Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
City of Ink
The setting: 18th-century Beijing. The problem: a double murder at a tile factory. The detective: a mid-level bureaucrat with a mysterious past. His sidekick: a wandering storyteller who enthralls local crowds. The timing: right before the annual state exam that determines future careers for ambitious young scholars. Hart weaves these elements into an atmospheric mystery that rewards patient reading, especially at the beginning. This is the third in a series featuring Li Du, so it might be better to start with the first book. Especially appropriate for those who enjoy clean, historical mysteries.
A Gentleman’s Murder
Set in London just after WWI, this modern, “golden-age” mystery takes place at the Brittania, a club open to gentlemen army veterans. The protagonist, Eric Peterkin, is a member by inheritance (his father helped found it) and by military service—but fellow members hold him at arm’s length because he’s half Chinese, and so not quite one of them. When a murder happens at the club, he investigates because he’s drawn to puzzles. Before long the investigation becomes personal. Huang captures well the period, place, and fallout from war. His insider/outsider detective provides a fresh take on old-school mysteries.
The book opens with the murder of a minister. There’s no mystery about who did it: Prominent landowner and World War II hero Pete Banning did. The question is why—and he’s not telling. Grisham spends the rest of the book providing the backstory that explains the murder, and showing the devastating effects the crime has on Banning, his two children, his sister, and others in the community. It’s only in the last chapter that he reveals the why—the lie that set the whole mess in motion. Grisham’s plot-driven style keeps this a page-turner.
The Rule of Law
Part of the fun of reading Lescroart’s legal thrillers is reading about really messed-up San Francisco government. In this entry in the long-running series, Lescroart’s usual cast of characters is in transition. Former District Attorney Wes Farrell lost his reelection bid. Defense attorney Dismas Hardy has a new case involving an illegal immigrant. Meanwhile, the newly elected DA may be guilty of murder, and when he catches wind that cops are looking into an old case, he tries to impede the investigation and find something incriminating against the good guys. This page-turner has lots of wisecracks, and some crudities and obscenities.
In Believe Me (Eerdmans, 2018) John Fea examines white evangelicals’ overwhelming support of President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. He attributes it to the “politics of fear” and a nostalgia for a past that never existed. Though polemical at points, the book offers timely reminders: The world watches Christian witness, power tends to corrupt, and Christians’ confidence should rest in the cross of Christ. —Harvest Prude
Infertile couples often suffer silently in their churches. Matthew Arbo’s Walking Through Infertility: Biblical, Theological, and Moral Counsel for Those Who Are Struggling (Crossway, 2018) could be the perfect tool to help such couples sustain their godly perspective during a painful trial. Arbo employs a fictional couple to illustrate the dilemmas and opportunities he covers in each chapter. He also provides a Christian perspective on top fertility treatments. While not groundbreaking, the book gives clear, Biblical counsel to an oft-forgotten audience. —Charissa Crotts