bradford, genealogist and owner of the historical village in Merryweather. Nora loves the detailed (and sometimes tedious) work of uncovering someone’s family history as well as all that is entailed in owning a historical village. Following a broken engagement a few years ago, Nora buries herself in her obsession with a historical British TV drama, uninterested in venturing back out into the world of dating again.

Former Navy SEAL John Lawson heads a training organization to help others prepare for hostage situations and similar circumstances. Diagnosed with a rare medical condition, and adopted as an infant, now John wants to discover more about his medical history. He enlists Nora’s assistance in finding his birth family. As the attraction between them grows, will they find a future together, despite his medical condition and the family secrets they uncover?

Wade excels at writing more than just a clean romance. She draws complex characters and creates storylines (with plot twists!) to go along with them. Her books tackle challenging issues like adoption, identity, rejection, and trusting God at all times. Her characters are engaging, even as they struggle in their faith journey. John and Nora have to face some challenging circumstances when they uncover the truth about John’s birth family. Nora’s sisters are introduced in this book, and their stories follow in Falling for You and Sweet on You, the next books in the series.

True to You won 2018 Book of the Year (Christy Award). Fans of Susan May Warren’s Christenson Family series will also enjoy meeting the Bradford family in this series.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Moonman Cometh: A Christmas Story / written and illustration by Casey Frisch. 12.31.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083550

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

The Moonman Cometh is a beautiful Christmas book with a unique illustration style that teaches an important message for all ages: while God grieves with us, he will not always fix everything in precisely the way that we would want—but he will ultimately meet our real needs through Christ’s ultimate gift of Himself. The story focuses on a fatherless child who wants his dad to come back, but the feelings it evokes—of longing and of lack and of frustration—are universal. This is a broken world. The other feeling it evokes at the end, namely that of hope, could be universal if people would accept Christ’s offer.

The Moonman Cometh wraps all these feelings, negative and positive, into a magical story with strong Christian echoes. The Moonman quotes the Bible, specifically incarnation passages; he brings hope from God to that fatherless boy; and he brings snow to a parched Christmas tree farm.

The feelings of the book are, perhaps, a bit clearer than the message. (Who is the Moonman? What exactly did his words mean—“I, the divine being…am your divine becoming”? Why was the absentee father crying as he drove away from his house?) But the introduction by the author makes the message clearer, and discussion questions at the end fill in pieces of authorial intent that are not present in the narrative. Taken together, and with the help of a wise adult reader (a Christian single mother, a grandparent?), this book could be a help and a comfort to many, especially fatherless children at a vulnerable time of year.

Mark L. Ward, Jr.

What Are We Doing Here? Essays / by Marilynne Robinson. 12.26.2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux ISBN 9780374282219

Adult Rating: 4

Marilynne Robinson is a set of self-described identities that are not generally found together: biblicist, Calvinist, mainline Protestant, theological (and all-around) liberal. Her essay collections, including the new What Are We Doing Here?, reflect these interests and proclivities—and likewise build up to something unique: an intellectual who writes about Christianity and the Bible with genuine knowledge of each and with a distinct voice.

Robinson is the author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning Housekeeping as well as several successor novels known for their theological themes, their classic American setting, and their excellent prose. Her essay collections bear all the same features. It was an odd experience for this reviewer to find himself more proud of the good ol’ U.S. of A. after reading certain essays: Robinson is something of a conservative liberal who refuses to throw under the utopian bus the traditions and institutions which made her who she was. Born in a no-name Idaho town during the thick of WWII, she was nonetheless given an education which, quite clearly, rivals that of any wealthy prep school elite.

Given her paradoxical self-descriptions, it is no surprise that some of Robinson’s viewpoints are less persuasive than others. She explicitly affirms “the authority” of the Bible, interprets it carefully and often, and yet feels free to go her own way on several key issues of contemporary import (e.g., she supports gay marriage). From the perspective of Christian theology, this is a weakness in Robinson’s ad hoc essay collection.

But Robinson’s strengths are so strong that, even when the reader does not agree, the reader profits. Her prose style is clear but demanding—in a way that confers respect upon those lucky enough to have the skill, time, and opportunity to read Robinson.

To evangelical Christians this reviewer says: do read Robinson. Read her for her critiques of scientism and Darwinism and materialism; read her for her rich understanding of the tradition of the Puritans both English and American. Read her for her careful insights into Scripture, despite and because of their unexpected source. Stick around for her critiques of various political ideologies. And then just enjoy the sheer pleasure of reading someone who knows how to write.

Just Let Go: A Novel / by Courtney Walsh. (Harbor Pointe, 2) 12.25.2018

Tyndale House ISBN 97814496421524

Adult Rating: 4

Author Courtney Walsh shares another contemporary romance set in Harbor Pointe, Michigan–a lakeside community where people really get to know and care for one another.

In Just Let Go, Quinn Collins buys the local flower shop to fulfill a childhood dream–to show her estranged mother she is capable of running the shop once owned by her. Her mother left town (and Quinn) over 20 years ago. Quinn also wants to win the floral design competition where her mother serves as head judge. Can Quinn let go of her hurt and forgive her mother for leaving?

Meanwhile short-tempered Olympic skier Grady Benson comes to town. After a heated confrontation resulting in property damage, Grady finds himself doing community service at Quinn’s shop. He is inspired by her hard work and determination to reach her goals, which in turn re-ignites his pursuit of Olympic fame. After a tense moment with his family, Grady pushes everyone away, including Quinn. Can Grady forgive himself and move forward?

Walsh pens a sweet small-town romance with main characters who annoy one another without realizing how alike they are. Both want to prove themselves to someone: Quinn to her mother, and Grady to his family. Just Let Go is the story of facing one’s past and finding joy even in the midst of disappointments. Filled with a clean relationship between Grady and Quinn, a very light faith element, and themes of forgiveness and letting go of the past, this story will remind the reader why Harbor Pointe is a place that readers like to visit again and again.

Recommended for public libraries and for high school readers. Fans of Beth Vogt, Liz Johnson, and Denise Hunter will welcome this new book!

Carol R. Gehringer,

Fatal Trust / by Todd M. Johnson. 12.24.2018

Bethany House Publishers ISBN 9780764212352

Adult Rating: 4

Ian Wells dreamed of a practice in criminal law. His ambitions quickly derailed with the death of his father and a request from his mother. Years later, still running Wells & Hoy Law Office, Ian has nothing to show for his work except mounting bills, a possible lawsuit against the firm, his mother who now has Alzheimer’s, not enough income to cover his pending needs, and dreams that wake him up drenched in sweat.

Then he meets Sean Callahan and is offered the chance to earn more than enough to pay the bills, settle the lawsuit, and take care of his mother, and finally start his criminal law practice. All Ian must do is dig up the past on three possible trust recipients. But as Ian begins to dig up their past he soon realizes that his past is somehow connected. What he discovers could destroy his entire future.

Todd M. Johnson introduces a mysterious web connecting the past, present, and future of his characters in a swiftly spiraling plot full of intrigue. Fatal Trust brings the once mundane legal world of wills and trusts alive with riveting mystery.

Cicely K. Ben, CLJ

King’s War / by Jill Williamson. (The Kinsman Chronicles, 3) 12.21.2018

Bethany House ISBN 9780764218323

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Jill Williamson concludes her epic fantasy series for adult readers, with another volume filled with political and spiritual intrigue.

In King’s War, the growing battle between the Kinsman remnant governed by King Trevn of Armania and their enemies led by Barthel Rogedoth leads to a final conflict between good and evil, in Er’Rets and in the Veil (a shadow realm). The final battle is more dangerous than any can imagine, and allies change sides frequently. As new gifts and powers are discovered, new alliances are made and broken. Will the gifts of Arman be able to defeat the armies of enemies? How will the final prophecy be fulfilled?

Williamson produces another well-written volume with complex characters and plot twists. Although it is a lengthy tome (even longer than the previous two volumes!), the multiple points of view are identified by the character’s name at the beginning of each chapter. Originally published as three shorter ebooks–The Reluctant King, A Deliverer Comes, and Warriors of the VeilKing’s War concludes this epic fantasy satisfactorily.

Inspired by the corrupt kings of Israel, Williamson’s series is more appropriate for adults and young adults. Each volume includes a list of the key players, a map, and an author’s note; discussion questions and other supplemental material are available on her website. The Kinsman Chronicles series serves as a prequel to Williamson’s The Blood of Kings trilogy, set 500 years later.

Recommended for high school libraries, as well as adult fiction collections in public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer,

Earlier Series Titles and Related Titles Reviewed by CLJKing’s Folly (Jul/Aug/Sep 2016) and King’s Blood (Apr/May/Jun 2017; from the Blood of Kings trilogy–By Darkness Hid (October 2010), To Darkness Fled (October 2010), and From Darkness Won (November2011).

Lady Jayne Disappears / by Joanna Davidson Politano. 12.11.2018

Revell ISBN 9780800728755

Adult Rating: 5

Aurelie Harcourt searches for answers in a house filled with secrets in Lady Jayne Disappears.

Upon her father’s death, Aurelie’s Aunt Eudora takes her in. To adjust to her new home at Lynhurst Manor, Aurelie tries to learn the rules of polite society. After all, being raised in a debtor’s prison doesn’t prepare one for life among gentry. But behaving well in public doesn’t stop her from searching for the truth behind her mother’s disappearance, nor does it stop her from writing. Layer by layer Aurelie delves into the secrets surrounding her mother, but even her wild imagination could not prepare her for the truth.

Joanna Davidson Politano weaves a spell-binding tale of mystery and love as she tells the story of Aurelie Harcourt. Mystery shrouds the well-paced plot. The loveable characters discover their flaws as they unpack what it means to love each other. The manor setting and the debtor’s prison both serve as an essential part of the story as they shape the characters and the plot. Politano’s writing is poetic without excessive wordiness, and it breathes life into the characters and setting and adds tension to the plot. Though not at all “preachy,” readers may learn some important lessons along with Aurelie and the rest of her family, one of the most important of which is, “What will be fixed must first be broken.” (p. 376)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ

Unbreakable / by Sara Ella. (The Unblemished Trilogy, 3) 12.10.2018

Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780718081058

YA Grade 9 and up Rating: 5

Sara Ella returns with the thrilling conclusion to her Unblemished trilogy, a series that combines elements from fairy tales and fantasy to captivate the reader.

In Unbreakable, Eliyana Ember is the vessel of the Verity (the purest of souls)–only she can destroy the Void. But doing so will cost her everything she holds dear. The seven Reflections are now in danger, as are those dearest to her. She moves from one Reflection to another, seeking to destroy the Void. Both of her suitors–– Kyaphus Rhyen and Joshua David, each with their own secrets–have not given up on their pursuit of Eliyana’s heart. She is torn between memories leading her in one direction and her heart leading her in another.

Ella masterfully creates a realistic fantasy world, a story with a nod to pop culture and literary references. The inner dialogue of the main characters–Eliyana, Ebony, Joshua, and Ky–can confuse the reader if one doesn’t note the character name at the beginning of the chapter. The maps of the Reflections are a nice touch as well as the family tree!

Her Unblemished trilogy shows that there is a chance for lightness and darkness in all of us. Her allegorical story is filled with excellent narratives, engaging characters, and truths–and plenty of plot twists! The relationships are clean, the faith element is a light touch, and the violence is neither graphic nor inappropriate.

Recommended for public and school libraries, for fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings, for young adults and adults alike.

Carol R. Gehringer,

Earlier Series Titles Reviewed by CLJ: Unblemished and Unraveling (Oct/Nov/Dec 2017).