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Wednesday, September 26

Fall Into a New Book! (& Giveaway)


With the advent of fall comes the beginning of Christmas books in the book review world....we've included some of our favorites in this list, but never fear -- we'll be compiling all of our favorites on here for you after Thanksgiving!

Children's
Young Whit & the Traitor's Treasure (Lollar & Arnold)
This Odyssey book series explores the history of the much-loved character John Avery Whittaker. The series introduces newcomers to the larger world of Odyssey. For readers who are already Odyssey-philes, the novels provide the history of the franchise’s most important character.  Whit and his family (father, Harold; stepmother, Fiona; half-sister, Charlie) have just moved to Provenance, NC, in the middle of the Great Depression. Harold will be teaching at nearby Duke University. Not-quite-10-year-old Johnny soon makes a friend in Emmy, who lives across the street and joins him in his adventures. At his new school, he encounters a bully who makes his life miserable, and he makes a new friend in Huck, the custodian. Both of them play key roles in the mysteries and action.  The central mystery in book 1 involves Confederate gold missing since the end of the Civil War and the question of whether Johnny’s ancestor was the coward and thief who stole it, as everyone believes.

For folks who love The Adventures Odyssey, there is now a book series about Whit as a young boy!  Set in Depression-era North Carolina, this is a historical mystery that will have kids thinking.  In the same vein as Adventures in Odyssey, character lessons play a key role in the story, which is something I appreciate in the books my kids pick up.  Whit (who we know as the portrayer of wisdom in A of O) is a young boy who has moved into a new neighborhood.  While discovering treasure in the attic, he sees a caped man with a dagger running around their house and chasing a boy.  The mystery ensues as Whit begins investigating who that masked man could be.  Eventually, we learn the answer, along with some lessons in character.  Already slated, The Shroud of Secrecy is next up in this series.





Jesus Calling : The Story of Christmas (Sarah Young)

The Christmas story began long, long ago. Before the angel Gabriel told Mary she would have God's Son. Before the shepherds saw the angels and before the wise men saw the star.  Even before the sun and the moon shone for the first time, before the first cows ever moooed and the first monkeys ever climbed! Before Adam and Even took their first walk in the Garden of Eden, God had a plan for Christmas.  From the beginning of time, God had a plan to save his children. That plan was Jesus!  Jesus Calling®: The Story of Christmas is a beautifully embellished jacketed hardcover with foil and glitter. Curl up with your little ones around the Christmas tree with Jesus Calling®: The Story of Christmas.

Fiction
The Sound of Distant Thunder (Jan Drexler)
Katie Stuckey and Jonas Weaver are both romantics. Seventeen-year-old Katie is starry-eyed, in love with the idea of being in love, and does not want to wait to marry Jonas until she is eighteen, despite her parents' insistence. So much can happen in a year. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up in the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But can the commitment Katie and Jonas have made to each other survive the separation?  From the talented pen of Jan Drexler comes this brand new Amish series set against the backdrop of the Civil War. She puts her characters to the test as they struggle to reconcile their convictions and desires while the national conflict threatens to undermine and engulf their community.

This covers a topic that I've never even considered...the Amish in the Civil War.  Knowing that the Amish are pacifists, I've always assumed they have an easy-out from fighting, but it would appear otherwise.  The main character really steps up and shows his character when he takes his brother's place in the draft, and this can't be an easy decision because this was already an ugly war by then.  The main female character stays behind and she embodies all of the worries and hardships that most women faced during this ear.  She has to be so much stronger than those around her to keep them all afloat.  The author describes war without going too graphic; she makes the characters both likable and believable; and she brings to life an aspect that few have known about before.

A Seat by the Hearth (Amy Clipston)
Priscilla Allgyer left the community in hopes of escaping the expectations of Amish life. Now, years later, she is forced to return to the place she thought she’d left behind forever—along with her six-year-old son. Though once estranged from her family, Priscilla is welcomed by her mother, but her father is cold and strict. He allows Priscilla to stay with them provided she dresses plainly, confesses her sins, and agrees to marry within the community. Once again, she feels suffocated, trapped, and alone.  As Priscilla reluctantly completes her shunning, she catches the eye of Mark Riehl, a farmer with a playboy reputation. Wary of Mark, Priscilla barely gives him the time of day—while Mark, unused to being ignored by the women of Bird-in-Hand, won’t give up the pursuit of her friendship. Priscilla desperately needs a friend in Mark, even if she doesn’t realize it—and after Priscilla’s father and the bishop catch her and Mark in a compromising situation, the two are compelled to enter an awkward, unexpected engagement.  After Priscilla and Mark marry and live as friends, affection quietly grows between them—but Priscilla struggles to open her heart and reveal the painful secrets of her past. As Mark works to earn her good faith, can they both learn the hard lessons of love and trust? And can two friends discover a happiness that only God himself could have designed? The third book in the Amish Homestead series, A Seat by the Hearth invites us back to the Lancaster community where friendships are forged and love overcomes all.

I've read a couple of other books about this same family (Room on the Porch Swing is one), and really enjoy the way that the author takes serious issues and shows how they are present across the board. Here, we are dealing with abuse, both emotional and physical, and it was just really surprising to see it show up in an Amish community...it's not something that I would think would happen there...but she shows that they have serious faults as well. She also shows the hard choices that many face to stay within their church boundaries, the restrictions that they cope with, and the character struggles that are common to young people everywhere. I felt like Mark was almost _too_ good to be true, but love how this story ended. I'll be interested to read the one about the final Riehl child, Cindy, and see how everything ties up for the siblings!

Legacy of Mercy (Lynn Austin)
Having returned to Chicago, young socialite Anna Nicholson can't seem to focus on her upcoming marriage. The new information she's learned about her birth mother continues to pull at her, and she hires Pinkerton detectives to help her find the truth. But as she meets people who once knew her mother and hears stories about the past, Anna soon discovers that some secrets are better left hidden.  At the same time, unflattering stories about Anna are leaked by someone who would love to see her disgraced and her engagement broken. And as Anna tries to share her faith with her society friends, she understands that her choice to seek God's purpose for her life isn't as simple as she had hoped.  When things are at their darkest, Anna knows she can turn to her grandmother, Geesje de Jonge, back in Holland, Michigan. Geesje's been helping new Dutch immigrants, including a teen with a haunted past, adjust to America. She only hopes that her wisdom can help all these young people through the turmoil they face.

I picked up the first book in this series by accident, but really loved the characters and plot, so when I saw this second installment, just had to read it! It did not disappoint. The characters are so humanly flawed, grappling with issues of the heart, their place and station in society, and how to best serve the Lord (those who are interested in that sort of thing). Anneke continues her search for her past, and we learn quite a bit about several of the characters' pasts; the past and present intertwine to create an uncertain future. I love how we follow a cross-section of society, as well as a few families over several generations, as it paints a broad picture of this era. Given the ending, I'm not sure if there will be a third in the series....but I really hope so!

Freedom's Light (Colleen Coble)
Hannah Thomas believes she’s escaped Galen Wright’s evil intentions by marrying an older lighthouse keeper. Seemingly safe in faraway Massachusetts, her world is upended when John is killed in one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Hannah is allowed to continue the difficult task of tending the twin lighthouses in John’s place, though she faces daily disapproval from John’s family. She thinks her loneliness will subside when her younger sister arrives, but she finds Lydia’s obsession with Galen only escalates the dangerous tides swirling around her.  A stormy night brings a shipwrecked sea captain to Hannah’s door, and though he is a Tory, her heart is as traitorous as the dark-eyed captain. Even though she discovers Birch Meredith isn’t the enemy he seemed at first, Hannah isn’t sure their love will ever see the light of freedom.

I loved this book! It looks like it will be a standalone, rather than part of a series. Until the end, I thought that maybe it'd be a first in a new series, but it becomes clear that it isn't. There are twists and turns, lots of spies and double agents, wartime changes to gender roles, and the strictest post-Puritanical church I've ever seen. Without giving too much away, one of the main characters is just naive and silly, and I couldn't connect with her...I didn't like her. Another takes on much more than she should bear, and does it with grace. Another must come to an understanding about his faith and his beliefs, while grappling with a need for vengeance. Finally, there is the character whom you can't help but despise, and you truly hope that he will have a change of heart by the story's end. The combination of these four personalities, along with their supporting cast, brings a sense of realness to the book that makes you root both for and against everyone!


Catching Christmas (Terri Blackstock)
As a first-year law associate, Sydney Batson knows she will be updating her resume by New Year’s if she loses her current case. So when her grandmother gets inexplicably ill while she’s in court, Sydney arranges for a cab to get her to the clinic.  The last thing cab driver Finn Parrish wants is to be saddled with a wheelchair-bound old lady with dementia. But because Miss Callie reminds him of his own mother, whom he failed miserably in her last days, he can’t say no when she keeps calling him for rides. Once a successful gourmet chef, Finn’s biggest concern now is paying his rent, but half the time Callie doesn’t remember to pay him. And as she starts to feel better, she leads him on wild-goose chases to find a Christmas date for her granddaughter.  When Finn meets Sydney, he’s quite sure she’s never needed help finding a date. Does Miss Callie have an ulterior motive, or is this just a mission driven by delusions? He’s willing to do whatever he can to help fulfill Callie’s Christmas wish. He just never expected to be a vital part of it.
What a sweet book! It's a little sad, too, but in a bittersweet way. Callie is every-grandmother...or she's just like both of mine...and her relationship with her granddaughter outweighs all else. The author does such a good job of building characters that I was concerned for her myself! The cab driver is, admittedly, much more patient that I probably would be in the same situation, but it's easy to see God's hand at play in the lives of each character. The ending, though sad, left you with a warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness. .....you'll just have to read it and see. ;)


An Amish Homecoming (novella collection)
  • No Place Like Home by Amy Clipston - Estranged daughter Eva Dienner has been staying with her in-laws since her husband was killed in a fire, but now she wants her son to meet his maternal grandparents. Upon her return, Eva finds that the man her parents always intended for her is living in their daadihaus and running the dairy farm for them for free, despite her suspicions of him taking advantage of her family. Eva knows she should put the past behind her, but is she ready to move into the future?
  • When Love Returns by Beth Wiseman - Hurricane Harvey forces Sarah Zook to return to the home she fled six years ago when she couldn’t face her stern parents’ reaction to her unplanned pregnancy. Upon her return, Abram King can think of nothing but the pain she caused him—until he meets Sarah’s daughter and realizes that he never really stopped loving Sarah. Sarah and Abram must find a way to face the truth of their past so they can rekindle their first love.
  • The Courage to Love by Shelley Shepard Gray - After the death of her Englisch husband, Irene Keim seeks a fresh start by staying with her new friends Mary Ruth and Henry Wengerd in exchange for helping them around the house. But when Mary Ruth and Henry’s son Marcus comes around, he isn’t pleased with the woman they’ve taken in and is determined to push her out. Misunderstandings abound, but both Irene and Marcus learn that people aren’t always what they seem.
  • What Love Built by Kathleen Fuller - Independent and headstrong, Carolyn is determined to forge ahead with the opening of her bakery, a lifelong dream, in the Birch Creek home she left ten years ago. But she’s in over her head and needs help with the cleaning, shopping, and deliveries. Carpenter Atlee Shetler is visiting Birch Creek to escape the memories of his late wife. He takes a job renovating the new bakery and finds the project—and its owner—to be much more than he bargained for. Both Carolyn and Atlee must face pains of the past if they want to have the bright future God has planned for them.
This is a collection of four "Prodigal Son" type stories, each from a different author, but with the common thread of the struggles to move back home after being absent for a time. My favorites were the first two, most likely due to the age of the characters (and thus relate-ability), but each story brought something different to the table. Those returning home are met with mixed emotions, including joy at their return, distrust of intentions, and hesitation at becoming too attached (because they may leave again). I enjoy reading these four-novella collections because they are short, bite-sized stories, but have a common thread that pulls the whole book together.

Non-Fiction
No matter how difficult life seems, you will find more joy when you choose gratitude. Boost your happiness and deepen your walk with God by becoming aware of all you have to appreciate. 365 Devotions for a Thankful Heart is a daily devotional that will inspire you to slow down, recognize God’s gifts, and be grateful for all His blessings.  Short daily readings will encourage you to open your heart with gratitude to all the ways God has blessed you. In 365 Devotions for a Thankful Heart, each entry starts with an inspiring Scripture and ends with a short prayer to help focus your heart on thankfulness as you go about your day. Each devotion is the perfect length to fit into even the busiest schedule, but substantial enough to start your day on just the right note.  The beautiful design of 365 Devotions for a Thankful Heart makes a stylish addition to your book collection, and you’ll love to have it on display as a reminder to be aware of the simple blessings in life.
This has been a crazy year, full of focusing on the negatives in the world around us, and that makes this book wholly relevant and necessary. We _must_ disengage and just stop every now and again, and this is a wonderful book to help you do just that. Each day offers up a new, short (and thereby completely doable) opportunity for rest and reflection on the positives around you. The devotionals are calming and help the reader to reconnect with the inner spirit. If you, or someone you love, is caught up in the rat race madness that we call life today, this is a great, and economical, gift of love.
I'll Be There for You (Kelsey Miller)
Today, Friends is remembered as an icon of 90s comedy and the Must See TV years. But when the series debuted in 1994, no one anticipated the sensation it would become. From the first wave of Friendsmania to the backlash and renaissance that followed, the show maintained an uncanny connection to its audience, who saw it both as a reflection of their own lives and an aspirational escape from reality. In the years since, Friends has evolved from prime-time megahit to nostalgic novelty, and finally, to certified classic. Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe have entered the pantheon of great television characters, and yet their stories remain relevant still.  I’ll Be There for You is a deep dive into Friends history and lore, exploring all aspects of the show, from its unlikely origins to the societal conditions that amplified its success. Journalist and pop culture expert Kelsey Miller relives the show’s most powerful moments, sheds light on its sometimes dated and problematic elements, and examines the worldwide trends that Friends catalyzed, from contemporary coffee culture to the wildly popular Ô90s haircut The Rachel. Taking readers behind the scenes, Miller traces the cast’s rise to fame and untangles the complex relationship between the actors and their characters. Weaving in revelatory interviews and personal stories, she investigates the role of celebrity media, world-changing events and the dawning of the digital age—all of which influenced both the series and its viewers.  I’ll Be There for You is the definitive retrospective of Friends, not only for fans of the series, but for anyone who’s ever wondered what it is about this show—and television comedy—that resonates so powerfully.

Being part of the 'Friends' generation, this book was mostly like a walk down memory lane. I loved the stories of behind-the-scenes, how the show came to exist and the actors nailed down, and all of the memories of what was REALLY going on behind the scenes. It explained some of the more awkward episodes, too. If you've seen every season, then you'll get a deeper meaning (or sometimes just a good chuckle) at some of these stories behind the episodes. I didn't like when it took a turn toward the more political. The book would have been just as good, and ended on a better note, without the political commentary.


When Your Kid is Hurting (Kevin Leman)
Children today live in an unpredictable, disruptive, and often violent world. Many of them live in two different homes with different sets of expectations. They face bullying at school and online. They hear news of school shootings, and racially or religiously motivated violence. They may have lost a friend or a loved one.  As parents, the impulse to protect our children is strong, but that very protection can end up handicapping them for life. Rather than seek to save them from the hard things, parents must teach their kids how to cope with and rise above their problems. In one of his most important books to date, internationally known psychologist and bestselling author Dr. Kevin Leman shows parents how to be good listeners, tell the truth, even when it's difficult, find balance between being protective and being overprotective, approach hurt and injustice as a learning experience rather than fostering a victim mentality, and much more.  Whether your child is dealing with a difficult family situation, bullies, the loss of friends, the death of a loved one, discrimination, abuse, a teen pregnancy, or even just trying to make sense of what they see in the news, this compassionate and practical book will help parents equip them to process, learn from, and rise above their situation.

This is a subject that I discuss with so many moms today....how do we help our children grow up in a world that we don't understand?  This is not the world I grew up in, and when my children are hurt in ways that I could never have imagined, it's difficult to know which direction to turn.  Seeking wisdom from above, we simply support our children with love.  This book, however, offers the guidance that needs to accompany that love.  Topics such as mass shootings, broken families, discrimination, and social media are covered in the context of general parenting advice.  This is a book about loving your children, learning to recognize the signs of a hurt child, and how to be the best parent possible, within the frame of our ever-changing world.  Helpful appendices include 'Top Ten Principles for Handling Life's Hurts Well' and resources for additional assistance.

Hope Your Heart Needs (Holley Gerth)
Understanding more of God's character and how he loves us changed bestselling author Holley Gerth's life in beautiful, powerful ways. She realized that she didn't have to settle for "I'm fine" when there was someone whispering to her in every moment, "You're mine." The hope, joy, peace, and purpose she longed for were already there, in the heart of God.  Now in 52 devotional readings, Holley shares with women the answer to the restlessness they feel in their hearts that keeps them hurrying, striving, pushing. She shows them that "the God who scattered stars like diamonds across the velvet of the universe, the keeper of every sparrow, the maker of us all, is inviting us to draw closer to him. He is the place where our hearts can go on the hard days and the happy ones, in the highs and lows, when we are sad or frustrated or downright giddy. He is what we've been searching for all along."

With fifty-two different chapters, this could be a book where each week you focus on a new chapter, or it could be something that you flip through as needed.  The table of contents makes it easy to find a desired subject (ie, Comforter, Friend, Purpose-Giver), or you can do as I do and flip to a random page, knowing that what you need to see will be placed before you!  The chapters are based on God's character and include scripture and prayer.  They also include short stories from the author's personal life that pertain to that topic.  This is a book that is meant to provide encouragement and support, with real-world examples of how that is seen in daily life.

White Picket Fences (Amy Julia Becker)
The notion that some might have it better than others, for no good reason, offends our sensibilities. Yet, until we talk about privilege, we’ll never fully understand it or find our way forward. Amy Julia Becker welcomes us into her life, from the charm of her privileged southern childhood to her adult experience in the northeast, and the denials she has faced as the mother of a child with special needs. She shows how a life behind a white picket fence can restrict even as it protects, and how it can prevent us from loving our neighbors well. White Picket Fences invites us to respond to privilege with generosity, humility, and hope. It opens us to questions we are afraid to ask, so that we can walk further from fear and closer to love, in all its fragile and mysterious possibilities.

The writer offers up her personal story and self-examination of growing up and living with privilege in this world.  While I do not personally agree with some of her assertions, based on her experiences, I think she's done a brave thing to start a conversation about something so polarizing.  The truth of white privilege is that is used to be very prevalent, and still is in some communities, but these days, being white is becoming a hindrance.  I realize that this will not be a popular opinion / review, but...in raising (presumably) heterosexual, white sons, I struggle to understand how the world became so topsy-turvy that they are to blame for everything, and are expected to 'pay retribution' (of one sort or another) to every other minority in the world.  Yet, the author would say that my sons have the highest amount of privilege.  I don't buy it - not anymore.  They will not be shamed for things they did not do; they will be taught to treat everyone as a person, regardless of traits.  In the quest for equality, if everyone just did that one thing, it would go much further.  

Jesus Calling for Christmas (Sarah Young)
Are your holidays too hectic? Take a few minutes to savor the season with this beautiful Christmas edition of Jesus Calling devotions, a perfect gift that includes 50 short selections along with festive and breathtaking imagery. Jesus Calling for Christmas is a compilation of 50 seasonally appropriate devotions from Sarah Young's bestselling brand. In addition to the heartwarming devotions, enjoy the Christmas story from the Bible, Old Testament prophecies about the birth of Jesus, and exquisite images. Whether a self-purchase to enhance your observation of Advent and the birth of the Christ child or a natural gift for friends and loved ones, Jesus Calling for Christmas will prove an annual treasure for celebrating the season.

This book if full of beautiful photographs and scripture that will inspire you get to in the mood for Christmas!  The text contains short devotions, written from Jesus' perspective, that speak to the reader.  Each devotion is followed by a few related scriptures and has a winter or holiday-themed accompanying photograph.  Though the days are not numbered, you could do one each day between Advent and Christmas, keeping in the spirit.  It is a high-quality book on thick paper and would make an excellent gift!


The Year of Living Happy (Alli Worthington)
You do your best to live life well—you work hard to be present in the moment, take care of the people in your life, knock it out of the park at work and home. And yet somehow, you still have days (perhaps more than you'd like to admit) where you're simultaneously stressed and bored, and you wonder if you even know how to be happy. Is happiness a worthy goal? Does happiness matter to God, or does He only care about holier things?  Alli Worthington gets it. As a wife, mother of five boys, author, speaker, and entrepreneur, she knows a thing or two about being busy, stressed, and happy in the midst of a crazy world! Over the years, she's seen how happiness gets a bad rap in Christian circles, and now she is standing up to shout the good news from the roof (or the internet, as the case may be): You are allowed to be happy! Yes, you! You can be happy right now!  Get rid of the common Christian misconception that happiness is somehow not holy, and grasp God’s intention for His children—that happiness and holiness can coexist for a beautiful life.  Join Alli for The Year of Living Happy: Finding Contentment and Connection in a Crazy World and find the roots of your happiest life yet! With 100 inspirational devotions, beautiful art, and journaling pages throughout, this gorgeous devotional offers practical ways to make your life happier day by day.  Don’t miss the great big beautiful adventure God has for you right in your own life. Let this be The Year of Living Happy!
If you struggle to find the joy in each day, the silver lining in the clouds that seem to perpetually hang above us, you’re not alone.  The author has created a devotional to help you make joy a part of your everyday living.  Each part of the book is broken into bite-sized chunks that will leave you thinking throughout your day.  The chapters have devotions, scriptures, and action steps, broken down into bits, to help you begin the journey into your happiest life yet!  Each chapter features text, anecdotes, scripture, a challenge, and a place for keeping notes about your progress throughout the year.

Indivisible (Travis Thrasher)
Darren and Heather Turner share a passion for serving God, family, and country. When Darren is deployed to Iraq as an army chaplain, Heather vows to serve military families back home as she cares for the couple’s three young children.  Darren knows he’s overseas to support the troops in their suffering as their chaplain. What he doesn’t know is how he will get through his own dark moments. And as communication from Darren dwindles, Heather wonders what is happening in her husband’s heart. Meanwhile, she’s growing weary in the day-to-day life of a military base—each child’s milestone Darren will never see, each month waiting for orders, each late-night knock on the door.  When Darren returns, he is no longer the husband Heather once knew. She is no longer the woman Darren wed. And so it’s at home that the Turners face their biggest battle: to save their marriage.  Based on the screen play by David Evans, Indivisible is a tribute to the beauty of serving our country, the courage of choosing love in the darkness, and the power of a God who never gives up hope.
The movie intrigues me, but I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet.  I’m thinking, after reading this, that it may be one of those rare times when the movie is better than the book.  I say that purely because the alternating perspectives make it a little difficult to read at times.  The story is based on a true story about a military chaplain and his wife.  There are some war scenes, but it is not very graphic.  The first half of the book is about the couple’s separation, and what they go through with that, while the second half covers his return home from deployment and how their marriage has to evolve with that.  I preferred the second half of the story.  I also liked how the chapters were short (those 40+ page chapters at bedtime can be a beast!), so it was easy to pick up and put down when I had a free moment.
I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.
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