Tag Archives: book reviews

Breath as Prayer, by Jennifer Tucker

Book cover: Breath as Prayer, by Jennifer Tucker

Breath as Prayer, by Jennifer Tucker (Thomas Nelson, 2022)

In this charming gift book, Jennifer Tucker combines proven breathing techniques with Scripture-based prayer to offer tools to “Calm your anxiety, focus your mind, and renew your soul.”

Everyday anxiety is something most of us experience more than we’d like. And if it’s not anxiety, it’ll be something else that agitates or distracts or stirs us up. Settling down can be easier said than done.

These 84 short readings and prayers come with gentle artwork. If savoured one per day, they can begin building a positive and peaceful habit. They can be read in order or by theme, meeting the felt need of the day (prayers of trust, direction, gratitude, help… there are 12).

I love how Ann Voskamp says, in her introduction to the book, “To learn to breathe prayers through all the labor pains of living is to be delivered into peace.” [page 14]

And I love these words from the author:

“Anxiety is not an enemy you need to fight. It is an opportunity to slow down and invite Christ into your struggle, to breathe deep in His presence and let His peace enter into all your broken places.” [page 30]

The book opens with an easy-to-read overview of the idea of focused breathing and brief prayers, grounding firmly in the scientific and in biblical Christianity. Page 21 includes a chart of what breath prayers are and are not, highlighting the difference between Christian practice and general spiritual and self-help practices. The author also points out the difference between anxiety disorder (needs professional help) and the more common everyday anxiety.

Each day’s reading features a truth to “breathe deep and know,” followed by a brief devotional reading and Scripture verse. Then a page of pastel-hued word art presents breath-sized snippets of the verse to repeat a few times in sync with slow inhales and exhales. I found this settled my spirit and led me into a sense of God’s unhurried presence.

A compact hardcover with lovely art, Breath as Prayer makes an excellent gift book for a friend or for yourself. Highly recommended as a gentle resource for spiritual growth and self-care.

For a brief, accessible overview of breath prayers, read this post on the author’s blog: What Are Breath Prayers? Jennifer Tucker’s website, Little House Studio, also offers mental health information and printable art. If you scroll to the end of her book page, you’ll find two free printable colouring sheets and a curated Spotify playlist with songs “to help you slow down and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.”

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Color of Sky and Stone, by Sara Davison

Book cover: The Color of Sky and Stone, In the Shadows, Book One, by Sara Davison.

The Color of Sky and Stone, by Sara Davison (Three Dreamers Press, 2023)

Part thriller, part romance, and part Christian women’s fiction, The Color of Sky and Stone is a beautiful story that’s clearly hard for me to categorize. (Although I’ve learned a couple of new terms: this can be called upmarket fiction or book club fiction, since it’s designed to stimulate thought and discussion.)

Thriller: Tane is a secret operative in a Canadian organization tasked with taking down drug lords and crime rings. The brief scenes from the enemy’s point of view had me very nervous reading this book. I’m left with an unanswered question, but as an increasingly-timid reader I don’t think I’ll be brave enough to read the sequel in search of an answer. If this is the last high-suspense novel I read, though, I’m glad to have ended with one so appealing. [Note that only portions are intense; most scenes engage the heart and spirit. Also, what I feared didn’t transpire… yet.]

Romance: Lia and Tane are both isolated by their roles in life. Their relationship begins as two strangers exchanging letters. In the honesty and vulnerability of what they write (they’re not expecting to meet) watching them fall in love is sweet.

Christian women’s fiction: Themes of forgiveness (of self and others), honesty, secrets, identity, faith, childhood trauma, risk-taking, and emotional healing make this a book where readers walk with the characters and perhaps find something that makes a difference in their own lives. Discussion questions at the end offer additional opportunities for personal reflection and/or group discussion.

Lia and Tane’s experiences leave them both questioning their chosen roles. What makes the story beautiful is the honesty they risk sharing and the way it frees Tane from hurts he’s carried for years. None of this is contrived or pushy; it’s an organic outcome of their shared experience.

The Color of Sky and Stone is book 1 in the “In the Shadows” series. Sara Davison is an award-winning Canadian author of romantic suspense. Visit her website to learn more about her and her books: saradavison.org.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Shade Grown, by Heather Day Gilbert

Book cover: Shade Grown: The Barks & Beans Cafe Mystery Series, Book 8. By Heather Day Gilbert. Image features a Great Dane and some houses.

Shade Grown, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2023)

A peaceful garden tour turns to trouble when Macy Hatfield finds the body of a reclusive movie star among the hostas. Warned by her brother Bo, the town’s new mayor, to leave investigating to the police, Macy can’t resist helping the dead man’s sister find answers.

As always, the story includes scenes in the Hatfields’ coffee shop with the rescue dog section as well as the friendly West Virginia small town setting. The mysteries are good puzzles, and it’s fun to watch the characters’ relationships unfold. I appreciate both the clean nature of the content and the light tone. Yes, someone was murdered and crime abounds, and yes, Macy may end up in danger, but there’s no thriller-level intensity to make us afraid to turn the page.

Shade Grown is book 8 in the Barks and Beans Café series. It will appeal to lovers of clean cozy mysteries set in small towns, to coffee- and dog-lovers, and to gardening enthusiasts.

A reader new to the series could start with this book and find all they needed to understand the characters and this story, but this is a fun series and worth reading from the beginning. While each story is complete in itself, relationships grow and change over the course of the series.

Heather Day Gilbert writes contemporary mysteries and Viking historicals. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the author with no obligation to write a review.]

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Review: Crafting for Murder, by Barbara Emodi

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

Secrets and schemes and small-town murder.

Empty-nester Valerie Rankin has returned to the tight-knit—and tiny—community of Gasper’s Cove on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast. She’s housesitting for her vacationing aunt and teaching sewing classes and trying to set up a crafter’s co-op to boost tourism.

But home isn’t the stable, unchanging place she remembers. Suddenly, she’s trying to save the family store and investigate a murder. The locals she’s known all her life aren’t who she thinks they are. At least one is a killer.

I really enjoyed this book and will definitely read the next one. The town feels like a character in its own right, and I like how ordinary Valerie and her rescue dog, Toby, are. The mystery is solid, but it’s the interpersonal relationships that unfold that make the story stick with me.

This isn’t one of those stories where the amateur sleuth has a knack for quietly finding and piecing together the clues. Valerie is impulsive, she jumps to conclusions, and she antagonizes a lot of people in her quest for justice.

One of the people she accuses says, “Maybe you should slow down on trying to figure people out and maybe notice who they are more.” [p. 157]

In short, Valerie’s a lot like most of us would be in her situation. And she has a good heart. She may be going about this the wrong way, but she’s sure it’s for the right reasons.

Crafting for Murder is sure to appeal to fans of small-town cozy mysteries. You don’t have to be a crafter or a Nova Scotian to engage with this story, but if you are you’ll feel an extra connection.

As well as her mysteries, Barbara Emodi has written instructional books on sewing. To learn about the author and her work, visit babsemodi.com. Book 2 in the Gasper’s Cove Mysteries series, Crafting Deception, is scheduled for release in December 2023.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Mistletoe and Murder, by Connie Berry

Cover art for Mistletoe and Murder, by Connie Berry. Winter village scene with snow and a lit Christmas tree.

Mistletoe and Murder, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books, 2023)

Christmas Eve is fast approaching, and the wedding guests are arriving any day. American antiques expert Kate Hamilton is set to marry her British detective fiancé, Tom Mallory, in a carefully-organized wedding in a quaint English village.

What could possibly go wrong?

If you guessed flight delays, wardrobe issues, and last-minute schedule changes, you’d be right. And of course Tom’s mother’s continued disapproval of Kate as a future daughter-in-law.

But this is a mystery series. And this time, the mystery is too close to Kate’s heart. Neither she nor Tom could bear to leave on their honeymoon without seeing it resolved.

Readers will enjoy a novella-length visit to the village of Long Barstow and the regular cast of characters. Those familiar with the series will recognize some visitors from previous books. If you’re new to the series, you can start here and not feel out of place. But it’s worth starting with book 1, A Dream of Death, and following the series from the beginning.

Each Kate Hamilton Mystery is a contemporary story with connections to the past.

Mistletoe and Murder is book 4.5 in the series. To learn about author Connie Berry and her books, or to sign up for her newsletter and receive a free short story, visit connieberry.com.

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

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Review: Risking Rest, by Carolyn J. Watts

Book cover: Risking Rest: Embracing God's Love Through Life's Uncertainties, by Carolyn Watts

Risking Rest: Embracing God’s Love Through Life’s Uncertainties, by Carolyn J. Watts (hope*books, 2023)

The best memoirs let us experience something of the writer’s world but also invite us to apply some of the life lessons to our own hearts, however different our circumstances.

Risking Rest is a memoir in two parts, linked by the imagery of pregnancy and birth from Dr. Carolyn Watts’ obstetrics training. The first two-thirds of the book revisit her brief years serving in a medical mission to Afghanistan’s “hidden women” in a remote village. A sensitive soul with an as-yet-undiagnosed illness that taxed her body, she nonetheless proved wrong the assessing psychologist’s declaration that she’d never make it—never make meaningful connections there.

For North Americans, this glimpse into the harsh beauty of rural Afghanistan and its courageous women will help us better appreciate the needs. And it helps us see some of what these women have since lost under the restrictive Taliban regime.

For non-medical readers, the narrative of serving 24/7 with never enough staff—or heat!—and while working in a language not their own is the stuff of heroes. But Carolyn Watts is quick to deny the heroic—they served because the need was great, even when exhaustion wore their compassion thin and government officials threatened to shut them down.

In the middle of this intense season, Carolyn wrestled with Jesus’ invitation to rest: “How did ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ mesh with words about taking up your cross and sharing in Christ’s sufferings? [Page 128]”

She describes feeling a strong call from God to this part of Afghanistan, and that call kept her focused through the hard times—until her deteriorating health brought her back to Canada.

Enter part two of the memoir, learning to let go of the first calling—to focus on the One who gave the call and who was now giving a new call: to be cradled in His love and to learn that weakness could be a gift.

When the outward things that define you are stripped away, who are you?

Favourite lines:

…the One who brings life into being in us, tending it gently and with great skill, is little worried about the mess of the process. [Page 12]

Cling not to the call but to the One who called. [Page 166]

There are times grace hurts. [Page 167]

Risking Rest is a transparently vulnerable account of one Christian’s lifelong desire to grow closer to God. Each chapter opens with a heart-warming Scripture pointing to how she experienced God’s care even in the hard places. The book concludes with some practical and personal questions to help readers consider their own faith journeys and how they might apply the same lessons for themselves.

Dr. Carolyn Watts is a Canadian writer and blogger. You can find her at Hearing the Heartbeat, which she describes as, “Listening together to God’s heart and making our home in Christ’s love.” I highly recommend subscribing to follow her hope-filled blog posts. To view the trailer for Risking Rest or to download a free chapter, visit hearingtheheartbeat.com/risking-rest.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Outline for Murder, by Karin Kaufman

Book cover: Outline for Murder, a Kelsie Butler Mystery, by Karin Kaufman

Outline for Murder, by Karin Kaufman (Winter Tree Books, 2023)

“Meet Kelsie Butler. Coffee addict. Dog lover. Mystery buff.” She’s also a recent widow in a small Colorado town, with some good friends who’ll help her solve this mystery.

Outline for Murder is a classic locked-room whodunit—or in this case “locked-store.” Kelsie has partnered with her friend Gwen to stage a mystery party in Gwen’s café. The only problem is, one of the players turns up dead—in a manner very similar to the script Kelsie wrote for the event.

Kelsie is an appealing character, and I enjoyed the friendship dynamic as she, Gwen, and Angela (plus rescue dog Stella) teamed up to solve the case. And the food… I do enjoy a mystery with vicariously tasty treats.

Outline for Murder is book 1 in the new Kelsie Butler series. Book 2, Murder by Eggnog, is next. These short reads are clean and entertaining.

Karin Kaufman writes cozy mysteries and suspenseful novels for adults as well as the Geraldine Woolkins children’s books. For more about the author and her work, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: A Cast of Falcons, by Steve Burrows

Cover art: A Cast of Falcons, by Steve Burrows

A Cast of Falcons, by Steve Burrows (Dundurn, 2016)

Detective Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune is a Canadian serving on the local police force in Norfolk, England.

By this point in the series (book 3) his colleagues are beginning to trust that however erratic his methods, he’ll solve the crime. Except this time he seems distracted by an unconnected death that’s not even local.

This time the mystery centres around rival research groups and a controversial plan to mitigate global warming. The murder victim had switched sides and is found on the property of his former employer. With the company owned by wealthy internationals, Jejeune’s superintendent insists he not turn the investigation into a political crisis.

As the story plays out, it’s interesting to watch the developing relationships between the characters. And as always, readers will find richly detailed natural settings and sightings of birds both rare and common.

There are some continuing threads from previous books, but a person could begin here and not be lost.

A Cast of Falcons is book 3 in the Birder Murder Mystery series, which is at least 7 books long. Book 1 is A Seige of Bitterns. For more about the book and about Canadian author Steve Burrows, visit steveburrows.org.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Metropolitan Affair, by Jocelyn Green

Cover art for The Metropolitan Affair, by Jocelyn Green

The Metropolitan Affair, by Jocelyn Green (Bethany House, 2023)

New York City in the 1920s—glamour, prohibition, and corruption. And “Egyptomania”—the fascination with all things to do with ancient Egypt after the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

Dr. Lauren Westlake is the underappreciated assistant curator of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An expert in her field, she longs to visit one of the dig sites in Egypt. She also longs for her archaeologist father’s approval.

Suddenly, her long-absent father is back in her life—along with long-time friend Joe Caravello. Now serving as a detective with NYPD, Joe recruits Lauren to help identify forged antiquities. As Lauren grows closer to Joe, she struggles to overcome the barriers that keep her from trusting her father.

The Metropolitan Affair is a gently-told mystery and romance with themes of family, loyalty, faith, trust, and betrayal. The art details add an interesting element. I did find it hard to keep up with the large number of secondary characters, but I enjoyed the story.

Favourite lines:

Dead people were easy to talk to. It was the living ones that often gave Lauren trouble. Even her father. No. Especially him. [From the opening.]

So while Lauren had wanted to run, she had stayed. And she had only survived the staying because of the people who stayed with her. [Chapter 37.]

Jocelyn Green is an award-winning and bestselling author of historical fiction and nonfiction. For more about the author and her work, visit jocelyngreen.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Lilly’s Promise, by Terrie Todd

Book cover: Lilly's Promise, by Terrie Todd

Lilly’s Promise, by Terrie Todd (Word Alive Press, 2022)

In 2019, Diana has a perfect life—if you don’t count the recurring nightmares of her disastrous wedding. She’s single, with a successful career and a meaningful Big Sister relationship with a needy teen girl, Carly. And her best friend Shane is as happy as she is to leave romance off the table.

Discovering a twist in her family tree and learning the story of her grandmother Lilly will affect Diana’s present—and her choices for the future. When Diana quizzes her father, Dale, he decides to write the story for her as a book, one tantalizing chapter at a time.

Diana’s portion of the story is told in first person, present tense and Lilly’s in third person past (1922-1944). In the 1920s, children Lilly and Tommy commit a crime with devastating consequences. Bound together by the secret shame of what they’ve done, they spend their lives trying to atone.

Richly told with settings solidly anchored in present and past, Lilly’s Promise is a thought-provoking book that touches on a number of hard topics including infidelity, abortion, and wartime injuries and trauma. Yet it’s a hopeful story, pointing toward God’s love, encouraging its characters (and readers) to choose life, forgiveness, and freedom from fear.

This is one of those books where the characters stayed with me between reading times. And even as Lilly’s choices went from bad to worse, the present-day presence of her now-elderly son, Dale (Diana’s father) gave hope that her story would turn out.

Lilly’s Promise is a Braun Book Awards Winner. Canadian author Terrie Todd writes heartfelt historical and contemporary women’s fiction and has a nonfiction book as well. She is the author of The Silver Suitcase, The Last Piece, and more. For more about her books and to read her blog, visit terrietodd.blogspot.com.

[Book provided by the author. My choice to write a review.]

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