Diary of a Teenage Girl: Becoming Me by Melody Carlson

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 Summary
Sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Connor is pretty sure that her life is too boring to write about in a journal. But at the start of a new year, Caitlin begins to chronicle her day-to-day life as she encounters the drama of peer pressure, popularity, and dating. Her life becomes more interesting than she bargained for when she uncovers a dark secret about her dad and when she gets caught between the attention of more than one popular high school boy. As she abandons old friendships, makes new ones, and asks where God is in her life, Caitlin struggles to find out who she is and who she wants to become.

Pros
Written through diary entries, Caitlin’s voice is realistic, candid, and relevant to young adult audiences. She doesn’t hold back how she feels about the cute boy she know she shouldn’t like, or how she isn’t sure how she feels about God anymore. In her diary, Caitlin is completely open about her experiences, even when she is making excuses for her actions.

Caitlin’s story explores various issues that teens face today, such as teen drinking, peer pressure, teen sex, and affairs. Many young adults will be able to relate to different aspects of Caitlin’s story and appreciate her honest voice throughout the novel.

Cons
While Caitlin’s voice is realistic and honest, I didn’t personally like Caitlin. Perhaps this is because I am a bit more removed from this age, but I found her to be rather whiny, self-centered, and not terribly interesting. That’s just me. I’m sure that other readers, be they adult or young adult, will find Caitlin’s brash journal entries engaging and will like her for that reason.

Conclusion
While this book didn’t tickle my fancy, there is certainly merit in the way the content connect with a young adult audience. This is a great read for young adults struggling through the dramatic high school years, or those trying to make sense of what they believe about God.

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The Shack by William P. Young

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For the past three years, Mack has struggled to keep his faith in God and to maintain healthy relationships with his wife and children. A horrible tragedy took the life of their youngest child, damaging Mack’s ability to trust that God truly loves him and loved his child. But when Mack receives a note from Papa, the name he and his family use to refer to God, asking him to meet at the location where tragedy struck, Mack knows he must respond. There, Mack has a first-hand encounter with God and the opportunity to change the course of his life. But will Mack be able to overcome the years of bitterness that have calloused his heart?
Pros
This novel is all about searching for God in the chaos of human life, seeking answers to the questions that have plagued us through the ages. Where is God in our pain? How can a good God, a loving God, allow innocent children and people to be so severely harmed? Through straight-forward, honest language, Young seeks to grapple with these questions through Mack’s suffering. The conversations that Mack has with God in the persons of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, offer a logical and thoughtful discussion of these questions.
The story of loss, suffering, and forgiveness are universal. So many people can relate with what Mack has endured and have asked the same questions he asks. This novel offers a means by which people can see God in their suffering, and understand where suffering, free-will, and God’s love intertwine.
Cons
Some readers may be more than taken aback by the descriptions of God in this novel. In my personal opinion, it is good to consider how we’ve established our vision of who God is physically. Are these ideas Biblical, or simply accepted ideas? It is important to remember that this is a work of fiction; Young is not asserting that this is what God looks like, but simply imagining how God could reveal himself to a human in special need of his presence.
That said, my qualm with this novel is that it is presented initially as truth. The novel’s Forward message claims that Young is ghostwriting this novel for his friend, Mack, and that all of the events are factual, though seemingly far-fetched. The Author’s Note after the novel explains that the novel is actually completely fictitious, that some of Mack’s experiences are based on the author’s own suffering. Originally, Young claims that he wrote the novel for his family and wrote the forward about ghostwriting as a joke for his family. My issue with this is that most readers may not read the author’s note and that this story is presented as factual. I appreciate the perspective and ideas that this novel offers, however, I believe the forward should have been removed and the story completely presented as a work of fiction.
Conclusion
The Shack is a moving novel that touches on questions that so many Christians and non-Christians have had over the ages. It certainly is a creative take on the personage of God and how he reveals himself, but I would argue that C.S. Lewis does something similar in The Chronicles of Narnia. The difference is, Lewis presented his work as fiction. I still recommend this novel as an important read for those seeking God, with the qualification that this is a fictitious work. Mack’s experiences, while not factual in regard to this story, do represent experiences of many grieving fathers and families, and the questions raised are still pertinent to Christians seeking truth.
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Paige Torn by Erynn Mangum

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Paige Alder has a problem: She can’t say no to anyone. Whether it’s helping her best friend plan a party for her parents’ anniversary, or volunteering to teach two-year-olds at church. Not to mention the fact that she is still doing secretarial work at the adoption agency she works at, a position her boss loves to see her complete to perfection, though her degree qualifies her to take on actual cases. As she helps her best friend plan for her upcoming wedding, Paige learns that there is only one thing she can say no to- the cute guy at church who would like to take her to lunch. The reason? Too busy. Paige believes that serving is the best way to utilize the single years of her life, but when her busy schedule starts to keep her from devotional time and grocery shopping, Paige has to re-evaluate her priorities before she loses her sanity.

Pros

Paige is a charming, funny character who wins the readers heart and attention from the very beginning. Her struggle to balance doing good things while caring for herself is an important, relevant lesson for young adult readers today. Erynn Mangum’s novel is full of light humor, witty dialogue, and laughs.

Cons

While I enjoyed reading Paige’s story, the truth is- nothing really happens in this book, or hardly anything at all. Besides Paige’s romantic dalliance, there is next to zero tension or rising action in this novel. What’s more, the minor storylines don’t resolve themselves. Paige’s issues with time management and saying no are relatable to readers, but these problems don’t speak deep into Christian living. As a personal preference, I prefer books that speak to bigger issues that Christians face today.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that this book was pretty fluffy, I can’t deny the fact that I enjoyed reading it. Paige’s voice is bright, cheerful, and often hilarious. If you want a book that will give you plenty to laugh about but nothing too deep, you will likely enjoy this first title in Mangum’s Paige Adler Series.

Get your copy from Amazon or at your local library!

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“Hidden Blessings” by Kim Cash Tate

Summary

Kendra Woods has everything—her dream job as partner at an affluent law firm in D.C., a bright future, and an upcoming wedding to her prince charming. But when a bruise on her chest causes her to make a doctor appointment, leery after her late mother’s battle with cancer, Kendra learns that she has stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. And it’s terminal. Stepping away from her career to undergo chemotherapy, Kendra also loses her fiance who isn’t willing to plan a future with someone who might only live a few more years. Kendra’s world is completely destroyed. She returns to her hometown to work with a doctor she trusts, and to stay with her estranged brother in her absent father’s home. But there’s little peace at home where her brother parties, does drugs, and Kendra is reminded of how her father disappeared after her mom died, only after his affair pushed her mom over the edge.

Not knowing that Kendra returned home, Kendra’s father offers a room in his house to Lance Alexander, a youth minister, in hopes that he will have a positive influence on Kendra’s brother, Trey. Lance disrupts life at the house by becoming a servant to both Trey and Kendra, cooking, cleaning up after Trey’s parties, and sharing how the love of Jesus changed him from an ex-criminal into a youth pastor. As Kendra and Trey begin to heal from the past, Lance starts a Bible study, bringing in neighbors and familiar faces from the past. The more Lance takes care of Kendra, the more she realizes how much she cares about him, and Lance sees how much he wants to take care of her—for better or worse, so long as they both shall live.

Pros

Kim Cash Tate’s moving novel covers a lot of hard-hitting questions Christians struggle with today. Why is there pain and suffering if our God is good? Why would God allow us to go through difficult trials instead of healing us? As Kendra deals with the disease ravaging her body, she finds hope in something greater, in life beyond the flesh, and love greater than death. This poignant story follows well-developed characters who struggle with different flaws. Even Lance, the “saint” of a preacher struggles to let go of the past, and the friendships formed through the novel challenge common stereotypes.

Cons

While I admire the author’s willingness to grapple with multiple emotionally taxing storylines, some of the development was lost in the story. Each character has a lot of baggage, which is true to life, but some of them seemed to change a bit abruptly with little struggle. Kendra’s progression through the novel was believable, but some other more minor characters got short-changed in the telling of the story.

Conclusion

Hidden Blessings in a compelling novel that forced me to stop and think about the value of life—living each day to the fullest, but also, maintaining an awareness of the life beyond death. Definitely a worthwhile read!
You can get your copy of Hidden Blessings through Thomas Nelson or at your local library.

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“Beyond the Skyline” by Brody Lane Gregg

Summary

Alex Lane is getting released from a juvenile detention center at eighteen years old for reasons he doesn’t want you to know about. Writing has become his outlet, and he shares his story beginning when he gets picked up on his release day by his estranged brother, Brandon. Turns out, Brandon is now a millionaire living with his wife and daughter in a New York mansion. Alex gets to stay with them, but soon learns his end of the deal is going to high school. Out of his element, Alex goes to school, quickly finding a band of misfits who befriend him as well as trouble. Then there’s the girl he met at his sister-in-law’s church, Ana. Alex feels something for her, but he thinks he’s just the same criminal who doesn’t deserve anyone or anything. As he tries to move on with life, making friendships and learning to love, Alex resolve is tested when he asks himself if he is worthy of this new life, or if he has really changed at all.

The Pros

Told through Alex’s journal entries, the reader gets a deep first person narration of the story. Alex’s voice is strong throughout the story, and though he’s a rough, broken young man, the author keeps the narrative clean of any foul language. As the story progresses, the reader can see how Alex is changing because of the people he meets, the stories he hears, and the circumstances he faces. Alex’s story is a strong proof of God’s redemptive power to change anyone’s story.

The friendships, situations, and relationships in Beyond the Skyline are realistic, portraying issues that many young adults face today. The author, Brody Lane Gregg, provides insight into characters dealing with abuse, rape, drug addictions, alcoholism, and grief.

One of the underlying themes of the novel is breaking stereotypes, or judging people before you know them. Gregg reminds the reader that everyone has a story and unique hurts by including many characters with emotional baggage and backstory that makes them who they are.

The Cons

While I was engaged throughout the story, the pace isn’t overly fast until about three-quarters of the way through the novel. This isn’t a real issue since the narration is well done and I cared about the characters, however, when the pace did start to pick up it was a bit jarring and some of the events occurred with little lead-in.

Conclusion

Gregg does a masterful job telling Alex’s story through journal entries, and I got a clear sense of who Alex is, how he changes, and how he represents so many young adults today who need Jesus in their lives. This is a powerful and realistic portrayal of the Gospel’s redemptive power to change a life.

Make sure to get your copy of Beyond the Skyline, available on Amazon!

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“A Love Like Ours” by Becky Wade

LoveSummary

Lyndie James and Jake Porter were best friends till Lyndie moved away with her family to California. Twenty years later, Lyndie’s back in town hoping to land a job exercising Jake’s Thoroughbreds to supplement her income as a children’s book writer and illustrator. While she’s much the same spirited, tender-hearted girl who cared for wounded animals and believed in God and miracles, Jake is calloused to the world after serving as a Marine in Iraq and suffers from PTSD. Jake is hesitant to let someone in, to allow someone to see the dark inner workings of his mind. Lyndie sees Jake as her next project, her next wounded soul to heal. As Lyndie prays for God to heal her old friend, she finds that getting close makes her vulnerable to hurts of her own.

The Pros

In A Love Like Ours, Becky Wade gives readers a meaningful story filled with personality, humor, and sigh-worthy romance. Many of the characters have great depth, including some endearing secondary characters like Lyndie’s downstairs neighbor, Amber. Readers will enjoy a smooth read with the unique backdrop of Texas horse country and insight into jockey life.

Wade also shares insight into family dealing with sickness; Lyndie’s sister, Mollie, has had cerebral palsy since birth. So much of Lyndie’s faith is built from her experience watching her sister and her family trust God through all circumstances. Being Mollie’s sister changes who she is and how she sees the world, also enabling her to see past Jake’s stoic exterior.

Jake Porter’s struggle with PTSD is a relatable story for so many readers; Jake lost his faith in the war, and thinks he doesn’t deserve God’s grace or anything good in his life. Jake’s faith journey though the story is a wonderful portrayal of God’s redeeming love.

The Cons

While Wade’s writing is descriptive, at times, the pacing sags with description and seemingly irrelevant storylines. For example, Lyndie and Amber force each other to go out on dates which brings a little more humor to the story, but some of the scenes seemed unimportant or too long. Overall, the book was evenly paced.

Conclusion

A Love Like Ours is a fun, faith-based romance. If you’re looking for more than a trivial romance, this one’s a good pick. You get an interesting story, great characters, a picture of God’s faithfulness, and a “tall, dark, and brooding” Texan.
Get your copy at Baker Publishing or at your local library!

Wade, Becky. A Love Like Ours. N.p.: Bethany House, 2015. Print.

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“Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe” by Max Lucado

MiracleSummary

After separating from her charming, cheating, NFL superstar husband, Chelsea Chambers moves back to her Texas hometown with their two kids to run her family’s Cafe. Chelsea is anxious for a fresh start, but when she learns that she’s inherited a $86,000 debt from her grandma, that another cafe’s setting up shop down the road, and her philandering husband is moving back and trying to make amends, Chelsea begins to think her plan might not go as smoothly as anticipated. Enter Chelsea’s guardian angel, Samuel, disguised as Manny, the new barista. Manny has a few ideas to help bring in business, including a “God Blog” where people can post ask one question and get answered–by God Himself. But as people begin to flock to the cafe, some people get answers they don’t want to hear, and others are forced to ask new questions that draw them out of their comfort zones.

The Pros

Max Lucado’s book, co-written with Candace Lee and Eric Newman, offers a quirky take on the role of Guardian Angels along with some other interesting concepts, such as the God Blog. What one question would you ask God given the opportunity, and how would He respond? Readers will enjoy the light humor and the small town feel of the novel.

The Cons

For a novel of 184 pages, this story attempts to cover too much ground. Outside of the cafe, Lucado glosses over issues of infidelity, broken relationships, poverty, cancer, Alzheimer’s, unforgiveness, the power of prayer, betrayal and others. The reader is whiplashed from storyline to storyline, never able to delve into the issues and truly experience or glean from the characters’ experiences. There is little depth to this novel, though it had the potential to be an impactful read, especially in regard to the “God Blog.”

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a light, fluffy read, this is the book for you. You can get a copy of this book at Thomas Nelson or your local library.

Lucado, Max, Eric Newman, and Candace Lee. Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café. N.p.: Thomas Nelson, 2015. Print.

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