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: Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson 



I love the "waiting" seasons.

In particular today, I'm thinking of Advent and Lent. 
These seasons are the perfect time to step away from busyness, make intentional choices, and remind ourselves that we're spiritual beings living an earthly world. 

With that in mind, you can guess how excited I was to be offered
an Advent devotional for review!

Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson, is a 24 day devotional, designed to change our hearts in preparation for the birth of Christ.



First, we have to talk about design! This isn't a flimsy, pocket-sized devotional. The book itself is hardcover, with a gorgeous cover image, complete with raised text. The artwork and colours within the book are simple and beautiful. There's even a lovely ribbon to act as your daily bookmark. Everything about the design lends to a calm, inviting reading experience. 


And second, we have to talk about length! The industry standard for devotionals is 200-500 words per day, not including Scripture. Susie completely breaks the mold with this book! Each entry is 6-7 pages long. This is truly a devotional that invites you to stop and take time to reflect on the journey.


Each day's entry is inspired by a chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and includes additional related quotes and Scripture verses. At the end of each reading, we're offered a prayer and an action item to put the message into practice.


This is a book about letting go. In a season where we're told to do more, buy more, and get more, Susie is encouraging us into a season of less. Less stress, less pressure, less ego, less complaining, less overload. And in discovering less, we actually create more space in our hearts and minds for the things, and the One, who matters most. 




Prepare Him Room is a book you should buy twice - 
once for yourself, and once as a gift for someone else who could use a little "less" this season. 


Susie has lots of great resources on her site, including free email devotionals and blessings, 
as well as the cute tree ornaments shown in the photo above! 

www.SusieLarson.com




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




Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds, by Susie Finkbeiner 


Earlier this summer, other reviewers in our Nuts About Books 
review program started swooning over The Nature of Small Birds
As soon as I got a chance, I requested a copy for myself, and I'm so glad I did!


In 1975, over three thousand children became part of Operation Babylift. These orphans and abandoned children were airlifted out of a fallen Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. 

The Nature of Small Birds, by Susie Finkbeiner, introduces us to one of these Western families. Our story is told by three members of the family over three significant time periods - when Mindy is adopted, when she and her sister Sonny are teenagers, and when the girls are adults. Mindy has always wondered about her past, but when the internet gives the option of researching her birth parents, she finally has the chance to ask the questions she's always wanted answered.

The best word to describe this book is Poetic. The writing is lyrical and beautiful. There are times when the characters will actually quote poetry, which set me off on many a google search to find the original poem.

This family is loving, which is a powerful choice. This isn't the high drama of a broken family. Instead, we're treated to a journey of learning how to love, heal and forgive within an environment of grace. We see the question of "what is a family" explored across generations and perspectives.

I honestly loved all the characters in this book! They're realistic and relatable. Each of our three narrators has a unique voice and perspective. 80's-era Sonny with her references to scrunchies, Aqua Net, and separating your eyelashes with a pin were particularly fantastic for this 80's-era girl! 

And the references to birds are lovely! I'm a notetaker when I read, and I always love finding references to the title of a novel. There are wonderful quotes and gorgeous thoughts about "the nature of small birds" woven throughout this story. I lost track of how many lines I underlined!


I can't recommend this gorgeous book enough!
Buy it, find a cozy corner in your backyard or by a sunny window, and enjoy.

I highly recommend The Nature of Small Birds!


For a bit of added reading, Susie wrote this piece about the inspiration 
for the character "Bruce":

https://susiefinkbeiner.com/2021/06/04/of-birds-and-providence/


You can learn more about Susie Finkbeiner and her beautiful writing at

www.SusieFinkbeiner.com 



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

Turnaround Prayers - or How I Found Gratitude in an Awkward Moment 


“And, please God, bless Iago…”

My heart sank as soon as the words left my lips.


Last month, I said good-bye to my beloved pet of 21 years. Iago was a tiny, spotted leopard gecko. I know lizards aren’t everyone’s idea of a loving pet, but Iago was something special. He was sweet and yes, very friendly. He loved being held by people, and we developed a high level of trust over the years. For over two decades, he was my constant companion. Losing him was heartbreaking.

Every night, I pray for our family pets. Last night, I had listed all our puppies, when I found myself adding Iago’s name to the list. 

“And, please God, bless Iago…”

My breath caught as I realized what I’d done. I suddenly felt awkward, and a little sad. I paused and considered what to say next. My misspoken prayer wasn’t a surprise to God. He’d created Iago. He knew how much he’d meant to me. 

In that moment, I decided to turn the prayer around:


“Dear God, thank you for Iago! Thank you for his long, happy life. 
Thank you for allowing me to care for him. He was a precious piece of your creation.”


In that moment, I felt a little weight lift. Sadness was replaced by a warm glow of gentle joy.

By turning my prayer around, I found gratitude in an awkward, unexpected moment. 


I thought, 
“What other Turnaround Prayers can I say?”


We’re often encouraged to find gratitude in difficult situations, but what I was considering was much more specific - not just “finding” gratitude, but actively thanking God with prayer!

No one has a perfect prayer life. If we’re being honest, we all have prayers that are a little self-centred or potentially inconsiderate of other people. Prayers that start with “Let me get…” or “I want to win…”

We all say prayers that ignore God’s grace or generosity. “Why can’t you just give me…” or “I’m still waiting…” or “That didn’t turn out like I asked for…”


How can I shift the focus of these prayers from my needs and complaints 
to a focus on God’s goodness and love?
How can I make these into Turnaround Prayers?


What if I start small?

“God, the fridge is a mess - Thank you, God, for a full fridge!”
“God, that guy just cut me off - Thank you, God, that I have a car!”
“God, the wifi is dragging - Thank you, God, that I have access to technology!” 


Now, I’m not trying to be naive or over simplistic. I know there are times when finding gratitude in a situation seems impossible. To say “Thanks” in the midst our pain can feel ridiculous. Trust me, I get that.

But as someone who’s gone through immense tragedy, I can honestly tell you there is always a reason to be grateful. Always. I’m not suggesting you should be thankful for the tragedy itself. Instead, I would encourage you to find something in your surrounding circumstances for which you can offer thanks. 

It might be tiny, especially when compared to the magnitude of your pain, but remember: every piece of gratitude is significant. After all, we’re told that we only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Imagine how powerful a tiny seed of gratitude might be to our waning faith!


If we practice Turnaround Prayers with the small stuff, it’ll stretch our prayer muscles. 
Eventually, we’ll learn to do it with the big stuff.


The apostle Paul wrote:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What a set of instructions! 

Rejoice always (Good times and bad!)
Pray continually (When you feel like it and when you don’t!)
Give thanks in all circumstances (ALL of them!)


As I write this, we’re celebrating our 2nd Thanksgiving in the pandemic.
I can’t think of a better time to pray some Turnaround Prayers.

Here are some I’m lifting this weekend:


“God, I wish we were touring with Infinitely More, 
but I’m thankful we can be home with our family for Thanksgiving.”

“God, I felt so sick last week, but I’m so grateful for a negative Covid test.”

“God, the lockdowns are frustrating, but I’m thankful for this time to write and make music.”


Start small, and allow your Turnaround Prayers to reveal God’s grace in every situation.

What Turnaround Prayers can you lift this Thanksgiving?







Book Review: Come Back To Me, by Jody Hedlund 


Historical Fiction meets Time Travel? 
Yes, please!

Welcome to my latest book review:

Come Back to Me, by Jody Hedlund

By the way, how's your reading going in this season? Some people haven't been able to read a thing since the pandemic hit. Others, like me, can't devour books quickly enough! But, I digress...


Come Back to Me introduces us to Marian Creighton - a super-smart, fact-based, workaholic research scientist. Marian has a limited social life, a sister she adores, and a complicated relationship with her father. Marian's mother tragically died from an incurable genetic condition, the same condition that now ravages her sister's body. Marian's scientist father had abandoned traditional research to pour himself into a search for a mythical cure with ties to a particular stream of holy water and the Biblical Tree of Life. When Marian accidentally ingests a few drops of the water, she finds herself coming face to face with the Middle Ages, the Peasants' Revolt, and a handsome knight.

This book was so much fun to read! It's actually my first time travel book, and I loved the blending of science fiction with historical fiction. One of the things I love most about historical fiction is leaving the book to deep dive into the real historical facts. I knew very little about the Peasants Revolt of 1381, so it was fascinating digging into that chapter of history.

I also loved these characters! Seeing modern, scientific, feminist Marian navigate the rough, superstitious, patriarchal world of the Middle Ages was fantastic. The danger and challenges of this fish-out-of-water story always felt grounded and realistic. I don't want to reveal too much about Marian's mysterious knight - Jody does a perfect job of unfolding his story!


Come Back To Me blends themes of history, science, faith, romance, 
and mystery to create a true romp of a book!


Jody Hedlund is so prolific! 
Her website is filled with lots of extras and bonuses for her many novels. 
You can find videos and even a free preview of Come Back to Me on her site:

http://jodyhedlund.com/books/come-back-to-me/





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

Book Review: Writers on Writing, by Kimberley Payne 

 

Last year, I joined Inscribe Christian Writers' Fellowship to be part of a national writing community. 

In addition to finding lots of writing opportunities and inspiration, it's also been a great way to discover new books! 
When Kimberley Payne started talking about her new book, I knew I wanted to read and review it.

Writers On Writing - Interviews With Writers of Faith is a collection of writer profiles compiled from the Koinonia community. This Medium-based publication features "stories by Christian writers to encourage, entertain, and empower you in your faith, food, fitness, family, friendship, and fun." The editors have been hosting interviews with their 350+ contributors to provide a "snapshot into the lives of writers of faith." This collection features 35 interviews from this series.


The writers represent a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and experience levels. Their common ground is a love of both writing and the Gospel.

Each writer was asked such questions as: 

- What inspires you? 
- What do you like most/least about writing?
- How do you balance professional time with personal time?
- What makes you unique?
- How is your faith reflected in your writing?

Owing to the original online format, many of the answers to these questions are quite short. This isn't a collection of long form essays on writing. It is, however, a wonderful collection of writer profiles, emphasizing the diversity and passion of Christian writers. The answers are straightforward and honest. You can easily read the whole book in a day, or read an interview a day for a month's worth of inspiration. Some will connect with you more than others (as is the case in any collection), but every interview has some gem that you'll want to underline and bookmark for further reflection.


I think this would be an especially fantastic book for the newer writer of faith - 
either for the writer to buy, or for a supportive friend to offer as a gift! 


You can learn more about Kimberley Payne at https://www.kimberleypayne.com

You can follow the Koinonia community at https://medium.com/koinonia 



I was offered a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Book Review: On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor, by Jaime Jo Wright 


Friends, I have discovered a new genre of novel:

Historical-Creepy-Ghost-Story-Sleep-With-Your-Nightlight-On-Christian Fiction!

On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor, by Jaime Jo Wright, is spooky, Romantic, and enthralling Gothic tale! 


We open in 1885 (I feel like half the books I've read in 2021 open in that decade!) and meet Adria - a broken young woman, sent on an impossible quest by her domineering father. We also meet Foxglove Manor - a haunted, secret-filled mansion perched on the cliffs of Lake Superior. 

Our second timeline is present day. Kailey and her autistic brother, Jude, have their own history with Foxglove Manor. They arrive at the front door to work and live in the private-manor-turned-nursing-home with a secret mission to unravel their own complicated past. 

What follows is an epic tale inspired by the real-life legends of missing and smuggled Confederate gold. The past and present storylines weave together to tell a wild and gripping mystery inhabited by engaging characters. Jaime Jo's writing hits a great balance between poetic, romantic descriptions and nail-biting, page turning urgency.


I read this book on our front porch in the middle of a heat wave. 
In an ideal reading world, I'd read it by a stormy lake, with a cup of hot tea in my decanter...

Wherever you find yourself, pick up a copy of On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor 
and let yourself be swept away!


Jaime Jo is really fun to follow on social media, and her site is filled with all kinds of treasures. 
For On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor, she's created a whole page of videos, image downloads, 
and even a FREE book club kit!

You can access all the freebies here:






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




Book Review: Yours Is The Night, by Amanda Dykes 


 I literally turned the final page, 
looked at my husband, and said, 

"I want to turn back to page one 
and start this book all over again..."


So, yes, you're about to read a ga-ga lovesick review for
Yours Is The Night. 


I was so excited when I found out Amanda Dykes was about to release a new historical fiction! Her 2020 release, Set The Stars Alight, was one of my favourite books of last year. I also loved her 2019 seaside tale, Whose Waves These Are. I'm so thankful to the folks at Nuts About Books for sending me an advance copy of Yours Is The Night!

We open with an unusual ceremony - choosing the casket for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A fascinating, brief moment in history, that quickly spins us back in time to the trenches of WWI. 

We're introduced to five vibrant and diverse characters who meet in the final year of the war. Matthew - the "horse whisperer" who has never really had a home. Jasper - the professional soldier with a heartbreaking past. Henry - the reporter tasked with sharing the war with the world back home. George - the unspiritual chaplain who would do anything to avoid the front. And Mireilles - the "Angel" who brings hope to the hopeless, while struggling to find a path for herself. 

When Mireilles is found hidden in the depths of the woods, the soldiers are tasked with delivering her to safety. Our friends embark on a journey that will challenge their notions of duty, love, self, God, and friendship. 

Yours Is The Night has everything I love about a great novel! Every aspect, from story to characters to dialogue, is fantastic. The history feels authentically researched and executed. Our characters take turns narrating different chapters in first person. Each voice is unique and distinct. It's a wonderful narrative device, giving us a fully-rounded perspective of the story and relationships.  


Amanda is somehow able to weave together the genres of romance, historical fiction, spiritual journey, road trip, and buddy movie to create a novel that rings true on every emotional level.


And her writing is just breathtaking! I turned down pages and underlined countless sentences simply because I love the way they are written. I read most of the book on my front porch, and I kept having to lift my head to remind myself that I was safe in the sunshine of my neighbourhood and not smothered in the chilly darkness of the trenches. 


I wasn't kidding, either - 
I did finish this book and debated just turning back to page one 
and starting over again. It's that good! 

Yours Is The Night honours the sacrifice of the men and women 
who fought in The Great War by telling a fictional story that captures 
the essence of their very real experience. 

It's somehow both escapism and realism, and it's truly wonderful. 


In addition to her site, Amanda has a great social media presence. Her Facebook page is filled with all kinds of images and behind the scenes info from her WWI research. You can check it all out here:

https://www.facebook.com/authoramandadykes


Amanda showing some "trench art" - a feature in Yours Is The Night.
Taken from her Facebook page.


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



Book Review: Redeeming Power, by Diane Langberg 

Confession time: 
It took me a long time to read this book, but it was more than worth it. 

"Redeeming Power: 
Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church" 
by Dr. Diane Langberg

What a title! I love the combination of the words Redeeming and Power - it was the rest of that title that I found so intimidating. I don't know anyone working in the Church who hasn't, at one time or another, felt the pain of someone in authority acting abusive, myself included.

I knew this was going to be a hard read. 
I was right, but simply put, what an incredible and important book. 

Langberg's focus isn't simply on the abuse of power, but specifically, abuse perpetrated by Christians in leadership and the Church as an institution. These opening lines set the tone:


"Power can be a source of blessing, but when it is abused, untold damage to the body and name of Christ, often in the name of Christ, is done."

 

From here, Langberg explores three main areas:

- Power Defined
- Power Abused
- Power Redeemed

It probably doesn't surprise anyone that Power Abused is the longest and most extensive section of the book. Throughout these chapters, we explore physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuses perpetrated by individuals and systems. All the abuses are based in misused power, and many are defined by gender, race, and economic or social status. These are truly difficult chapters to read. For some, these chapters may trigger difficult memories. For others, the chapters may inspire a "me too" moment of solidarity.

Langberg's writing is full of compassion and conviction. She pulls no punches. There's no softening to make the truth more palatable. And for her, there's one clear solution: look to God. Not the God of our own making. Not the God in our own image. The One God, who created us all in His image, and Jesus, who modelled how to lead and love without prejudice or restrictions.

Throughout my personal reading, certain stories resonated with my own experiences. But as someone in church leadership, I also tried to challenge myself: Am I being an empathetic leader? Are my prejudices and privileges affecting my leadership choices? How can I make sure my use of power reflects the love of God?


I highly recommend Redeeming Power, especially to those in church leadership.
It will make a powerful choice for a book club, Bible study, or recovery group. 

I pray this book is both a source of healing and a challenge for each of us.


Diane Langberg's site is full of additional resources, like videos, podcasts, and a blog. 
You can learn more about Redeeming Power and Langberg's valuable work with trauma victims, caregivers, and clergy at:

https://www.dianelangberg.com



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



Book Review: Rocky Mountain Restoration, by Lisa J. Flickinger 

Today, I'm excited to bring you a different kind of book review: 

I'm reviewing a trilogy!

As I've shared on other posts, I'm a member of InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship. A few months ago, members were sharing their upcoming summer releases. I don't have a release, so I offered reviews.

Lisa J. Flickinger took me up on my offer. 
I didn't know if I had the time to read a whole series, 
but she had me at "Historical Fiction!"

Today, I'm reviewing Lisa's latest release, 
Rocky Mountain Restoration
from her Rocky Mountain Revival Series. 

Our saga begins with Rocky Mountain Redemption and Rocky Mountain Revelation. Both are set in the late 1800's in a Rocky Mountain logging camp. I'd never read a story set in this environment before, so I was excited to learn more about the setting and how it would affect the lives of our characters. I loved the details of the forest, the rhythm of the camp life, and the dangerous work required of the loggers. 

Each book of the trilogy is a love story, set against the social challenges and constraints of the late Victorian era. We meet our protagonists early in the stories, so we immediately know who's going to fall in love with whom. What makes it so charming is how Lisa tells the story. She alternates point of view, so in one chapter we feel our heroine's thoughts and actions, and in the next, we feel our hero's. By writing in this style, we get a complete perspective on each character, allowing us to fully understand his and her struggles, challenges, and passions. 


You can definitely read each book independently, but if you read all three, you'll meet familiar characters, and better understand some of the social and emotional dynamics.

Rocky Mountain Restoration is the third chapter of this series, and it takes us on a whole new adventure! This time, we leave the rough and tumble world of the logging camp for the genteel life of steam ship travel. We meet our new cast of characters as they cruise up the coast of British Columbia. This new world is decadent, class-based, and dramatic. Think Downton-Abbey-at-sea!

I love ocean stories, so this new setting was so perfect for me - very different from the logging camp, and so full of wonderful, historical detail. You can fully imagine the world of the ship, the dynamics between the characters, and the tension caused by living in such tight quarters.


There are two things I particularly appreciate about Lisa's writing:

One, she deals appropriately with the restrictions of the era. The Victorian times were strict. Certain etiquette was required of men and women, and those rules were heightened by class. Lisa's characters live and make their choices in that world; we never see them trying to live by today's social rulebook.

And two, her characters aren't afraid of their faith. Some have it, some question it, some have lost it, but none are afraid to talk about it. This is also appropriate to the era, when most people of this particular society would have been raised in church. These books are more overtly "Christian fiction" than most of the books I review, but the scenes of faith were never preachy, and often very moving.

If you're looking for a lovely escape to a very different world, 
I recommend tucking yourself away in a cozy reading corner with the whole 
Rocky Mountain Revival Series

Oh, and make sure you grab a snack! All of our characters are connected to the food and service industry. Between the ship's homemade egg rolls, the logger's bacon-and-egg breakfast, and the constant mention of homemade donuts, these books made me hungry! Oh, did you know loggers get something called "second lunch"??? Me neither, but I'm thinking of starting it as a family practice in our home... 


You can learn more about Lisa J. Flickinger and the Rocky Mountain Revival Series at

http://www.lisajflickinger.com