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A Light So Lovely, by Sara Arthur, Nonfiction, 2018

 

I have waited for this book’s availability as soon as I read that it was being written.  It is a book about Madeleine L’Engle, Newberry winner for A Wrinkle in Time and the unplanned creator of a new genre for young adult Christian fiction:  Christian fantasy.  Sarah Arthur is a die-hard fan of L’Engle whose own writing and editorial career was shaped significantly by reading her books and meeting her.  Arthur’s book summarizes the spiritual legacy of this sometimes loved and often misunderstood author.  The book introduce you to the formative details of Madeleine’s life using her writing and the people who knew her.  Chapter titles preview the journey you will take about the "Sacred and Secular," "Truth and Story," "Faith and Science," Religion and Art," among others.  This book is for those who want a thoughtful stretch in areas that may not be comfortable.  This book is not for everybody. 

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If I Were You, by Lynn Austin, Fiction, 2020

Lynn Austin is a storyteller.  I read the manuscript for the first in her series Chronicles of the Kings (Old Testament kings and prophets) when I served on the consulting board for Beacon Hill, who first published it. Based first in England before and during World War II, it is a story about an emerging friendship between the upstairs aristocrat and a downstairs maid.  When the war offers a leveling space, their lives entangle in ways that change their futures after the war.  It is a story of leaving expectations and privilege to grow courage.  It is a story of leaving jealousy, secrets, and shame to find forgiveness.  It is a good story!

 
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Nothing is “beautiful” about America when 7-year-old Quian (pronounced chen)  arrived in New York with her parents.  Living “undocumented” meant living with secrets and fear every day.  Told through the young inquisitive, intelligent, but cautious Quian, we learn a desperate, courageous, independent, and heart-breaking story of living an invisible life.  Chang’s sparse but deeply affecting prose is worth the read on several levels:  for the writing, for the story, and for the celebration of an indomitable spirit.

Beautiful Country by Quian Julie Chang, Memoir, 2021

 

Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barten, Devotional/Spiritual Formation, 2009

 

Contrary to what you might think, this book doesn’t ask you to pull away from your life and people to find silence for your soul.  The pandemic has pushed us in that direction enough!  Instead, my take away from this book is a way to make a space for silence in my heart where I expect to hear what God wants me to know. Ruth Barton is a spiritual formation director and retreat leader.  I found her thoughts inspiring, convicting and her suggestions easy and doable.  This book is for anyone who needs help listening more or who needs to take a break from the noise of your busy world, even if all the noise comes from yourself.

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The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer, Fiction, 2019

I’ve read many World War II stories, but none that took place in Poland.  This book leap frogs between the present story and the past story.  I am usually not fond of this technique, but this time it worked so well, I looked forward to time change.  Allina is the young girl in the past story, lost in young love before the Nazi invasion that changed everything.  Alice is the granddaughter who accepts her grandmother's dying wish to return to Poland for missing pieces to her story.  There are many things that these characters cannot say. The grandmother is silenced by a paralyzing stroke, Alice feels no one understands her autistic son except herself, her son can only speak through his iPad, and Allina’s Thomaz is in a one-man war against the Nazi’s and can’t explain to Allina why he is so driven.  The twists and turns make this a hauntingly satisfying story to remind all of us that we have words we haven’t spoken.  What are we waiting for?

The year is 1508 and the Pope is Julius II.  The pope commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Pope’s chapel in the Vatican.  Michelangelo, a sculptor by gift and heart, refused the commission until the Pope also commissioned a sculpture.  This acceptance initiated the masterpiece thousands want to see with a visit to the Vatican.  The book gives background no Google search can give you in one place.  You will learn the process behind the frescoes, the background for the choices and placement of each panel, as well as the jealousies that existed in the art world at that time.  Now, I wish I could make another visit to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, strain my neck, and soak in the many-layered Old and New Testament stories painted there!

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Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Ross King, Non-fiction, 2003

 

Between 1787 and 1868, the British government transported an estimated 25,000 female convicts to Australia.  These women had been convicted of petty crimes.  The idea was two-fold:  unburden the penal institutions and help settle British holdings in Australia.  This book tells the mostly true and sometimes fictionalized account of one voyage of 200 women.  Hope Adams is a master at placing you on the fifteen-week journey on the Rajah.  She weaves her story of confinement, broken dreams, new hope, and sisterhood with a back-and-forth time division between then and now.  When one of the women is murdered, the story becomes a mystery to solve.  A page turner at the end, this book will anger you, surprise you, and give you every reason to hope for new beginnings no matter how many splintered pieces life gives.

Dangerous Women by Hope Adams, Historical Fiction, 2021
 

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 Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict, Historical Fiction, 2018
 

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We know the Bible stories from the perspective of the lead characters God calls and shapes.  But what would happen if we saw the same story from the perspective of a key secondary character.  This is the gift of research specialist and amazing storyteller, Mesu Andrews.  The Pharaoh’s Daughter tells the story of Moses from the perspective of the one who found him in the Nile and raised him as her own.  While she fills in gaps with her own, satisfying what-if details, she has also linked some fascinating details from the biblical genealogy.  For example, she draws the two midwifes, Shiphrah and Puah, into the heart of this story in remarkable ways. 

 

 
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Salt to the Seas by Ruta Sepetys, Historical Fiction, 2017

 

Ruta Sepetys plunges you into the unthinkable and little-known story about the sinking of a German evacuation ship. The Wilhelm Gustloff was a luxury cruise ship conscripted for removing 10,000 military and refugees from Poland. Four main people become the storytellers as they wind their way to become part of the evacuation and each other’s lives. Perhaps you will be left with the same question I had, why have we not heard about this sinking where 9,000 lives were lost?

 
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Sparks Like Stars by Hashima Sepetys, Historical Fiction, 2021

 

Sitara’s life in Afghanistan was idyllic and privileged because her father was key advisor to president Daoud.  Everything changed when a communist coup assassinated the president, his family and every other anti-communist leader and their families. A palace guard found scared Sitara hiding in the palace and risked his life to take her to an American diplomat. Everything afterwards is a story of new identity, life-threatening challenges, and unresolved grief.  It is a gripping story of loss and lostness all the way to release and recovery.

 
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The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin, Historical Fiction, 2021

 

In January of 1888 a too sudden and devasting blizzard turned a normal day into a life-and-death challenge that stole life from over 200 homesteaders in the Dakota territory, most of them children.  Successful historical fiction writer, Melanie Benjamin, invented characters based on true stories to tell a heartbreaking story of survival and loss. Readers are drawn in to the hopes and struggles of two very young school teachers who make life and death choices for their classes, choices that no one prepared them for. The choices made one a heroine and one an outcast. The story reminds us that life turns on choices and sometimes they are choices we have to live with for the rest of our lives.