Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, by Stormie Omartian

The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, by Stormie Omartian #Christianliving #prayerThe Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, by Stormie Omartian (Harvest House Publishers, 2014 Updated Edition)

Because parenting doesn’t end when the nest is empty – or filled with adult offspring – the call to pray for our children doesn’t end. The specifics of those prayers, however, may be quite different from how we may have prayed when they were younger.

In The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, Stormie Omartian highlights specific areas to target in prayer. In each case, as well as discussing the issue and offering insights, she gives a sample, Scripture-based prayer that parents can adjust to suit their particular situation.

I found it encouraging that before even tackling prayer for the children, the book addresses the parent’s needs, including straightforward talk on the importance of forgiving ourselves, the child’s other parent, and anyone else who may have contributed to harm in the past. This doesn’t absolve anyone of guilt, but it recognizes that we’re human and that what’s in the past can’t be changed but that it’ll hold us back if we can’t let go of it.

Topics for prayer include revelation and insight, freedom and healing, purpose, protection, relationships, attitudes, resisting temptation, work and finances, and more. This updated edition includes a chapter on prayer that adult children who believe in God will recognize their need for Him as part of their daily lives.

This is a book to pray through again and again, whether your adult children are securely planted or struggling. The wealth of Scripture verses will be good ones to memorize and add to your prayers.

Stormie Omartian is the author of The Power of Praying series. For more about the author, her books, and her prayer ministry, or to share a prayer request, visit stormieomartian.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2017

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 99 books in 2017. And that’s not counting Bible reading. Here are the books (and new-to-me music) that I’ve most enjoyed this year. Some were produced in 2017, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2017:

Christian living: Prayer Warrior and The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, both by Stormie Omartian

Contemporary novels: Soul’s Gate, by James L. Rubart, and Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon

Favourites revisited: Where Eagles Dare, by Alistair MacLean

Historical novel: The Incense Road collection, by Tracy Higley

Mystery novels: Glass Houses, by Louise Penny, and Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert

Science Fiction novel: Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn

Series of the year: The Juniper Grove Cozy Mystery Series, by Karin Kaufman, and The Maple Syrup Mysteries, by Emily James, and an honourable mention to the Molly Sutton Mysteries, by Nell Goddin.

Fantasy novel: Elantris and Edgedancer, both by Brandon Sanderson

Thriller: Fault Lines, by Thomas Locke

Writing how-to: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

New-to-me musical artists of the year: All Sons and Daughters

Review: Christmas With Hot Apple Cider

Christmas With Hot Apple Cider: Stories from the season of giving and receivingChristmas With Hot Apple Cider (That’s Life! Communications, 2017)

This anthology of true-life stories, fiction, and poetry from 55 Canadian Christian writers is a strong addition to the Hot Apple Cider series.

Memories from the past include tales of Canadian childhood from those born in Canada and children of immigrants making new homes in sometimes-challenging circumstances. Vignettes from the present include what Christmas might be like for the incarcerated, and Christmas celebrations with grandchildren. Short stories include a man who’s decided to live off the grid and a young woman who befriends an immigrant.

The Hot Apple Cider series are heart-warming collections along the line of the Chicken Soup books, but less sentimental. They’re all from Christian authors, but they’re not sermons. Instead, the writers’ faith is the worldview from which they draw their work.

Christmas With Hot Apple Cider is the fifth and newest book in the series, joining three full-length books and the mini-book, A Taste of Hot Apple Cider. I think it’s a keeper, that readers will turn to year after year as part of settling into the Christmas spirit. For more about the other books in the Hot Apple Cider series, visit thatslifecommunications.com/hot-apple-cider-books. For more about Christmas With Hot Apple Cider, visit njlindquist.com/books/christmas-with-hot-apple-cider.

[Review from my personal library]

Review: A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley

A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven LaffoleyA Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press, 2017)

December, 1918. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a grim place, still shattered by the massive explosion that caused so much death and destruction one year previously.

The Great War is over, and the surviving troops are coming home, those not wounded in body, wounded in mind. News headlines cry worldwide unrest, and fear of the so-called “Spanish Flu” is so high that citizens avoid public trams and walk to their destinations.

To newspaper reporter Michael Bell, hope is dead. He survived a gas attack in the war and came home to lose his family in the explosion. Bitter pursuit of the facts of the world’s dark spiral has become his sole purpose in life.

When assigned a story of goodwill just before Christmas, about a mysterious lad with a missing leg and a generous heart, Michael insists he’ll only report the facts. And if the facts don’t produce the upbeat story his editor wants, so be it.

He’s paired with a female reporter who rejects his “wisdom of the head” for “wisdom of the heart.” As well as following their search, readers trace the days of a nameless beggar with the soul of a poet.

The narration itself has a poetic feel at times, with both poetry and prose philosophy quoted. Michael and the beggar are both well-read. Not surprisingly, given the title, Dickens is referenced, usually through Michael’s denial of his continuing influence in this darkened world.

This isn’t a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but those who know that story will find many nods to it. For example, Michael goes home to his dark, lonely, and cold lodgings where he broods by the fire, and he’s disturbed by significant dreams. And the ending, in A Christmas Carol fashion, gives a narrative summary of how certain things turn out happily ever after. While that’s ordinarily annoying, it works here as a final Dickensian touch.

For all the grim setting, and the stories of loss and trauma that Michael uncovers in his search for the boy, this isn’t a hard book to read. The omniscient narrative is well-handled to keep us at enough of a distance that we can observe and learn without being overwhelmed. The author reveals insights, details, and even smells that could only come from extensive research, yet it all flows as part of the story.

Because I usually review clean or Christian fiction, I’ll include a language warning with this one. There’s frequent minor profanity and one misuse of the name of Jesus.

Inspired by a true story, A Halifax Christmas Carol offers a look into a dark time in history, and yet may leave you with a warm hope reminiscent of Dickens’ tale.

For more about award-winning Canadian author Steven Laffoley and his books, visit stevenlaffoley.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert

Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert. Murder in the Mountains book 3Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2017)

When Tess Spencer reluctantly goes to help her ex-con mother hunt for a new home and a dead body turns up behind her mother’s trailer, she has no choice but to stay and clear her mother’s name – even though she’s afraid her mom might be involved.

Along with the mystery, this is a novel with layers of heart. It exposes the tragedy of the drugs that really do run rampant in the areas where the novel is set – and in so many other parts of North America and the world. It touches briefly on child abuse and foster care.

And it shows Tess, away from home and missing her husband and young daughter, comparing the mother-in-law who mothers her with her biological mother who’s let her down more times than she can count.

Lest that sound like a depressing read, it’s anything but. The mystery is engaging and fast-paced, there are delightfully quirky characters, there are heart-warming moments and hope.

Fans of the series will be pleased and/or intrigued to see Axel again, albeit briefly. We need another Axel story, I think, and more resolution with Tess and her parents.

Heather Day Gilbert is a Grace Award winner and bests-selling author of contemporary mysteries and Viking historicals. Guilt by Association is book 3 in her A Murder in the Mountains series, set in the mountains of West Virginia. For more about the author and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2017)

England. 1850. On December 24, Clara Chapman receives a mysterious offer: if she spends the next 12 days at a place called Bleakly Manor, she’ll receive enough money to rescue her from the poverty she’s experienced from the loss of her family fortune.

If they’d told her that another of the guests would be the man who stood her up at the altar, she’d have stayed away.

Except her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane, missed the wedding because he’d been thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He thinks Clara has refused to visit him because she believes he’s a thief. Can he somehow clear his name? Can the two lovers trust one another again?

The other guests are unusual, bordering caricatures: Miss Scurry, who keeps her box of pet mice with her at all times (and who can tell them apart by name!); Mr. Minnow, an eel-like fellow; Mr. Pocket, a police inspector; Mademoiselle Pretents, quite pretentious (and very rude); Mr. Tallgrass, a vulgar fellow in a wheelchair.

It’s a light-hearted mystery: who (and where) is their mysterious host? And who’s behind the incidents that seem calculated to eliminate the guests?

Michelle Griep draws readers in with choice turns of phrase. My favourites:

Ancient buildings with rheumy windows leaned toward one another for support, blocking a good portion of the sky… Clara rapped on the very next door, then fought the urge to wipe her glove. The filthy boards, hung together more by memory than nails, rattled like bones. [page 9]

A cold mist settled over London, dampening everyone’s clothing to the same shade of dreary. It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woolen capes and took up residence in the bones. [page 181]

The novella is book one in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, and while Charles Dickens himself doesn’t appear on the pages, readers will find the connection before the story ends.

Michelle Griep’s website describes her as “an author, blogger, and occasional superhero when her cape is clean.” For more about the author and her books, visit michellegriep.com. Also, you can read my interview with her here.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: The Other Child, by Pirkko Rytkonen

The Other Child, by Pirkko RytkonenThe Other Child, by Pirkko Rytkonen (2017)

Emma Jorgens’ outwardly stable life sits on a shaky foundation. She and her husband, Kent, are each wrapped up in their own lives and drifting apart. She has overindulged their fourteen-year-old daughter, Becky, whose entitled attitude is growing stronger by the day.

And Emma has a secret that could destroy everything she’s gained.

As a teenager, newly-arrived from Sweden, wide-eyed and impressionable, she fell for her employers’ son and had a baby. She was tricked into a closed adoption, so the records are sealed, but she’s never stopped wondering about her infant son.

Emma and Kent have created a basement apartment for some extra income. Their first tenant is a university student recommended by a friend – a young man named Mathias Smith.

It doesn’t take Emma long to realize Mathias is her son, and they begin a complicated attempt at a relationship. Mathias is frustrated because he wants to meet his birth father, who doesn’t know he exists.

Emma’s afraid to tell her husband the truth, but she’s out of time because the birth father is running for office and the tabloids are digging up whatever they can throw at him.

Emma and Mathias are each struggling, mentally spiralling into dark places because of their stress. Mathias’ health is deteriorating, too, and Emma’s so wrapped up in him that her husband and daughter feel abandoned.

The Other Child is an account of a secret finally exposed, and the emotional fallout that must come before any chance of a happy ending.

The author clearly knows her main characters well, but at times I was confused about what was happening because I needed more of a lead-in to orient me in the scene or I needed another clue to help me understand a character’s behaviour.

Pirkko Rytkonen has written an emotionally-complex novel that dares to address hard issues about relationships, secrets, and drug addiction. The Other Child is her first novel. Her writing theme is “Grace Through the Journey.” For more about the author and her work, and to read her blog entries, visit pirkkorytkonen.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Blind Justice, by James Scott Bell

Blind Justice, by James Scott BellBlind Justice, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press, 2013. Originally published in 2000.)

While Howie Patino was confronting horror he could scarcely have imagined, I was trying hard to come up with one good reason why I should continue to breathe. [Page 7]

That’s how chapter two begins. Chapter one shows the murder Howie’s about to be charged with, and chapter two introduces Jake Denney, a disgraced, alcoholic lawyer who’s sitting in the corner of a tavern using a pen and yellow legal pad to list the pros and cons of ending his life.

Told in a snappy, noir-like first person with brilliant descriptions that show as much about Jake as they do about what or who he sees, this is a page-turning clean read with a background thread of faith.

Howie is a childlike man who’s helpless in the criminal system. Jake drinks his way through the book, sabotaging himself at every turn but unwilling to give in to the overly-strong pressure from the prosecutor.

Christian readers will pick up a sense of spiritual warfare, although Jake himself doesn’t believe. Howie’s sister, Lindsay, tries to convince Jake to clean up his act and consider the possibility that there’s more to life than what he sees.

Readers who like to see the character begin to change for the better by the midpoint will find their patience stretched, and I felt that much of the forward progress of the plot, including the dramatic resolution, depended on people around Jake rather than Jake himself. That seems to work with the spiritual warfare sense, that God is moving for Howie’s sake and for justice’s sake despite Jake’s stubbornness.

So, plot-wise, this shows as one of James Scott Bell’s earlier works. Voice-wise, it’s delightfully refreshing and it offers a great example to writers wanting to enhance their descriptive skills.

This was my first James Scott Bell novel, because I’m not a fan of courtroom drama. I’ve discovered that I am a fan of his writing style, and will be looking for more of his fiction. I’m already benefiting from his books on the craft of writing. For more about the author and his books, visit jamesscottbell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Death of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Dead Man, Juniper Grove Mysteries book 1, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Colorado native Rachel Stowe has fled a stressful job in Boston to return to her home state, specifically to the endearing small town of Juniper Grove, where the few square blocks that make up downtown are a four-minute drive from her home. She can live simply and write more mystery novels.

Rachel is single, in her forties, and has a fondness for casual attire and cream puffs. I like her a lot.

She doesn’t have it all together, but she’s made some good friends here and she’s not one to back down from a challenge. Like helping clear her neighbour Julia’s name from the local paper’s mud-slinging.

Julia’s husband has finally been declared legally dead after he robbed a bank and went missing seven years ago. Most people think he drowned with his partner. But some, like the paper’s editor, suggest Julia knows something about the missing money.

When the dead man turns up freshly-dead in Rachel’s back yard, she’s more motivated than ever to find the truth.

This is the start of a fun series. The books are short, the delivery is snappy, and there’s even an attractive police chief that Rachel butts heads with so regularly that you just know there’s a relationship coming here eventually.

An abundance of clues and details kept me guessing until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more of this series.

My favourite line, which both describes Julia and says something about Rachel herself:

Most of the time Julia had a grandmotherly air about her, and I liked that, but every now and then she transformed into someone you did not want to mess with. I liked that too. [Page 27]

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Dead Man is the first in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon

Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine DillonGrace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon (2017)

Esther Macdonald is diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 28 – shortly before her wedding. Her fiancé doesn’t know how to handle it, and he’s too busy with his own reactions to take an interest in supporting her.

Her father’s even worse. He’s the polished pastor of the second-largest church in Sydney, Australia, and this is not in his script. When prayer doesn’t heal Esther, he blames her for harbouring sin or doubt.

Her mother is a more supportive, but having lived in the shadow of Esther’s father for so long, she doesn’t dare offer much in the way of original thought.

Help comes from an outspoken cleaning lady at the hospital, who overhears Esther’s frustration with God for not healing her. This lady, Joy, dares to suggest that asking in faith isn’t the only ingredient in a miracle.

Determined to prove her wrong, Esther searches in her Bible for the examples Joy gave. Reading more than her father’s sound-bites of Scripture opens her eyes to the context of his “victory” verses.

Joy becomes Esther’s mentor and friend, and shares Bible events with her through storytelling and simple, thought-provoking questions.

At this point you may be thinking “too preachy for me” and that the novel would read like a sermon. Not so – yes, faith and Scriptural themes are part of the plot, but it’s all driven by Esther’s situation and her need for answers.

Nothing is forced or dry. Instead, it’s one of those stories that kept me thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading.

Esther is easy to care about, even in the beginning when she’s not operating from a place of truth. Readers see for themselves the flaws and blind spots in the characters and in the excuses Esther habitually makes for them until she begins to change.

Esther’s health crisis and the resulting fallout in her family make her a character we can care about, and seeing her learn to stand up for herself and apply truth to her life is encouraging. What’s heart-warming is to see her begin to share what she’s found with others. Non-Christians won’t get that part, but Christians will be inspired to look for more opportunities to share with the people around them.

The medical details have been carefully researched, and they’re sparingly revealed as Esther needs to know them. No information dumps here. The story is set in 1995, so some things will have changed in the real world. The only thing I was surprised not to see included was discussion of a prosthesis or reconstructive surgery after Esther’s mastectomy. Even if that’s not something that her body would have yet been ready for, she’d likely have asked. Side note: in Australia, radiation treatment is called radiotherapy. I like that much better – sounds less frightening.

Although the novel’s focus is relationships, another bonus is its setting. While most scenes take place inside, there are a few ventures into Australia’s gorgeous outdoors. I don’t expect to ever get there, so the virtual visit was a treat.

Favourite lines:

She might feel full of cracks but somehow her learned patters of behaviour were holding her together. Like a broken egg bound with string. [Kindle location 705]

The habit would have to be fought. It wouldn’t just roll over and die. [Kindle location 2187]

Christine Dillon has previously published the non-fiction books 1-2-1 Discipleship and Telling the Gospel Through Story, but Grace in Strange Disguise is her first novel. It doesn’t read like a first novel, and I hope we won’t have too long a wait for the next book in the series, Grace in the Shadows.

For more about the author, her books, and her Bible storytelling ministry, visit storytellerchristine.com. You’ll also find discussion questions for her novel.

[Review copy provided by the author.]