Hidden Secrets (review)

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Hidden Secrets (A Green Dory Inn Mystery, #2)Hidden Secrets by Janet Sketchley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With batches of fragrant muffins and mugs of herbal tea, served up in an idyllic seaside setting, Janet Sketchley lures us into discovering the deadly secrets of the Green Dory Inn. Hidden Secrets is Book 2 in the Green Dory Inn Mystery series.

Thoroughly modern, with cell phones and drones, there are also elements of old sea tales with rogue ships and rum-runners in this cozy mystery. The Christian faith of the two main characters, Landon and Anna, adds value and heft to this hard-to-put-down read.

The believably imperfect characters (many of whom we met in Unknown Enemy, Book One of the series) remind me of the characters in Jan Karon’s Father Tim books. But the main player here is a 24-year-old college student, Landon, whose secretive personal past adds complications to the fast-moving plot. Sketchley has included a character list at the beginning of the book to help us keep straight the cast of characters and their relationships to each other. Though it works nicely as a standalone, reading Book One of the series would help you feel like you’re reconnecting with these folks.

Sketchley’s descriptive, yet tight writing and savvy plot combined to make me wish the book was longer. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am happy to hear that Sketchley is beginning work on Book 3.

I received Hidden Secrets as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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#CY365 Currently reading – Revelation

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Last Saturday the #CY365 photo prompt was “Currently Reading.”

Two of the books I’m reading are the Bible book of Revelation along with Discipleship on the Edge by Darrell Johnson—a book about Revelation (which two of our pastors are teaching a class of seniors and others on Tuesday afternoons).

The teaching sessions and the book are fascinating. We’ve learned about apocalyptic literature as a genre. (Revelation is an apocalypse—written large with symbols and hidden meanings in order to encourage the Christian churches of that time with a message disguised by images they, but not necessarily their persecutors, would have understood.)

We’ve been given insights into the meanings of numbers and symbols with special emphasis put on how would the people of John’s time may have understood the book.

A refrain that Johnson keeps repeating throughout is “Things are not as they seem.”

 

02-17-18 Currently reading

Revelation

 

A letter to lamp stands,
a throne room, a crowd
worship continuous
passionate, loud.

Creatures mysterious,
seals that won’t break.
Apocalypse visions
for Church’s sake.

Dragons and angels
that prostrate themselves,
sevens and forties
hundreds and twelves.

Horsemen and plagues
that fill mankind with terror,
signs from the heavens
that change Earth forever.

Martyrdom, bloodshed
pursue the Lamb’s team
but do not despair—
Things are not as they seem. 

© 2018 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)

 

(If you’re interested, audio sessions of these classes are online, under the heading “Behind the Curtain: A Study In the Book of Revelation” – bottom of THIS page.)

Psalms Alive! (review)

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Psalms Alive!Psalms Alive! by David Kitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Psalms Alive! author, pastor, and dramatist David Kitz takes us on a journey through thirteen selected psalms. In the Preface Kitz explains why he wrote the book:

“For the past number of years I have been bringing the Psalms to life for audiences through the medium of live drama. Here now in book form, from a dramatist’s perspective I provide a glimpse into the prayers and praise of the psalmists” 18.

Each of the book’s 26 chapters begins with the quoted scripture passage under discussion. This is followed by Kitz expanding on it in a variety of ways that include personal stories, explanations of biblical customs and settings, devotional inspiration, and challenges to apply the scripture’s advice to life. Each chapter ends with a “Bringing Life to the Psalms” section consisting of three to four discussion and personal application questions.

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Bible art journal on Psalm 19:14 using a quote from Psalms Alive! (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

Kitz’s writing is lively, picturesque, and wise. He expands liberally on the ideas presented in the Bible passage. He doesn’t leaves us in the theoretical clouds though, but makes sure his conclusions connect to everyday living. My book is full of underlined sections. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

From the Preface: “When we handle the Word of God, we are handling life. When we take hold of the Word of God, it takes hold of us” – 17.

From a chapter on Psalm 19: “Your heavenly Father does not need a stethoscope to check on the condition of your heart; he needs only to listen to the words coming out of your mouth” – 43.

From a chapter on Psalm 103: “Relationship is always the wellspring of all revelation. It is while we are in God’s presence that we discover the mind of Christ” – 149.

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Bible art journal detail (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

I used this book, along with others in an online creative Bible study and found much inspiration in it for Bible art journaling. It has deepened and broadened my appreciation of the psalms discussed. It would make an excellent textbook (along with the Bible, of course) for men’s or women’s Bible studies.

I received this book as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review and participating in the study.

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Dancing in the Reflections (review)

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DancingDancing in the Reflections by Patricia Mussolum

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Dancing in the Reflections, Patricia Mussolum rejoices in the beauty of nature and the simple pleasures of home. Dancing is full of stories of God’s simple gifts to her—like an armful of lilacs when she was hankering for a small bouquet, or the assurance, through a deer, a fawn, and rabbit, that God loved her on a day she felt like a failure. Any of us who have collected such moments of our own will find ourselves saying “yes,” and “yes” again as we read this memoir.

Mussolum adds to the significance of her stories by finding spiritual lessons in them. Her knowledge of the Bible and love for it are obvious. Inevitably she casts thanks back to God for the ordinary “miracles” that once filled the box in her living room as a collection of notes, and now make up the contents of this book.

As I read her descriptive stories I felt like I was having a visit with a warm and upbeat friend. The short chapters would make this book a good choice for devotional or waiting-room reading.

Don’t be surprised, though, if Mussolum’s recollections get you to do more than just read. They may have you recalling God’s goodness in your life—and fattening a journal with your own danceable remembrances.

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Overload (review)

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Overload: How to Unplug, Unwind and Free Yourself from the Pressure of StressOverload: How to Unplug, Unwind and Free Yourself from the Pressure of Stress by Joyce Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overload by Joyce Meyer is a book on how to handle stress. In fifteen chapters, Meyer discusses:
– what stress is and what causes it;
– how putting God in charge of life eases stress;
– how to handle unavoidable stressful situations;
– how to control thoughts to minimize stress;
– advice about decision-making;
– how humor can ease stress;
– warnings against stress-producing activities like comparing ourselves with others, speaking negatively, and tolerating constant low-level dread. The book ends with several chapters of practical advice for how to deal with and eliminate stress from our lives.

Overload is easy to understand and encouraging. If you’ve listened to or watched Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life show, you’ll recognize her no-nonsense, with-God-you-can-do-it tone coming through the written word.

I like how Meyer includes lots of examples from her life and concludes each chapter with a brief summary of the points made and an interesting fact about stress. Typical of all of her teaching, Meyer emphasizes the spiritual aspect of stress management.

If you’re at a place where life is too busy, overwhelming, and stressful to be enjoyed, give this book a read!

I received Overload as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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The End Begins (review)

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The End Begins (cover) The End Begins by Sara Davison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s October of 2053. After a series of terrorist attacks, for which a fringe Christian group has claimed responsibility, Canada is under martial law. For feisty Meryn O’Reilly, soldiers storming into the service of the Kingston church she attends is just the beginning of trouble in Sara Davison’s futuristic romantic suspense The End Begins.

For his part, Captain Jesse Christianson isn’t exactly comfortable with enforcing orders to detain and question “… every adult in the building.” This day he lets Meryn leave with only a warning. But the memory of her spunky attitude and defiant blue eyes won’t leave him alone.

More trouble follows for Meryn when she secretly orders Bibles and begins smuggling them to whoever she feels needs them the most. Inevitably the ordered and predictable life she knows becomes something else altogether in the Christians-are-lepers social climate. Meanwhile Jesse fights his own war between duty and desire.

Davis’s story gave me an appreciation for the freedoms we still have. At the same time it made me consider a lot of what ifs, like, what if it was illegal to be a Christian? What if it was against the law to own a Bible? What if obeying God meant committing civil disobedience? The End Begins is a gripping story of a fictional future I hope the Christian church doesn’t have to face any time soon. And, as the title implies, it’s only the beginning. This is the first book in Davis’s The Seven Trilogy.

The book ends with a set of discussion questions making it a good choice for book clubs.

The End Begins is part of my own Kindle collection.

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Twenty-One Candles (review)

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Twenty-One Candles: Stories for ChristmasTwenty-One Candles: Stories for Christmas by Mike Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mike Mason (Canadian author of The Mystery of Marriage, Champagne for the Soul and the Blue Umbrella fantasy series for kids) has a personal tradition of writing a Christmas story every year. This book is 21 of those stories, collected into a “wonder-full” volume of tales, as different from each other as each Christmas we live is one-of-a-kind. Some stories are short, others long, some playful, others serious, some fairy-tale-like, others as real as photographs. What binds them all together, though is the way each reflects some facet of the deepest meaning of the season.

From the one with the earliest date, 1981’s “Christmas Rocks”—in which the narrator and his friend, weary of the commercialism of a Winnipeg mall, drive to Gimli to choose a unique water-lucent rock for each person on their list—to 2014’s “In the stillness of the Night”—set in Hope BC with a local tourist attraction, the Othello Tunnels, playing a major role—these tales are recognizably Canadian, yet have a universal, parable quality to them that sets them beyond time and place.

The two that touch me most deeply are “Born with Wings”—about a sick baby expected to live just hours, born on Christmas day. Any parent who has lost a baby to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death will relate to this poignant, tastefully told tale and its Christmas message.

The other favorite is the 1984 tale that closes the collection, “Bound for Glory.” Its tame yet mysterious beginning:

“A light rain was falling as I set off across the platform. … It was Christmas Eve, close to midnight, and the station was unusually busy, though not with the bustle of a daylight rush hour but with the trance-like commotion of darkness…” Kindle Location 2939.

soon reveals a carload of citizens fleeing for the border, among them a couple with a newborn baby. Enter soldiers with guns, making threats and culling group by group from the coach. Of course there is a surprise at the destination.

Stories in this book have been read at the Vancouver Pacific Theatre’s annual Christmas Presence programs. Now that they are available to all, they’re sure to add their special light to the Christmases of many more individuals and groups. I, frankly, love this book. It’s the kind of volume I feel like buying as a gift for friends and family members because I just know they would love one or another story in it.

My one gripe with the Kindle version of the book is that there is no table of contents. Actually there is a Table of Contents, but it’s not listed under the “Go to…” options in my Kindle reader’s “Menu.” I found it when I paged onward from the cover.

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Man Overboard (review)

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Cover of Man Overboard by David DennyMan Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion by David Denny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You have probably heard the story of Jonah, but never like David Denny tells it in Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion. In 24 poems capturing the voices of Jonah, God, sailors, wind, whale, people of Nineveh, their king, even the vine and the worm, Denny retells this familiar tale with imagination and economy that nonetheless holds a treasure chest of riches.

Denny’s use of natural, cultural, and historic details delights, even as it grounds his flights of fancy in reality:

… my wife
clicked about my burning ears like a locust.
…. I untied all 613 knots
in my tallit” – “Flight” p. 4.

Those familiar with the Bible will recognize echoes of favorite passages:

“Seeing the dry bones of
my chosen ones scattered
on the ground…” (“Arise and Go” p. 23)

brings to mind Ezekiel’s vision from Ezekiel 37.

God’s inquisition of Jonah after Jonah complains about His lack of judgment:

“Where were you
when the Tigris began to flow? Where were you
when the walls of Nineveh were hosted to the sky?” (“God’s Response to Jonah” p. 25)

reminds us of God’s questioning of Job in Job 38.

In other places Denny subtly draws our attention to Jonah as a type of Christ.
“Can a man be born twice” Jonah asks after being vomited by the fish (“A Good Question” p. 19), and we hear Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

The story of “The Perfumer and His Wife,”

“… And when he told us
that like a fox without a den he had nowhere to lay
his head…” pp. 25-26

remind us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 8.

Most significant of the finds in this book for me, though, are Denny’s illustration of the subtitle: “A Tale of Divine Compassion.” Compassion oozes from these poems. God refers to Jonah as “my dove” (Jonah means dove), and speaks of “his lovely face” (“Arise and Go” p. 3).

The wind speaks of Jonah as “this little one” – “Stormspeak” p. 5.

God calls the great fish “lovely, sweet and langourous one” in “God Speaks to the Great Fish” p. 18.

To the Ninevites, God says:

“My heart delights in you, for you were lost and now
you are found…” – “Turning Point” p. 29.

As poems, the individual pieces are easy to understand even as they make good use of poetic devices like anaphora, paradox, onomatopoeia, personification, and surprising juxtapositions:

“I can’t go back now
My stomach can’t hold
that much crow” – “On a Hilltop Overlooking Nineveh” p. 41.

In Man Overboard, Denny opens our eyes to the compassionate song of redemption that plays a sweet counterpoint to Jonah’s blues of nationalistic pettiness. Thanks to this little volume, I don’t think I’ll ever read the book of Jonah in quite the same way again.

Thank you to David Denny and Lora Zill for the review copy of Man Overboard. A shorter version of this review first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Time of Singing.

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The Daughter of Highland Hall (review)

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The Daughter of Highland Hall: A Novel (Edwardian Brides)The Daughter of Highland Hall: A Novel by Carrie Turansky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is April of 1912 and Katherine Ramsey has come to London to do the “season.” Under the sponsorship of her aunt, Lady Louisa Gatewood—her own parents have both died—it is her goal to come out as a debutante, enjoy a flurry of balls, teas, parties, and other social events, in the process find a sufficiently well-heeled man and arrange, to the satisfaction of all, a suitable marriage.

Of course things don’t turn out quite that cut-and-dried in Carrie Turansky’s The Daughter of Highland Hall. Kate’s own guardian, second-cousin Lord William Ramsey is betrothed to a commoner (Julia Fowler) the governess of his children by a previous marriage. Soon Jon Fowler, Julia’s brother and a medical student, complicates things by proving an attractive distraction for Kate. William’s own careless-living brother David gets in the papers, causing society’s tongues to wag.

In the shadow of the scandal, the ever-critical and nagging Aunt Louisa and her young charge find themselves ignored and on the outs. This gives Kate more time to spend with Jon, who gets her involved in volunteering at a London East End hospital and attending lectures sponsored by the Salvation Army. Thus Kate’s eyes are opened to issues far bigger than whether her calendar is full, what dress she should wear, and how to style her hair.

Turansky is good at delving into the minutiae of the English social season, describing the clothes, food, etiquette, and small talk.

I never felt a heart connection to any of the characters, though. They were likeable enough but felt a little wooden and stock to me—the good ones too good and the bad thoroughly bad.

The writing was adequate though did seem to bog down in parts with excessive author description and explanation versus telling action.

However, I felt Turansky did a good job of exploring issues of social class and custom, showing how the rich were preoccupied with superficial concerns while the poor suffered in need and squalor. By bringing the Salvation Army and the London Missionary Society into the plot, she showed how Christian organizations were beginning to tackle social justice issues at home and abroad. She also did a good job of connecting such movements to the wellspring of a personal faith.

This Edwardian tale reminded me of a Jane Austen story of English manners meeting the upstairs / downstairs life of Downton Abbey, but delivered from an outspokenly Christian point of view.

I received The Daughter of Highland Hall as a gift from the publisher Multnomah Books through Blogging for Books for the purpose of writing a review.

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Star rating based on the Goodreads scale:

***** – It was amazing

**** – I really liked it

*** – I liked it

** – It was okay

* – I did not like it

 

Prelude for a Lord (review)

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Prelude for a LordPrelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lady Alethea Sutherton, main character in Camille Elliot’s regency romance Prelude for a Lord, is a social misfit, not only because of her suitorless old maid status, but because of her musical interest in the violin which is thought entirely unladylike.

For her part, Alethea has long since ceased to care, much to the chagrin of Aunt Ebena. Alethea has come to Bath to stay with her aunt after cousin Will kicked her out of the family home. Now she is living for the day she reaches her majority, gains her inheritance, and can flee England to the musically rich continent.

But the appearance in Bath of Baron Dommick, a musician she admired from her own disastrous season in London eleven years ago, and society’s demands soon have her attending balls and hobnobbing with members of a male string ensemble. Meanwhile she senses she is being watched, followed, and then is approached by a succession of sinister men who demand she sell her violin.

Main male character Baron Dommick’s reputation has been compromised by the effects of war. Despite that, he feels driven to ensure that his sister Clare’s upcoming season in London will be a success. This means making the right social moves in all departments. He is attracted to Alethea but could her strong personality impede his goal? And what if she should discover the real self he hides under that handsome exterior?

Elliot has combined compelling characters (including a list of who the various characters are, their many names and how they’re related to each other) with a circuitous plot that includes solving the mystery of Alethea’s violin.

As is characteristic of the genre, there is lots of wit and dialogue that sparkles. The writing is wonderful throughout:

“Then another crash, something heavy and wooden dropping to the floor accompanied by a tinkling descant of shattering pottery” – Kindle Location 2613.

“…the chapel lay empty and forgotten much of the time, an abandoned mother longing for her grown-up children” – Kindle location 5265.t:

Compelling themes include an exploration of how women in the regency era are treated and whether God cares for individuals—an issue especially for Alethea who feels as if God dislikes her, seeing as how He never came to her aid when her father, brother, and cousin abused her. Questions at the end of the book encourage readers to discuss, personalize, and apply what they’ve read.

Prelude for a Lord is a combination I found irresistible. It’s a tale I would hazard even Jane Austen would love.

I received Prelude for a Lord as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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