Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Thief of Corinth
Headstrong Ariadne flees her uncaring mother and controlling grandfather in Athens to live with her father in Corinth. Soon she learns her father’s secret: He is “The Honorable Thief,” a phantom who robs the rich and powerful as payback for their corruption and misdeeds. Her athletic skills prove valuable as she becomes her father’s accomplice. But, after meeting a traveler named Paul of Tarsus, they realize obeying God’s commands is more important than revenge. Concise writing and a twisty plot produce an engaging read. Cameos by Priscilla and Aquila (mentioned in Acts 18) add authenticity.
CIA agent Eric Templeton suffers life-threatening injuries during a bogus mission arranged by his corrupt superior. His friend flies him to a remote African mission hospital to receive care from Dr. Brock Whitfield and his daughter Ellie. As they work to revive him physically, they ponder his spiritual condition as well. A connection between Eric and Brock—unknown to everyone but Brock—adds a poignant twist. Although not action-packed, this character-driven novel is a hope-filled story showing how God redeems sinful and broken people and works all things together for our good and His glory.
Three mysterious deaths linked to Kristin Dane’s fair trade retail shop lead to a connection to a Syrian terrorist group. Local St. Louis authorities team up with the FBI to track down the mastermind behind the U.S.-based terror cell. The romance between Kristin and Detective Luke Carter feels formulaic—and the dialogue at times cheesy—but the mystery surrounding the terrorist-smuggling operation keeps the pages turning. Disappointingly, the bad guy turns out to be more of a caricature than a true villain. Faith and God are mentioned offhandedly in stressful moments.
A Bound Heart
Set in 1752 Scotland, A Bound Heart follows Lark, a humble lass, and Magnus, the laird of Kerrera Castle. Despite their close childhood friendship and mutual affection, their social stations dictate different paths into adulthood. A tragedy forces both into indentured servanthood, but their faith in God sustains them. They find themselves aboard a ship sailing across the Atlantic—she bound for Virginia and he for Jamaica. Romantic undertones ripple throughout, but this historical romance showcases more history than romance. The frequent Scottish dialect slows reading a bit, but the included glossary helps readers navigate unfamiliar phrases.
Why would a reclusive woman bequeath her Irish estate to people she barely knew? The reason unfolds slowly in Kristy Cambron’s Castle on the Rise (Thomas Nelson, 2019). This sweeping, multigenerational novel begins in the present. The Foley brothers must decide what to do with the inherited castle and its contents. The narrative reverts to 1915, on the eve of the Easter Rebellion, an Irish uprising against British rule. Issy Byrne and her photography play a vital role in the conflict—and in the plot. Rewinding further to 1797, the family saga includes Maeve Ashford’s first encounter with Eoin O’Byrne. Each mini-story contains a romantic relationship as well as intriguing details about Ireland’s history and fight for independence. Juggling various centuries requires concentration, but the reader reaps satisfaction when all the pieces fit in the end. —S.B.