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Falling for Books as ‘Sweater Weather’ Arrives


The First Ladies

By Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Reviewed by Lorilee Craker

Mary Bethune, a Black woman, was the “first lady of the struggle,” fighting to achieve equality for Black people and other minorities. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first lady of the United States. Their unlikely real-life friendship changed the world, and that’s not just back-cover copy hyperbole.

Though Mary is a staunch Republican—the party of Lincoln, who emancipated her enslaved parents—and Eleanor is a Democrat, the two forged a strong bond based on working toward justice for all disenfranchised Americans.

Both women inspire as they overcome tremendous challenges and entrenched racism to build together what would become the foundation of modern civil rights. 

Mary and Eleanor’s friendship—unshakable, tender, and enduring—is the heartbeat of their story and of this enthralling work of historical fiction. Highly recommended for book clubs. (Penguin Random House)


The Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy: The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross

By Sigrid Undset
Reviewed by Sara Kyoungah White

Winter is the perfect time to step into medieval Norway to follow the tragic life of Kristin Lavransdatter. The trilogy’s themes are strangely relevant for today, especially for Christians.

In The Wreath, a young Kristin defies her father’s plans for betrothal, instead choosing an illicit relationship with Erlend Nikulaussøn. The Wife continues with Kristin’s increased remorse over her sins and careless decisions. The Cross is full of catastrophe, from death to false accusations of adultery, and ends with the Black Death.

These are not feel-good reads. But those who choose to stay beside Kristin and witness the bleakness of life in her medieval Norway will be rewarded with an epic that has few peers in its clear-eyed wrestling with the great problem of sin and the true cost of redemption. (Penguin Classics)


The Creative Act: A Way of Being (Audiobook)

By Rick Rubin
Reviewed by Sam Gutierrez

Some believe Rick Rubin is a genius. Others say he’s a fraud. Most people don’t know what to think about the legendary music producer who doesn’t play an instrument, doesn’t know how to work a soundboard, and admits he knows nothing about music. 

The only task he sets for himself is to unlock the creative spirit of the musical artists he’s working with, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele, U2, Jay-Z, and The Avett Brothers, to name just a few.

The Creative Act pulls together all that he’s learned about the creative process over the past 40 years while working with some of culture’s most important and successful artists, musicians, and creators. Rubin himself reads the audio version, but a print version is also available. Both are worth savoring. (Penguin Random House/Audible)


The Kingdom of Heaven: A Gardening Primer 

By Danielle Hitchen, illustrated by Jessica Blanchard
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

The latest release in the Baby Believer Primers series is a joyful, vibrantly illustrated board book that helps children understand what Jesus meant when he talked about the kingdom of heaven. Including vivid text and Scripture passages, the book highlights the Garden of Eden, seeds, soil, planting and watering, roots, growth, weeds, flowers, fruit, pruning, and harvest. 

Baby Believer Primers—including Let There Be Light: An Opposites Primer, Jesus Heals: An Anatomy Primer, Psalms of Praise: A Movement Primer, and more—help parents and caregivers “teach … children the central tenets of the Christian faith that they may never know a day apart from the Lord.” Recommended as a meaningful and lovely gift for children at their baptism or at other significant occasions in their young lives. (Harvest Kids)


Breath as Prayer: Calm Your Anxiety, Focus Your Mind, and Renew Your Soul

By Jennifer Tucker
Reviewed by Mary Li Ma

In times of intense stress and anxiety, you may lose your words, even in prayer. If all you can offer God is your breath, that is enough. In this devotional, Jennifer Tucker introduces the technique of breath prayer, which integrates scriptural meditations with mindfulness.

Breath prayers work because breathing is the bridge between the brain and the body. Changing how we breathe can directly affect the signals sent from the nervous system to the brain and alter the mind-body state. Breath prayer is also an old spiritual practice for restoring wholeness to the body, mind, and soul, “a doorway into an even deeper prayer life.”

Each unit introduces some science about how the body responds in situations of anxiety and stress, followed by a Scripture verse and a breath prayer. (Thomas Nelson).


Relentless Joy: Finding Freedom, Passion, and Happiness (Even When You Have to Fight for It)

By Rachel Joy Baribeau
Reviewed by Paul Delger

Former national sportscaster Rachel Baribeau offers readers a raw, honest, encouraging, and hopeful book that is part memoir and part cheerleading. 

Baribeau doesn’t sugarcoat her wrenching past, which includes assault, a drug addiction, and child abuse. But she encourages readers to change their narrative as she did, to move on from pain and seek joy. “There is joy despite your circumstances,” she said in a telephone interview. At the end of each chapter is a “Joystart” section where readers find an action point to implement in their own lives. There is also space for journaling near the back of the book. This book provides encouragement, opportunities for self-reflection, and, of course, joy. Joy is Baribeau’s middle name, and her goal in this book is to spread joy widely. (Revell)


The Libyan Diversion

By Joel C. Rosenberg
Reviewed by Trevor Denning

The Libyan Diversion is replete with cloak-and-dagger White House meetings that fans of political espionage crave. While Rosenberg’s writing is as good as anything on the market, his voice is also Christian.

Former U.S. Marine Marcus Ryker has barely recovered from his last covert mission for the CIA when he’s called back into action. His team believes they’ve identified the headquarters of Abu Nakba, the “Father of Disaster,” in the Libyan desert. Nakba is the most wanted terrorist in the world and, if Ryker is right, they can cripple his network. But what if he’s wrong?

Though this is the only book I’ve read in the five-book Ryker series, I had no problem following along. I did have trouble putting it down long enough to sleep. (Tyndale)


Sit in the Sun and Other Lessons in the Spiritual Wisdom of Cats

By Jon M. Sweeney
Reviewed by Cynthia Beach

This new book by the prolific Jon M. Sweeney is the cat’s meow. Really.

Sweeney, known for studious explorations of St. Francis, has applied his intelligent noticing to the delightful world of cats. But what could my cat, Livvie, teach me about spirituality? Quite a lot, says Sweeney.

Thoughtful lessons fill the pages, from “Surrender to Relax” to “Pounce Frequently.” The former: We rarely are taught how to relax. As Sweeney laments this, he suggests how surrender may be synonymous with relaxation. The latter: Find your pounce—your internal prompt to action—and do it. There, Sweeney suggests, is our joy.

Cat anecdotes and thoughtful interfaith musings fill the chapters that end with spiritual practices. Spiritually minded cat-lovers will relish Sit in the Sun. (Broadleaf Books).


An American Immigrant 

By Johanna Rojas Vann
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Melanie Carvajal, a 25-year-old second-generation immigrant from Colombia and the stubborn, industrious protagonist of An American Immigrant, works as a journalist for The Miami Herald. When Melanie is given an opportunity to win back her editor’s favor by covering an assignment in Bogota, she visits with her grandmother and extended family and discovers an old journal in a bedside cupboard that turns her world upside down.

What Melanie learns from the journal and her few days in Cali convince her that she can’t fulfill the assignment her editor expects. As she discovers her voice as a writer, Melanie finds the courage to forge a new path for herself and honor her heritage like never before. (WaterBrook) 


Hope in the Valley 

By Mitali Perkins 

Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema  

Pandita Paul is nearly a teenager, but all she wants to do is stay in the past. She’s worried that she’s beginning to forget Ma, who died a few years ago when the family was in India visiting the village Ma grew up in. To counteract her fear, Pandita sets a big goal, dubbing it Operation Remember Ma (ORM). But there’s a problem: Pandita and her sisters have formed a pact not to mention Ma because when they do, their father, whom they call Baba, is overcome with sadness. And while Pandita wants to linger in the past, events in the 1980s Silicon Valley community in California where she lives catapult her into change. 

Author Mitali Perkins has skillfully and subtly woven biblical truths into her engaging, emotionally satisfying novel for middle grade readers. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 


Grieving Well: A Healing Journey Through the Season of Grief 

By Terri DeBoer and Janet Jaymin 
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

The authors of this easy-to-read resource for anyone grieving the death of a parent, spouse, child, friend, or someone else they love know the pain of grief and desire to help readers grieve well. 

In the first section, the authors answer questions such as: Is there a “normal” grief journey? Is there a timeline for grief? What are the stages of grief? How can we help others who are grieving? The second section includes poignant personal essays by people describing their own grief journeys. The third section offers 30 devotions written by pastors and chaplains from various Christian denominations who open God’s Word “to find the only true source of hope, comfort, and peace that comes during times of great loss.”  (Morgan James Faith)


The Labors of Hercules Beal 

By Gary D. Schmidt  
Reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Twelve-year-old Hercules Beal hates his name. After all, he’s short, not like the physically imposing and heroic mythical Hercules. But there’s one thing that Hercules (the boy) has in common with Hercules (the myth): his parents have died too. 

At the beginning of the school year, Hercules’ language arts instructor, Lt. Col. Hupfer, assigns Hercules to perform tasks analogous to the 12 labors of the mythical Hercules and write reports on what he has learned about the relevance of these labors in regard to his own experiences.  

In this warm-hearted novel, Gary Schmidt masterfully employs a clever premise to describe for middle school readers the sorrow, confusion, and uncertainty encountered through tragic loss and to convey the surprising, transformative nature of love received from people and pets. (Clarion Books) 

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