Broken Ground / by Karen Halvorsen Schreck. 5.5.2017

Howard Books ISBN 9781476794839

Adult (YA)      Rating: 5

Ruth envisions an idyllic life with the man she loves, going to college, and becoming a teacher. When a terrible tragedy shatters her life, Ruth must decide how much she wants to live–and how to escape a domineering father. Her choice propels her on a journey through America’s 1930s western landscape dotted with Hoovervilles and plagued by state-sponsored racism.

After an assault and a false accusation derail her dream of school and uproot her again, she embarks on a new journey into the world of Mexican workers fighting illegal deportations. In the midst of her own grief and struggles, Ruth rises above herself and discovers the redeeming qualities of service to others that transforms her life and that of those around her. Teaching the Mexican children, she learns that every child should feel content, that education is a universal right, and that God is the God of all cultures and languages.

Through thoughtful narrative, engaging dialogue, and descriptive scenes, Karen Halvorsen Schreck portrays a little-known part of American History. In addition, Broken Ground is a powerful reminder of the redemptive quality of suffering that leads to fruitful growth in God, and that proves that all things do work together for good, if you are open to God’s call and willing to go wherever that takes you.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Waves of Mercy / by Lynn Austin. 4.27.2017

Bethany House ISBN 9780764217616

Adult Rating: 4

Award-winning author Lynn Austin pens a turn-of-the-century story of two women: one a young Chicago socialite, the other an older Dutch immigrant. Their lives intersect when Geesje recounts her immigration story in preparation for their town’s 50th anniversary.

In Waves of Mercy, 23–year-old Anna Nicholson flees to Holland, Michigan after her wealthy fiancé ends their engagement. She befriends Derk Vander Veen, a seminary student working part-time at her hotel. Their conversations lead to a friendship that brings her in contact with Geesje, his neighbor. Derk sees a similarity between the two women.

In 1846, 17–year-old Geesje de Jonge crossed the ocean with her parents and other immigrants from the Netherlands to settle in the Michigan wilderness. In 1897, she is asked to write a memoir of her early experiences. As she recounts her experiences, no one expects the secrets revealed when the two women meet.

Anna suffers from nightmares she has experienced since she was a young girl; she dreams of drowning as a ship sinks. When she travels with her mother to Holland via steamship, she relives those dreams when they face a raging storm just before arrival. Geesje has had her share of hardships. Though her faith may have wavered, it stands the test of time, something she shares with Anna through her story.

Austin tells the story of two women, identifying the speaker at the beginning of each chapter. The stories are interwoven with the theme of family secrets, religious persecution, hardships, joys, and God’s faithfulness through it all. Austin’s characters are believable, as is her central theme: nothing can separate us from God. He is always with us, and has a plan for our lives.

Recommended for public libraries and Lynn Austin fans.

Carol R. Gehringer ,

The Lion Storyteller Book of Parables / by Bob Hartman; illustrated by Krisztina Kállai Nagy. (Lion Storyteller Series) 4.25.2017

Lion Children’s Books ISBN 9780745964461

PRI K-Grade 5 Rating: 5

The Lion Storyteller Book of Parables presents 26 of Jesus’s parables retold in illustrated storybook format.

Author Bob Hartman prefaces the book with an explanation of what the parables are, how Jesus used them in His teaching, and how one can still listen for their meaning. Hartman invites adults to share these lessons with their children and provides ideas for group discussion at the end of the book.

Each parable is concisely told in one to four pages, with the first paragraph setting the stage and the final few lines summarizing the message. Hartman’s use of descriptive and conversational language keeps the content alive and relatable. Children will be easily engaged, whether as readers or listeners.

Wonderful bright artwork by Krisztina Kállai Nagy invigorates the pages. The gestures and facial expressions of her characters are delightful; even the animals seem to have personality. A final scene shows Jesus surrounded by a group of attentive children—a perfect image of the spirit of the parables.

The book’s table of contents includes the biblical references for each story. The Lion Storyteller Book of Parables would be a treasured gift for a child and a lasting addition to the family bookshelf.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Beyond suffering Bible NLT: Where Struggles Seem Endless, God’s Hope Is Infinite / by Joni and Friends, Inc. 4.21.2017

Tyndale House ISBN 9781414392028

Adult Rating: 5

2017 is a year of special significance to bestselling author, artist, singer, and radio host Joni Eareckson Tada–it marks the 50th anniversary of her journey in a wheelchair. One of the ways she has chosen to commemorate is by publishing the Beyond Suffering Bible, a special edition of God’s word for individuals who are struggling with disabilities as well as for families struggling to care for suffering people. The volume is a labor of love, reflecting Mrs. Tada’s desire to reach more people and to encourage and strengthen their walks by sharing the insights that have gotten her through the past 50 years.

With Mrs. Tada as its general editor, the Beyond Suffering Bible features the work of many distinguished contributors, including the experts at Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability. It is a study Bible with many valuable features, including book introductions with an emphasis on key suffering and disability themes, profiles of biblical persons who lived with a disability or acted as a caregiver, devotionals that tackle some of the toughest questions about suffering, and thousands of “Connection Points”–study notes that delve into verses in the context of suffering. There are essays that take an in-depth look at specific topics, written by people who also know suffering. For example, Stephen F. Arterburn’s article on accidental drug addiction is excellent, as is the article on living with chronic pain written by Dr. Michael Easley, president emeritus of the Moody Bible Institute.

The Beyond Suffering Bible may have been created specifically for people who are dealing with disabilities or illnesses, but would be a comfort and invaluable resource for anyone who has ever suffered–which is everyone.

Valorie Cooper, CLJ

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