“When I asked God why I ought to love my neighbors, he sent them, one by one, to answer the question.” [Chapter 17, page 6 in chapter]
Subtitled “How Strangers Became a Community,” My Vertical Neighborhood is a memoir of one Christian’s quest to build friendships and discover practical ways to love the others around her. Instead of diving into activities in her new church, the author wanted to connect with her literal neighbours.
Not surprisingly, the other residents in her Toronto high-rise weren’t overly receptive at first. It took time, prayer, persistence, and God’s provision of a friend to move into the same building and share the efforts. Perhaps also not surprisingly, the relationships began to grow over food.
This isn’t a “neighbourhood evangelism” book. It’s a memoir of intentional relationship-building and developing not just friendship but love among the diverse inhabitants of the building.
“Jesus says loving God, self, and neighbor is foundational to everything else. If we don’t understand and practice these conjoined commandments, it will be harder to obey the rest.” [Chapter 2, page 5 in chapter]
I found the book to be an interesting read. And while I don’t feel any sense of call to push myself as far out of my comfort zone as the author did, I’m pleased that it’s left me more aware of the need to intentionally take the opportunities that come my way. We can all learn to listen more, ask better questions, and take time with the people around us.
I can’t end this review without a shout-out to the cover. Where most encounters revolved around food, aren’t the vertical images of dinner plates and elevator buttons brilliant?
Canadian author Lynda MacGibbon is a former journalist, now working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. For more about the author and her work, visit lyndamacgibbon.com.
[Digital review copy from the public library. This book is available to borrow through Hoopla Digital.]
What would it be like to be a young girl growing to womanhood in ancient Israel during the wilderness years? With the excitement of the Exodus behind you and the Promised Land not as immediate as everyone had hoped?
Under the Cloud is Zamri’s story. Instead of dreaming of marriage, Zamri longs to become a leader like Moses’ sister, Miriam. She is, however, a daughter in a time when parents are to be obeyed—even when they arrange their daughter’s marriage.
Follow Zamri from girlhood to middle age, and see how she discovers herself able to lead in a very different way than she’d hoped as a child.
I confess when I think of the biblical account Israel’s liberation from Egypt and trek to the Promised Land I don’t have much sympathy—or patience—with their continued doubt. After all, they had the visible Presence of God with them, by day and by night. They saw the Red Sea part, after witnessing all the plagues in Egypt. Yet they grumbled, they disobeyed, and an entire generation ended up dying in the wilderness because of it.
Reading this novel helped me understand some of the fears and influences that make it believable that this rescued people would behave as they did. The faithful knew it wasn’t right, but there would have been many who were still sorting out what it meant to belong exclusively to this One True God.
Under the Cloud is the sequel to Destiny’s Hands, which told the story of Bezalel, a gifted craftsman commissioned by God to craft the holy Tent of Meeting. Zamri is his younger sister. The ending of book two leaves room for a third instalment.
As well as writing biblical fiction, Violet Nesdoly is a poet, artist, and book reviewer. For more about the author and her work, visit violetnesdoly.com.
A single mother with a teenage son becomes a pawn in a drug lord’s vengeance against her convict brother.
Carol Daniels thinks she out-ran her enemies, until a detective arrives at her door with a warning. Minor incidents take on a sinister meaning. An anonymous phone call warns her not to hide again.
Now she must cooperate with a drug lord while the police work to trap him. Carol has always handled crisis alone, but this one might break her. Late-night deejay Joey Hill offers friendship and moral support. Can she trust him? One thing’s certain. She can’t risk prayer.
If you like Christian romantic suspense and classic oldies, and you’re not intimidated by territorial Siamese cats, grab your copy of Secrets and Lies todaywhile it’s only 99 cents for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Google Play, and Apple. [Sale worldwide, May 18-24, 2021]
High tension from page one until the end. Even when Julia slows down to breathe and recover, author K.L. Ditmars has created frightening enough enemies that you feel them looming just off the page ready to overpower her.
When Julia’s husband is murdered in front of her, she only knows one safe place to run—to a homeless man living in the forest behind their home. The man, Charlie, is ex-military, carrying his own trauma from serving during the Rwandan genocide. And he’s not exactly homeless, or resourceless.
The human trafficking ring responsible for Julia’s husband’s death considers her a loose end—to be eliminated. She doesn’t dare approach the police, because the killers framed her for the murder. Threaded among Julia’s defensive plans and strategic actions and eventual investigation, we see glimpses of her enemies’ ruthlessness.
There’s a lot to like about this book: vibrant settings, courage, human kindness. And an Irish Wolfhound named Aengus. There’s also truth: about the ongoing scourge of human trafficking in Canada and the United States.
There’s also a strong thread of faith. Charlie combats his residual PTSD through prayer, finding comfort that God is with him in the darkness. His words point Julia toward trusting God and finding the help and strength she needs. Nothing is preachy, just a natural outflow of their time together.
Best thing I’m taking from this novel: “All is in Your hands.” This is Charlie’s prayer, which Julia takes for her own. It’s a simple enough prayer that any of us can add it into our lives.
All That it Takes is a gripping read. It’s one of those novels where the characters and their struggle stayed with me when I wasn’t reading. Favourite line:
Charlie… let the silence after her revelation sit between them like a cup of coffee needing to cool. [Chapter 10, ebook page 88]
All That it Takes is book 1 in the Where Can I Go? series. The sequel, coming later in 2021, will carry on Julia’s quest for justice. For more about Canadian author K.L. Ditmars, visit klditmarswriter.com. You can also read an interview she did with me here: interview-k-l-ditmars-canadian-author.
K. L. (Kelly) Ditmars is a Canadian writer of inspirational fiction, whose debut novel, All That it Takes, released January 2021. The opening chapters of All That it Takes won a Word Award in 2020 in the unpublished fiction category—a promising endorsement!
Welcome, Kelly, and congratulations on your new release! What is your book about?
My book is a fictional story about Julia Bowen whose husband is murdered. As she navigates her grief she discovers that he died at the hands of a human trafficking ring which she attempts to expose. It is also about her spiritual journey and how the people that help her in her efforts against the trafficking ring also help her come into relationship with God.
What sort of research did you need to do for a subject like this?
To realistically address the issue of human trafficking, I read a lot of books about the human trafficking issue in Canada.
I also have friends who have worked in anti-human trafficking efforts for decades, so I was able to draw on their experience through interviews.
One of the main characters lives on a boat. I live on an island where a segment of the population lives aboard their boats, it wasn’t too difficult to find friends of friends to interview.
Two characters in the story were veterans of the Canadian military service and shared an experience as peacekeepers during the Rwanda genocide. To research this, I read a lot. Two specific books written by General Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the peacekeeping mission during the genocide, regarding his experience in Rwanda and dealing with post-traumatic stress: Shake Hands with the Devil and Waiting for First Light.
This list is just a tip of the iceberg of research resources I used while writing my book. But it is a good start for anyone looking to read more: klditmarswriter.com/resources.
Do you remember the first germ of idea for All That it Takes?
Most definitely. The beginning of this story came from a dream. In this dream I was fleeing from a friend’s house into the forest behind their home. Of course, when I woke up, I had no idea why I was fleeing. I immediately wrote it down. A month later I had written 52,000 words and had a rough first draft of All That it Takes.
Wow, that’s a fast start! Do you have a favorite character in the story?
Yes, Charlie is my favorite character, I had fun writing him and using him as a vehicle to share God’s love. A close second is Angus, the Irish wolfhound.
Glad I’m not the only writer who loves the animal characters as well as the humans. I see this is book one in the Where Can I Go? series. Will the next book continue Julia’s story or what connects the books in the series?
Yes, the next book will continue Julia’s story as she helps bring the human trafficking ring to justice. It will also be a thriller based around the real battle faced by law enforcement and the legal establishment to charge and convict human traffickers. The whole series not only sees Julia’s efforts against human trafficking, but also her spiritual journey, as she discovers a God who is present through it all. Her spiritual journey begins with an introduction to faith in God and coming to the understanding that God is with us and we are never apart from him. Even though we may not realize his presence, it is always there.
His presence makes all the difference. Can you share any special God moments you experienced working on this project?
I wrote a lot of Charlie’s faith journey from my own experience and when I did it caused me to look back at my own life and see God’s hand. I think writing this story was an affirmation of God’s faithfulness in my own life.
How long have you been writing? And what got you started?
I have memories of writing stories when I was a little girl, of course I don’t have any of those early scribblings, I’ve moved too many times in my life for them to have survived successive purges. A lot of my early writing experiences involved writing stage plays in church. It was my church youth group and creative ministry departments at the churches I’ve attended throughout my life that encouraged and fostered this aspect of creativity in my life.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
I still feel I am a beginning writer as this is my debut novel. I guess I would say, keep writing, keep improving your craft. Take classes, learn from people and authors you admire and who are further ahead in the publishing journey. Go to conferences and mingle with fellow writers and authors.
Figure out what you have to do to make it a reality. I remember when I went to my very first writers conference in 2015, I had a reality check regarding all the things on top of writing that an author has to do. It’s a little daunting and overwhelming at times but basically, it’s an ever-evolving machine to not just write books and stories but also to make sure that they come to be noticed out there in the world and to find their place on the shelf next to other writers.
Wise words. Thank you. Is there a particular song or scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Worship music for me is a huge influencer. Worshipping God and loving him through music and declaring his worthiness of his place in my life has always been a vehicle to really hear him speak to me. It puts me in a place where I can hear his voice and seek direction and just nurture that love relationship with him. So, no one song in particular, just the act of worship has made a difference.
There is one verse from Deuteronomy that seems to come to mind more often than any other. Chapter 5 verse 29; “Oh that there were such a heart in them that they would fear me and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!” I come back to this verse quite often when I struggle with bad choices that I’ve made and circumstances I find myself in. It grounds me in knowing God has my best in mind, and always will. His commandments are there to give me direction and purpose, that I might live the best life possible and be an example and hopefully influence those around me.
I can hear God’s yearning over us in that verse. Now, for something a little lighter, to finish: Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or tea?
Definitely chocolate and definitely tea.
I have always loved chocolate.
As far as coffee goes, I have never developed a taste for it. I have had sips of coffee throughout my life but could never get past the bitterness.
It was only in my early 50s when I actually had my first cup of coffee. I was in Bulgaria and visiting a monastery with a group and we were offered coffee. I have been a missionary and we were taught that if someone offers you something you graciously accept it. So, that afternoon in Bulgaria, sitting in the courtyard of a beautiful monastery, I drank my first cup of coffee. I even took a picture to prove it. It was thick Turkish coffee, but served in a small demitasse cup and laden with sugar, which helped me finish it. I can still taste that bitter flavor to this day, and I hope I never have to drink another cup of coffee again.
Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.
The mountains, ocean and the mild climate on the west coast. I grew up in northwestern Ontario, and lived a number of years in Alberta, so I have experienced the frozen Canadian winter for much of my life. The rainforest climate here, despite the cloudy wet days in winter, make a lush green background to living that I am enjoying at this point in my life. My mother use to always say, ‘you don’t have to shovel rain.’
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever done?
I think the most unusual thing I’ve ever done involves travel. I’ve been a missionary and lived and traveled to a number of countries, but in 2012 during my undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, I went to Bulgaria. I participated in a three-week field school in which we documented, through photography and drawing, frescoes in medieval churches in the Balkan mountains. It was fascinating and educational and in a part of the world that I had never been to and I still long to return to.
K. L. (Kelly) Ditmars was born in Kakabeka Falls, ON Canada, and has lived in several provinces since. She has lived and traveled to several countries both as a Christian Missionary and as a curious human soul. To support her traveling habit, she has worked in various industries and occupations throughout her life, from part-time catering to clerking in the Supreme Court of BC. Kelly completed a degree in Medieval Studies at the University of Victoria. She now lives in Victoria, BC where the adventure of life and her writing continues. All That is Takes is her debut novel.
Kelly loves to connect with her readers. You can find her on the following platforms.
Facebook – I have a private Facebook Group called Readers of K.L. Ditmars. I have a live event every Sunday (6:00 pm Pacific) where I talk about my writing journey. This is a new platform for me and I am enjoying this new means of engagement with my readers. Readers can join it via my Author page, through the link provided.
All That it Takes is available to order through your local independent bookstore (with the exception of Chapters/Indigo in Canada).
Armand Gamache is one of my fictional heroes. As a homicide investigator he has seen more darkness than most, but he also believes that, to quote the author, “goodness exists.” Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of him and comforted by his presence on the page. I’ve grown fond of the other recurring characters too.
This is the one series I’ve persisted in reading despite the profanity and the times when the darkness gets a little too grim for me. In their own ways they’re stories of hope. Of second chances, restored relationships. Light in the darkness.
The context of the title is the Shakespearean quote, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
The Gamache novels are mysteries with a strong focus on the characters. This time, instead of the serene and peaceful Quebec village of Three Pines, All the Devils are Here is set in Paris. A reader who knows the city will find an extra bonus, as the author has gone to great lengths to familiarize herself with the subtle nuances that bring it to life on the page.
Another thing I appreciate about this book is the evocative language. Some of my favourite lines:
Where else would you find darkness but right up against the light? What greater triumph for evil than to ruin a garden? It wouldn’t be the first time. [Chapter 1, 1%]
What’re you going to focus on? What’s unfair, or all the wonderful things that happen? Both are true, both are real. Both need to be accepted. But which carries more weight with you? [Chapter 1, 2%]
Séverine Arbour stood at the door, her face set in a pleasant smile with a base note of smoky resentment and a hint of smug. [Chapter 2, 4%]
Until he saw the stain on the floor. And the outline of the body. Like skin around a hollow man. [Chapter 31, 63%]
All the Devils are Here is the 16th Gamache novel. This is a series you could start here, but it’s well worth beginning at the beginning. That way you’ll understand the character relationship nuances. For more about bestselling author Louise Penny, visit louisepenny.com.
I posted earlier how happy I am that Hidden Secrets (Green Dory Inn Mystery #2) is one of three suspense novels short-listed for The 2020 Word Awards. Here’s a link to that post, which tells you more about the other two finalists: )
In celebration, the ebook version of Hidden Secrets is on sale for 99 cents this week (ends June 14, 2020). This link will take you to international links for Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Nook: books2read.com/hidden-secrets.
One unexpected side benefit of The Word Awards ceremony not being held in a conventional venue is that readers can join the live-stream and enjoy the action!
Winners will be announced Saturday, June 13, at 7pm EDT (that’s 8pm here in Nova Scotia). Here’s a link to a time zone converter if you, like me, struggle with doing time conversion in your head.
You are invited to join in if you can. You might find some good new summer reads!
Hidden Secrets is one of three novels short-listed in the suspense category for The 2020 Word Awards (for work published in 2019).
Also short-listed are:
I haven’t read either of these novels yet, but I’ve met both authors, and their work is highly respected. Hidden Secrets is in good company. The beauty of this is that when the winning book is announced, I can either celebrate for my “imaginary friends” if it’s my book or celebrate for one of my real-life writer friends (at least acquaintances!). Win-win!
The 2020 Word Awards winners will be announced June 13, 7pm Eastern Time (8pm Atlantic) online via livestream on Facebook and Zoom. It’ll be free for anyone to tune in. Link details TBA.
For the complete short-list, visit The Word Guild’s Media page and click on the short-list announcement link.
A whimsical town, a host of quirky
characters, and events that seem to conspire to keep Matthew Sadler from
leaving once he arrives by “happenstance.”
Fleeing painful memories, Matt and his
motorcycle are roaring along the highway when a near-accident forces him onto a
hidden side road. On the far side of a covered bridge, he discovers the town of
He’ll leave as soon as he gases up. Or
after a night’s rest in the charming Happenstance Hotel. Or after he helps the
elderly sisters who run the hotel. Or after…
As well as the sisters, he meets Bear, a
local mechanic with some unusual turns of phrase, and Veronica, who bears a
startling resemblance to his dead wife.
The longer he stays, the more he suspects
a mystery behind the hotel’s troubles.
This gently-paced novel will bring smiles—and
maybe a wistful longing to find a place like Happenstance in the real world.
The road was scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass, a dirt path with a scattering of gravel on top as a sort of apology. [Kindle location 30]
We got whatcha want, unless you want what we don’t got, and then you prob’ly don’t need it. [Bear, describing the town; Kindle location 50]
They came with their offerings of food to their gods of guild and duty and pity, but he would rather have been alone. [Matt remembering the visitors after his wife’s death; Kindle location 1788]
Author Janice L. Dick is known for her
faith-filled historical fiction. Although The Road to Happenstance is a
contemporary novel, the town’s nostalgic feel lends an impression of stepping
back in time, and Matthew’s personal struggles are affected by his faith. For
more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.
[Advance review copy provided by the publisher. My opinions are my own.]
Subtitled “A Caregiver’s Journey,” Bring
Each Other Home is a book for everyone. Most, if not all of us, will have
someone in our circle of acquaintance who’ll deal with dementia or Alzheimer’s
While Angelina and Joe’s story is their
own, the experiences she shares can make readers more sensitive to the needs of
both caregiver and patient. Let us not be people who add more hurt by
disbelieving, blaming, or judging caregivers if we don’t see in a brief
encounter what they see in 24/7 care. Nor let us add hurt by avoiding the
Readers who are caregivers will find
strength in knowing their struggles are not unique, and will be encouraged to
reach out to support groups and healthcare professionals for much-needed help.
[Note: caregivers new to this role and still dealing with the rawness of it all
may not be ready to read this book just yet.]
“This is my child. I love him dearly. He has walked with me a long, long time. I need for you to walk with him the rest of the way.” [The author’s impression of God speaking to her, p. 76]
…gradually we began to see the treasures God always tucks into the dark places He guides us through. [p 110-111]
Angelina Fast-Vlaar writes with honesty
and poignancy of the long, slow loss of her beloved husband, Joe. The narrative
is interspersed with poetry and restful black-and-white photos. It’s a sad
story, but one of love, faith, and persistence.