Review: The Things We Knew, by Catherine West

The Things We Knew, by Catherine WestThe Things We Knew, by Catherine West (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Lynette Carlisle can’t remember what happened the day her mother died, but she was there. Now, in her dreams, it feels like her mother wants to tell her something. Or is it her own mind trying to communicate with her?

Lynette divides her time between her daycare job and caring for her father, who exhibits signs of dementia. The family home on Nantucket Island is falling down around her. Her older brothers and sister have left the area and are too wrapped up in their own lives to realize how much help she needs.

It takes a crisis to force her family to come home. Nick Cooper, who grew up with them, has also come home. Also not by choice. Being together again brings past hurts to light and reveals present turmoil each one is trying to hide. This family may have drifted apart, but they’re ashamed to let their siblings see their hurts.

Beautifully crafted and satisfying, The Things We Knew is a novel about family secrets and ties, about extending grace and finding hope. For Lynette and Nick, it’s even a chance at love.

Rich in setting and in relational dynamics, this is a novel worth enjoying. From the first page, I found it one of those rare books whose characters and setting welcomed me into their midst and invited me to stay.

Favourite lines:

The magic he’d felt when he’d first arrived tonight had only been a lost memory trying to find its way home. There was no magic here anymore. Only desolation. [Page 84]

If they were ever going to be free from the past, they needed to exhume it. [Page 274]

Catherine West writes stories of real life, healing, and hope. Her other novels are Bridge of Faith, Hidden in the Heart, and Yesterday’s Tomorrow. For more about the author and her work, visit www.catherinejwest.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Prelude to Danger Free on NoiseTrade

Here’s a new option for acquiring your free download of my Redemption’s Edge bonus features ebook. This will be especially helpful for my non-US Kindle-reading friends, since outside the US Amazon lists the price at the equivalent of $0.99.

I’m excited about offering a book through NoiseTrade (which has expanded from music to include ebooks and audiobooks too). Take a few minutes and browse the other options for reading and listening. The way the site works, material is offered for free, with the option of leaving a tip for the author/artist. You might think of it as “pay what you can.” In the case of this book, Prelude to Danger, please don’t leave a tip. It’s really short, and that’s why I want it to be free. But by all means, leave a tip for the other artists if you’re downloading a full-length item.

Healthy Repentance

I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.
Acts 20:21, NLT*

These days, if people say “that’s a sin” they either mean “what a shame; that’s unfortunate” or they mean “you’re disqualified; that’s offensive.”

But it makes sense that in the eyes of a holy God, we often do, think, or say things that fall short of His perfect standards. All of us, so there’s no ground for pointing fingers. We do sin. Sometimes even on purpose. It’s natural, but that doesn’t make it right.

The point is, for a healthy spiritual life, we have to repent of our sin. We acknowledge it as wrong and choose to change. We turn to God.

Anywhere but to God is pointing away from Him. We can only grow in wholeness if we’re moving in the right direction.

To do that that, faith in Jesus is essential:

  • for receiving salvation: cleansing from what’s offensive and damaged in us
  • for daily life: ongoing salvation and cleansing, also leading, power, growth, comfort, wisdom, courage, and the list goes on
  • for the future: He is our hope of heaven

God our Father, thank You for sending Your Son to be our Saviour. Thank You this gift is for everyone who will accept it. Thank You for the faith to believe. Please help us to grow in You and to share Your message with those who still need to hear.

Here’s the original Newsboys’ medley of “Where You Belong/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (there’s a newer version on their Hallelujah for the Cross album, but this is the one I bonded with).

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Missing, by Lisa Harris

Missing, by Lisa HarrisMissing, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2016)

Nikki Boyd and her partner, Jack Spencer, specialize in finding missing persons. Their newest case also involves murder, and the body count keeps growing. Can they find the missing woman before her enemies do?

Complicating the issue is the fact that Nikki’s good friend Tyler Grant and another man she knows are both linked with the crime. And somewhere in the process of comforting Tyler after his wife’s death, she’s fallen for him, even though he’s not ready to move on.

Missing is a fast-paced suspense novel that starts with action and doesn’t slow down. Nikki and Tyler are realistic characters with depth and struggles, learning to live with crippling loss. And learning not to blame themselves for what happened. In Nikki’s case, her younger sister’s abduction is the reason she’s in this line of work. It lets her empathize with victims’ families, but it also takes an emotional toll.

This is book 2 in the Nikki Boyd Files series. You don’t have to have read book 1, Vendetta, first, but it’s a series worth starting at the beginning. For more about author Lisa Harris and her novels, visit lisaharriswrites.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher for an unbiased review.]

Small Steps Add Up

I had the chance to guest-post at InScribe Writers Online this week, on small steps and perseverance in the writing journey.

I think it was Phyllis A. Whitney, in her Guide to Fiction Writing, who compared getting published to a train arriving at a station. If that train is a breakthrough of some sort, for you or I to benefit, we have to be diligent in the small steps of showing up at the station, bags packed and ready to go… [Pop on over to read the rest, and check out the other writers’ posts as well. Link: Small Steps Add Up.]

The Right Kind of Open-Mindedness

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.
Acts 17:11, NLT*

Paul and his associates travelled from town to town, sharing the good news that Messiah had come. Invariable some people were open to their message, but others weren’t just closed to it – they were hostile.

In Berea (after being run out of Thessalonica) Paul and Silas found the right kind of open-mindedness. The people were eager to learn more about God, but they were careful to test this new teaching against the truth of Scripture. They were ready to learn, but guarding themselves against deception and false teaching.

Soon afterward, in  Athens, Paul found a different sort of open-mindedness:

(It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)
Acts 17:21, NLT*

These people were open to ideas too, but only for discussion – not for application or for allowing what they heard to change them. It sounds like they viewed all ideas as equal, without investigating for truth.

I suspect that made it easier to get along with everyone else, and it’s what we need to do in many matters, but when it comes to what’s true or false, we need to be like the Bereans in discernment – and like Paul and Silas in teaching the truth in a way that doesn’t attack those who don’t believe it.

God our Creator, All-Wise and True, open our hearts and minds to long for a closer relationship with You, and grow us in Your truth. Protect us from ideas that would divert us from intimacy with You or lead us in wrong paths. Give us a burden to share Jesus with those around us in love and respect, and give them a desire to seek You and to know You.

May we come to the Lord with the attitude Lauren Daigle shares in this song: “Here’s My Heart Lord (Speak What is True)”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

Review: Fatal Illusions, by Adam Blumer

Fatal Illusions, by Adam BlumerFatal Illusions, by Adam Blumer (first edition: Kregel Publications, 2009; second edition: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, 2015)

In Cincinnati, a serial killer targets fair-haired teen girls with wire-rimmed glasses. After four years, the detective most invested in the case, Chuck Riley, has to retire and leave it un-solved.

In Chicago, Gillian Thayer can’t get past her grief over losing her unborn twins after years of fertility treatments. Her husband, Marc, is a busy pastor who’s never around. Her only daughter, Crystal, is 16 and beginning to move outside Gillian’s protective reach. Crystal, as it happens, has fair hair and new wire-rimmed glasses.

When Marc is involved in a scandal, his church asks him to take a leave of absence until the fuss dies down. They find him temporary work at a historic lighthouse in Whistler’s Point, on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Michigan.

The Thayers haven’t even heard of the Magician Murderer. And nobody has any idea that the killer has relocated to Whistler’s Point.

Fatal Illusions is compelling suspense that includes snippets from the killer’s point of view without becoming too graphic. At the same time, it’s character-oriented, and those characters are people we can root for (or at least root for them to change, in a couple of cases).

The Thayers are Bible-believing Christians, but they deal with ongoing human weaknesses. A bonus for me was seeing how they try to apply their faith to their struggles, and how in their better moments they realize there’s more at stake than their particular circumstances. At times both Gillian and Crystal stop to ponder what God might want to do or say through them to the people they’re with.

The faith element is not heavy-handed, but it gives an encouraging example to believing readers who, like the Thayers, are still learning to fully live by faith.

Fatal Illusions is Adam Blumer’s first novel. His second, The Tenth Plague, also features Marc and Gillian Thayer. For more about the author and his books, visit adamblumerbooks.com.

Fatal Illusions

[Review copy from my personal library.]

The Word Awards

The Word Awards 2016Did you know that The Word Awards, presented each June in conjunction with The Word Guild‘s Write Canada conference, aren’t just about books?

This year’s categories included articles, song lyrics, and script-writing. For the first time, this year also expanded beyond English work to host two French categories. Next year’s awards will see the addition of the Debra Fieguth award for writing addressing social justice issues and Castle Quay’s Best New Canadian Manuscript Contest.

The 28th annual Word Awards Gala was held in Toronto on June 24th, drawing guests, writers and editors from across Canada.

From The Word Guild’s press release:

Debut author Susan Doherty Hannaford’s A Secret Music (Cormorant Books) captivated judges earning the Grace Irwin Prize, a $5000 literary award and the evening’s top prize. The judge’s panel said, “This entry fit well with the pioneering spirit of Grace Irwin whom the prize was named after.” Hannaford also won in the Crossover Young Adult category.

The Word Guild was pleased to have in attendance Dr. James Houston who was the recipient of the Leslie K. Tarr award for a lifetime of achievement. He wound down our evening by reminding us that our God is who we must give all glory, honour, and praise.

Among the Word Award winners was the Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, Brian C. Stiller; writing retreat partners Tim Huff and Greg Paul; and co-collaborators Karen Stiller and Patricia Paddey. [Click to view the full release]

WINNER LIST – THE 2016 WORD AWARDS (for work published in 2015)

Short-listed books

The Grace Irwin Prize, Canada’s largest literary prize for Christian writers, celebrates the best book published in 2015. Sponsor: John and Eleanor Irwin

Winner: Susan Doherty Hannaford of Montreal, Que. For A Secret Music (Cormorant Books)

Honourable Mention:

Craig G. Bartholomew of Hamilton, Ont. for Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics:  A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture (Baker Publishing Group)

Greg Paul of Toronto, Ont. for Simply Open (Thomas Nelson)

BOOK CATEGORIES

CHRISTIAN CATEGORIES: NON-FICTION

Book – Academic

Craig G. Bartholomew of Hamilton, Ont. for Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics:  A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture (Baker Publishing Group)

Book – Apologetics/Evangelism

James A. Beverley of Pickering, Ont, and Craig A. Evans of Moncton, N.B. for Getting Jesus Right: How Muslims Get Jesus and Islam Wrong (Castle Quay Books)

Book – Biblical Studies

Stanley Porter of Hamilton, Ont. for John, His Gospel, and Jesus: In Pursuit of the Johannine Voice (Baker Publishing Group)

Book – Children

Paul Boge of East St. Paul, Man. and Faye Hall of Winnipeg for The Biggest Family in the World (Castle Quay Books)

Book – Christian Living

Greg Paul of Toronto, Ont. for Simply Open (Thomas Nelson)

Book – Culture (tie)

Brian C. Stiller, of Newmarket, Ont., (chief editor) and editorial team Karen Stiller, Todd M. Johnson, and Mark Hutchinson for Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson)

Karen Stiller of Port Perry and Patricia Paddey of Mississauga, Ont. for Shifting Stats Shaking The Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond (World Vision Canada)

Book – Inspirational/Devotional

Tim Huff of Toronto, Ont. for The Yuletide Factor: Cause for Perpetual Comfort and Joy (Castle Quay Books)

Book – Instructional

David Sherbino of Toronto, Ont. for Renew: A Basic Guide For A Personal Retreat (Castle Quay Books)

Book – Life Stories

Robert Jones of St. Albert, Alta. for Ornament (Word Alive Press)

CHRISTIAN CATEGORIES: FICTION

Novel  – Children

Karen Autio of Kelowna, B.C. for Kah-Lan the Adventurous Sea Otter (Sono Nis Press)

Novel – Contemporary

Valerie Comer of Creston, B.C. for Dandelions for Dinner (GreenWords Media)

Novel  – Historical

Rose Seiler Scott of Surrey, B.C. for Threaten to Undo Us (Promontory Press)

Novel – Speculative

Peter Kazmaier of Mississauga, Ont. for The Battle for Halcyon (Word Alive Press)

Novel – Suspense

Sandra Orchard of Fenwick, Ont. for Desperate Measures (Revell Publishing)

CHRISTIAN CATEGORIES: FRENCH

Fictives

Anne Cattaruzza of Longueuil, Que. for À la recherche de Shéïda (La Maison de la Bible)

Vie Chrétienne

Jean-Sébastien Morin of Saint-Eustache, Que. for Mariés et heureux? (Ministères mult)

CHRISTIAN CATEGORIES: SCRIPTS

Full Length Christian Script

Dennis J. Hassell of Toronto, Ont. for “Shell Game”

CROSSOVER CATEGORIES

Book – Culture

Christina Crook of Toronto, Ont. for The Joy of Missing Out (New Society Publishers)

Novel – Romance

Bryan Norford of Lethbridge, Alta. for The Silent Remainder (Pebble Press)

Novel – Suspense

J.A. Menzies of Markham, Ont. for Shadow of a Butterfly: The Case of the Harmless Old Woman (MurderWillOut Mysteries)

Novel – Young Adult

Susan Doherty Hannaford of Montreal, Que. For A Secret Music (Cormorant Books)

ARTICLE, POETRY, SHORT STORY AND SONG LYRIC: CHRISTIAN CATEGORIES

Article – Blog

Thomas Froese of Ancaster, Ont. for “Fear and Childbirth in Uganda” (http://www.dailydad.net)

Article – Inspirational/Devotional

Carolyn Arends of Surrey, B.C. for “Our “Holy” Sins” (Today’s Christian Woman)

Article – Long Feature

Ray Wiseman of Fergus, Ont. for “Until Death Do Us Part” (Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon)

Article – Personal Experience

Kimberley Parker of St. Thomas, Ont. for “The Mission on My Street – When Love Comes Back Around” (testimony)

Article – Poetry

Stephen Kennedy of Peterborough, Ont. for “Afar Feast” (Presbyterian Record)

Article – Profile/Human Interest

Angela Reitsma Bick of Newcastle, Ont. for “Every moment holy” (Christian Courier)

Article – Short Feature

Lisa Hall-Wilson of London, Ont. for “Violence Against Women – Stories That Need To Be Told and Listened To” (testimony)

Article – Short Story

N.J. Lindquist of Markham, Ont. for “Mary’s Dream” (Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon)

Column – series

Josh Valley of Toronto, Ont. for “Donald Trump and other madness Evangelicals fall for” and “Seeing Jesus as a refugee” (Christian Week)

Column – single

John H. Redekop of Abbotsford, B.C. for “An oppressive ruling” (The Garden Park Journal)

TERENCE L. BINGLEY AWARD FOR BEST SONG LYRICS

Carolyn Arends of Surrey, B.C. for “Just Getting Started” (Running Arends Music/ASCAP)

ARTICLE, POETRY, SHORT STORY AND SONG LYRIC: CROSSOVER CATEGORIES

Article – Long Feature

Christina Van Starkenburg of Victoria, B.C. for “Taming the TV: Turning TV Time into Teachable Moments” (Island Parent)

Article – Personal Experience

Heather Rae Rodin of Selwyn for “Angel At Our Door” (Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon)

Short Story

Bobbi Junior of Edmonton, Alta. for “Chapter Book” (Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon)

Column – Series

Thomas Froese of Ancaster, Ont. for “Of lions, children and innocence of lives given” and “Life is in the small pleasures, the simple moments” (Hamilton Spectator)

Column – Single

Michael Coren of Toronto, Ont. for “The Real War on Christmas Comes from the Right” (The Toronto Star)

Harvey/Mackey Award (celebrates the best of Canada’s up and coming Christian journalists)

Christina Van Starkenburg of Victoria, B.C. for “Taming the TV: Turning TV Time into Teachable Moments” (Island Parent)

IN THE BEGINNING (for unpublished writers)

Grand Prize Winner:

Ellen Hooge of Calgary, Alta. for Ruth (first three chapters)

First three chapters runner up:

Diana Holvik of Guelph, Ont. for Love in the Storm

Non-fiction short piece runner up:

Beckie Evans of Abbotsford, B.C. for “I did learn something”

Poem runner up:

Mike Bonikowsky of Melancthon, Ont. for “Daughter Songs”

Short Story runner up:

Annie Carpenter of London, Ont. for “Livvy & the Queen Bee”

First fifteen pages of a Short Script runner up:

Nicole Arnt of St.Catharines, Ont. for How about L for Love

FRESH INK (students)

University Category:

Grand Prize Winner:

Carolyn Felker of Brantford, Ont. for The Desert’s Secret

First three chapters runner up:

Heather Shore of Milton, Ont. for Sands of Kemet

Short Story runner up:

Anna-Marina Giurin of Chatham, Ont. for “The Music of Life”

High School Category:

Grand Prize Winner:

Lindsay Evans of Trenton, Ont. for “Forever Love” (poem)

Testing our Thoughts

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7, NLT*

Chances are, if you haven’t actually memorized this verse, you recognize it when you hear it. I’ve always understood it in the context of not allowing fear to keep us from serving or obeying God.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young leader who seems to be struggling with this. As such, I’ve taken it as an admonishment to be brave and not give in. I’m sure it’s that, but now I see something else as well.

It’s a partial description of our two natures: the natural self and the Holy Spirit-led self.

With that perspective, the verse can be used to test our responses. Am I feeling fearful, timid, anxious? That’s my old nature, not God. I don’t have to accept/ obey/ believe it. I can ask the Holy Spirit to be power, love, and self-discipline in me.

Then, of course, I have to choose to accept/ obey/ believe what He gives. Building up the spiritual muscles of our new nature takes consistent effort.

In decision-making, sometimes God will hold us back. We can never quote this verse blindly and forge ahead over our fears into obvious trouble. But God’s way of reining us in is more like a check in our spirit, or a knowing. It won’t be that timidity or anxiety that besets us too often.

For me, using this test makes me stop and think. I know the anxious feeling isn’t God, but somehow if I don’t take time to evaluate it, I automatically believe it must be true.

Because of what Paul’s trying to say to Timothy, this verse focuses on what this anxious young man needed. If you face different areas of weakness, you could easily use it as a template. Just fill in those natural weaknesses in the “not” category, and in the Bible, find the Spirit’s corresponding strengths for the “yes” side.

Our God, we thank You that You have given us Your Holy Spirit to live in us and guide and grow us. Help us learn to distinguish between our old ways and Your ways, and align us with  Your Spirit so we can become all You have for us to be.

Here’s a song from Big Daddy Weave: “Jesus, I Believe.” It doesn’t talk about today’s verse specifically, but it looks at the choice to set our minds on what Jesus says instead of what we may feel.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Hasn’t Moved

“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
Judges 6:13, NLT*

Gideon was bitter that God has abandoned the people and given them into the hands of Midian.

Yes, God did that. But Gideon didn’t see – or think to ask – why. When the people cried out to God in despair, He sent a prophet to remind them why they were experiencing this oppression. Perhaps Gideon didn’t hear that message, but now he was talking with the Angel of the Lord.

Gideon’s own father had an altar to idols. Did Gideon realize this was wrong before God told him to destroy it? He knew about God from history and tradition, but likely thought as many do today that those days were gone, that God had changed or maybe faded.

It sounds like he blamed God for the trouble and didn’t see it was sin that had caused the separation. God hadn’t moved. The people had.

We see the same tendency today, sometimes in ourselves, and often in the world around us. There’s no easy answer about why God allows pain, and suffering is not always a consequence of our sin. Sometimes it’s because of someone else’s sinful choices, and sometimes it’s just life with no apparent reason.

Whatever the cause, when we’re hurting we can trust the God who promised to never leave us. We can press into Him, asking Him to reveal anything that we may have allowed to come between us and to restore us to Himself. We can trust Him to forgive us if needed, and to carry and sustain us. He loves us and will be with us.

Father, forgive us when we doubt Your goodness, and when we blame You for any distance we’ve allowed to grow between us. Whatever trouble comes our way, help us use it as a motivator to rely more on You. Help us to cling to the truth of Your promise to never leave us, and help us to not give any foothold to the enemy of our souls. We belong to You and You will not abandon us. Help us to stand on Your truth.

Never Alone” from Barlow Girl talks about those times when we can’t seem to find God.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.