Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Hickem, Catherine. (2012). Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. ISBN 978-1-4002-0036-8.

What do we know of Mary?

 What we know of Mary’s family is that she is of the house of David; it is from her lineage Jesus fulfilled the prophecy. Given the archeological ruins of the various places thought to have been living quarters for their family, it is likely the home was a room out from which sleeping quarters (cells) branched. As Mary and her mother Anne would be busy maintaining the household, with young Mary working at her mother’s command, it is likely Anne would be nearby or in the same room during the Annunciation. Thus Mary would not have had a scandalous secret to later share with her parents but, rather, a miraculous supernatural experience, the salvific meaning of which her Holy parents would understand and possibly even witnessed.

 Mary and Joseph were betrothed, not engaged. They were already married, likely in the form of a marriage contract, but the marriage had not yet been “consummated”. This is why he was going to divorce her when he learned of the pregnancy. If it were a mere engagement, he would have broken it off without too much scandal.

 Married but not yet joined with her husband, her mother would prepare her by teaching her all that she needed to know. This is further reason to assume that Mary would be working diligently under her mother’s eye when the Annunciation took place.

 We know that her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy was kept in secret for five months, and not made known until the sixth month when the Angel Gabriel proclaimed it to Mary. We know Mary then rushed to be at her elderly cousin’s side for three months (the remaining duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), and that this rushing appeared to be in response to Elizabeth’s pregnancy (to congratulate her), not an attempt to hide Mary’s pregnancy. Note how all of this is connected to Elizabeth’s pregnancy rather than Mary’s circumstances. As Mary was married to Joseph, he likely would have been informed of the trip. Had the intent been to hide Mary, she would have remained with Elizabeth until Jesus was born, not returned to her family after the first trimester, which is just about the time that her pregnancy was visible and obvious.

 So we these misconceptions clarified, we can put Mary’s example within an even deeper context and more fully relate to her experience. We can imagine living in a faith-filled family who raises their child in strict accordance of God’s word. The extended family members may not understand, and certainly their community will not, so Mary, Anne and Joachim, and Joseph face extreme scandal as well as possible action from Jewish authorities. But they faced this together steep in conversation with God, providing a model for today’s family.

 Although sometimes scriptural interpretations are flavored with modern-day eye, overall this book will be more than just a quick read for a young mother (or new bride, or teen aspiring to overcome the challenges of American culture, or single parent losing her mind). It is a heartwarming reflection with many examples that open up conversation with God. As an experienced psychotherapist, the author’s examples are spot on and easy to relate to. We do not need to have had the same experiences to empathize, reflect, and pursue meaning; we see it around us in everyday life. As such, a reflective look upon these examples can help one overcome an impasse in their own relationship with God and also open the reader up to self-knowledge as His child. In the lifelong quest to see ourselves as He sees us so that we can better serve Him in loving others, this book can be a helpful step.

 The format of the book early on tends to present scripture + client example side-by-side. However, further on the personal meaning attributed to Mary’s experiences are deeper and more poignantly associated with the real-life examples given. Not only is Mary’s example explored, but the importance of women supporting one another and true community is also emphasized. Practical chapters such as the proper questioning of God are instructive. The best part is the manner in which the study guide at the end is designed, which helps to really make this an experience and not just reading.

 Occasional criticism in my mind arose in early chapters. For example, the author gives her own experience of questioning God as to “why” (regarding adopting, then conceiving, children). Later, a chapter devoted to Mary’s example of the proper questioning of God (and the healthiness of any proper questioning) is fruitful but I found myself wondering why she did not tie back to her own misguided “why”. Proper questioning of God, as we see in Mary’s Fiat, is “What” (what do you want of me?) and “How” (how can I do this for you?), never “Why”. Nonetheless, by book’s end I was moved :>)

 With subtlety, Hickem brings out important questions to ask, gently explains functional and dysfunctional behaviors (that bring us to or separate us from God), and talks about important truths that too often go unrealized. An excellent book for:

  •  Mothers of any age, particularly new mothers or single parents without a strong support network (family, friends)
  • Mothers of children who present additional circumstances such as gifted or disabled
  • Mothers who grieve the loss of a child
  • Teens still learning the beauty of their authentic femininity and fighting a culture bent on destroying it
  • Women who simply aspire a deeper understanding of their own Created beauty as mirrored by the Mother of God

 Pick up a copy for yourself or someone you love at our bookstore.

(A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher through BookSneeze®. No remuneration has been received for this review.)



Plan in advance for father’s day! The month of June is dedicated to books for dads and boys…don’t worry, a few dads & daughter books thrown in too! Good list for reluctant readers as well as summer vacation. Enjoy!



In celebration of Mother’s day, moms, women and daughters, recommendations span ages and areas of interest. Great for summer vacation reading too!


The full April list is here. Get a sneak peak at the 2nd half of the month and stock up for summer vacation too!


Spring is upon us, and you can prepare for both Spring and Summer vacations with plenty of good books! Check out recommendations for all ages, plus DVD’s and teaching too!


No need to wait until the end of February for the complete list. Here it is–plan ahead! Click on the link above, and also follows us on Facebook at Litland Reviews


Here it is! The book of the day challenge, to recommend a new book or related media every day in 2012. January is complete, and attached for handy download–just click on the above link. February is on the way! “Friend” Litland Reviews on Facebook to see daily recommendations as they post.

Grimes, Martha. Fadeaway Girl. Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Books. (February 7, 2012) ISBN-13: 978-0451235640. Written for adults. recommends age 16+. 

Watch out small town America: Emma Graham is back! Having read both The Belle Ruin and its sequel, Fadeaway Girl, I can understand why its author, Martha Grimes, says it isn’t a mystery. And yet it is, since at the core of the plot is a series of related, unsolved mysteries! However, it is simultaneously a character portrait in a historical fiction setting.  Admittedly, at times in the Belle Ruin the irritating & ignorant dialogue with Delbert (the taxi driver), or Will & Mill (brother & friend) would go on longer than needed to build depth in the character. Or maybe it just seemed this to me since I was listening to the audio book version. Regardless, this is cleaned up in Fadeaway Girl. And otherwise both books are great historical fiction (and yes, mysteries too!).

 This story has lots of colorful characters richly described and whose behaviors remain consistent with their personas throughout. Wiley and cunning, we see the world through Emma’s 12 year old eyes; sometimes her view is limited while at other times, more attentive than the adults. Added to that, the adults around her are painted with sufficient depth to permit us to imagine the care and concern behind their acts of kindness to Emma, and their affection for her. Ultimately that is a hallmark of good fiction, isn’t it? That the reader, being so able to understand the many characters, can imagine them beyond the pages? It certainly is of Fadeaway Girl.

 Not a Catholic yet speaking often of the local parish priest, Fr. Freeman, Emma (with a vague belief in God but little respect for the priest) stops in the church in her moment of crisis.  The story is otherwise absent of religious references.  Given all other descriptions to set the scene and context of post-WWII small town America (Knee Hi Grape sodas, sprinkle donuts at the diner, drugstore with soda counter serving ice cream sodas, Perry Mason, Bing Crosby and others), the local church would have been part of that community culture and, so, an odd  omission to not have one of its numerous characters attending a service in one of these two stories. On the other hand, as with other Martha Grimes novels, attention is paid to new age practices in this series. In Bell Ruine and continued into Fadeaway Girl, Emma is a regular customer for tarot card readings.   

 All in all, this portrait of Americana, enlarged with a kidnapping and murder, keeps the reader in constant motion with sufficient twists, people and settings to be is very enjoyable to the end! And since the Fadeaway Girl remains a mystery, perhaps we will see a 5th Emma Graham story in the future :>)

 This is another example of a book written to adults, even though the protagonist is a 12 year old girl. It will be of interest to adult women. However, older teen girls who enjoy sharing cozy mysteries with their moms will also enjoy Belle Ruin & Fadeaway Girl. Mild profanity and use of God’s name throughout; some occult practices. Otherwise, a fairly clean story of suspense without gore, humourous reference to Emma’s not quite knowing about sex. recommends age 16+. Get your copy to share!

Berry, Jedediah. (2009) The Manual of Detection. Penguin Group. ISBN-10: 0143116517. recommends ages 14+ and acceptable for advanced readers.

 Charles Unwine is a reluctant hero. He wants nothing more than to return to his desk performing his clerical work. Instead, he is pushed forward seeking truth by an underlying thread of virtue in his otherwise feeble personality. And by the unfortunate incident of stumbling upon a corpse.

And so the story begins with this clerk at a detective agency suddenly being promoted to rank of detective himself. Left to investigate the past cases of his esteemed predecessor, Travis Sivart, the situation is hilarious because of Berry’s tongue-in-cheek treatment of the agency bureaucracy. We are captured into a surreal existence which at times is touched with a Dick Tracy style while remaining quite unique all its own. As the story progresses, its plot joins the realm of sci-fi espionage complete with dream spies. Yet it never runs out of speed, twists, and motion to hold reader interest.

Berry’s writing style is colorful and the humor never ends. Each of Sivart’s past cases has a hilarious title like The Man Who Stole November 12; its characters suffer narcolepsy while “coincidentally” the town’s alarm clocks disappear. The numerous characters intertwine as one sub-plot builds onto another. And the rich dialogue and narrative capture the reader into another world.

Honestly, I chose to read this book because its description used the word “gumshoe”. I figured any book with a gumshoe couldn’t be too profane. With only a few instances of mild profanity, no unnecessary sexuality or gore, this book is pure enjoyment. It is an optimistic portrayal of an underdog persevering to the end, relying upon his strengths and virtue to outsmart the bad guys. Yet the story is stylistically unique. Written to adults, it will also hold the imagination of teens and even younger advanced readers. Highly recommended for class, homeschooling, and family book clubs! Check out our review against character education guidelines and pick up your own copy in our bookstore!

End of the Line: A Parker Noble Mystery


Manno, Mike (2010) End of the Line: A Parker Noble Mystery. Five Star Publishing of Gale, Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1594148637. Litland recommends of interest to adults, acceptable for older teens.

 Publisher description:  When former banker R. J. Butler is found murdered on a city transit bus, police take little time making a connection with the embezzlement at his former bank. But is that the motive for his murder? State police detective Sergeant Jerome Stankowski and his persnickety “partner,” Parker Noble, are called to investigate and run into a host of possibilities including a trophy wife on drugs and an ex-wife desperately needing a church annulment R. J. was blocking..

 Our thoughts:

 The second installment of the Parker Noble series, End of the Line, is a fun yet engaging, quick-paced detective mystery. Parker Noble may be the genius who solves the crimes, but it is Detective “Stan” Stankowski’s antics both on and off the job that lighten the story. Truly a man’s man, Stankowski enjoys girl watching while being easily manipulated by his somewhat-girlfriend Buffy the reporter.  He  tries to juggle dating 3 girls at the same time, each end up having a role in solving the mystery. Meanwhile, the contrast of Parker’s rigidly-ordered life to Stan’s adds color, and both humor and clues surface throughout the story just often enough to keep the reader alert. My favorite dialogue pertains to Parker’s dog, Buckwheat Bob the basset hound, who listens to talk radio while Parker is at work:

(Stan) “I take it that the human voice is soothing for him?”…(Parker) ”Not really, he likes to listen to the political talk”…”You don’t think he understands all of that, do you?”…”Don’t know, Stanley. All I can tell you is that he’s turned into quite a Republican.” LOL!

 A cozy mystery written for adults, it would probably have a PG rating if a movie: use of the bird finger; one suspect referred to as tramp, hussy, nude model; Buffy pressuring Stan into taking a vacation together. However, Stan remains chaste in his girl-chasing and the story is focused on the relationships between all the characters, which adds depth, interest and a few chuckles along the way. A fun story available in the Bookstore.