Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Praying the Bible, by Donald S. Whitney

Praying the Bible, by Donald S. Whitney (Crossway, 2015 – Audiobook from christianaudio, 2015)

This book could revolutionize your prayer life—if you don’t just read it but actually take time to try the principles yourself at the end of chapter 7. Chapter 8 assumes you’ve done that, and you’ll miss some of the value if you haven’t.

I’m familiar with taking a portion of text and praying it for people or situations, usually one of Paul’s prayers in his letters or of course the Lord’s Prayer. The premise of Praying the Bible extends beyond that. Essentially, it’s reading one verse and responding to it in prayer, then reading the second verse, etc. It’s like a conversation where God leads and we respond.

Praying this way brings us to the “same old” requests with a fresh approach as we allow the text to shape our expression of need. It also focuses us more on God and less on ourselves, while opening us to hear from God as the Holy Spirit applies the text to our hearts.

My recommendation of this book comes with a couple of caveats: first, the author’s one-line dismissal of the idea of prayerfully hearing from God in our spirits. As one who is learning to discern God’s “voice” in my spirit, I respectfully disagree. Jesus did say His sheep would hear and recognize His voice. (John 10:27) I also sensed a dismissal of published prayers such as are found in prayer books. Obviously, any prayer offered without sincerity is empty. Yet faithful believers have found great value in repeating beloved prayers over the centuries.

Donald S. Whitney is a seminary professor who also teaches praying the Bible at seminars. As such, the tone is instructional with perhaps a little more authoritarian tone rather than a coaching approach. I also found the first chapter a bit repetitive. Nonetheless, this is a book well worth investing the time to read or to listen to.

It’s a brief read, packed with examples of how to apply the principles. The paperback is just over 100 pages. The audiobook is two hours long and narrated by the author, which I always think is a plus.

For more about the author, his books, and other aspects of his ministry, visit the Center for Biblical Spirituality. I know nothing more of his theology than this one book (with which I have the above-noted disagreements). This review speaks only to the book in question and is not meant to reflect positively or negatively on the broader ministry.

[Audiobook review copy from the public library via Hoopla Digital.]

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Review: The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge

Book cover with a home's windows and door visible among pink flowers.

The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge (ebook version: Hendrickson Publishing Marketing, 2011; original print edition copyright 1963)

Why would practical, sensible Mary Lindsay leave a satisfying job in London and move to a country village to live in a house she inherited from a relative she’d met only once as a child? She doesn’t know, but it feels like the right decision.

The inheritance brings back memories: of that one meeting with her father’s cousin, also named Mary Lindsay. Of the instant connection with the house and then with the unusual Cousin Mary. Of the lady’s treasured collection of “little things” – miniatures that delighted them both.

The move triggers other memories: of her fiancé John who died before their wedding. In some unknown way, she hopes to understand him better now – and also to get to know Cousin Mary through the journals she finds in the house.

The characters, both living in the village and as found in the journals, are portrayed with an honest compassion, not glossing over their flaws or hiding their emotional struggles. Cousin Mary endured bouts of mental illness. A prayer, shared with her by a fellow sufferer, is the one thing that stuck with me through the probably 40 years since I first read the story:

“My dear,” he said, “love, your God, is a trinity. There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these, ‘Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.’ ” [chapter 5]

That covers most things, doesn’t it?

Two other favourite lines, one evocative and one amusing:

“…what I seek is the goodness of God that waters the dry places.” [chapter 5, Cousin Mary in her journal]

“He has a two-track mind, which is more than most of us have, but the tracks are narrow.” [chapter 10]

One caution: this book was originally published in the early 1960s and refers (positively) to North American First Nations and Romany peoples using terms that are now considered offensive.  

Causing offence would never be the author’s intent. This is a novel that embraces readers, drawing us in like the welcoming door that invited the child Mary into the house. It offers charming descriptions of settings both in nature and in the houses, gentle conversation, and people allowed to make the wrong choices in the hope they’ll find some good in themselves.

Elizabeth Goudge was a beloved British writer. I appreciated her books many years ago and am delighted to find some of them now in digital form when I’d assumed they’d be out of print and gone. The Scent of Water was the one I remembered most fondly by title, due to the prayer which strengthened me through some difficult days.

For more about the author, visit the Elizabeth Goudge Society website.

[Review copy from the public library via the Hoopla Digital app.]

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Review: The Camera Never Lies, by David Rawlings

The Camera Never Lies, by David Rawlings (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

A successful marriage counselor whose own relationships are in turmoil—and who can’t write the sequel to his bestselling self-help book. His wife, trapped in a job selling questionable pharmaceuticals to help pay their hefty mortgage. Their 14-year-old daughter, withdrawing and exhibiting warning signs.

And an old camera that takes pictures of what’s unseen.

Inheriting his grandfather’s prized camera leads Daniel into experiences where truth becomes visible. He meets Simon, the unusual proprietor of the camera shop that suddenly opened near Daniel’s work. And he has to hide the photos Simon develops for him… because if anyone saw some of those images, his career—and his family—would be shattered.

The Camera Never Lies is a clean, heartwarming story with supernatural overtones, perfect for readers who love Davis Bunn’s Miramar Bay series (although without the new-romance plot thread). With its human drama and themes of trust and truth, I think it’d make an engaging movie.

Favourite lines:

…you’re thinking you had a good reason for doing what you did. At the time, you probably did, but the consequences of today don’t always respect the actions of yesterday. [hardcover pages 197-198, Simon speaking to Daniel]

Daniel held fate in his hands. It deserved to be tempted. [hardcover page 211]

This is Australian author David Rawlings’ second novel. Here’s a link to my review of his debut, The Baggage Handler. For more about the author and his work, visit davidrawlings.com.au.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Crafting Deception, by Barbara Emodi

Crafting Deception, by Barbara Emodi (C&T Publishing, 2023)

“Help me.” The words, spoken to Valerie Rankin as a man she trusts is arrested for murder, leave her wanting to help without knowing how. Circumstantial evidence and a criminal past make Rankin’s General Store employee Duck MacDonald the prime suspect in a murder.

In the small fictional town of Gasper’s Cove, on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast, everybody knows everybody’s secrets… or so they think. Yet past generations’ rumrunning and other illegal acts have influenced the present. Suddenly it seems to Val that strangers and friends alike are on the search for hidden treasure. And nobody’s concerned about clearing Duck’s name.

Author Barbara Emodi has a keen sense of descriptive details that bring the town and its characters to life. As an example, chapter 12’s scene at a fundraiser with “church-basement, made-by-the-women’s auxiliary sandwiches” will have Atlantic Canadians of a certain age nodding and remembering. She also includes a fair sprinkling of humour.

Protagonist Val is a sewing instructor and an empty-nest single mother. Her way of solving a mystery is to jump to a series of wild (and wrong) conclusions, embarrass herself by insisting the police should act on what she says, be proven wrong, and try again. Until she accidentally stops the killer and solves the case. She’s persistent, determined, and she genuinely cares for the people in her community.

She’s also a character I need to take in small doses. By hyper-focusing on her current stress or idea, she misses social cues and responds inappropriately. Like the brisk brush-off to a date invitation from a man she likes. Or like dashing off to confront her son in person when he sends a text asking for a bit of space.

Book 1 in the series is Crafting for Murder. As well as her Gasper’s Cove mysteries, Barbara Emodi has written instructional books on sewing. To learn about the author and her work, visit babsemodi.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: A Tiding of Magpies, by Steve Burrows

Greyscale book cover featuring two black and white birds in flight.

A Tiding of Magpies, by Steve Burrows (Dundurn Press, 2018)

This time, DCI Dominic Jejeune (a Canadian working in England) and his team work to solve a local murder while he’s involved in an investigative review of the high profile case that launched his career. Jejeune is not the only one with regrets about that case… or with a suspicion all might not have been as it seemed.

I’m really enjoying the Birder Murder Mystery series. Each book has a strong sense of place, engaging characters with depth, clever turns of phrase, and complex crimes. The characters and plots keep me thinking about them when I’m not reading.

I’m not a birder (although I do like birds) but it’s interesting to see how they keep finding their way into the books. Also interesting are the environmental and social threads that appear.

A Tiding of Magpies is Book 5 in a series I’d heartily recommend you start from the beginning (A Siege of Bitterns). Or you could dive into this one and then go back to the start.

It’s rare for me to find a longer series that I feel committed to finishing, but this is one of them. Clean and not gory, brutal, or creepy. No risk of nightmares or vicarious trauma. Just good reads mostly set in the British countryside. I’m trying to ration them so I don’t finish too quickly. Thank you, Steve Burrows!

For more about the author and his work, visit steveburrows.org.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Renaissance, by Susan Fish

book cover: huge tree, stone wall, golden grass, blue sky

Renaissance, by Susan Fish (Raven, 2023)

First things first: this cover, on the paperback held in my hand, is absolutely gorgeous. The golden light (especially on the grass), the huge tree, the stone wall and clouds. It speaks rest to me, and warmth.

The story also brings rest. Evocative prose draws us into Liz’s struggles and into the beautiful Italian setting. If you haven’t (yet) experienced any mid-life reshapings of your identity, you’ve likely felt the hurt of being left out, misunderstood, or betrayed.

This is literary women’s fiction with an almost languid feel to it… never boring, just slowly and gently inviting readers in.

It’s a story of self-discovery, family, and forgiveness, with a thread of faith—wrapped up in a virtual tour of Florence, Italy. My only caution is there are a few pages of profanity near the end, catching both Liz and the reader off-guard. I understand why Liz surprises herself by lashing out in this way, and how she finds it entirely appropriate to the situation, but it jarred my peace and could be a deal-breaker for some.

Favourite line:

His words fell into a deep place in me, like olive oil finding every hole in a piece of bread, saturating it.

[page 57; context: Italian gardener was talking about pruning olive trees, while Liz sees a meaning for her own life from his words.]

For more about Canadian author and editor Susan Fish and her other books, visit her website. You can also see my reviews of two of her other books: Seeker of Stars and Ithaca.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Elisha Code and the Coming Revival, by David Kitz and Dr. Ed Hird

Book cover with lightning striking a burning bush.

The Elisha Code and the Coming Revival, by David Kitz and Dr. Ed Hird (Word Alive Press, 2023)

If John the Baptist fulfilled the role of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, was there a corresponding prophet Elisha to follow him with a double blessing of power? The authors of The Elisha Code and the Coming Revival point to Jesus as a type of second Elisha—not in the sense of denying His deity, but as continuing and building on John’s call to repentance and allegiance to a new Kingdom.

They are very clear in affirming that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Their call is for readers to be “Rediscovering Jesus’ Blueprint for Renewal” and to follow in His way.

The opening chapters of the book trace a number of parallel miracles between Elisha and Jesus (those of Jesus being greater). I’m familiar with comparisons between Jesus and Moses, and Jesus and Joshua, but this connection with Elisha was new to me.

The book also delves into past spiritual awakenings, outpourings, and renewals. For Christians praying for revival, it echoes that longing and points us to inspect our own hearts: are there aspects needing repentance and to come (back?) under the Kingdom authority of Christ?

Despite possible first impressions of the title and cover, this is no trendy, hype-driven “new” revelation. The truth it contains may well be a catalyst, but as the natural result of considering Jesus and His work.

In fact, the introduction explains, “To fulfill its divine mission, the church of the twenty-first century does not need to discover new and different truths for this current age. It needs to return to and rediscover lived truths taught by Jesus and the apostles of the first century church, and put into practice by leading men and women of God down through the ages” [Introduction, page 3 Kobo version].

The book’s premise is that the key to revival is the “return to a Holy Spirit-powered church growth” [chapter 18, page 4 Kobo version]. As readers accept the challenge to seek God and be found by Him, and to prepare their own hearts for what He may be about to do, may we see results in keeping with the truth of the Gospel.

David Kitz is an award-winning author and Bible dramatist. Dr. Ed Hird is a writer and speaker and former pastor. Each is an ordained minister in his respective denomination. This is their first book collaboration.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Divine Proverb of Streusel, by Sara Brunsvold

The Divine Proverb of Streusel, by Sara Brunsvold (Revell, 2024)

Sometimes when life hurts, you run away. Even from the people you love.

Nikki has so much going for her: a solid faith, a loving mom and sister, a good friend at the school where she teaches, and a caring guy who’s been talking about rings. But second-hand news of her unfaithful father’s remarriage—so soon after the divorce that bankrupted her mother—leaves her unable to face any of them.

She flees to the one untouched memory of safety: her paternal grandparents’ home in rural Missouri, now owned by her bachelor uncle, Wes.

Wes is an army veteran drawn home to the peace of the farm. He doesn’t agree with his brother’s behaviour but understands the wounds that made the man who he is. Coached long-distance by his feisty Aunt Emma (Nikki’s Grandma Ann’s sister) and with a regular rhythm of prayer, Wes will do all he can to help Nikki heal.

Nikki stays for the summer to help fix up the old farmhouse, finding some measure of peace in her mother’s example of “just do the next thing.” One of the “next things” involves cooking her way through a handwritten book of old German recipes, each of which opens with a farm wife’s words of hard-earned wisdom and proverbs for making the best of life.

This is a heartwarming, gently-told tale of hurt and healing, family heritage, and comfort food. Be warned, you may find yourself heading for the kitchen (or a restaurant). Or prayerfully making yet another attempt to show love to someone you’d rather avoid.

A few of my favourite lines:

Home should be where peace comes to roost. But peace is never an uninvited guest. As the keeper of the home, you must invite it daily. Bring it in, give it the place of honor, sit with it until you are filled with its tenderness. Turn away the indignation that will invariably come to your door too… [chapter 12, page 4 in chapter]

People prefer to hang on to their own view of things far longer than they should, particularly about their own family. [Chapter 13, page 6 in chapter]

Stories are the universal heart language. They bring together what is scattered. [Chapter 24, page 13 in chapter]

The world gives enough reasons to fret. Be not one of them. Be the help. [Chapter 29, page 5 in chapter]

Recommended for anyone who enjoys intergenerational Christian women’s fiction with heart. Readers who also enjoy nonfiction in the Christian living genre and who like to read cookbooks will totally love this book.

Sara Brunsvold is also the author of the highly acclaimed The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip. Her website says her “chief aim is to create stories that speak hope, truth and life.” For more about the author and her work, visit sarabrunsvold.com.

[Review copy from the public library via the Hoopla Digital app.]

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Review: A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, by Steve Burrows

Book cover: A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, by Steve Burrows. Green cover, three black hummingbird silhouettes.

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, by Steve Burrows (Dundurn, 2017)

“The cold lay across the land like a punishment.”

How’s that for an opening line to set the scene? In this classic mystery, the cold land is coastal northern England in December. When readers start getting too vicariously chilly, the next chapter will take us to the heat of Colombia.

Not only is there a murder for the local British constabulary to solve, but Detective Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune has left the country. After a rival is brought in to replace him—one who appears easier to work with—will Jejeune have a job to come back to?

And will his impulsive birding trip to Colombia turn up anything that can clear his brother of the serious criminal charges against him?

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds is book 4 in the Birder Murder Mystery series: clean, engaging mysteries with vibrant settings, complex characters, and clever turns of phrase. I am so enjoying this series, which seems to draw me further in with each book.

Readers could begin here and not feel lost, but to fully appreciate the characters’ backgrounds and relationships it’s worth beginning with book 1, A Siege of Bitterns.

Readers with an interest in birds and birding, in the English countryside, and in environmental issues will most appreciate the series, but it’s an excellent choice for anyone who appreciates well-told mysteries that make you think.

To learn about author Steve Burrows and his books, visit steveburrows.org.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Picks from 2023

Goodreads: My Year in Books

Goodreads tells me I read 51 books in 2023. That’s way down from previous years, and I feel good. I’ve had more quiet time to think. That said, there are some books I really want to read this year!

From those 51 books in 2023, here are my top picks:

Book of the year, fiction: All the Lost Places, by Amanda Dykes, and The Color of Sky and Stone, by Sara Davison (Both chosen for their effect on the heart)

Book of the year, nonfiction: Breath as Prayer, by Jennifer Tucker

Christian living: The Believer’s Secret of the Abiding Presence, excerpts from the writings of Andrew Murray and Brother Lawrence (compiled and edited by L.G. Parkhurst Jr.)

Fantasy: The Lost Metal, by Brandon Sanderson

Favourite re-read (fiction): Star Wars: Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn

Favourite re-read (non-fiction): The Spirit-Filled Life, by Charles F. Stanley

Heartwarming reads: All the Lost Places, by Amanda Dykes

Mystery/suspense novel: A Cast of Falcons, by Steve Burrows

Nova Scotia fiction: Crafting for Murder, by Barbara Emodi

Science Fiction: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Some of these books were produced in 2023, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

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