The Minister’s Wife – review

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The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More by Karen Stiller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I first discovered this book when I attended a webinar on writing spiritual memoir hosted by an Ottawa writing group, where the author, Karen Stiller, was the presenter. I was intrigued. Watching a later interview of Karen by Patricia Paddey on YouTube had me downloading a Kindle edition of the book, and I’m so glad I did.

The Minster’s Wife is a beautifully written memoir of Stiller’s spiritual journey, from her introduction to faith in her youth to her current self-admittedly greying years as a still-learning believer and minister’s wife.


I love the humble, self-deprecating tone of Stiller’s faith pilgrimage stories, which are rich in detail and often humorous.

In fourteen chapters organized by topic rather than chronologically, Stiller relates tales of “Identity,” “Doubt,” “Community,” “Envy,” “Forgiveness,” “Holiness,” and more, Stiller gives us glimpses into her pastor’s wife role that is as satisfying and rewarding as it is sometimes frustrating and challenging. Her love for the church, her children, and her husband glows through her candidly confessed imperfections.


I so appreciated Stiller’s lack of bitterness and self-pity, as she described her experiences, both bad and good. Her stories gave me a new appreciation for the role of pastor’s wife. Her style of showing us what happened without over-explaining its significance left room for this reader to mull over the multi-layered learning that happens so often in real life.



The Minister’s Wife is recommended reading for lovers of memoir and for ministers, minister’s wives, and all of us parishioners who love them.




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Amee’s Story – review

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After reading  the first few pages of Amee’s Story, I wasn’t sure I would ever finish the book. That’s not because it was poorly written. Rather, it was so well written I was pulled back into  a difficult time in my own life. However, I persisted with the reading and I’m so glad I did.

In thirty-three chapters Harrison takes us from the birth of Amee, in August of 1982, through her miraculous life-and-death early months, the challenges of childhood and teen years, up to her 28th year (2010, the year the book was published). It’s an inspiring story of a special child and the faith, prayers, and perseverance of her mother—indeed an entire family—who supported and encouraged her.

Once into the book I found it hard to put down. Harrison describes in detail the physical, intellectual, and social challenges Amee faced at the various stage of her life and how Amee, her mother as main caregiver,  and the whole family rose to them. The search for a correct diagnosis and then helpful therapies, the recurring challenge of getting medication dosages right, and the difficult saga of her education are all themes too familiar in the lives of special needs children and their caregivers.

I would recommend this book not only as an inspiring story, but also as an eye opener for parents of newly diagnosed special needs children as well as school, community, and church educators.

Amee’s Story was a Finalist in the 2011 Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

Everyday Watercolor Flowers – review

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Everyday Watercolor Flowers – A modern guide to painting blooms, leaves and stems by Jenna Rainey © 2019.


One of my favourite art teachers, particularly of watercolor, is Jenna Rainey. A couple of years ago, her book Everyday Watercolor introduced me to the wonderful medium of watercolor (reviewed here). Her newest book Everyday Watercolor Flowers came out in 2019 and my Kindle edition is well used.

The book begins with an extensive introductory section on watercolor basics including materials, colors, color mixing, hue, and value. In this section Rainey also gives a brief explanation of flower anatomy, leaf types and shapes, and demonstrates brush strokes that make those shapes.

The main chapters describe flower painting projects and are organized by flower shapes (star, circle, bell, bowl, trumpet, and combination) with four projects in each.  That’s 24 projects plus a section on combining flowers into wreaths and borders…so lots to paint here. The projects in each category come in two types: loose and realistic (botanical). In the star-shaped chapter, for example, the cherry blossoms and anemone tutorials describe painting these flowers in a loose style (with little or no pencil drawing to guide the painting), while the clematis and orchid are painted more realistically (begin with a pencil drawing and adhere closely to the details of the plant and flower).

Loose Cherry Blossom flowers from the Star-shaped flower chapter.

The book is beautiful! Rainey’s skill with paint and brush shines through each illustration. The instructions are clear, easy to follow, and interspersed with pictures of the project’s steps. Though the text does feel wordy at times (it would be easier to follow if it were in point form), its tone is encouraging and laced with tips and hacks. If you’ve ever visited Rainey’s YouTube channel you’ll recognize her voice, which comes through here in her writing.

I think beginners and intermediate watercolorists would enjoy these projects. If you’re looking for a book that is designed to help you gain skill in analyzing flowers by shape and has projects that are both loose and realistic, Everyday Watercolor Flowers is a great choice.

Some projects from this book that I’ve done: loose Sunflower, realistic Clematis, loose Dahlia, realistic Ranunculus.

The Third Grace – review

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It’s always a joy to celebrate the coming out of a new book by a fellow Canadian writer. Today is the day we fete Deb Elkink and the re-release of her prize-winning debut novel The Third Grace (originally published in 2011). It comes out with a new cover, but the same rich interior. Here is my review of The Third Grace (review first published in 2011).

The Third Gracesumptuous as a period costume

Aglaia Klassen’s jaunt to Paris has been a long time in coming. But now it’s three days away—a business trip for which the main character in Deb Elkink’s debut novel The Third Grace, has significant plans of her own. On the evening we make her acquaintance she is trying to inveigle from her worldly friend Lou, how one would go about finding someone in that vast city.

When her country bumpkin mother Tina bursts upon their little soirée with the embarrassing request that Aglaia take the Bible that Francois left at the farm fifteen years ago and return it, Aglaia is beyond humiliated. But the Bible does find its way into her luggage and becomes a magnet once she discovers the notes this French exchange student scribbled in the margins all those years ago.

As she reads them, she is transported back to that summer of young love when she was seventeen and sure that Francois’ heart was all hers. She recalls the Greek myths of which the Bible stories they read in youth group reminded him, and finds tucked inside a photo postcard of the Three Graces. The Third Grace, Aglaia, is what Francois called her. That’s why she has not been Mary Grace—the name her parents gave her—for many years.

Much has happened since that crossroads summer at the farm in Nebraska. She has made an impression on the cultural scene in Denver where she works as an up-and-coming costume designer. As far as she’s concerned, her Mennonite past is history despite the longing in her parents’ eyes and their thinly disguised pleas for her help with the farm. Aglaia’s friend Lou has her own agenda and their paths get crazily entangled in this story that explores young love, faith, identity, and loyalty to family and friends.

The well-realized characters make this book a delight. Lou is a devious college prof who we don’t trust from the minute we meet her—though Aglaia wants to and tries to, to our dismay. Eb, Aglaia’s boss at the costume shop, is an eccentric, wise, father-figure and my personal favorite. Francois, the charming, lascivious student from the past plays a large role through Aglaia’s memories. Aglaia’s Mennonite parents ring true, with their homespun sensibilities, their ethnic cuisine, and their Plautdietsch-inflected pronunciations: “trock,”  and “tanse” for “truck” and “tense,” and germanisms like “Na jo,” En betje.”  Finally there’s Aglaia herself—talented and ambitious, yet idealistic, wistful, and tortured in the way she continues to carry the torch for her teenage sweetheart.

Elkink’s writing is a tailored garment of sensuous description, trimmed with just the right words to signal deeper meanings. Note this bit from the opening scene where Aglaia is entertaining Lou in her apartment:

“Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her.”

The Third Grace, page 12.

Or this snippet describing Aglaia’s relationship with her craft:

“From the time she was a child…she’d hankered to sew. She learned the smell of the flax beneath the linen, savored the variance between silk and wool. She had a habit still of chewing a strand  each time she laid out a length of yard goods ready for the shears. She made a sacrament of touching and sniffing and tasting—a sensual adulation.”  

The Third Grace, p. 42.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Eklink is herself a seamstress and has designed costumes.

I enjoyed this tale for its literary forays as much as its finely crafted characters. Elkink seems as comfortable recounting Aglaia’s fall from faith and attraction to the occult world of Greek myth as she is describing a scene of teenage seduction, a Paris bistro, or a child-squirmy kitchen. Through Eb she shares wisdom from Christian luminaries like Saint Augustine, Dante, and the Bible.

For a reading experience as layered and sumptuous as Aglaia’s period costumes, The Third Grace by Deb Elkink won’t disappoint.

Want more? Find out about Deb and her writing on her website DebElkink.com. Her second full-length novel, The Red Journal, came out in 2019 and is also available for purchase.

15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces – review

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If there was ever a great time to learn about art, this is it. Not only is the internet full of videos and online class possibilities, but books are easier than ever to purchase and use. For art instruction I love Kindle books. On my iPad they have a built-in stand (I don’t have to fight with stubborn pages to keep the book open while I’m using it) and the illustrations can be enlarged with a couple of finger swipes. One book I downloaded some months ago is Anna Koliadych’s 15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces. It is full of simple and fun watercolor projects.

The book begins with a section on watercolor techniques and exercises, and then is divided into chapters that name various categories: “Beautiful Landscapes,” “Dreamy Galaxies,” “Elegant Plants and Foliage,” “Flowers,” “Fruits and Sweets,” “Adorable Animals,” and “Fashion.” There are six to nine projects (paintings) in each chapter so lots of possibilities.

The paintings are explained step-by-step and include a list of materials, swatches of the painting’s colors, how to mix them, and illustrations of the project as it progresses.

The book ends with a list of supplies and a few hacks from the author in chapters titled “Supplies” and “Tips and Advice.”

This is a colorful, fun book. The instructions and illustrations are easy to follow. Though I wouldn’t call my projects “masterpieces” or art I would want to frame, they introduced me to a variety of techniques and subjects. They usually took me longer than 15 minutes because drying time was needed. But they were quick and a wonderful way to squeeze in a bit of art every day, even when I didn’t have much time for it.

Here are some of the projects I completed from Anna’s book.

“Mysterious Forest” and “Autumn in a Circle”  are projects from the “Beautiful Landscapes” chapter. “Leafy Branches with Berries” is from the “Elegant Plants and Foliage” chapter. “Wreath of Flowers” is from the “Flowers” chapter.

Author Anna Koliadych also teaches watercolor online offering courses on her website. She is @dearannart on Instagram and her feed is full of short instructional videos.

Shikataganai–It Can’t Be Helped (review)

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In years past we have attended the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) and visited the barns on the fair grounds. However, I will never view them with the same casual attitude I have till now, after reading Sumi Kinoshita’s book Shikataganai—It Can’t Be Helped. That’s because those barns at Hastings Park became the home of Canadians of Japanese descent  when they were forcibly evacuated from their homes along the B.C. coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Later they were moved to internment camps in the B.C. interior.

Sumi (Morisawa) Kinoshita was four at the time their family was loaded onto a train, forced to leave behind everything in Victoria except what fit into two suitcases each. Their first stop was Hastings Park where they lived for six months before being moved on to New Denver and other places in the Kootenays.

Sumi tells the story of her family’s experiences during the internment without self-pity or whining, sprinkling good memories and humour throughout. She typifies well the resignation of Japanese Canadians at this time, captured by two words, “shikataganai” (it can’t be helped) and “ganbaru” (to persevere). She explains her people’s attitude at this time:

”…the ‘shikataganai’ philosophy also gave them the impetus to go on, to cooperate with the government and ‘ganbaru’ (to persevere). Making the best of their circumstances by submitting to government policies, it helped to prove their loyalty as Canadian citizens” p. 35.

Memories of Sumi’s siblings follow her narrative, helping to tell the story from a variety of ages and perspectives.

Aspects of the book I found particularly moving:

  • The book’s cover image, a blown-up photo of the 1200 or so confiscated Japanese fishing boats.
  • The final chapter, “Afterthoughts,” where Sumi details the effect of the internment on her and how she came to peace about it:

“For years and years even after I was married, I felt too ashamed and humiliated to talk about the injustice and indignity of living in the animal stalls of Hastings Park and ensuing internment. Then one Christmas the story of Jesus being born in a manger came alive to me in a new way. Jesus, the King of Kings, was born in an animal stall and was also subjected to the shame and indignity of being placed in a smelly environment surrounded by animals. … He identified with me and others who experienced the same shame and understood what happened to us. Jesus forgave those who sinned against Him as He died on the cross and rose again. That thought gave me great comfort and healing” – pp. 134,135.

For those wanting to discover more about this regrettable chapter of B.C. and Canadian history, Shikataganai is a great choice.

The Freedom of Dependency (review)

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Patricia Mussolum’s little book the Freedom of Dependency packs a big punch as it riffs on an apparent contradiction—how dependency on Jesus leads to a life of freedom.

Part testimony, part teaching, part a dare to greater faith and obedience, Mussolum covers a lot of territory. In fourteen brief chapters with intriguing names like “The Sorting Room,” “Friendship or Formality,” and “Getting Dressed,” she delves, in a personal and easy-to-understand way, into deep subjects like a Christian’s relationship to the sin nature (“The Sorting Room”), the place of the Bible in a Christian’s life (“Friendship or Formality”), and spiritual clothing options (“Getting Dressed”), and much more.

For a read that will lift, instruct, encourage, and challenge, The Freedom of Dependency won’t disappoint

Fresh Joy – review

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Fresh Joy: Finding Joy in the Midst of Loss, Hardship and Suffering by Heidi McLaughlin


My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When the sudden and unexpected death of a partner hit Heidi McLaughlin for the second time, it would not have been surprising if she’d have become bitter and joyless. But she was determined not to end up that way. Fresh Joy is her story—the first-person account of a woman who goes from a trauma-shattered state of shock to an expansive place of joy.

Along the way she takes us past milestones of unanswered prayers, regrets and “if onlys,” accepting a season of loneliness, appreciating God’s refining process, and more. McLaughlin skillfully weaves details from her story with the spiritual principles she teaches. Each chapter also contains many practical ways to deepen joy.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on hearing from God. McLaughlin writes,

“I never before thought to ask God a question and then, with pen poised, wait for his answers. This discipline of listening for God’s voice and writing down his answers opened up a whole new God dimension for me” (Chapter 12).

McLaughlin goes on to suggest several doable ways we can nurture our relationship with God by listening and so enhance our joy.

McLaughlin’s style is an easy mix of storytelling, teaching, and challenging her readers. The topical nature of each chapter, along with the concluding sum-up neatly contained in the acronym STOP would make this book great for study and discussion groups. This book would be especially helpful for those who are newly grieving the loss of loved ones—and the rest of us, who have no idea what challenges to joy lie ahead.

I received a copy of Fresh Joy as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Behind Her Name – review

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Behind Her Name by Eunice Cooper-Matchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


You would never know from the confident look of the woman sitting at the bookstore table signing books for her fans, that Sage Bush was still trapped in her traumatic childhood. But she was. In Behind Her Name, author Eunice Cooper-Matchett explores, with wonderful story telling, the secretive world of bullying and its devastating effects.

The familiar Canadian setting (small town Alberta), a cast of complex and interesting characters, combined with the author’s exploration of serious themes like bullying, forgiveness, trust, and how to answer the age-old question, why does God allow evil in our lives, are aspects of this well-written book that make it more than just another entertaining tale. Oh, and I loved the unique way the author had Sage handle times of stress and overwhelm—with poetry!

Fans of Christian contemporary romance won’t want to miss this special offering!




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Discover Your Hidden Self – review

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Discover Your Hidden Self: Opening the Door to Who You Really Are! by John Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It is for a time when crisis hits that John Murray has penned the helpful volume Discover Your Hidden Self: Opening the Door to Who You Really Are! In it he uncovers problem areas that may hinder us as we face life-altering challenges of health, relationships, and unpredictable turns of events that are inevitable. The goal is to help us gain calmness and serenity whatever comes our way.

In twelve chapters Murray tackles relevant subjects like grappling with suffering and unfairness, harnessing the power of thoughts and attitudes, extending forgiveness, finding significance and contentment, and being neighbourly. Throughout he sprinkles stories of people who have faced these issues and achieved success at overcoming them.

A penultimate chapter on life’s spiritual side lifts the reader from looking for help only within themselves to establishing a relationship with God—the God of the Bible–for wisdom, courage, strength, and support through life’s perplexities. Here’s a favourite quote from this section:

“Someone once said, ‘Adversity introduces a man to himself,’ which has an element of truth to it, but I think it should read, ‘Adversity introduces a man to his faith.’ In our adversity, in the midst of our emotional turmoil, our faith becomes real or it proves non-existent” – page 82 (Kindle edition).

Murray’s insights are wise and his tone is warm, sympathetic, and encouraging.

This book would be a great read for when you’re in the middle of a trial, or before, to be prepared for when that next challenge comes your way

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