In 2005, Allison starting blogging to track the ups and downs of living life as an artist.
Today, she blogs to share our Infinitely More adventures in music and ministry! 
Read, comment, share! 

Book Review: Dangerous Beauty, by Melissa Koslin 

Several reviewers said, "Don't pick up this book unless you have time to read it one sitting" and they weren't kidding!

Dangerous Beauty, by Melissa Koslin,
grips you from the first page. 

Liliana Vela is running for her life in the dark of night. She's in America, not her native Mexico, as a victim of human trafficking. She finds herself sneaking into a gas station, desperately in need of help, and not knowing how to ask for it. 

Meric Toledan is just stopping by the gas station for a drink, when he sees Liliana and quickly assesses the situation. The authorities arrive, but Liliana has no options for safety. They'll have to send her back to Mexico.

Until Meric makes an offer - 
he will marry Liliana to keep her in safely in America.


Okay, here's where I had to raise an eyebrow. I knew this was the premise of the book, but it all happened so quickly and all I could think was "This isn't realistic."

But it was in the moment, my friends, that I learned of a whole new literary genre: 
Marriage by Convenience.

Little did I know that this was an entire, hugely popular sub-genre of romance novels and movies! I guess that shows how few romance books I read...

Well, once I learned that this is an accepted genre (with apologies to all those who already know and love the genre!),  I was able to enjoy the story much more.

Dangerous Beauty is a fast-paced, thriller-romance that is set in the world of human trafficking. Melissa's writing is sharp, with a strong narrative pulse. She found a wonderful way to express the heaviness of the subject matter without ever slowing down the plot or exploiting the topic.

I'll definitely be looking out for more of Melissa's writing in the future!


Melissa offers a free novella to all email subscribers! You can find out more here:

www.MelissaKoslin.com



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.


Book Review: The Clutter Fix, by Shannon Acheson 


In 2020, I reviewed Home Made Lovely by Shannon Acheson, and became an instant fan! 

Shannon weaves creativity, practicality, and spirituality 
to create beautiful, comfortable living spaces. 

As an avid follower of her blog, I was super-excited when I learned she was releasing a new book in 2022!

The Clutter Fix is exactly what it sounds like - 
a practical journey for removing clutter from your home.

Anyone who has ever tried to remove or reduce clutter knows it's a challenging and often overwhelming project. 

Shannon starts with giving some some quick, focused projects. These allow you to practice decluttering, while also gaining some easy wins.





She takes time to look at the psychological and spiritual side of clutter. How does it affect our emotions? How often do we carry guilt about throwing things away? And how can we work through those feelings to achieve a calmer home?

Finally, Shannon gives us a whole-house decluttering project, complete with lists, detailed work plans, and worksheets. To top things off, she ends with a section on maintaining your clutter-free home.

I read this book in one sitting, but my plan is to return to it in January for the continuation of my own decluttering journey. Wish me luck!



You can follow Shannon's blog and learn more helpful home-tips at her beautiful site:

www.HomeMadeLovely.com 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.


The Sermon I Wrote But Never Spoke - GUEST POST! 

Please welcome my dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, as today's guest blogger!

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INTRODUCTION:


 I prepared my sermon on September 27, 2022  for the following Sunday, October 2nd.
I called it my pre-harvest Thanksgiving sermon because I was not going to be preaching on Canada’s National Thanksgiving Sunday (October 9th).
However, COVID intervened, and my plan was thwarted: 
I tested positive on Thursday – two days after writing my message.
So, from my quarantined cloister, I offer you this written version as you and I prepare for Thanksgiving 2022.  

I call it, “The Sermon I Wrote But Never Spoke”.


As I walked from St. John’s Church in Burlington, Ontario, towards the Parish Hall, somebody said, “They are waiting for you to say grace so people can eat at the BBQ”.

Not wanting to keep people waiting too long, I rushed upstairs and wondered what grace I should say.

In my wallet I carry three graces, two humorous in nature and the third called the World Hunger Grace.

I decided to use the third.

It is attributed to the Girl Guides, initially used in Huron Diocese in Ontario, and repeated often in multiple venues around the world by Archbishop Ted Scott, former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Here are the words for the World Hunger Grace …

For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
For faith in a world where many walk in fear; 
For friends in a world where many walk alone; 
We give you humble thanks, O Lord.

This grace is very fitting for us as we pause and reflect on what we have and who we are as we prepare for our Thanksgiving.

This grace is very fitting in light of the Act passed in Canada’s Parliament on Jan. 31, 1957 – declaring the 2nd Monday in October as: 

"A DAY OF GENERAL THANKSGIVING TO ALMIGHTY GOD
FOR THE BOUNTIFUL HARVEST WITH WHICH CANADA HAS BEEN BLESSED".

This grace is very fitting as it reminds us of what Charles Dickens wrote, “We complain and gripe for 364 days every year and give thanks on one --- it should be the other way around”.


Traditionally HARVEST meant sowing the seeds in the spring and harvesting the crops in the fall, but there are many kinds of harvests in our lives.

Harvest can mean the gathering of crops, as well as the product or results of an action. It can come in the form of financial growth, creative output, or even renewed relationships. 

Think of which harvest applies in your own situation ...


The World Hunger Grace helps us to focus both on what we possess ourselves
and what we can do unto others.

Firstly, FOOD - all we need to live – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual food.

Secondly, FAITH – our value system, our belief in a loving God, our trust in one another’s righteousness.

Thirdly, FRIENDS – who walk with us faithfully, who give us assurance, guidance, compassion, confidence, and encouragement. 

The challenge of the prayer is that while giving thanks for what we have,
we are acknowledging what others do not have and then pledging ourselves to help them.


For those who WALK IN HUNGER - 
We can donate to the food drive, volunteer our services, or send a cheque to help those devasted by floods, hurricanes, fires, droughts, and other dehumanizing conditions.

While stopped at a red light, a man approached my car. As I reached out to give him money, he handed me cards for free coffee from a nearby take out. He said, “I really wasn’t asking for money.” I replied, “I really don’t want the free coffee cards, but I will take them and give them to someone who does.” I think each of us was fulfilling what the prayer is asking us to do.

For those who WALK IN FEAR –
People being bullied, discriminated against for many reasons, forced to choose between heating their homes during winter or proving food for their family, fearful of their job security or the pandemic or wars or the many other situations where people can lose hope and vision - we can be their model and inspiration, showing that that even though we are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (our worst possible scenario) we are not afraid because we believe in a loving God who is with us at all times, in all places and in every conceivable situation. 

For people who WALK ALONE –
Those living in our city or neighbourhood, those waiting in hospitals, those residing in their own residence or long term care facilities, those coming to church - we can be their friends by welcoming them in person, making a telephone call, sending a card or email, etc. to assure them they are not alone.

Keith decided he would walk with people who were in palliative care facilities. During his visit he would read to them their choice of books, magazines, or papers. Over many years he walked with nearly one hundred people as they walked towards eternity.


This Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for our food, faith, and friends …
let us renew our commitment to help those walking in hunger,
those walking in fear
and those walking alone.

Maybe in your personal prayers, as a grace before your meal or in some other venue,
you can pray silently or aloud or together with others …

For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
For faith in a world where many walk in fear; 
For friends in a world where many walk alone; 
We give you humble thanks, O Lord.



(The Reverend Hollis Hiscock is Interim Priest-In-Charge
at St. John’s Church, Burlington, Ontario, Canada.)


Book Review: Joanie, by Elizabeth Deveau 

I always love when I can claim this bias:

I'm friends with this author!

Is there anything more thrilling (and more stressful!)
that being able to review a friend's art?

Gerald and I met Elizabeth Deveau at our first GMA Canada event in Ontario (Gospel Music Association of Canada - the folks who give out the Covenant Awards). Over the years, we've kept in touch, and followed her passionate and prolific music ministry.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth shared that she'd been working on a biography of her mother, Joan. She asked if I could read the book and provide a review.

I jumped at the chance, but yes, there is definitely added stress when you review a friend's work! I've done it a few times over the years. It's both a tremendous honour and responsibility. I know how much time and heart goes into creating art, and I never want to take that effort for granted.

Joanie tells the story of a young girl growing up in troubled times. Joan Crabb and her siblings experience a tumultuous childhood, worthy of any dramatic film script. When Joan is only 6-years-old, the children unexpectedly find themselves living in the orphanage of their home province of Nova Scotia. After several troubled years, they're adopted by a loving couple, only to be ripped away from them years later by the birth-father they barely know.

But Joanie isn't just the story of a troubled childhood.
It's the story of a life redeemed, and the deep love that can grow from a broken heart. 

Joanie is also a love letter. The book is rich with details of Joan's entire life, which must have taken countless hours to collect. As I read, I often imagined Elizabeth sitting with her mother, hearing the stories of her past, and lovingly transcribing them for the ages. 

Reading the comments on the book's Facebook page,
it's clear that Joan had a tremendous impact on her family and her community.
I know this book will be well received, and will celebrate Joan's legacy of love!

You can find out more about Joanie at

www.facebook.com/JoanieBook 


A complimentary e-copy of this book was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold 

I'll admit, the title and cover of this book 
completely pulled me in,
but what I found inside was so worth discovering:

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip
by Sara Brunsvold
might be one of the most special books
I'll read this year.  

Aidyn Kelly is a young, ambitious reporter looking for her big break. In her enthusiasm, she steps on some toes and is relegated to the menial assignment of interviewing a dying woman and writing her obituary.

But Mrs. Kip is no ordinary woman. Behind her failing body and witty sarcasm beats the heart of spiritual warrior, carrying a story for the ages. This is a woman who's experienced grief, and learned the power of sacrificial love.

I don't want to reveal too much about this book, because I think it's one that really benefits from its own gentle reveal. Like last year's The Nature of Small Birds, it's a book that's driven by character, story, moments, and relationships.

In sharing Mrs. Kip's fictional story, we also delve into a piece of real history. Again, I love the power of historical fiction to shine light on the hidden and lost stories of our past. Strangely enough, it's a story that is still current today.


I highly recommend The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip!

I think it would be a particularly lovely selection for a book club,
especially one open to faith-based discussions.


And, look at all the neat bonus opportunities that come with this book:


Baker Book House is offering a FREE ONLINE AUTHOR'S NIGHT with Sara this Thursday!

You can sign up here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-author-night-with-sara-brunsvold-tickets-374258125127


Signing up for Sara's newsletter gets you some free gifts,
and she even has a neat trailer for the book. 

You can find out more at:

www.SaraBrunsvold.com 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.


Book Review: When The Day Comes, by Gabrielle Meyer 

This is going to be a different kind of review for me.
I've got a bit of a hot take on this book, 
and I've genuinely struggled with how to write this.
Okay, here we go...


When The Day Comes by Gabrielle Meyer 
is a fun blend of historical fiction, romance, 
and time travel science fiction.

Libby is a "time crosser." She was born on the same day in two completely separate locations and eras. From birth til her 21st birthday, she exists in both 1774 Colonial Williamsburg and 1914 Gilded Age New York City. When she falls asleep in one life, she wakes up in the other without any time passing. When she reaches 21, she can choose one path for the rest of her life, but choosing one means forfeiting the other path forever. 

There is so much that I love about this book! The story is so creative, and Libby is a wonderful heroine and guide to the novel's unique world. I loved all the characters, settings, and relationships. 

I haven't read much about Colonial Williamsburg, so that was a really fun journey. That said, I know a fair bit about the Gilded Age New York, and that felt both familiar and exciting.

The storyline kept me guessing with some really smart twists, and the ending was beautifully written.


But here's my struggle, and full warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Seriously - if you haven't read the book - STOP NOW!!!

Also, full disclosure, we're about to discuss some difficult trigger topics.

(Whew, dramatic!)

Warnings done. Here we go...


I would love to wholeheartedly recommend this book, save for one important matter. In her Gilded Age life, Libby is forced into an arranged marriage (not uncommon for the era and her status). Libby is raped not once, but twice by her new husband. They have no incidents of consensual intercourse in their marriage. The second rape results in a pregnancy. 

I'm not offended by the subject of marital rape in a novel. What offends me is how it's handled.

In the historical context, marital rape was legal. In the novel, her husband blames his "bad behaviour" on drunkenness, which historically, would also have been accepted as an excuse.

I always want my historical fiction to be in a proper historical context, but here's where I struggled:

First, as her husband writes her "kind" letters, we see Libby second-guessing her own feelings about the rape and her future with this man. At one point, she actually asks "Reggie's letter made me wonder if he would be a good father. Could we find a way to move part the tragic way our marriage started?" Again, she's asking this about her two-time rapist. In other sections, Scripture is used in a disturbing way to justify her choices.

Second, it's hard to stomach this thinking within the context of the novel because of Libby's mom. Also a time crosser, she spent the first part of her life living in 1990's America. This shapes her as a parent, and there are many references to Libby being raised with modern, feminist values. Why on earth would she never say to her daughter, "This is wrong. In the future, it'll be illegal, but you can still make different choices now."


I've read several discussions about this book online.
Some people don't seemed phased by the rapes or Libby's reaction.
Others hated the plot choice entirely. 

I guess the good thing is that it's encouraging dialogue about a difficult topic,
and that's the sign of good art.

But because of the way it's handled, I just can't recommend the book.



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: The Master Craftsman, by Kelli Stuart 


Historical fiction, Faberge Eggs, and a treasure hunt?

Sign me up!

With that description, I was so excited to receive my copy of
The Master Craftsman
by Kelli Stuart. 


The Master Craftsman features a smart interweaving of historical and modern timelines that's popular in historical novels right now.

The historical side of our tale bring us to Russia in the early 1900's. Karl Faberge is at the peak of his success, crafting his iconic Faberge Eggs for the Tsar of Russia. 


We meet Alma Pihl. In real life, Alma was first woman to become a "Master Craftsman" in the Faberge studio. She started as an apprentice, graduated to making jewellery, and eventually designed two of the Faberge Eggs. I've included a photo of my favourite design on this page.


Real life Alma Pihl. SOURCE
If you have any interest in the Faberge Eggs at all, you'll want to keep Google close at hand while reading this book! Kelli describes each egg beautifully, but to truly appreciate their exquisite creativity, you'll want to see photos. 

Even though Karl Faberge is at the peak of his success, Russia is changing swiftly. Our timeline takes us through rebellion and political upheaval in the streets of St. Petersburg. In a moment of crisis and desperation, Karl entrusts Alma with his most precious creation - a final, secret Faberge Egg.

Decades later, treasure hunter, Nick Laine has become obsessed with the mysterious egg. As he faces his final days with cancer, he reaches out to his estranged daughter, Ava, to help him find the missing piece of Faberge history.


Alma's "The Mosaic Egg and Surprise" SOURCE
I don't always read other people's reviews before reading my own, but for some reason I did with this one. It was curious reading the other responses. Some people loved the historical storyline, and dismissed the modern one as far-fetched. Others found the historical parts were filled with too much description, but loved the fast-paced treasure hunt.

The two storylines are very different, but to me, those differences are part of the strength of the novel. As a creator myself, I really loved all the details of the eggs, the jewellery, and the studio. The historical chapters felt rich and full. In contrast, the treasure hunt was fast paced, with the right amount of heightened drama and humour.


I really enjoyed The Master Craftsman,
and I can't wait to read more of Kelli's beautiful books!

You can find out more about Kelli and her writing at 
www.KelliStuart.com 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: The Souls of Lost Lake, by Jaime Jo Wright 



If you've been looking for your next spooky summer read, I've got it right here!

I was first introduced to the writing of Jaime Jo Wright last year when I reviewed On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor 

I was completely shocked to find out there was such a thing as a Christian Fiction author who loved mysteries, ghost stories, and all things Gothic.

Having a Christian writer compose stories about fear and death might seem antithetical to some people, but you know, as Christians, we have a unique relationship to fear and death. At the end of this review, I've included a screenshot from Jaime Jo's spring newsletter that sums up her approach to writing in a really beautiful way.

Jaime Jo is an exquisite writer and an incredible storyteller,
so I was completely excited to receive a copy of her latest tale: 
The Souls of Lost Lake


Our story spans two time periods, with both set in the Northwoods, surrounding infamous Lost Lake.

Ava Coons is but a child in 1920 when she appears in town, covered in blood. Her recluse family is missing, presumed dead. When we meet Ava as a young woman, she is still haunted by the mysterious ghosts of unsolved murders and missing memories.

Wren Blythe, our modern day heroine, has loved growing up on the campgrounds of the Northwoods. But when a little girl goes missing, past and present collide to stir up campfire stories and rumours. Is a still-vengeful Ava Coons roaming the woods? Where is the missing girl, and why does Wren's name start to appear in creepy places?

The only way to read a campfire ghost story...
Honestly, I couldn't put this down! It's scary enough to be fun, but not so dark as to delve into horror. 

(That said, I'm easily scared, so when I read this at night, I made sure I had a funny story to read right before falling asleep!)

Jaime Jo's writing is truly beautiful, delving into near-poetry at times. Each timeline was distinct, capturing the unique flavour and behaviours of the day. And the characters and storyline were fantastic! I hate being able to see the ending, and this kept me guessing til the final twist.


I highly recommend The Souls of Lost Lake for your summer read!

Jaime Jo has a great newsletter, a fun Facebook community, podcasts,
and lots of great mentoring tools for writers. 

You can find her online at
www.JaimeWrightBooks.com

Screenshot from Jaime Jo's most recent newsletter.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

A Queen, a Priest, and a Ghost Walk Into a Church ... - GUEST POST! 

 

Please welcome my dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, as today's guest blogger!

This post is inspired by his Pentecost sermon. You can watch it live HERE.

HAPPY PENTECOST!

Screenshot of Rev. Hollis Hiscock in action...


A Queen, a Priest and a Ghost walk into a church on a Sunday morning ...

 I know you're waiting for the punchline.


Today, the message of the homily is the punchline:

The Queen is Elizabeth …. The Priest is Hollis … the Ghost is Holy.


How are they connected with Pentecost?
 And what is their message to us in the year 2022?

The three go to the front of the church and take turns speaking ...


THE QUEEN

Queen Elizabeth goes to a table, picks up a plate, and shows it to the people sitting in the church. The plate is a souvenir of her coronation which happened on June 2, 1953.

She explains that she wants to take people back to the previous year. In 1952, when she gave her first Christmas message as Queen, she asked people that “whatever your religion may be, (I ask you) to pray for me on that day (her coronation)—to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”

After all the ups and downs in the ensuing 68 years as Queen, in her 2020 Christmas message, she spoke about the festive mood created by Christmas lights - how lights bring hope, and how Jesus Christ is “the light of the world”.

She went on to say that “the teachings of Christ have served as my inner light”, and that we should “let the light of Christmas, the spirit of selflessness, love, and above all hope, guide us in the times ahead”.


PRIEST HOLLIS

After the Queen sits down, the Priest picks up a Bible and shows it to the people.

He says it was given to him on June 13, 1965, when he was ordained to “the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God”. He explains why it looks rather unused: the King James Bible was the only version available for hundreds of years, but after 1965 there was an explosion of Bible translations. Today, portions of the Bible are available in nearly 3,500 languages.

Like the Queen, he wants to take people back to the winter of 1964: "Four of us were preparing to be ordained. We met for 2-3 hours with the Archdeacon, and I was so upset after the meeting that I went back to my room and documented my feelings." 

He shows a letter outlining why he was upset, disillusioned, and wondering if he wanted to be a Priest, after he observed the behaviour and heard the words of the Church authorities. 

After struggling through questions, like “do I preach the Gospel of Jesus or be restricted by the whims of fallible beings?” and “whom do we serve - God or church hierarchy?”, he concluded that “my firm conviction in God kept my hopes for the ordination to the Priesthood alive”.

“I have carried the copy with me ever since and when things were not going well for me in my ministry work, I reread it for guidance. My firm conviction in God kept me going”.

Hollis goes on to share:

In 2004, on my 40th anniversary of ordination, I said in a sermon, “I am still sane and have kept my faith in God”.

On my 50th anniversary, I wrote, “God is still around and promises to meet us - at all times, in all places and under all circumstances”.


HOLY GHOST

When the Priest sits down, the Holy Ghost picks up a red candle, and says:

“I was there at the first Pentecost” (Acts 2:1-21).

The followers of Jesus were a sorry lot. After waiting for 40 days (not really knowing why) they were disillusioned, bored, complaining, and ready to give it all up.

But when God’s mighty wind entered the house, they opened their eyes, and when they felt God’s 'tongues of fire' touching their heads they stood up, and when they were 'filled with the Holy Ghost' they were ready to act … and they did.

First, they told the people nearby about God’s love. 

Then, they spread it across countries and down through the ages. 

One day, God’s spirit touched you and you began to follow God. I was there then and with you ever since, like I was with the Queen and the Priest." 


This brings us to today, a time to renew our faith in God:

 - Light a candle or visualize a lighted candle in your church.

- Feel God’s spirit waking or renewing your faith.

- Feel God’s fire bringing new life and energy to you.

- Feel yourself being filled with God’s spirit.

- Remember the Queen’s words, “Jesus is the light of the world”.

- Remember the Priest’s words, “wherever we go, God is there waiting for us”.

- Remember God’s (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) promise, “I am with you always”.

- Repeat, repeat, repeat...


Happy Pentecost!
May God's light shine brightly in your heart, today and always...


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Want even more Pentecost inspiration?

Please enjoy our first episode of Breaking Light Broadcasting:

Pentecost - A Musical Celebration



Book Review: "God, Take Action", by Janis Cox 

 

There's something so special about combining prayer and worship with visual art. I love attending a worship service where someone paints during the music, or reading a book of prayers with beautiful artwork.


That's why I was so excited when Janis Cox asked me to review her latest book:

"God, Take Action"
- Visual Inspirations for Prayer


In full disclosure, I don't know Janis personally, but we've "met" through InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship. She's an incredibly prolific writer and creator based out of Ontario.


"God, Take Action" was inspired by a 30-day Facebook prayer challenge. On the second to last day of the study, Janis was inspired to pick up her paint brush and add art to her prayer journey. One month later, Janis joined International Justice Mission Canada in a fundraising effort that also involved praying and painting. From this 2-month journey, "God, Take Action" was born.

Along the way, Janis also partnered with The Joy Smith Foundation in fighting human trafficking.
This extraordinary group has endorsed "God, Take Action." 

The format of the book is simple: Each of the 30 entries opens with one of Janis's bright and inspiring paintings. Next, we're given a verse of Scripture, followed by a prayer. Finally, we're given a "prayer focus" for our own private prayer time. The book itself ends with a helpful list of resources.

The prayers could be for anyone who is suffering, but Janis's heart for those who are trafficked and abused comes through in every line. More than once, I was reminded of the classic prayer, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours." In her generosity, Janis asks us to pray for people on all sides of the abuse spectrum, including vulnerable children, fragile families, and women in shelters, without every forgetting the more complex prayers for churches, perpetrators, and those in law enforcement. 

"God, Take Action" has such a heart for the vulnerable in our world! I can see this being a powerful, personal devotional for any season of the year. Likewise, its entries are brief enough that they could be used as the opening prayers in your weekly small group meeting. 

I read this as an e-book, but for those of us who like to make art ourselves, stay tuned:
Janis is also creating a colouring book of the same title!


Please check out all of Janis's beautiful creations at:

www.JanisCox.com

Screenshot from Janis's website.


This book was provided to me in exchange for an unbiased review.