Monday, January 15, 2018

The Secret of Nightingale Wood

    I'm sure that I never would have thought to read this book if my coworker hadn't handed it to me and told me it might be my kind of story. He suggested it to me purely for the beauty of the prose, but what he couldn't know was how deeply the story itself would impact me.

   The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange is listed as juvenile fiction for 8-12 year olds, but I think it holds a powerful message about mental health and grief for people of all ages. I would recommend this to anyone over 8 years old who knows someone struggling with their mental health, or who struggles themselves.

    Henrietta is a young girl, around ten years old, who has just lost her brother to a house fire. Her family moves out to a house near the coast, for the sake of her mother's health. The Secret of Nightingale Wood is told entirely from Henrietta's perspective - she goes by Henry, has a baby sister they call Piglet, and meets a stranger she christens "Moth". The names alone were enough to keep me invested in the characters, and the story made me cry five different times. Once or twice I had to close the book and ride the wave of emotion before continuing, and I've never before read a book that has done this to me.

   Henry's mother is very ill; ill with grief over her son's death. Her doctor has prescribed what they call the "rest cure". But when that strategy doesn't seem to be working - and Henry's father is away on business, unable to stand up for his wife and her well-being against a doctor threatening to take her away to an infamous psychiatric institution - Henry's world is upended, overturned, and essentially undermined. She takes it upon herself to solve the problems, because her father is nowhere to be found, and her Nanny Jane won't stand up to the doctor on anyone's behalf. What emerges is an incredible story about family, mental health, and the perspective of a child.

   If there ever was a voice compassionate to children, Lucy Strange has found it, and she speaks it beautifully.

   --Elise T--

   For more information on The Secret of Nightingale Wood, visit our website here.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Happy New Year!

   New Years is a vaguely universal concept - I say vaguely because of the various different countries that celebrate on days all over the Gregorian calendar typically used. The Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, can be anywhere from January to February, the Jewish calendar celebrates Rosh Hashanah in the northern hemisphere's autumn, during the first two days of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. Hijri New Year is the Islamic New Year, celebrated on the first day of Muharram - the first month of the Islamic calendar. Thailand celebrates Songkran in April, Ethiopia calls theirs Enkutatash, the "gift of jewels" in September, and those are just a few of them.
The god Janus, beardless, Roman coin; in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

   For those of us using the modern Gregorian Calendar, January 1st is our New Year's day based all the way back on the Julian Calendar of pre-Christian Rome, when the month of January was named after the Roman god of gateways and beginnings, Janus.

   Many of our customers at the House of James like to bring in the new year with a new daily devotional from our extensive section. We have a few new devotionals, as well as older releases and classics like My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (Classic and Updated editions, both). Brand new from the last couple of months, The One Year daily devotionals bring you Daily Moments of Peace: Inspiration for Women and its partner, Daily Moments of Strength: Inspiration for Men.

   In the spirit of new releases as well, The Passion Translation Bible that has been coming out book-by-book for the past couple of years has a 2-in-1, 31 day, Psalms and Proverbs Devotional. Read this as a partner to your Passion Translation New Testament, or with any other translation of the Bible to compare, contrast, or offer a fresh perspective.

   Timothy Keller, author of New York Times Bestselling books, The Prodigal God and Prayer also brings us a new devotional this year - God's Wisdom for Navigating Life. His is a book of daily devotions for the year, focusing on the book of Proverbs.

   We have a wide variety of devotionals here at the store, from authors such as Max Lucado, Joyce Meyer, Charles Spurgeon, Joni Eareckson Tada, Beth Moore, Billy Graham, Chris Tiegreen, Sarah Young, Nancy Guthrie, Jonathan Cahn, and many more.

   Come visit the store, or shop online on our website, and start your new year off with a little literature for the soul.

For more information on these books, visit our website here.
Daily Moments of Peace: Inspiration for Women
Daily Moments of Strength: Inspiration for Men
Psalms and Proverbs Devotional
God's Wisdom for Navigating Life 


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Knowing

   The Forgetting, the first book in this series by Sharon Cameron, and The Knowing, its sequel, flow into one another with a seamless kind of irony. Seamless and cruel, in the best possible way.

   The two books are a part of a series. It is not necessary to read them in order, but I would recommend it. Both are a part of a post-apocalyptic world, separated by quite a few years. The Knowing references several characters from The Forgetting, but they are not a part of the story itself.

   The Knowing has all of the Young Adult Fiction elements that made me fall in love with The Forgetting, but even more than that, the irony of each main character's goal and the way Sharon Cameron portrays them from the first book to the second provide an additional element. The Forgetting is all about not having memory, and The Knowing is about having too many memories. The two books are a pendulum swing, wherein the main characters strive to bring that pendulum to rest somewhere in the middle, and the journey they take to get there is fraught with danger, drama, suspicion, and emotion. In other words, absolutely delicious (especially for my teenage heart).

--Elise T--

For more information on The Knowing by Sharon Cameron, visit our website here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Forgetting

   I think the world might be on a roll with post-apocalyptic youth fiction, because this is the second in a row that I have for you from my list of exceptional reads. Sharon Cameron brings her own fantastic twists to the genre in her book The Forgetting. Again, I approached the first chapter with apprehension and the question: will this be a repeat of The Hunger Games or Divergent? And again I found that, no, there is so much more to be explored in these stories.

   The Forgetting introduces us to Nadia, the Dyer's daughter, in the city of Canaan, "where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before". Every twelve years the people of Canaan go through a period they refer to as "the Forgetting", where everyone in the city forgets everything about themselves and their past. Everything is lost, unless it is written down, which is why each and every citizen of Canaan carries on their person a book. This book is their truth, their identity, and their salvation every twelve years when they wake up after the Forgetting and need to rediscover who, what, and why they are. Nadia, we immediately discover, is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

   In the history of first lines, the opening to The Forgetting is one of my favourites. It encompasses Nadia's voice in all of its cleverness, wit, and snark. "I am going to be flogged, and I don't know why I'm so surprised about it" (p.1). The book is written in the first person, and present tense, which I have found makes the story all the more immediate, and easier to get lost in.

   I put everything on hold to lose myself in this story.

   Nadia's voice is gentle, but full of witty narration. She is notorious in the city of Canaan for speaking little, but the perspective of what's going on inside her head is an endless conversation that never loses its edge. It takes a specific kind of person to get Nadia talking out loud, and there are a few of them lingering in the streets of Canaan. Between Gray, the glassblower's son, Rose of the Lost, and Genivee, Nadia's younger sister, she has no hope of staying silent for long.

   The Forgetting places powerful emphasis on the importance of family, the detriment of isolation, and the necessity of community. Sharon Cameron writes in such a way that it's impossible not to get stuck in Nadia's head. The sequel to Nadia's story, The Knowing, was released in October 2017, and I am desperate to get my hands on a copy.

   --Elise T.--

For more information on The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, visit our website here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Many Sparrows

"Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would…"
The moment I saw this book come into the store, I reserved a copy for myself. I LOVE historical fiction and Lori Benton did not disappoint with her newly published book Many Sparrows.

The story takes place in 1774, two years before the American Revolution starts. Virginians Clare and Philip Inglesby, with their four-year-old son Jacob and a baby on the way, decide to head west to meet up with a man who wants to settle farther west into hostile Native American territory. Not wanting to leave her family and everything she's ever known (especially being eight months pregnant), Clare is hesitant. After their wagon crashes, Philip is forced to go back to the previous settlement to get help, forcing him to leave Clare and Jacob alone on the remote trail, promising to come back. When Philip doesn't return, Clare finds her son is missing and herself in labor. 

Enter Jeremiah Ring: Virginian frontiersman and adopted Shawnee native, who stumbles upon Clare during her labor and helps bring Pippa into the new and dangerous world. And reluctantly he tells Clare that he will help her find her lost son.

And adventure ensues!

This story was so well written and the theme that encompassed the whole thing was one that really got me. The verse that kept showing up was from Matthew 10:29-31 that says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows".  Clare struggles with trusting the Lord and that's something that I generally struggle with too. So often we want God to do things our way because we think we can get what we want done faster or better than he can. When in reality, his way is always better and his way is always good.

 --Elise F.--

For more information Many Sparrows by Lori Benton, visit our website here.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

   The Evaporation of Sofi Snow was published in June of this year (2017) and has been screaming at me from my to-be-read list ever since. I dove in a couple of weeks ago and was not at all disappointed - I finished reading it in two days between work shifts, homework, and several instances of inescapable socializing. Mary Weber has held my attention in the past, for a full trilogy of fantasy and world-building wonder in the form of Storm Siren and the subsequent sequels (which you can read about in my general raving and gushing here for the first two and here for the third installment in the series). And so, I had high hopes for The Evaporation of Sofi Snow.

   In the first two or three chapters I was a little afraid I would be reading a Hunger Games meets Divergent rewrite but I was gloriously mistaken. Weber introduces an aspect of science fiction to her post-apocalyptic world right from the beginning that neither of these series invested in - aliens - and it is a never-ending ride of twists, turns, and suspense. If you can't stand a cliff-hanger, you may want to wait until the sequel is released - the way she left me hanging in this one nearly made me scream. It's been a while since an ending got to me that well. Mary Weber, colour me impressed.

   Sofi and Shilo are her inseparable sibling characters at the crux of the story, and Miguel is the troubled, mysterious, enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, with a complicated history between him and Sofi to make the drama all the more real. This is everything my YA-Fiction-loving heart could ask for: drama, troubled teens, broken relationships, close sibling relationships, virtual gaming, futuristic technology, strong female characters in prominent roles, blackmail, human experiments, and of course, nothing is ever as it seems.

   The sequel, Reclaiming Shilo Snow, is set to release in March of next year. I will be waiting with bated breath, falling off the edge of my seat in anticipation. This new series by Mary Weber is my favourite in youth fiction this year. March 6th, come quickly!

   --Elise T--

For more information on The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber, visit our website here.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

What Is the Bible?

   Once again, here is a book that did not lure me in of its own power or weight or merit, or even cover. I read this book because of controversy - the controversy and debate around the person of Rob Bell and authors like him. A little while ago I reviewed one of his earlier books, Love Wins. You can read my post by clicking here.

   "What is the Bible?" is not a question that I would consider "safe" for a number of different reasons. It's a question that sparks conversation and makes people think. It's a question that brings people to ideas and conclusions that will inevitably differ and disagree one from the other, from the other, from the other. Rob Bell does this in such a way that I am enveloped in questions, rather than answers. I am overloaded with wonder rather than conclusion, idea rather than opinion, suggestion rather than hard-and-fast rule. He writes in such a way that leaves my thoughts fluid, shifting, dancing (Mennonite-Brethren-heritage-say-what?), and open to change.

   As a child of Mennonite-background parents and grandparents, where dancing was once strictly forbidden, that may be a very terrible metaphor. But that was then, and this is now.

   That was then, this is now, and who is to say that the defensive, angry, debating reaction to Rob Bell's perspective won't change in much the same way in the years to come? Perhaps it will be gradual, over many years. Perhaps not at all. Perhaps some parts will come to be accepted with open arms, other parts discarded in search of further truth...

   That is the way of the world, isn't it? The world is never static, always changing. I am not suggesting that the Bible itself should be open to change - having a closed canon is not a bad thing. The thing that could be open to change is our opinion, perception, and interpretation of this "ancient library of poems, letters, and stories".

   Bell is painting a picture - he is hand-crafting a masterpiece of colour, wonder, and beauty with the black and white ink of words on pages, and it can "transform the way you think and feel about everything". That's the wonder of thoughtful art, and the wonder of what Rob Bell keeps doing with thoughts and words and questions and ideas. This book takes a look at the Bible and talks about how it should be read and understood. He talks about context and history and origins. What is the Bible? is a book about questions:

   - Why should we bother with such an ancient book?
   - Isn't it all myths and fairy tales?
   - What about all the violence?
   - And the contradictions?
   - Isn't it dangerous to take seriously?
   - Isn't it only for Christians?
   - Is it inspired?
   - Can it help us?
   - Just what is the Bible?

   It's all about the questions, and not just these. And rather than becoming all about the answers, Rob Bell has an incredible way of remaining in the sea of questioning. Instead of pretending that he has it all figured out, he is content to sit with the questions - the hard questions - and listen for the wealth of answers that could be.

   --Elise T--

For more information on What Is the Bible? by Rob Bell, visit our website here.