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Summer Reading Guide: A Little Something for Every Bookish Soul


Remarkably Bright Creatures

By Shelby Van Pelt
Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

It seemed as if everyone had this sweet, quirky debut on their list of top 10 books for 2022, and when I finally read it recently for my book club, I could see why. Starring Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus, as part-time narrator and full-time wiseman (or “remarkably bright creature”), this novel winsomely takes on challenges of aging, dying, grief, and messy family relationships.

We meet Marcellus as he contemplates his captivity at an aquarium, an imprisonment made more bearable by his friendship with Tova, the prim 70-year-old night custodian. How Tova solves the mystery surrounding her 18-year-old son’s long-ago death with the help of Marcellus and others is a marvel and a delight. Entertaining, insightful, and warmhearted, this mainstream book will easily make my top 10 list—for 2023. (Ecco)

Lilith: A Romance

By George MacDonald
Reviewed by Sara Kyoungah White

George MacDonald’s visionary and dark novel Lilith: A Romance, first published in 1895, has been republished with a preface by poet Malcolm Guite and an introduction by scholar Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson.

Regarded by C.S. Lewis as one of MacDonald’s greatest works, Lilith follows the story of Mr. Vane as he passes between his haunted manor and the parallel worlds he discovers within it. Led by a ghostly, bird-like man he calls Mr. Raven, Mr. Vane embarks on an eerie and life-altering adventure through a Victorian multiverse, encountering a macabre host of characters who roam the gate between death and life.

“This is not a book to skim and discard, but the companion of a lifetime,” writes Guite. “This book is an always open door.” (

Between the Listening and the Telling: How Stories Can Save Us

By Mark Yaconelli
Reviewed by Sam Gutierrez

We live in a time of polarization. Mark Yaconelli believes he has a cure or at least a medicine with mysterious healing power: stories. 

One day, while volunteering at a church food pantry, Yaconelli wonders if there could be a kind of “soup kitchen for the soul,” a place where folks on the margins of society—people full of longing and loneliness—could come to find nourishment. Inspired, he begins The Hearth, a local nonprofit with an emphasis on community building through story.

Between the Listening and the Telling is about the power of stories. The medicinal power of storytelling brings personal healing, helps us build bridges, and dismantles the fears and suspicions of our current age to create a more understanding and compassionate world and future. (Broadleaf Books)

Justice Is…: A Guide for Youth Truth Seekers

By Preet Bharara, illustrated by Sue Cornelison
Reviewed by Mary Li Ma

In this children’s book, former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara introduces the important and complex concept of justice. The book begins with Frederick Douglass telling Abraham Lincoln, “Justice is important. It takes hard work … and an open mind.”

Children will learn about the unique contributions of historic justice seekers. For example,an illustration of journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells documenting a Black man being captured is accompanied by this simple sentence: “Justice asks questions, lots of them.” The book also teaches that justice can take time. A depiction of how an imprisoned young Nelson Mandela became a president with gray hair is paired with the statement “Justice can be slow.”

Even so, the theme of hope shines bright: “Justice is always there—waiting for good people to find their voices.” (Crown Books for Young Readers)

Taste and See: All About God’s Goodness

By Irene Sun, illustrated by Hannah Y. Lu
Reviewed by Mary Li Ma

The verse “Taste and see that the Lord[1]  is good” (Ps. 34:8) connects our spiritual experience to that of eating food or feasting. As our basic subsistence, food is written about throughout the Bible, from fruit trees in Eden, manna in the wilderness, and bread and fish by the sea of Galilee to the final feast with God in the new heaven and earth. The satisfying emotions of eating good food foreshadow something infinitely more satisfying: “We are waiting for the feast, where the Lamb will be our peace.”

This children’s book offers an accessible lesson in theology. Using rhymes and biblical images, it teaches children that everything their hearts hunger for points to God and God’s goodness. (New Growth Press)

Behind the Lights

By Helen Smallbone
Reviewed by Paul Delger

Helen Smallbone knows the Christian music business, yet she has never performed on stage, written a song, or recorded an album. She married a music promotions director and is the mother of three of the top names in Christian music: Rebecca St. James and Joel and Luke Smallbone of King & Country. Behind the Lights is a memoir of how Smallbone and her family moved from Australia to the United States and experienced God’s direction through difficulties and victories. The Smallbone siblings—five men and two women—are a tight-knit bunch and live their lives with devotion to God, hard work, and using their individual gifts. Smallbone’s delightful stories offer a glimpse of the joys and the challenging aspects of the Christian music industry. (KLOVE Books)

Jehu: Regicide

By J.L. Wildeboer
Reviewed by Trevor Denning

Drawing from the events recorded in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, author J.L. Wildeboer weaves a story with George R.R. Martin-like intricacy.

In the era of Elijah and Elisha, Ahab and Jezebel, and the split kingdom, Israel and Judah are draining their resources fighting each other. The rulers of neighboring kingdoms Phoenicia, Assyria, Aram, and others look for an opportunity to topple both. Told from the perspectives of historical characters, this is the story of how God’s people came perilously close to politicking themselves out of existence.

Readers will gain a deeper understanding of how God works through impossible situations and imperfect people to do God’s will. (Resource Publications)

Sparrow’s Prayer

By Roger Hutchinson, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska
Reviewed by Adele Gallogly

Every morning, Sparrow stretches his wings, whistles a tune, and says a prayer of thanks to God. But one day he feels … different. He is anxious and restless. Is it the dreary weather? A lack of sleep? Hunger? All he knows for sure is that when he tries to pray, “his words get tangled and knotted in his beak like old yarn and straw.”

So begins Sparrow’s Prayer, a lushly illustrated children’s book with a story that is likely to resonate with readers of many ages.

Children navigating the mysteries of prayer might be heartened by Sparrow’s discoveries and charmed by the woodland creatures. Adults too might be nourished by this simple yet spiritually rich book. Its final pages include discussion questions. (Beaming Books)

Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens

By Ann Byle
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

Author Ann Byle draws on the delightful, humorous, and at times sad real-life experiences of caring for a flock of chickens, and she skillfully forges parallels to the challenges, joys, and victories of people like herself who long to be creative in different ways. Byle’s “dream for Chicken Scratch is that it inspires you to take the next right step in your creative life, to realize your creative dreams, and to move ever forward.” 

Byle’s fun-to-read, exceptional, creative effort includes resources for embracing creativity, stories of creative frustrations and failures, new insights and successes on the creative journey, tips for next steps to put creative principles into action, folktales about chickens, new creative activities that Byle undertook, scientific facts about hens, and hilarious and insightful quotes about chickens. (Broadleaf Books)

The Secrets of Emberwild

By Stephenia H. McGee 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

‎In March 1905, in Neshoba County, Miss., 28-year-old Nora Fenton lives with her mother and her dying father on Emberwild Horse Farm. For years, Nora has chafed under the social pressure to escape the perceived doom of spinsterhood and give in and marry. But she is convinced that it would be better for her to be “a spinster with freedom than a pretty rug to be wiped under a husband’s boots.” Besides, she’s an accomplished horse trainer—even though no one takes her seriously because she’s a woman—and feels “more at home surrounded by horseflesh than humanity.”

Brimming with Christian hope, The Secrets of Emberwild offers insights into the social restrictions faced by women in the early 1900s and the fascinating world of horses, county fairs, and horse racing. (Revell)

The Story of Us

By Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Kristen Howdeshell and Kevin Howdeshell
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

In sparse, lyrical prose, Mitali Perkins, a renowned Christian author of young adult novels and children’s picture books, imagines God creating the world: “One day, Creator came— / to sort the mess, / using Them to make Us. / Air. / Water. / Earth. / Fire.” Perkins then relates how, in the perfection of the Garden of Eden, the natural elements “were for Us. / We were for Them.” Adam and Eve enjoyed the fresh air, the quenching rains, the fertile soil, and the flames of a cooking fire. 

Kristen Howdeshell’s and Kevin Howdeshell’s vigorous artwork complement Perkins’s narrative by capturing the joy and majesty of God’s perfect creation, the despair and destruction of a fallen world, and the hope and expectation of a redeemed and restored cosmos. (Beaming Books)

Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War

By Mónica Montañés, illustrated by Eva Sanchez Gomez 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema 

Based on the true stories of author Mónica Montañés’ father’s childhood during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), this novel for middle-grade readers relates how the lives of 9-year-old Paco and his 7-year-old sister, Socorro, suddenly change when their father is forced to flee Spain because of his political affiliation with the old Republic.

Eight years later, when the children leave Spain with their mother and are reunited with their father in Venezuela, they realize how they have been changed by their experiences. ‎

Eva Sanchez Gomez’s contrasting light and dark oil pastel illustrations depict the gloom of war and the sorrow of displacement, but also the joy of family reunion and the lushness of a new land. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

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