Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Book Review: This Is Where It Ends, by Cindy K. Sproles

 So, this is going to be a challenging review to write.

This Is Where It Ends is Southern fiction - a genre that intrigues me, given our own Nashville years, but a genre I really haven't gotten into yet. I was excited when the hard copy, with its beautiful cover, landed in my mailbox.

The book blurb goes like this:

When Minerva Jane Jenkins was just 14 years old, she married a man who moved her to the mountains. He carried with him a small box, which he told her was filled with gold. And when he died 50 years later, he made her promise to keep his secret. She is to tell no one about the box or the treasure it contains.

Now 94, Minerva is nearing the end of what has sometimes been a lonely life. But she's kept that secret. Even so, rumors of hidden gold have a way of spreading, and Minerva is visited by a reporter, Del Rankin, who wants to know more of her story. His friend who joins him only wants to find the location of the gold. Neither of them knows quite who they're up against when it comes to the old woman on the mountain.

As an unlikely friendship develops, Minerva is tempted to reveal her secret to Del. After all, how long is one bound by a promise? But the truth of what's really buried in the box may be hidden even from her.


I was hooked by the first few pages and chapters of this story. I loved Minerva and her spitfire, survival attitude. I loved the rural world of Minerva's mountain farm. And I'm just always a sucker for any kind of historical fiction.

If I'd written my review at that point in the story, it would have been glowing.
 My expectations were high!

But as the pages went on, my enthusiasm diminished. Minerva talks endlessly about how she's going to die soon (not that she has a fatal illness - there's no real ticking clock - she just feels old), to the point where is starts to feel repetitive. 

There's a "big twist" with Del that you can see coming a mile away. And the big secret about the box and the treasure is so bland it's like air leaking out of a balloon. 

Sadly, I had to force myself through the final chapters of the book. I still loved the characters and the world, and some of Cindy's writing is truly beautiful. I feel this would have been really strong as a novella. There just isn't enough story to carry it through to the end.


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

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Book Review: The Long March Home, by Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee

I've read a lot of great WWII books in recent years. It can be hard to find a fresh take on the subject, but the subtitle of The Long March Home caught my attention:

The Long March Home:
A World War II Novel of the Pacific

"The Pacific"?
All the books I'd read were firmly set in Europe or America.
I knew I needed to read this one right away!

Here's the promo description:

"Jimmy Propfield joined the army for two reasons: to get out of Mobile, Alabama, with his best friends Hank and Billy and to forget his high school sweetheart, Claire. 

Life in the Philippines seems like paradise--until the morning of December 8, 1941, when news comes from Manila: the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Within hours, the teenage friends are plunged into war as Japanese warplanes attack Luzon, beginning a battle for control of the Pacific Theater that will culminate with a last stand on the Bataan Peninsula and end with the largest surrender of American troops in history. 

What follows will become known as one of the worst atrocities in modern warfare: the Bataan Death March. With no hope of rescue, the three friends vow to make it back home together. But the ordeal is only the beginning of their nearly four-year fight to survive."


One of the most powerful lines of this book occurs just before the prologue:

"Inspired by true stories."

As you read each moving, and sometimes devastating, chapter of this journey, you'll feel the truth seeping through. It resonates. And most of the time, you'll wish it didn't.

This isn't an easy book. I've read many wartime tales, but this is the first time I've read about prisoners of war and the atrocities they faced. And yet throughout it all, each character expresses and experiences an astounding depth of humanity.

Brotherton and Lee keep the story incredibly readable by beautifully balancing the story back home with the stories from the frontline. Heartbreaking history is interwoven with friendship, honour, humour, and so much love.

Honestly? I couldn't put this book down. I was literally grabbing every moment
I could to return back to it and finish yet another chapter.

The story is compelling; the history, fascinating;
 the characters, engaging; and the writing, breathtaking.

I highly recommend The Long March Home!


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

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Book Review: The Vanishing at Castle Moreau, by Jaime Jo Wright

The first time I read a Jaime Jo Wright novel, I was gobsmacked.
Who knew you could write Spooky Gothic Christian Fiction,
and that it would actually be good???

Since then, I've loved and reviewed:

On The Cliffs Of Foxglove Manner

The Premonition At Withers Farm

The Souls Of Lost Lake

And this week, I finished JJW's latest creation:

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau



Reviewing these books has become such a challenge! JJW is a world class storyteller, with gasp-inciting twists built into every tale. It's hard to write a review without giving it all away. (After all, like any great book, it leaves me wanting to shout its awesomeness from the rooftops!)

So, here's the book jacket blurb, plus a few thoughts of my own:

"In 1870, orphaned Daisy Fran├žois takes a position as housemaid at a Wisconsin castle to escape the horrors of her past life. There she finds a reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress who hides tales more harrowing than the ones in her novels. As women disappear from the area and the eerie circumstances seem to parallel a local legend, Daisy is thrust into a web that could ultimately steal her sanity, if not her life.

In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of an American aristocratic family to help his grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman's stash of collectibles, a century-old mystery and the dust of the old castle's curse threaten to rise again . . . this time to leave no one alive to tell the sordid tale."

Okay first, the infamous, fictional Castle Moreau is as much a character as any human in this book. A French-inspired castle, built in love, hidden in the woods, next door to a gossipy small town - the perfect setting for grandeur and secrets!

Next, the story is beautifully structured. The mystery of the titular "vanishing" plays out in both timelines in a way that creates echos across time and oodles of tension.

The mix of characters is such a great choice! People of different social and economic backgrounds, plus various temperaments, all brought together because they each carry a connection to a decades-old mystery. 

And on a personal note: if Daisy's entrance - a red-headed orphan carrying a carpetbag - doesn't remind you of your favourite storybook heroine-with-an-E, then you're not really Canadian!

I read this book quickly, and I highly recommend doing the same!
Hide yourself away in a dark room, with a big bowl of snacks,
and savour the perfect mix of twists and tensions that is
The Vanishing of Castle Moreau. 

In addition to being a prolific novelist, Jaime Jo Wright is super active on social media, offers mentoring for writers, hosts a podcast, and sends out a great newsletter. You can learn more about her at:

www.JaimeWrightBooks.com


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



Thursday, May 11, 2023

Introducing: Dr Dad! - My Convocation Oration


Today, my Dad - Rev. Hollis Hiscock - 
has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity 
from Queen's College, School of Theology, 
in St. John's, NL.

Gerald and I are unable to attend in person,
but I was very kindly asked to write Dad's introduction for the convocation. 

Thank you, Rev. Rob Cooke, for this great honour,
and for reading in my absence.

Here's my oration. Please enjoy, and lift a prayer for Dad and for all those convocating today. May they have strength, peace, and loving hearts in their next chapter of ministry. 


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I’d like to start with a personal story from Hollis’s daughter, Allison Lynn Flemming.

“Growing up, our favourite place was our cabin at Ocean Pond. One night, Dad and I stayed up late playing a board game. I can’t remember the name of the game, but the goal was to get to know each other by asking questions. I had a great idea - I would ask Dad about becoming a priest. You see, even at a young age, I’d realized that Dad’s job wasn’t like the other Dads’ jobs. From the working-on-Sundays, to the way people reacted when he said ‘I’m a priest’ all let me know his job was somehow different.

So, in the way that only a cheeky 10-year-old could, I asked, ‘If you could start all over again, would you still be a priest?’ Dad answered with no hesitation, ‘Yes, I would.’ 

I can’t remember his next words, but it was the first time I ever heard someone explain the difference between a job and a calling. That night, I learned more about my Dad than I could fully understand in that moment. I would recall that night many times over the years, especially in the seasons where I saw Dad challenged by the work of ministry. And I was especially thankful for that conversation many years later, when I received my own calling into music ministry.” 


Hollis Robert Nathaniel Hiscock was born in Salvage, the youngest child of James and Winnifred. Hollis and his older siblings, Winston and Alicia, were good kids who caused just the right amount of trouble. Their home was defined by a curiosity for learning, a strong sense of community, and a deep faith in God. All three of these would go on to shape Hollis’s ministry and life.

Hollis pursued theology and a path to orientation through Queen’s College. Like many students, Hollis was active in amateur sports. One afternoon, he was playing soccer when a professor reprimanded him for not wearing his clerical collar. “Proper clergyman” he was informed, "always wear their collars, no matter what they’re doing!” At that moment, Hollis thought, “Well, I guess I’m not going to be a proper clergyman.” 

Hollis joined the summer staff of Killdevil boys’ camp as Padre. One Saturday, a few of the girls’ staff dropped by for a visit, including the beautiful camp nurse, Helen Ryall. Legend has it that, at the end of that day, Hollis turned to his friend and said, “I’m going to marry that girl!”

Hollis was ordained a deacon in 1964 and priested in 1965. On September 28, 1968, Hollis did indeed marry Helen, and the young couple moved to the Parish of Cow Head.

Now, that incident about the soccer game proved to be more prophetic than first imagined. Throughout their lives together, Hollis and Helen continued to challenge church rules that seemed outdated, frivolous, or discriminatory.

You see, you can’t talk about Hollis without talking about Helen, and Hollis will be the first to tell you that. Where Hollis thrives in public leadership, Helen prefers to work behind the scenes. Even in this moment, she hates that we’re talking about her in public. (Don’t worry, Helen, Allison said to blame her for this part of the intro!) Her gifts of hospitality, empathy, and proofreading have fed into every aspect of Hollis’s work. Helen has a unique ability to find people on the fringes of a party or a congregation, and bring them into the fold. She makes everyone she meets feel happier, healthier, and more loved.


Hollis’s life of ordained ministry has spanned almost 60 years, covering 4 Dioceses and 2 provinces! There are a thousand reasons for him to receive today’s honour, but I want to mention four tent-posts that have defined his ministry.


1 - COMMITMENT TO PARISH MINISTRY

Hollis’s first posting - a 30-point parish - took him to the Great Northern Peninsula. But the bulk of his career would be serving parishes as Rector, first at St. Thomas’ Church (St. John’s, NL) and St. John’s York Mills Church (Toronto, ON). 

When Hollis was rector of St. Thomas’, General Synod came to Newfoundland, and Hollis helped lead a vibrant and Spirit-filled week of events. On the final Sunday, delegates and local parishioners gathered at St. Thomas’ Church for a 1-kilometre prayer walk, ending at Memorial Stadium. 4000 worshipers, led by a mass choir, celebrated Holy Communion. Always a creative thinker, Hollis had envisioned an altar that, with a few swift movements, could morph into a boat! As the worship concluded, the transformation began. Three large sails, each representing a Newfoundland-Labrador Diocese, was brought through the crowd and mounted on the boat. 4000 voices sang “I feel the winds of God today, today my sails I lift!” 

In his “retirement,” Hollis has led over 20 parishes through interims and guest worship leadership. Wherever he goes, parishioners of all generations testify to his gentle, creative and inclusive preaching, leadership and pastoring. Perhaps it was said best by the teenage girls of St. John’s York Mills. At Hollis’s retirement celebration, they expressed their love and admiration for him by singing a song from the musical Wicked, letting Hollis know that “because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”


2 - COMMITMENT TO ANGLICAN JOURNALISM

Hollis’s passion for writing, photography, and parish life came together in his work as Editor for two Diocesan newspapers. He served 10 years with The Newfoundland Churchman (now “Anglican Life) and 8 years with The Niagara Anglican. In addition to his role as Editor, Hollis wrote hundreds of articles, interviews and editorials, sharing the Good News as lived out in local parishes. Hollis’s teacher’s-heart also led to him to mentor countless new and emerging writers and photographers for each paper, creating a legacy of storytelling across the country.


3 - COMMITMENT TO THE ARTS IN WORSHIP & AS OUTREACH

Hollis is a passionate supporter of the arts, encouraging parish choirs, bands, handbell choirs, and drama to generously share their gifts with the congregation and community. His signature phrase - “We’re carving out new ministries.” - has led to the creation of countess plays, concert series, and other creative ventures. 

Perhaps the highlight was The Real Christmas Story - A Walk Through - cowritten by Hollis and his daughter, Allison. Each December, audiences walked the churchyard of St. John’s York Mills to visit seven stages, each featuring a living scene from the nativity. 125 performers, greeters, and volunteers pooled their talents to create the production. During its 10-year run, over 5,000 people attended the live performances. A documentary of the play aired nationally for 5 seasons on Vision TV, with an estimated viewership of over 100,000 homes.

Hollis’s love of the arts and support for artists is obvious to anyone who knows him. In recognition of this, St. John’s York Mills Church created The Hiscock Fund in Hollis and Helen’s honour. This ongoing grant program continues to support and encourage a whole new generation in their own artistic expressions of worship.


4 - COMMITMENT TO THE WIDER COMMUNITY & AN INCLUSIVE CHURCH

Hollis’ ministry has never been limited by the walls of the church. He taught Religious Education at the high school level and Psychology at MUN. He was the original Co-Ordinator of Grenfell Campus Extension Services (MUN), responsible for academic, recreational, and business programs in Western and Northern Newfoundland. He has served on numerous church and local committees, including the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, the St. Christopher's Rainbow Committee, and the 1988 Olympic Torch Relay Committee.

And remember the professor who wanted Hollis to wear his collar at all times? Well, how do you think he would feel about wearing his collar with high heels?

On his 50th ordination anniversary, Hollis donned pink high heels and his clerical collar to join the community event: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, speaking out against male violence against women. Just another creative way Hollis has let people of faith, or of no faith, know they are seen and loved by God.


Hollis’s favourite parable is The Sower and The Seed. If you recall the opening of the story, the Sower isn’t stingy with the seed. Instead, he sows it generously, trusting it will find its way to the good soil. 


Hollis, you have sowed the seed of the Gospel generously!

Because of your commitment to parish ministry, both seekers and lifelong Christians have found a church home that’s welcoming, loving, active, and compassionate. 

Because of your passion for Christian journalism, the stories of God and God’s people have been written, read, and lifted up across our country.

Because of your love of the arts, the Gospel has found new forms of expression, sharing its message of love in countless ways.

And because you dared to step outside the walls of the church, you have provided a loving and inclusive witness of faith to the wider community. 


Isaiah 6:8 inspired a great song - Here I Am, Lord -
a song that has been a touchpoint of Hollis’s life of ministry. 


Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”


Hollis, your love for God and God’s people, your generous and creative leadership, has sparked and supported a legacy of ongoing ministries by clergy, artists, and people of faith. You have made our Church, and our wider community, a stronger, more loving, more inclusive place. You live out the Gospel message with every breath.

We so are thankful that when asked, you responded,
“Here am I. Send me.”



PREACHING AT ST. THOMAS THIS SUNDAY!

Hollis will preach on Sunday, May 14, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. Newfoundland time (9:00 a.m. in Ontario)
 at St. Thomas' in St. John's, Newfoundland-Labrador. 

He served there over ten years as part of the clergy staff and Rector. All are welcome to join in person!  

The service will also stream live on the church's Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/stthomasnl




Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Book Review: The Metropolitan Affair, by Jocelyn Green

 This is a challenging review to write.

As a creator myself, I know how hard it is to make anything and put it out in the world. I don't review books as a critic. I review as a writer, artist, and passionate reader. I don't like to publicly say anything negative about something someone has created.

But I received this book on the condition that 
I'd post an honest review, so here we go.

On the plus side: In The Metropolitan Affair, Jocelyn Green has created a lush and vibrant world. 1920's New York City, the Egyptology department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, and the Italian neighbourhoods are decadent! I revelled in the detailed settings of cafes, hotels, and restaurants. I loved the well-researched details of museum life, 1920's police procedures, and even the workings of the early subway. 

But when it came to the story, it fell flat. To be clear, there's no issue with the actual plot. But it was way too slow.

And here's where to get to my overall complaint with so many recent books:

They're all too long!

Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with a long book, but it has to be long because it tells a long story, not because there are too many pages!

Recently, I've read so many 400 page books that could easily have been 350 or even 300 pages long!

I feel like publishers are so eager to get out the "next great thing" that they're missing a really crucial editing phase. Stories and pace are getting bogged down by way too much filler.

Vacuum that story! Get out the fluff! Make it tight!

If The Metropolitan Affair had been 300 pages, it would have been a smart, tense historical thriller with a great dose of romance and family drama. Instead, it was a narrative slog in a beautiful world.

So, I'm sorry to have to write this review, but there you go. 

Honesty. It can be a pain in the butt sometimes.


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

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Book Review: The Weight of Air by Kimberly Duffy


Friends, let's run away and join the circus!

I've already loved two Kimberly Duffy creations:

Every Word Unsaid

and

A Tapestry of Light

I'm excited anytime she releases a new book,
but when I discovered her new book takes us to the circus,
how could I resist?


The Weight of Air immerses us in the 1911 circus world, right in the midst of the modern circus's popularity. Aerialists and stunt performers were the movie stars of their day. Circuses regularly toured Europe and America, bringing dangerous feats and exotic animals to people of all ages, backgrounds, and economic levels.

Our heroine, Mabel MacGinnis, comes from a circus family. As Europe’s strongest woman, she performed beside her strongman father her entire life. But his sudden death reveals long-hidden family secrets. Mabel and her best friend, acrobat Jake Cunningham (a man with his own storied past), head off to America in pursuit of the truth. 

Meanwhile, in America, aerialist Isabella Moreau has lived a 5-star career, but age is sneaking up on her, putting her act, her future, and even her life at risk. When she sees a young strongwoman perform, Isabella's European past coming rushing back. Can she redeem her past choices, and find a future beyond her own doubts and brokenness? 

Mabel and Isabella's stories are filled with moving themes: mother-daughter bonds, the nature of depression, assumed gender roles, the power of forgiveness, and the definition of strength. Some of these themes, especially the storylines around depression, are extra poignant in this Edwardian setting, where mental health was so misunderstood.

But even with these heavy themes, this book is still filled with so much joy, love, and life!

I loved being in the world of the circus! My artist-heart loved every scene that dealt with rehearsals, audiences, and performances. Imagining the costumes, the horses, the acts, the tent ... As Anne of Green Gables would say, it gave great "scope for the imagination."

Be sure to read The Note from the Author at the end of the book, where Kimberly shares her personal inspiration, as well as her historical inspiration, for the story. Below is a photo of real-life strongwoman, Katie Sandwina. After reading the novel, it's worth spending some time reading up on Katie's story and scrolling through the amazing photos of her act!

If you're looking for a unique kind of historical fiction, 
I highly recommend The Weight of Air!


Kimberly shares her writing and creative process on her site and Facebook page.
You can connect with her here:

www.KimberlyDuffy.com 


Katie Sandwina, the real life inspiration for The Weight of Air







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

Monday, April 03, 2023

Guest Post - Every Day Is Easter, by Rev. Hollis Hiscock


Please welcome my Dad - Rev. Hollis Hiscock - as today's guest blogger!

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Every Day Is Easter
By Rev. Hollis Hiscock


Every day is a mini-Easter,” intoned the university professor, noticing the stone-faced students he hoped to impress with his stark dramatic revelation.

His words have remained with me since hearing them nearly 60 years ago. 

I recall little else about the professor or the class, but his quote became etched on my psyche because of its insightful eye opener and sustainability. 

Indeed if “every day is a mini-Easter” then the annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead must be our “maximum” Easter.

As we approach Easter 2023, let this be our Easter message to ourselves and every person with whom we come in contact.


Let us do it because …


We are the Easter people,
touched by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We are God’s church in the world,
namely the outward visible signs of
God’s unconditional love for all people.

We are ambassadors of Jesus,
presenting the good news of his gospel to others
and pointing them to God.

We do it because Christ is risen,
because he has overcome sin, temptation, suffering and death –
every obstacle preventing individuals from having a living relationship with God.


Jesus/God did it because of love, and we respond for the same reason. 


That is why we celebrate Easter with great joy, jubilation, hope and assurance.

That is why we share, by word and action, the marvellous news that
“Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia!”


Happy Easter to you and yours!  


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Next month, Reverend Hollis Hiscock will be awarded the Doctor of Divinity D.D. (honoris causa) by Queen's College, Newfoundland, in recognition of his years of leadership and service to the Anglican Church.   

You can read the official announcement HERE


Hollis is currently serving as Interim Priest-in-Charge of St. John’s Church, Burlington, Ontario. 

You can find their Easter services HERE.