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Friday, April 14

Springtime Books

It's spring and the books are popping up everywhere!  We've divided this crop into 'children,' 'adult fiction,' and 'adult non-fiction.'  Which one is first to go on your book wishlist??!


The Bible Explorer's Guide (Zonderkidz)
The Bible Explorer’s Guide lets children come up close and personal with everyday life during Bible times through photos, maps, and illustrations illuminating, people, places, objects, and buildings of the Bible. What did Noah’s Ark really look like? Who was David and whom did he fight? How did 1st century citizens of Jerusalem live? Each two-page spread is filled with images that bring history alive and drawings that help bring life to people and places that we can only read about. With fascinating, brief text and full-color captivating images, this is a reference that kids will come back to again and again. A great addition to any home or school library.

My children really enjoyed reading through this book!  It became a 'car book,' meaning that they could read it in short bursts, sometimes aloud for the entire family to enjoy.  The pictures are full-color and engaging; there are even maps included.  The "Did you Know?" sections incited many unforgettable conversations, too!  This book covers archaeology, ancient civilizations, and history from a Biblical perspective, but it's never dry or boring.  Great for elementary and middle school aged children!

Princess Prayers (Zonderkidz)
Princess Prayers includes fifteen sweet prayers for little girls who want to live like princesses for God their King. Prayers are included for girls to be able to pray and learn alongside princess Grace, Hope, Faith, Charity, and Joy. Every little girl is a princess, and this padded cover board book will help them engage with Scripture and discover how to open their hearts to God.

This is a really cute book for little girls. It is a board book, so it's sturdy and will hold up to repeated readings and being loved by little hands. It includes verses, prayers, and beautiful illustrations of the princesses. Each of the illustrations relates to the corresponding prayer. This book would be a nice bedtime book for little princesses, or for princesses who are beginning to read on their own.

Towards a Secret Sky (Heather Maclean)
Shortly after 17-year-old Maren Hamilton is orphaned and sent to live with grandparents she's never met in Scotland, she receives an encrypted journal from her dead mother that makes her and everyone around her a target. It confirms that her parents were employed by a secret, international organization that's now intent on recruiting her. As Maren works to unravel the clues left behind by her mother, a murderous madness sweeps through the local population, terrorizing her small town. Maren must decide if she'll continue her parents' fight or stay behind to save her friends.  With the help of Gavin, an otherworldly mercenary she's not supposed to fall in love with, and Graham, a charming aristocrat who is entranced with her, Maren races against the clock and around the country from palatial estates with twisted labyrinths to famous cathedrals with booby-trapped subterranean crypts to stay ahead of the enemy and find a cure. Along the way, she discovers the great truth of love: that laying down your life for another isn't as hard as watching them sacrifice everything for you.

I want to preface my review by saying that this is a Young Adult book, and I have an adult perspective.  The teen that I passed the book along to seems to enjoy it a bit more than I did - and her lens is obviously different.  That said, here are my qualms...   The summary indicates a love triangle, which isn't really accurate.  The 'love at first sight' thing is taken way overboard.  One of the love interests barely exists as a character.  Also, it's a you'll want the second book.  Things that I really liked?  The setting wins hands down.  The imagery of Scotland makes you feel as though you're right there visiting!  The characters seem to be really good people, facing moral dilemmas and struggling to become strong young adults.  And it's a fast-paced book, so not a lot of time to get bored.  From the perspective of a teen, this is probably a really good, fun read!  As an adult, the romance and some of the decisions just left me rolling my eyes.  Verdict : Good for teen girls.

Berenstain Bears Friendship Blessings Collection (Berenstain)
The Berenstain Bears Living Lights, series continues to attract young readers through creative and engaging stories that not only entertain but teach values and life lessons. Now, five of the series’ favorite titles are available in a great new hardcover. This Berenstain Bears Living Lights collection called Friendship Blessings Collection is sure to be a popular choice for Berenstain Bears fans.

This is a nice collection of stories for young readers, or just anyone who loves the Berenstain Bears.  My family read them quite a bit when we were younger, and I felt like I'd read a couple of them before, but am not sure...sometimes they run together.  Each of the stories has a moral or character value incorporated into them, but they are written in such a way as to tell the story, rather than seeming overtly preachy.  The boys' favorite was "Perfect Fishing Spot," while the girls liked "Faithful Friends" the best.  As mom, I appreciated the inclusion of "God Made You Special," because every child is a special needs child in their own way, and this story is about how and why God makes everyone different, but we all fit together.

Love Letters from God for a Girl's Heart (Glenys Nellist)
In this heart-warming picture book designed for girls, author Glenys Nellist tells the inspiring stories of incredible women in the Bible. With beautiful illustrations by Rachel Clowes and sweet lift-the-flap envelopes, each story delivers a special message for children to open as they read their own personal love letters from God. Full of warmth and love, this picture book will fill girls’ hearts with the wonder of the Lord. The stories of Eve, Miriam, Esther, Mary, and many more will delight children and remind them of the bond they can share with God, just like the women of the Bible.

This book highlights some of the best Bible stories, each featuring a girl, showing love. Each is retold for the young audience, and includes a short memory verse. At the end of each story, there is a lift-the-flap letter from God that can be personally addressed to your child. Do you remember The Jolly Postman? It was one of our favorite books as children – and this reminds me a lot of that book. It’s very hands-on, which usually appeals to young children, but is also appropriate for older children and even adult readers! The illustrations are engaging and the writing is at an appropriate level. The repetition, coupled with the hands-on elements and memory verses, ensures that they’ll be learning something as you enjoy a little snuggle time!

Adult - Fiction

The Memory of You (Catherine West)
Thirteen years ago, Natalie lost a part of herself when her twin sister died. Will traveling back to the family winery finally put the memory to rest, or will it completely destroy her?  When Natalie Mitchell learns her beloved grandfather has had a heart attack, she’s forced to return to their family-owned winery in Sonoma, something she never intended to do. She’s avoided her grandparents’ sprawling home and all its memories since the summer her sister died—the awful summer Natalie’s nightmares began. But the winery is failing, and Natalie’s father wants her to shut it down. As the majority shareholder, she has the power to do so.  And Natalie never says no to her father.  Tanner Collins, the vintner on Maoilios, is trying to salvage a bad season and put the Mitchell family’s winery back in business. When Natalie Mitchell shows up, Tanner sees his future about to be crushed. Natalie intends to close the gates, unless he can convince her otherwise. But the Natalie he remembers from childhood is long gone, and he’s not so sure he likes the woman she’s become. Still, the haunted look she wears hints at secrets he wants to unearth. He soon discovers that on the night her sister died, the real Natalie died too. And Tanner must do whatever it takes to resurrect her.  But finding freedom from the past means facing it.

I hadn't read anything from this author, but she develops her characters and story line well.  It's a clean, Christian read, and the characters struggle to overcome their own personal pasts.  Together, they learn to grow beyond those hurts.  The biggest theme within the story is that of overcoming grief - and sometimes the guilt that accompanies that grief.  Through arduous journeys with their struggles, each of the characters manages to find and give forgiveness (not really a spoiler - we all know how these books end, just not the pieces of that journey...that's what makes the book!).  The other big theme of the book is trust - trusting yourself, trusting others, and trusting God.  It's not easy, and it's something that we all probably struggle with regularly (well, at least us Type-A's do), so you can really connect with the characters through this theme.  At times, it's easy to get bogged down in description, but wade through it and keep moving with the the end.

The Ebb Tide (Beverly Lewis)

When a well-to-do family asks Sallie Riehl to be their daughter's nanny for the summer at their Cape May, New Jersey, vacation home, she jumps at the chance to broaden her horizons beyond the Lancaster County Amish community where she grew up. Sallie has long dreamed of seeing more of the world, but her parents are reluctant for her to put off baptism yet another summer, and the timing is unfortunate for Perry Zook, who has renewed interest in courting her. Though she loves nannying, Sallie has free time on the weekends to enjoy the shore. It is there that she meets Kevin Kreider, a marine biology student who talks freely about all he's learning and asks about her interests, unlike most of the guys she grew up with. Time with Kevin is invigorating, and Sallie realizes she's never felt quite this alive around Perry. Then again, Kevin is Mennonite, not Amish.

You don't often see an Amish-themed book where the main character has wanderlust, so that immediately made this read have a different feel.  She is in her Rumspringa when these events occur, though, so they are 'ok.'  The author really draws you into the story, connecting you so strongly with the main character that you feel her joys and hurts.  It's an old theme with a new story - we must find our hearts, and follow our own paths, rather than the path that our family has so carefully planned for us.  As a parent now, I can see both sides of this age-old story, as parents only want to do what they feel is in their child's best interest, but we have to let them go and explore and live their own lives.  Beautifully written, this is a quick read that you will love!

Sandpiper Cove (Irene Hannon)

Hope Harbor police chief Lexie Graham has plenty on her plate raising her son alone and dealing with a sudden rash of petty theft and vandalism in her coastal Oregon hometown. As a result, she has zero time for extracurricular activities--including romance. Ex-con Adam Stone isn't looking for love either--but how ironic is it that the first woman to catch his eye is a police chief? Yet wishing for things that can never be is foolish. Nevertheless, when Lexie enlists Adam's help to keep a young man from falling into a life of crime, sparks begin to fly. And as they work together, it soon becomes apparent that God may have a different--and better--future planned for them than either could imagine. Lauded by Library Journal as "a master at character development," Irene Hannon welcomes readers back to this charming Oregon seaside village where hearts heal--and love blooms.

This is the third book in the series, and I had not read the first two, but it's completely standalone.  I enjoyed the characters so much that I'm going to go read the first two now, but you won't miss anything by not having read them.  It's also such a well-written and fast-paced story that you'll finish it quickly!  It's a clean, Christian romance, and the characters have their own personal and public struggles to overcome - eventually, together.  In spite of the drama in their lives, you won't feel anxious with this read.  Instead, the pages exude a peaceful feeling.  The town pulls you in, wraps you in a warm blanket, and invites you to stay for a while.  I'm looking forward to catching up on those first two, and enjoying the next one in the series!

Tell Me How this Ends Well (David Samuel Levinson)
In 2022, American Jews face an increasingly unsafe and anti-Semitic landscape at home. Against this backdrop, the Jacobson family gathers for Passover in Los Angeles. But their immediate problems are more personal than political, with the three adult children, Mo, Edith, and Jacob, in various states of crisis, the result, each claims, of a lifetime of mistreatment by their father, Julian. The siblings have begun to suspect that Julian is hastening their mother Roz's demise, and years of resentment boil over as they debate whether to go through with the real reason for their reunion: an ill-considered plot to end their father’s iron rule for good. That is, if they can put their bickering, grudges, festering relationships, and distrust of one another aside long enough to act. And God help them if their mother finds out . . . Tell Me How This Ends Well presents a blistering and prescient vision of the near future, turning the exploits of one very funny, very troubled family into a rare and compelling exploration of the state of America, and what it could become.

This was a strange little story - it's a dark comedy, but also a commentary on the current social trends. The author does a good job of developing his characters, and the alternating narratives helps with that, so it's easy to connect to them, initially. The story was a bit too dramatic, though. It was just SO crazy-packed...the word may have been invented for them, but this family _doesn't_ put the fun in dysfunctional. After a while, you no longer want to connect with the characters - you just want to step off the crazy train. The author writes well, and the characters are both archetypal and unique, but I have enough drama in my own life without trying to sort of the mess that is this family's!!

Home on the Range (Ruth Logan Herne)
Nick Stafford stayed in central Washington, working his family’s large ranch after his brothers left to pursue other passions—but his toughest job is being a single dad. As a child he watched his father fail at marriage and parenting, so Nick was determined to show him up. He’d be a better husband, father, and ranch manager than Sam Stafford ever was. Despite that commitment, three years after Nick’s wife left him, he has a daughter in trouble at school and both of his girls are facing issues that force him to rethink his stubborn plans.  For Dr. Elsa Andreas, life fell apart when tragedy caused her to abandon her family therapy practice and retreat to the backwoods of Gray’s Glen. Her school principal sister believes Elsa can guide the Stafford girls and that working with kids will draw Elsa out of her protective bubble.  Summer on the Double S teems with life and adventure. Amid the bounty of God and land, will Nick and Elsa find the courage to build futures based on faith rather than fear?

This is the second in a three part series (including Back in the Saddle and Peace in the Valley), and it was very well done.  I'm sure I would have gotten a deeper perspective if I'd read the first one first, but it wasn't necessary to enjoying and understanding the book.  The characters are down-home and easy to relate to, but that doesn't mean that they're without their own struggles.  The two little girls, Dakota and Cheyenne, were so adorable that you just want to be a part of their family!  Main themes of the book include accepting yourself and your issues, dealing with them, and being honest with yourself and others.  The author brings the characters through the twists and trials of their struggles to a happy ending.

Adult - Non-Fiction
All These Wonders (Catherine Burns)
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of storytelling phenomenon The Moth, 45 unforgettable true stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown, drawn from the best ever told on their stages. Carefully selected by the creative minds at The Moth, and adapted to the page to preserve the raw energy of live storytelling, All These Wonders features voices both familiar and new. Alongside Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, John Turturro, and Meg Wolitzer, readers will encounter: an astronomer gazing at the surface of Pluto for the first time, an Afghan refugee learning how much her father sacrificed to save their family, a hip-hop star coming to terms with being a “one-hit wonder,” a young female spy risking everything as part of Churchill’s “secret army” during World War II, and more. High-school student and neuroscientist alike, the storytellers share their ventures into uncharted territory—and how their lives were changed indelibly by what they discovered there. With passion, and humor, they encourage us all to be more open, vulnerable, and alive.

I first saw one of these short stories in Readers' Digest, and knew that I had to read the rest. They are inspiring, compelling, heartbreaking, and encouraging. We are all facing the unknown these days, some more so than others, and it is an inspiration to read of others who have emerged the moth from its cocoon. I had never heard of the majority of these authors, but you can hear a distinct voice within each short story. The stories range from very devastating to very joyful, but they all carry the themes of love, vulnerability, assistance, and overcoming (even if it's just overcoming an attitude toward a set of circumstances). If you're a fan of short stories, or just a fan of people and their experiences, this is a good book to pick up.

Devotions from a Kitchen Table (Thomas Nelson)
A simple meal shared around a table. A fresh cup of coffee and God’s Word in the quiet hours of the morning. The joy of laughing with friends and family. Devotions from the Kitchen Table invites you to slow down and appreciate the gifts that are right in front of you. These ninety devotions will inspire you to sit in God’s presence, nourish your soul, and cherish the people who grace your kitchen table. Take a seat at the table and reflect on the extraordinary blessings that are wrapped up in the most ordinary moments at home.

In the same vein as Devotions for Easter or Devotions for Christmas, each of the short devotions included is centered around the theme of the kitchen table, cooking, and hospitality.  This is a beautifully-illustrated hardcover book that will draw you in through visual images and retain your interest with the short, engaging devotions.  It would make a wonderful Mother's Day gift for mom or grandma, or could be included in a housewarming basket for a new home or wedding shower.  It would also be great as a coffee table book!

The Mediterranean Love Plan (Misty Arterburn)
The Mediterranean Love Plan unveils the “7 Secrets of Passion” from some of the most romantic countries in the world: Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Israel. Most couples marry in a flurry of passion, but soon find themselves wondering “How do we keep love interesting, fun and romantic? How do we keep the spark growing for decades?” Steve and Misty Arterburn offer unique, ground-breaking answers to these age-old questions. Romance is much more than a date night out or a week away. A passionate, long-lasting love requires two people who are sensually in love with life and each other. In this fascinating book, the authors explore research on seven activities that prompt passion, then describe how Mediterranean cultures practice these secrets in everyday life. Steve and Misty also share how these fun-to-apply secrets have taken their own marriage from confused to confident, from discouraged to delighted– and how you can do it too. The Mediterranean Love Plan will help couples become more playful, creative, connected and romantic -- burning with passion that stands the test of time.

The first thing I wanted to know was, 'So what are the seven secrets?'  Attunement, playfulness, savoring food, enjoying beauty, creativity, health and longevity, and blending the sacred with the sexual.  This plan has some good ideas to put spice back into your marriage.  I don't think it's ever bad to read about marriage and ways to keep your own fresh.  After all, like anything else, we have to work at it and do our part to keep it alive...particularly if you've been married a while or are just mired in the 'let's get the kids to A, B, and C' season of life.  I didn't feel like the information was groundbreaking or unusual, but it was a nice read for remembering to focus on your partnership.

Break Open the Sky (Stephan Bauman)
Terrorism. Racism. Refugees. Political vitriol. Our culture is driven by fear. Compared to all previous generations, we are more safe, live longer, hurt less, and earn more. Yet, we are more afraid than ever. Our faith has fallen prey to this culture of fear. Fear slips into our souls, leaving us not only afraid, but on edge and constantly anxious. No longer a safe harbor, a source of strength, and a bastion for love, faith has become a caricature of the real thing. We are left wondering, questioning, even disillusioned. We face a defining moment. Will we cave in to fear or rise in faith? Stephan Bauman, the former president of World Relief, has seen firsthand in some of the most difficult places in the world how it is possible to embrace love in the face of fear. Break Open the Sky is an invitation into living out what matters most. We can become, once again, a community of hope.

A book that quotes Mr. Rogers and the Little Prince is one that I want to dig deeper into...and so I did.  After all, "What is essential is invisible to the eye." (Little Prince)  That's the theme of this book.  The gospel, in its raw form, is not strapped down by the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' that hold us down in our daily lives.  To quote the text :  "We must take an honest look in the mirror with the full confidence that God will not condemn us but rather will invite us into a whole new way to live, free from fear and with the capacity to genuinely love."  On top of this, our world is changing, rapidly, and we have two roads that we can choose to traverse the changes.  (To delve into the two roads would spoil a good portion of the book, so I'm refraining.)  The question is - which do you travel?  And if you don't like it - how do you get to the other one?  This book will help you cut through the static to the crux of your path and then help you make any desired changes.

I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.
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