An Untamed Land (review)

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An Untamed Land (Red River of the North, #1)An Untamed Land by Lauraine Snelling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An Untamed Land by Lauraine Snelling begins in Norway with a prologue dated 1877. Then Far (father Gustaf Bjorklund) and his family begin planning for the immigration of several of his sons from Norway to America. Roald, married to Anna with 21-month Thorliff and pregnant with a new baby will be joined by 19-year-old Carl and Kaaren, whom he plans to marry.

The actual story begins three years later in 1880. But there is no more Anna. Ingeborg is now by Roald’s side and we discover Anna and the babe she was carrying have died. We join the six (Karl, Kaaren, their newborn Gunny, Roald, Ingeborg and five-year-old Thorliff) as they are about to disembark from the ship after an arduous transatlantic voyage.

Ingeborg and Roald are still adjusting to each other. Ingeborg chafes under Roald’s protective, take-charge ways. Roald, missing his childhood sweetheart Anna and traumatized by her death, is trying to understand Ingeborg’s impulsiveness and curb her independent tendencies.

We follow them as they make their cumbersome way from America’s eastern seaboard to the Dokota Territory by covered wagon and live with them in the day-to-day hardships of homesteading. Especially grueling are the long and desperately cold winters with their isolating storms.

I found main characters Ingeborg and Roald interesting and complex. Snelling has a way of showing us their faults and at the same time arousing sympathy for them as we enter their points of view. A major subplot of the story is the evolution of their relationship.

Snelling also handles the setting masterfully with enough description of the wild Dakota lands for me to see, hear, and feel the elements that are almost like another character. Living with these young moms as they keep house in covered wagons and then little soddies, cook over open fires, rejoice over a couple of cows, a team of oxen, some sheep, scrabble in the dirt to plant vegetables, even some flowers gave me a new admiration for North America’s pioneers.

Things go along relatively well till about two thirds through the book when tragedy strikes. Though the end is satisfying, Snelling leaves enough plot bits unresolved to make us want to find out what happens in the books that follow.

An Untamed Land is a strong beginning to what has proven to be a popular series of six Red River of the North books. If you enjoy pioneering stories that major on studying human nature, and minor on a little sweet romance, you’ll love this book.

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Miracles from Heaven (review)

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Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of HealingMiracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing by Christy Beam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Beam family didn’t know at the time that December 30, 2011 was the end of more than the year 2011. Christy Beam’s memoir Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven and Her Amazing Story of Healing is the tale of their lives leading to that end and a new beginning.

Little Annabel Beam started having stomach troubles when she was just four. An agonizing quest for answers finally led to a diagnosis of pseudo obstruction motility disorder—an incurable medical condition in which the muscles of the stomach and bowel don’t work normally.

The years 2007 to 2011 were a never-ending cycle of hospital visits, medication adjustments, and trips from Texas (where they lived) to their pediatric specialist in Boston for the Beams. Parents Kevin and Christy tried to give their other girls, Abbie and Adelynn some semblance of normal during this time and the sisters were crucial in keeping Anna (the middle Beam girl) from wanting to give up altogether.

On that balmy December afternoon nine-year-old Anna, still tired from a trip to Boston and then Christmas, decided to take a break from bed. A tomboy like her eleven-year-old sister, she joined Abbie on the limb of an old cottonwood tree 30 feet off the ground for a sister-to-sister chat. Then they heard the branch creak, and felt it move…

You’ll have to read the book to find out more. This memoir is wonderfully written in puzzle-piece fashion by mom Christy who experienced the whole thing and tells it in such realistic detail you feel like you’re there in person.

In addition to this being a wonderful story, it’s a vivid example of the dynamics in a family where one of the children is ill.

It also shows us amazing parenting and the mutual support Kevin and Christy Beam were for each other during the type of ordeal that has wrecked more than one home.

Finally, this story is a for-instance of God’s supernatural intervention and tender care—a modern-day miracle. It reminded me of the stories in the book Visions and Appearances of Jesus (Philip H. Wiebe) and left me feeling a glow of confidence in a God who put the whole amazing chain of events together and is now using Christy Beam’s telling of it to spread the good news. It’s the news that, in Anna’s own words:

“…God does care about me. And He does have glory. And He has a purpose for every single person in the world. You weren’t just made for fun. You were made to be a beautiful creation. So if we all come together and we all believe in God, then I’ll see you in heaven later” (Kindle Location 2030).

Highly recommended.

I received Miracles From Heaven as a gift from the publisher, Hachette, for the purpose of writing a review.

Visit Christy Beam’s website and view photos of the author and her family here:

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Adam’s Animals (review)

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Adam's Animals - fun facts about God's CreationAdam’s Animals – fun facts about God’s Creation by Kimberley Payne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Kimberley Payne has packed a lot into her 90-page children’s activity book Adam’s Animals.

The book begins with a simple explanation—this is a book about animals we’ll find in the Bible—and an invitation to get acquainted with them, as Adam did when he named them.

To help give kids categories for these many creatures, Payne includes the simplest of animal classifications, naming five families of invertebrates and four of invertebrates. She has also devised a symbol for each to help kids recognize them. For example, the symbol for “Birds” is a bird emerging from an egg, for “Mammals” a milk-filled baby bottle.

Thirty-nine two-page animal entries follow. A typical entry contains, on the first page:
– The verse in the Bible where the animal is mentioned.
– A brief explanation of what the verse means or its historical or regional setting.
– A “Did you know?” section with six facts about the animal.

The entry’s second page displays:
– An additional Bible reference where the animal is mentioned again, if there is one.
– A picture to color.
– A word search puzzle.
These latter two would need to be printed if the book was a digital file.

The animals are presented alphabetically. Sometimes several animals from the same family appear in one entry (e.g. Lion, Cheetah and Leopard). Other entries are titled with the names of the animal in both sexes and when young and mature (e.g. Lamb, Ewe, Ram, Sheep).

Puzzle solutions end the book.

What a fun way to study animals! Though not a thorough or complete animal study, it would be a great supplement to an animal unit in a Christian school, home school or even Sunday School setting.

Janis Cox’s line drawing coloring pages are a great invitation to break out the crayons and get to work. The word search puzzles are sure to keep a kid busy for a few minutes at least, as they search for words that nail down the animal facts and trivia mentioned earlier in the entry.

Even parents and teachers are bound to come away from Adam’s Animals knowing more about our fascinating creature neighbors. I discovered, for example:

“Crickets hear through their front legs” p. 54.
“Owls have three eyelids: one for blinking, one for sleeping, and one for keeping eyes clean” – p. 58.
“Slugs have green blood” – p. 74.

I received Adam’s Animals as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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My Life’s Journey (review)

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My Life's JourneyMy Life’s Journey by Janet Kataaha Museveni My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I told you Janet Museveni was the first lady of an African nation, could you name which one? Until last week, me neither. But now that I have met this talented woman in the pages of her memoir, I know that Uganda is blessed to have her as its first lady, wife of President Yoweri Museveni.

She is currently also serving as MP for Ruhaana County and Minster of State for Karamoja. This mother of four, grandmother of twelve has had a challenging life. In My Life’s Journey she tells her story beginning with her early years in rural Uganda.

After a year of college in Wales she returns to a country that is falling into chaos under the terror of Idi Amin. When some of her family members oppose him, they become a hunted lot. During her years in African exile (spent in Tanzania and other countries) she meets her husband. When she asks him what his occupation is, he says, “Fighting Idi Amin.” It turns out that fighting for Africa’s political well-being becomes the passion of his life.

Amin is eventually routed but since Yoweri Museveni is a rival of returned President Obote, the family is soon on the run again with Janet and her four children spending years exiled in Sweden before Yoweri becomes president and the family is reunited in a Uganda that is in shambles after years of civil war.

To add to the inspiration of Janet Museveni’s story as a tale of political overcoming is its spiritual aspect. After she decides to put her faith in Christ as Saviour her life takes on a different cast. She speaks openly about her practice of starting each day with prayer and Bible reading and how her faith influences the way she raises her children.

When she feels that God would have her enter politics, her faith is tested as she comes against the expectation that she will campaign using traditional means of bribery and buying votes with gifts and alcohol. She resists but wins her seat anyway.

Her motherly heart, listening ear, habit of close observation, and administrative common sense has made her a successful leader with numerous completed roads, schools, and hospitals on her list of accomplishments. In her time as leader she has asked God many questions including why Africa is so often at the bottom of the world’s nations. The answer she has arrived at contains wisdom that leaders of all nations—mine included—would do well to heed:

“This scripture (referring to Acts 17:26,28) simply put says that ‘the fault is not in our stars’ so to speak; God created all people from ‘one blood,’ which means there is no one inherently inferior to another. He also determined where people should live on the earth with a purpose …. This scripture tells me that it is impossible to find an identity and national consciousness apart from God. A nation that will stand and last for generations is one that has been built on the Chief Cornerstone” – My Life’s Journey, p. 278.

If you are interested in Africa and enjoy memoir, you’ll love My Life’s Journey. Thank you to my brother and sister-in-law, who gave me a copy after discovering this book during a recent trip to Uganda to visit their missionary son and his family. View all my reviews

Sweetened With Honey (review)

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Sweetened with Honey (Farm Fresh Romance 3)Sweetened with Honey by Valerie Comer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sierra Riehl is the last of the threesome that established Green Acres still single. In Sweetened with Honey—the third in Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance Series—Gabe Rubachuk re-enters the picture. Gabe, with his wife Bethany, started Nature’s Pantry, an organic food store in the fictional Galena Landing in Book One (Raspberries and Vinegar).

Gabe’s life with pregnant Bethany came to a tragic end when she was killed in a collision with a truck on her way home from work one night. Devastated Gabe has spent the last three years in Rumania, working in an orphanage with his parents.

He appears in Chapter 1 just as Sierra is about to administer to Doreen (Bethany’s mother who has been in charge of Nature’s Pantry) a bee sting to help with her arthritis pain. His over-the-top emotional reaction to what he believes will harm her shows us how emotionally fragile he still is.

However, the weeks of his adjustment back to life in Galena Landing has him spending lots of time with the Green Acres crowd and softens him to the beautiful Sierra. For her part, she is conflicted—attracted to Gabe but also romantically involved with a local commercial beekeeper whose inflated ego and money-oriented business practices rub the Green Acres crowd the wrong way, so lots of delicious conflict there.

Again in Sweetened With Honey we experience the camaraderie of the farm—Jo and Zach (Raspberries and Vinegar), Claire and Noel (Wild Mint Tea), along with Jo and Zach’s toddler, his elderly parents, and Doreen are all around the table for communal meals on more than just special occasions.

Comer continues fleshing out in her characters and story line the principles of ecologically sustainable farming that fuel her stories, as well as the importance of a relationship with God. This book also deals with themes of forgiveness and honesty in relationships.

I found Sweetened With Honey a sweet and satisfying read. I’m delighted to discover it has made the shortlist in the Romance Category of the 2015 Word Awards. Congratulations, Valerie!

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Wild Mint Tea (review)

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Wild Mint Tea (A Farm Fresh Romance, #2)Wild Mint Tea by Valerie Comer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claire Halford would dearly love to get the job cooking for the tree-planting crew of Enterprising Reforestation. It would mean that she could quit her short-order job at the Sizzling Skillet, Galena Landing’s main eatery. But good-looking boss Noel Kenzie doesn’t fall for her farm-to-table, cook-what’s-local-and-in-season ethic, though he can’t help but realize he could fall for this perky city girl-cum-farmer in Wild Mint Tea, Book 2 of Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance Series.

In the story we follow Claire and her Green Acres partners Jo and Sierra through a summer of trying to get their place established as an event destination, while Claire juggles her job and what soon blooms into a romance between her and Noel.

I enjoyed the story with its recognizable, likeable characters and community spirit. Comer never strays from her two favorite themes of living lightly and considerately on the earth and the necessity of orienting one’s life by the true north of a biblically based faith.

My only quibble with the book is in its portrayal of romance, where Claire and Noel’s emotional intimacy—seen in shared values and friendship—pales compared to the physical electricity between them. I wished she had shown, in their relationship, more of the glue that keeps people together over the long haul. However, Comer is no slouch at writing romance, so the book certainly delivers in that department.

As a whole the writing is lively, with a taut plot that only gets stronger as we get to the ending. It’s a great continuation of life at Green Acres.

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Other Side of the River (review)

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other side of the riverOther Side of the River by Janice L. Dick.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Luise Letkemann and Daniel Martens have been sweethearts for almost as long as they can remember. Luise expects they will marry soon. But the spring of 1926 is not a time life goes along according to expectation for the lovers or anyone else in the Mennonite village of Alexandrovka, part of the Slovgorod Colony in Western Siberia.

As the Soviet officials begin to interfere increasingly in the life of the enterprising farmers and craftspeople, demanding ever more tax and confiscating machinery and livestock, many villagers decide it’s time to leave. While some are allowed to emigrate to America, Luise’s chronically ill stepmother fails to pass her medical exam. So the family ends up planning to join others on a long train ride east. There is farmland and they have official permits to settle near the border of China on the banks of the Amur River.

Meanwhile a winter of hard work up north for Daniel separates the lovers. He returns shortly before her family is set to leave and Luise makes peace with the fact that she will be apart from her family when she and Daniel settle as newlyweds in the farmhouse Daniel has been building.

Of course, that doesn’t work out quite as planned either in Janice L. Dick’s Mennonite historical Other Side of the River. It’s a story through which we experience the day to day life of these God-fearing, peace-loving and industrious people during a time in Russian history when expressions of faith were not allowed, personal initiative was frowned on, and even speaking German could be cause for arrest.

Lovable and hated characters populate the pages with Luise’s great-aunt Tante Manya taking the prize as my favourite, Senior Major Leonard Dubrowsky and Ivan Mironenko tied for the ones I most disliked and feared. The way Dick portrays the everyday circumstances, struggles, and growth of main characters is realistic and kept me right there, experiencing their challenges with them.

The period and setting are depicted in satisfying detail. I loved all the homey touches—the roasted zwieback and other home baking, the Germanisms like “Nah jah,” and Luise’s and Daniel’s close-knit, intergenerational families.

The story, though lengthy, had enough twists and turns that it rarely sagged. The only time it felt a bit draggy was very near the end, but then it picked up again to the harrowing finish.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book—both the day-to-day life of its characters and the big story aspect of it—for I too am descended from them, a Mennonite, not from those that stayed in Russia, but from forbears that emigrated to North America before Communism and the era of the Soviet Union. Witnessing the faith of these people through testing was an inspiration. This book left me with a great appreciation of the fire-proved faith of my ancestors.

Apparently Dick is working on a sequel (according to this Blog Talk Radio interview). I hope so. I’ll definitely pick it up when it comes out!

Read Chapter One of Other Side of the River.

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