“The Lucifer Scroll” a a tale of intrigue with temporal and spiritual battles that transcend time

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Lucifer Scroll - coverWhat do you get when you throw together an investigative reporter, a university professor, a historian, Druids, Nazis, a host of alphabet agencies like the CIA and an ancient sacred artifact?

The Lucifer Scroll – the second book in Midland, Ontario author Barrie Doyle’s The Oak Grove Conspiracies. Doyle’s sequel to The Excalibur Parchment, literally starts with a bang when protagonist Stone Wallace becomes the subject of an assassination attempt.

The suspense continues as readers are taken to Istanbul where historian and archeologist Huw Griffiths, searching through the rubble of a long-forgotten church, discovers clues that may lead to the discovery of the Holy Lance, the spear that pierced Jesus Christ’s side.

Griffiths’ daughter, history professor Myfanwy (Mandy) – who gains an assistant that she doesn’t want – and the two men are drawn into an adventure of intrigue that leads them, individually and together, to Niagara Falls, Georgian Bay, New Mexico, England, Austria and Wales. Along with their allies, the trio find themselves pitted against modern-day Druids and, at one point, Nazis, dodging the real and spiritual weapons aimed at them in the race to find the scroll that will lead to the lance.

Barrie Doyle creates a story where evil is evil, good is good and you have finish the book to find out which wins

I’ve been reading a lot of mystery and suspense novels lately and The Lucifer Scroll was one of the most readable of the bunch (second only to a couple of Ian Rankin novels). The Lucifer Scroll begins with an explosive opening and the action doesn’t let up until the end. Even when Lord Greyfell and his wife, Nees, are brought in to explain the spiritual danger of the Druids, Doyle imbues the expositional material with an urgency reminiscent of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.

Like most books in a series, it may help if you’ve read The Excalibur Parchment, especially as it relates to the relationships between Huw and Mandy Griffiths and Stone Wallace. But there’s enough backstory in The Lucifer Scroll that it can be read as a stand-alone book.

What Doyle has excelled at is crafting a tale of intrigue that incorporates temporal and spiritual battles that seem to transcend time. He creates a story where evil is evil, good is good and you have to read to the end of the book to find out whether good or evil wins – even if it means you end up staying up until the wee hours of the night to find out.

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To find out more about Barrie Doyle and The Lucifer Scroll head to http://barriedoyle.com/

To listen to an Arts Connection interview that explores the writing of The Lucifer Scroll head to http://artsconnection.ca/content/arts-connection-monday-june-6-2016-barrie-doyle-lucifer-scroll-book

Thin tome on preaching has much to say to artists

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Telling the Truth - coverA number of my writer friends have been fans of, or influenced by, the works of Frederick Buechner, an American writer, theologian and Presbyterian minister who has published more than 30 books. I’d yet to dive into Buechner but had him on my someday-read list.

A recent conversation with storyteller Brad Woods prompted me to shift Buechner to my to-read list. Brad and I were talking about a new play I’d been working on and he suggested a read through Telling the Truth: the Gospel as tragedy, comedy and fairy tale would be helpful.

Written to aid preachers, Telling the Truth shows how the gospels “record the tragedy of human failure, the comedy of being loved overwhelmingly by God despite that failure, and the fairy tale of transformation through that love” (from the book’s front cover flap).”

The more I read, the more I realized Telling the Truth had as much to say to me, as a writer, as it did a preacher. The used copy I bought from amazon.com was already marked in black, so I used a red pen to highlight what struck me as significant, like:

“But to preach the Gospel is not just to tell the truth but to tell the truth in love, and to tell the truth in love means to tell it with concern not only for the truth that is being told but with concern also for the people it is being told to…The preacher must always try to feel what it is like to live inside the skins of the people who he is preaching to, to hear the truth as they hear it.”

Let (the artist) use (art) which (does) not only try to give answers to the questions that we ask…but which help us to hear the questions that we do not have the words for asking…

The further into the book I delved, the more convinced I became that Buechner’s observations applied to all art forms. Writers, painters, sculptors, playwrights, actors, filmmakers, photographers, storytellers, singer/songwriters, etc. all want to share the truth of God’s love as found in the Gospel. Color, palette, imagery, metaphor, simile, realism, character, setting, etc. are the tools used to portray the truth that so many seek. Rephrasing Buechner, we can read:

“Let (the artist) use (art) which (does) not only try to give answers to the questions that we ask or ought to ask but which help us to hear the questions that we do not have the words for asking and to hear the silence that those questions rise out of and the silence that is the answer to those questions. Drawing on nothing fancier than the (art) of (the artist’s) own life, let (the artist) use (art) that help make the surface of our lives transparent to the truth that lies deep within them, which is the wordless truth of who we are and who God is and the Gospel of our meeting.”

Anyone who has read Buechner knows his books aren’t an easy read. I know I’ll find myself returning to Telling the Truth to try to glean a little more from his words. Until then, I take the book’s last paragraph as both a challenge and an encouragement:

“Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in that silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.”

 

Finding a fresh appreciation of the Psalms through word and music

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I WIll Not Be Shaken - bookThe I Will Not Be Shaken collection provides an insight a songwriter’s creative process and a whole lot more.

The project has been in the works for a number of years, beginning with conversations between Bell and Jamie Howison – the pastor at St. Benedict’s Table, which Bell attends. An expression of the Anglican Church, St. Benedict’s Table features a strong emphasis on the arts and social justice. I Will Not Be Shaken simmered on the back burner of both men for a while before it finally came together and was released in 2015.

I Will Not Be Shaken has two components. One is a book co-written by Howison and Bell. Each chapter is based on one of Bell’s songs and begins with Howison’s theologicical and personal insights into both the Psalm and the song. While not theologically complex, Howison’s reflections are deep enough to frequently warrant a re-read, so his perspective can take root.

E.g., writing about Psalm 13 (Bell’s song “How Long”), Howison looks at the question of how long God’s people have to suffer:

“How about a direct, miraculous intervention here, Lord?…Maybe this time your blessed grace could be a bit more aggressive,” writes Howison. He answers his own question a number of paragraphs later with the observation: “So yes, the quick fix zapping would be nice, but it would not do a whole lot to deepen us to the reality of the changed circumstances.”

CD/book set provides an insight into how the songs were written and whole lot more

While the reader digests Howison’s offerings, the chapter changes voice and Bell provides an insight writing the song. Here Bell describes a turning point in his spiritual life: “The most profound disappointment of all was the unanswered request for a sense of God’s nearness that others reported, but which I didn’t experience.

“Then I heard a sermon on Psalm 13. The psalm was described as a complaint to God, about God. It staggered me. I didn’t know this could be an acceptable prayer. This song followed…as did the beginning of an adult prayer life.”

I WIll Not Be Shaken - CD coverSpeaking of Bell’s songs, the second component to the I Will Not Be Shaken set is a CD. It  comprises all 17 of the songs Bell has written or co-written that are based on the Psalms. Anyone who’s followed Bell’s career has heard most, if not all of these songs. The only addition is the last song, “Psalm 70:1,” a Taize-style song Bell wrote for a course on contemplative prayer he co-led at Regent College.

My only disappointment with the CD was the lack of musician credits in the lyric booklet (which does note the original album on which the song appeared). This is more of a personal peeve because I’m interested in who was involved in the production of the song (especially when I think I recognize a musician’s style and want to confirm it). I suspect, for many listeners, this won’t affect their enjoyment of the CD.

I found reading Howison’s insights, Bell’s reflections and then listening to the song added to my enjoyment I Will Not Be Shaken. As I suspect Howison and Bell hope, I came away with a fresh appreciation and new understanding of the Psalms. You will too if you give I Will Not Be Shaken a read and a listen.

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For more information on the I Will Not Be Shaken set, check http://signpostmusic.com/

To listen to an Arts Connection interview with Steve Bell and Jamie Howison, check http://tinyurl.com/zc5u9d6

Slim anthology adds Christian narrative to First Nations voices

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First Nations Christian Writers Low res COVER for webIncreasingly, First Nations issues such as the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat, the results of the Truth and Reconciliation report and increased federal government funding to deal with these issues are headlining the news almost daily.

Into this myriad of voices comes a small anthology that brings a different perspective to these issues. First Nations Christian Writers – Volume 1 features 16 writers, from 14 year old Joshua Heath to two 78 year olds: Bernard Mason and Sylvia Polson. The diversity of writers from a variety of First Nations tribes and communities, ranging from Point Pelee, Ontario in the south to Cross Lake, Manitoba in the North, is one of the book’s strengths.

Most of the stories and poems are first-hand accounts, like Joshua’s look at the effects of the foster care system on his life or Mason’s account of how God answered his prayer a successful hunt in order to feed his family. Other stories look at some of the key issues facing First Nations people from both their ethnic and spiritual perspectives such as 19-year-old Naomi Peters submission, look at the missing and murdered women and Benjamin Paul’s experiences in a residential school.

The diversity of writers, with a wide-range of writing experience from novice to experienced, does make the flow in this anthology slightly uneven at times. While this can make it a bit difficult to read, it’s worth the effort. And don’t let the slimness of First Nations Christian Writers – Volume 1 fool you. There’s a lot to digest in those 80 pages.

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For more information on First Nations Christian Writers – Volume 1 check http://goldrockpress.com

To listen to an interview with First Nations Christian Writers – Volume 1 editor, Dorene Meyer, go to http://tinyurl.com/jdm2snz

 

Lost & Found Theatre scores with “Pocket Rocket”

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Lost & Found Theatre - Pocket RocketThere are any number of hockey cliches that could be used to describe Pocket Rocket: A play in three periods currently being staged by Kitchener’s Lost & Found Theatre. Using any one of them (except in this blog’s head) would detract from the excellence of the production.

The first act, or period, took me back to my own adolescence in small Southwestern Ontario town where road hockey was the pastime of choice. I recognized (and remembered who was) the play’s characters:

  • Steve (Andrei Preda) – the jock who thought he was better than everyone else and let everyone know it.
  • Paul (Mark Kreder) – the physically and socially awkward teen with overprotective parents who desperately wanted to fit in.
  • Dave (Matt White) – the vulnerable one whose family circumstances leads him to look for a family in his friends.
  • Cindy/Sid (Hannah Ziss) – the tomboy on the brink of becoming a young woman.
  • Ifty (Suchiththa Desilva) – the new kid on the block and the outsider who changes the group’s dynamics.

Pocket Rocket is  filled with humour, pathos and heart-wrenching emotion that will find you laughing one moment and deep in thought the next.

With Act 1 set in 1967, “Canada’s last great year” pronounces Steve, Pocket Rocket opens with our 14-year-olds – Steve, Paul, Dave and Cindy – saying good-bye to an old friend, hello to a new friend and discovering more about themselves than they want to. Playwrights Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham have written a script filled with humour, pathos and heart-wrenching emotion that will find you laughing one moment and deep in thought the next.

In Act/Period 2, now set in 1981, the friends gather to help Dave move and, for old times’ sake, have another game of road hockey. The tensions – sexual, personal, familial and otherwise – introduced in Act 1 continue to simmer until they explode. By the end of the act everything has changed leaving everyone wondering if life will ever be the same. The shift in time gives the cast a chance to showcase their acting muscles from convincingly portraying adolescents to maturing adults.

Act/Period 3 opens 14 years later with the friends gathering for another farewell and one last road hockey game. Some of the old tensions remain, while others have been resolved. If I had one criticism of Pocket Rocket it’s that the play’s denouement seemed somewhat rushed in this act leaving some of the plays issues (especially around Dave and Steve) unanswered.

Pocket Rocket is another stellar effort from Lost & Found Theatre. To riff on Steve’s opening line, all I can say is “I love this play.”

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Pocket Rocket continues until April 30. For more performance and ticket information check http://www.lostandfoundtheatre.ca/#!performances/ffiv7

“More Than Miracles” more than a simple history of the Scott Mission

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More Than Miracles coverThe Scott Mission first came to my attention in the late 1990s when I worked in the Salvation Army’s public relations department in Toronto. At the time, I saw the Scott as one of the myriad of Christian social service ministries serving those in need in the city.

Reading Toronto-area freelance journalist Ben Volman’s new book, More Than Miracles: Elaine Zeidman Markovic and the Story of the Scott Mission, gave me a new appreciation for the Scott, its ministry and the people who have served there.

Volman, with the eye of a journalist and heart of a pastor (he’s also the Toronto director of Chosen People Ministries and the spiritual leader of Kehillat Eytz Chaim/Tree of Life Messianic Congregation) tells of the triumphs and trials of the Scott and those closest to it: the Zeidman family.

A challenge of those writing histories is the delicate balance between glorifying the subject or tearing it apart. Volman manages to balance hagiography with the reality of the Scott’s struggles (especially after the untimely death of Alex Zeidman, its second director.)

While other histories of the Scott have been written – a fact noted by Volman – More Than Miracles recounts its history through the eyes of Elaine Zeideman Markovic, one of the four children of mission founders Morris and Annie Zeidman.

Markovic, along with her brothers Alex and David (who both became directors) and sister Margaret, all contributed in some way to the ministry of the Scott. In her 50-plus years of working at the Scott, Markovic filled a variety of behind-the-scenes roles and Volman sensitively recounts her own struggles with her place in ministry and her ultimate resolution to serve God in whatever role He chose.

One of the strengths of More Than Miracles is Volman’s choices as a writer. As someone who has also written organizational histories, I know the challenge of choosing which document or interview to quote from and how much should be quoted. Volman as struck the right balance between narrating the story and choosing from the myriad of Scott Mission’s ephemera and interviews he’d held. Volman has an uncanny knack for knowing when to speak as the author and when to let a diary entry, letter or person speak.

This sensitivity has led to a well-written book that was a joy to read. Whether you are familiar with the Scott Mission, or just have a passing knowledge of the “Miracle on Spadina,” More Than Miracles should take a place on your to-read list.

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For more information on More Than Miracles check http://castlequaybooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=101

Film will move viewers close enough to hear God breathe

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Breathe - coverWith the words “We waited until the last of my children arrived before taking my father off of life support…” Jason Hildebrand’s portrayal and Mike Janzen’s piano breathe life into Greg Paul’s words in Breathe…

Breathe… is a film version of the stage play co-created by Hildebrand and Tom Carson with music by Janzen. Inspired by Paul’s award-winning book, Close Enough to Hear God Breathe, the play explores the “story of a man who never heard ‘I love you’ from his father, searching through the characters of his life to find – ‘I love you’.”

The scenes in Breathe… derive from a variety of sources:

Paul’s own life: in the opening vignette, “father…”, the opening vignette, tells the story of the last day’s of Paul’s father. “soapbox preacher…” tells how Paul’s grandfather was saved through the ministry of a Hamilton street evangelist.

Every aspect of Breathe… depicts the deepest need of the human heart: intimacy with God.

Scripture: “baptist…” portrays Jesus baptism by his cousin John (and effectively uses a rolling fog effect to portray the Jordan River). “feast…” invites all to be close enough to hear God breathe and celebrate His feast.

Paul’s ministry to the street-involved: “rob…” a poignant portrayal of a man succumbing to the demons of addiction that he’d long fought. “leonard…” a childhood friend of Paul’s who wonders if “God could love me like my grandmother does.”

The sparse set, for the most part, comprises only Hildebrand and Janzen at a grand piano. And, occasionally, a wooden chair. The lighting for each scene (predominantly white, with only a few color settings) helps set the mood, with a fog effect being used to depict smoke, clouds or water.

Along with restrained camera work, Breathe… gives the viewer the chance to be caught up in each story as Hildebrand brings to life the unforgettable characters Paul depicted on the page: from the gruffness of his father, to the lost innocence of Leonard, from the bewilderment of a street preacher, to the tenderness of a father with his newborn daughter.

Janzen’s score to Breathe… is as integral to the film as Hildebrand’s acting. Without it, Leonard’s story would be less poignant, the feast less meaningful and the father’s time with his newborn daughter less tender. But it’s not just the music. Janzen uses a looping effect to provide sound effects for a couple of scenes, including the bustle of Hamilton’s steel industry in the 1920s.

Every aspect of Breathe… – Hildebrand’s acting, Janzen’s music and the filmmaking – depicts the deepest need of the human heart: intimacy with God. For some, it will raise more questions than it answers. For others, it will provide the answers to their questions. For all, it will move them towards that moment where they’re “close enough to hear God breathe.”

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For more information on Breathe… go to http://www.jasonhildebrand.com

To listen to an Arts Connection interview with Jason Hildebrand and Mike Janzen talk about the creation of the stage version of Breathe… check http://tinyurl.com/h73s62e

And for more on how you can support Arts Connection go to: https://www.gofundme.com/artsconnection

Finding some advice along life’s highway

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A Traveler's Advisory - coverIn the early 1990s, Canadian singer/songwriter Tom Cochrane said “Life is a Highway.” In Marcia Laycock’s latest book A Traveler’s Advisory: Stories of God’s Grace Along the Way she notes that even when the highway becomes a little bumpy, God is there to either smooth the way or get us through the rough patches.

The pocket-sized A Traveler’s Advisory (124-page, 8″ x 5″ book) packs more depth than it’s size would suggest. Laycock, an award-winning author, uses her experiences as a pastor’s wife, missionary and traveler as she looks at the highway of life in sections titled “In the Air,” “On the Road,” “On Vacation” and “Far Away Places.”

One of the strengths of the book is Laycock’s folksy writing style. Having met her at a number of writers’ conferences and interviewed her for Arts Connection, reading through A Traveler’s Advisory was like listening to her tell the stories in person.

Laycock weaves the memory and spiritual lesson into a seamless fabric

Take, for instance, this excerpt from her story “A Mini Parked Between Semis”:

I gripped the wheel of my Austin Mini and concentrated on the flow of traffic around me. I had never driven through this area before but I knew the route I had to follow would take me through the heart of a large city. There was no bypass to avoid the downtown traffic. I stayed in the middle lane to avoid vehicles turning left and right. As the city began to close around me, so did the traffic. I was already feeling a bit claustrophobic when a huge semi pulled up to my right. We both stopped at a red light.

Then another semi pulled up on my left. The two trucks effectively blocked out the sun. I glanced in my rear-view mirror just as a third semi pulled in behind me, stopping inches from my tiny bumper….”

The book’s other strength is the ease with which Laycock blends spiritual lessons into the narrative. I’ve read similar books where the lessons seem to be tacked on at the last moment as if to say: here’s the lesson, in case you didn’t get it.

Laycock weaves the memory and spiritual lesson into a seamless fabric. Again I turn to “A Mini Parked Between Semis”:

“I remembered looking into the rear-view mirror of my Austin Mini and seeing nothing but bumper. I remembered how those semis had blocked out the sun. And I remembered focusing on that stop-light, knowing that it would eventually turn green and let me get out of there. Sometimes life puts us in a box of pain and confusion. The only way to survive is to hang on to the One you know will get you out.”

A Traveler’s Advisory is a quick read, but a deep read. And a book that you’ll return to again and again because you’ll discover a new truth each time you read it.

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For more about Marcia Laycock and A Traveler’s Advisory: Stories of God’s Grace Along the Way go to http://marcialeelaycock.com/

Artist’s book a visual look at her inspirations

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Art begets Art - coverWhen interviewing artists for the Arts Connection radio show, I usually ask them “where do you get the inspiration for your art?”

Winnipeg-based artist Faye Hall’s new book ART begets ART is a 40-page answer to that question.

As a child, one of Hall’s teachers recognized her artistic ability and suggested Hall’s parents encourage her. Which they did, leading her to a 20-year career in advertising design. Eventually, for various reasons that she mentions in the book, Hall turned to other pursuits – which included putting paintbrush to canvas.

Hall’s art is visually stunning. And when you begin to look at the details – the use of colour and meticulous brush strokes –  you’ll marvel at the amount of time and effort Hall must spend on each painting. Some of them are so realistic, they could be mistaken for the photographs which originally inspired the art.Art begets Art - Sunglasses

Which brings me to the book’s subtitle: “One Artist’s Inspiration.” Accompanying many of her paintings are the stories behind the art.

Sometimes, in the case of the image to the right, titled “Steve’s Sunglasses,” it’s a photo. In this case, one taken by singer/songwriter Steve Bell on a Canadian Foodgrains Bank-sponsored trip to Ethiopia.

Inspiration, Hall writes, “is like the presence of God. It can manifest in the texture of a tangle of branches in the woods, it can be an image that appears in my mind upon hearing the words of a poet or pastor – it can be the dapple of light reflected in the eyes of a loved child.”

Art begets Art - GuiteIn the case of “In Coleridge’s Wake” (left), inspiration came from a photo on social media of U.K. songwriter/poet/vicar Malcom Guite, which grabbed her attention.

“The image hit me like a pail of lake water thrown in my face – here was my next painting – and I was helpless to resist,” writes Hall of an image which has become one of my favourites in the book.

Each story, helps readers delve deeper into the heart and mind of an artist. The reader of ART begets ART comes away with a greater appreciation for the art Hall has crafted from her varied inspirations.

ART begets ART is a short book, but it’s a full book. Hall’s art and the reflections on her inspirations will keep readers coming back to the book again and again. I know that each time I’ve looked through it, I’ve come away with a new insight from her stories of inspiration or a new appreciation for one of her paintings.

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For more information about Faye Hall, check http://fayehall.com/.

For information on ART begets ART check http://www.friesenpress.com/bookstore/title/119734000022127417

Watch for details about an upcoming Arts Connection interview with Faye Hall

More “Hot Apple Cider” to warm the soul

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Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon - coverLike a cup of hot apple cider warming the body on a cold day, the Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon anthology will warm the soul.

The fourth in the Hot Apple Cider series, the latest volume contains 67 stories – some true, some fiction and a few are poems – all based around the theme, and subtitle, of “finding love in unexpected places.

In the foreward, author and speaker Sheila Wray Gregoire explains the theme: “Real love is seeing your neighbour, your family and your friends with new eyes. It’s deciding to laugh, to love, to live in the knowledge that pain in the world is inevitable, but love is a choice.”

For those unfamiliar with the series, it started in 2008 as a partnership between World Vision Canada, The Word Guild and That’s Life! Communications. The Hot Apple Cider anthology featured the work of 30 Canadian writers who are Christian and was, initially, part of a package of gifts given to those attending a World Vision Canada-sponsored event – as well as being distributed through traditional channels eventually reaching best-seller status. This success spawned A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider and the shorter anthology A Taste of Hot Apple Cider.

Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon is as comforting as an old quilt

With the format set – think of a Christian version of Chicken Soup for the Soul – readers will find Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon as comforting as an old quilt. There are stories that will make you laugh like “The ‘Other’ First Prize” by Martin Smith or “Kosovo Canteen Concert” by Adele Simmons. There are stories that will make you cry like “Mother, Go Gently” a poem by L. June Stevenson and “Until Death Do Us Part” by Ray Wiseman. And a few that will make you laugh and cry like “Champ!” by David Kitz and “The Cat We Didn’t Need” by Ruth Ann Adams.

There are a couple of significant strengths Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon. The first is the richness created by the variety of voices used and tales told. The second is the rigorous selection and editing process which has honed the stories into polished gems.

So grab a cup of your favourite warm beverage (hot apple cider preferred) and curl up with Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon: Stories of Finding Love in Unexpected Places and prepare to have your body and soul warmed.

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For more information on Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon or any of the other Hot Apple Cider anthologies go to http://thatslifecommunications.com/hot-apple-cider-books/

To listen to an Arts Connection interview with That’s Life! Communication’s (and Hot Apple Cider co-publisher) Les Lindquist go to http://tinyurl.com/j7ml3dx