It Happened in Moscow (review)

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It-Happened-in-Moscow0001It Happened in Moscow: A Memoir of Discovery by Maureen Klassen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It Happened In Moscow begins with a surprise phone call to Herb and Maureen Klassen’s Moscow apartment in 1993. That call opened a Pandora’s box of secrets.

Herb’s parents (C.F. and Mary Klassen) had immigrated from Russia to Canada in 1928 in the nick of time, just before the doors to exit Stalin’s Communist Russia slammed shut. Though Mary’s children knew that she was a divorcée at the time she married C.F., she rarely spoke of her early life and never mentioned her 10-year first marriage. Even Harold (her son by that marriage) only found out about his birth father at his 16th birthday when C.F. and Mary sat him down to reveal the truth. Both C.F. and Mary had since died, so many questions about Mary remained unanswered.

Now the female voice on the other end of that phone call claimed she was Harold’s younger sister Erika.

If this was indeed so, could Erika hold answers to the mystery of Mary’s first marriage? Did she know what had happened to Mary’s first husband (and Harold’s father)? Could she shed light on how an entire generation of Russian Mennonites had fared during that period in Russia?

It Happened in Moscow is memoir—the unfolding of a fascinating family discovery through Maureen Klassen’s eyes. In 1993 Maureen and Herb Klassen were working for Mennonite organizations in Moscow and were fluent in Russian and German. These things made them the perfect recipients for the information that Erika had gleaned in her search for family. Via Erika, the family learned the fate of Jacob (Mary’s first husband) and thousands of Mennonites who were hindered from or chose not to immigrate from Soviet Russia.

Maureen Klassen’s charitable depiction of the two main players in this tale (Mary and Erika) make this an uplifting and pleasurable story to read. Historically, the way it shines a light on years of religious repression under the Communists makes it an integral piece of the Mennonite puzzle. It is also a testimony to God’s faithfulness through generations.

If you’re interested in Mennonite history or even just enjoy a well-crafted memoir with lots of human interest delivered in cultural detail with historical accuracy, you’ll love this book.

(My sister-in-law who, with my brother, lived for a time in Mary’s “glasshouse” in Clearbrook B.C., lent me this book.)

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Faithful Paper Crafting (review)

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81E9c5Z2eWLFaithful Paper Crafting: Notecards, Gift Tags, Scrapbook Papers & More To Share The Blessing by Robin Pickens

With this colorful book you will have numerous crafted projects at your fingertips. There are dozens of full-color and black-and-white (suitable for coloring) cards (fifty large, eighteen mini), six full-color bookmarks, sixteen gift tags, two full-page illustrations suitable for framing, sixteen full pages of colorful double-sided papers along with two envelope templates (put these latter two together to make beautiful envelopes for all those cards, or use the papers in other ways suggested by the book’s introduction).

Messages on the cards are generic enough to be useful for many occasions (e.g.”Imagine,” and “You are my sunshine”) and faith-friendly (e.g.”Rejoice in the Lord,” “Pray,” “Let all you do be done in Love” etc.). As well, the large cards have Bible verses printed on the inside page with room for a personal message.

Detailed directions for how to assemble an envelope, finish a bookmark, and make a fridge magnet are found in the beginning of the book. All the cards, bookmarks, and tags are perforated for easy and tidy tear-out.

What a fun collection! I love the heavy, good quality paper on which the projects are printed, and the vibrant colors. I also like how some of the card backs incorporate the designs of the papers, making it possible to send cards in matching envelopes if you decide to make your own.

In addition to using the items as ready-mades, I’m hoping to get design ideas for Bible journaling from them, and maybe even add some pieces to my Bible as tip-ins.

I received Faithful Paper Crafting as a gift from the publisher, Design Originals (an imprint of Fox Chapel Publishing), for the purpose of writing a review.

Review on Goodreads.

 

 

Keeping Up With the Neighbours (review)

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Neighbours 2In Keeping Up with the Neighbours (Neighbours Series 2) author Tracy Krauss treats us to the adventures of colourful Newfoundland siblings who have left the Rock to find their fortunes in Alberta.

The characters (the Malloys—five young men and their sister) are earthy, relatable, often humorous, and interesting. We follow them as they find jobs in construction, the oil patch, the woods, the local bar, and a hair dressing salon, and socialize in the evenings with the locals at a neighbourhood watering hole.

These salty characters are not without their realistic problems and flaws, so be prepared for a little more edginess than you’d find in some Christian fiction. But Krauss incorporates faith as well in plot twists that feel plausible and inevitable.

Keeping up with the Neighbours (Neighbours 2) is a lot of fun as well as thought-provoking, dealing with subjects like loyalty, conflicts between immigrant parents and their adult children, alcoholism, religious faith and more. It’s a bit like reading a Calgary-based season of Cheers.

Faith, Life, and Leadership (review)

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Faith, Life and Leadership: 8 Canadian Women Tell Their StoriesFaith, Life and Leadership: 8 Canadian Women Tell Their Stories by Georgialee Lang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I discovered that there was a book out with stories of Canadian women leaders, I knew I had to get it. Faith Life and Leadership: 8 Canadian Women Tell Their Stories didn’t disappoint.

In it eight prominent Canadian women tell, in first person, their stories of coming to leadership—stories as unique and different from each other as the positions they hold or held.

We hear from Lorna Dueck (broadcaster); Georgialee Lang (who served a prison term before she became a family law lawyer); Carolyn Arends (singer-songwriter, author, teacher); Deborah Grey (politician); M. Christine MacMillan (mover and shaker in the area of social justice working from within the Salvation Army); Janet Epp Buckingham (human rights lawyer); Joy Smith (politician, who helped draft legislation against human trafficking); and Margaret Gibb (inspirer and leader of Christian women across denominations in Canada and abroad).

Each account contains, as well principles of leadership that the writer experienced and now shares with us. In some of the stories the writers scatter those principles within the telling, so they’re not as easy to isolate. In others they are listed at the end.

I found the book fascinating. The women were strikingly varied. One was a confessed extrovert while another so shy she had trouble making friends all through school. Some came from good, supportive homes, others were forced to fend for themselves early. In each story, though, the path to leadership was long, beset by failures and crowned with successes, full of life learning, personal challenge, and stretching.

I loved the leadership principles each gave. Her are a few passages I highlighted:

“Character is at the core of how we lead. Character comes from our identity … and our identity shaped by Christ is a spiritual discipline helped much by loving friendships and our personal devotion to the Bible” – Lorna Dueck (Kindle Location 328).

“Faithful leaders are only as effective as they are dependent on God” – Carolyn Arends (KL 1247).

“Every leader I know has been influenced by someone who modeled the core aspects of leadership: character, integrity, and a strong work ethic” – Janet Epp Buckingham (KL 1906).

“Working in your giftings, calling and abilities always gives you energy” – Janet Epp Buckingham (KL 1933).

“God is mighty and God is near, working over and above what we desire for our lives and pulling us, like a magnet, to align with His plan” – Joy Smith (KL 2178).

“There are no shortcuts or 10 easy steps in leadership. All seasons, stages, and tests work together to ultimately achieve God’s plan and purposes” – Margaret Gibb (KL 2827).

I highly recommend Faith, Life, and Leadership to Christian women in Canada, indeed, Christian women anywhere. These inspiring stories show how God is never limited by our lacks, be those a good family, inborn leadership traits, money, talents and natural strengths, doors that seem to be closed, even opposition to the leadership of women from within the church. This book would make a wonderful resource for Christian women preparing for leadership and for women’s Bible study and reading groups.

This book is part of my own Kindle collection.

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In a Foreign Land (review)

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In a Foreign Land (In Search of Freedom Book 2)In a Foreign Land by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel and Luise Martens have built up a successful farm in northern China. The year is 1945 and fifteen years have passed since the Mennonite villagers from Slavgorod Colony of Western Siberia have escaped their Russian oppressors (story told in The Other Side of the River: Search for Freedom Book 1 – reviewed here).

Alarm bells ring from the opening pages when we discover Daniel’s Russian nemesis, Leonid Dubrowsky, is still alive and hot on Daniel’s heels for revenge.

The political unrest in Russia and China after WWII makes for a time of unrest in northern China. Daniel and other Russians who fled the Soviet Union are soon arrested and returned there as traitors. This leaves Luise and her 15-year-old bright but hot-tempered son Danny in charge of the farm.

The story takes us through the six years that follow. The fractured Martens family and their white neighbours, the Giesingers, become persona non grata in the now racially charged climate of Communist China. Danny’s temper gets him into trouble more than once. And then there’s the ever-looming shadow of Dubrowsky, who nurses the dream of wreaking vengeance on Daniel by destroying Danny and having his way with Luise.

The interesting historical plot is enhanced by the strong Christian faith of Luise and Rachel (Danny’s special childhood friend). It anchors the two families, while Danny’s questions and inability to believe that God even exists in all this turmoil adds realism to the faith aspect of the story.

I found this tale captivating from beginning to end. Dick tells the story through various viewpoints but chapters are titled with location and date so we’re always clear about when and where the incident takes place. Characters are realistic and complex. The plot is full of tension and suspense.

There is one more installment in the In Search of Freedom series. Book 3, Far Side of the Sea, is due to be released in the fall / winter of 2017.

This is a series not to be missed for historical fiction lovers, especially those with Mennonite roots.

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The Parables of Jesus Coloring Book (review)

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Parables-CBThe Parables of Jesus Coloring Book Devotional by Laura James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Parables of Jesus is a coloring book and devotional in one. Each of its 46 readings focuses on one of Jesus’ parables. The coloring picture that follows relates to the reading.

The devotional readings begin with the parable or part of it quoted from the Bible. The entry lists, as well, other places in the gospels where Jesus tells the same story.

The devotional readings include a variety of things such as explanations of the first-century customs behind the word pictures in Jesus’ story, how the people in Jesus’ day might have understood the parable, and a practical application from Jesus’ picturesque stories to our twenty-first century lives.

Devotions end sometimes with a prayer, sometimes with a question to answer, and sometimes with a challenge of how to apply the parable to life. Devotional pages are framed on one corner with a leafy border—also to color.

The pictures that follow each devotional illustrate the parable. There are lots of scenes with people as well as objects. The style of the people in the pictures reminded me of figures found in Egyptian art. The “About the Author” section of the book’s listing identify the style: “… reminiscent of Ethiopian Christian Art.”

Each devotion and coloring picture is printed on the right-hand (odd-numbered) side of the page with the opposite side blank—except for when the devotion needs more than one page, and it completes overleaf. The book is printed on heavy white paper, suitable for a variety of coloring media.

The book concludes with two lined pages for notes.

I found the devotions drew me in and helped me to know how to better relate to and apply these familiar but sometimes mysterious stories.

The format with its left-side pages of white space made the book feel uncluttered and peaceful. Users could write their own thoughts and responses to the devotions in the space or leave it blank.

The consistent style of the drawings throughout gives this coloring book the appearance of an illustrated picture book. The illustrations would only be enhanced with color added, making it a perfect book to color and give away as an illustrated devotional.

This is a beautiful and inspiring book, designed to provide hours of coloring meditation.

I received The Parables of Jesus Coloring Book Devotional as a gift from Hachette Book Group for the purpose of writing a review.

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Joyful Inspirations (review)

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Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book: With Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your SoulJoyful Inspirations Coloring Book: With Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your Soul by Robin Mead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book contains 90 square (8.75 x 8.75-inch) page spreads to color. The book’s heavy white paper is printed on both sides. Many of the pages contain inspirational quotes—most from the Bible and a few from famous people.

Though there is no formal index or table of contents, the book seems to sort itself into five sections:
1] Flowery creations.
2] Scenes with buildings—towns churches and cathedrals.
3] Scenes with children.
4] Creatures—birds, butterflies, fish, insects.
5] Landscapes—with lots of setting/rising suns and a nightscape or two.

The book ends with two pages of information: 1] a list of the artist’s favorite coloring products, 2] ten coloring tips.

The pictures are lighthearted, happy, and indeed inspiring. I noted that the black outlines of objects to color were heavier than in some adult coloring books and many of the objects not as tiny. That, together with the section featuring children, suggests to me this book might be a good choice for children as well as adults.

An adult friend who does a lot of coloring, especially while traveling, mentioned that the stiff binding of this and other adult coloring books was a drawback in that they tend not to lay flat. A coil binding would remedy that.

All in all, this is a beautiful book that promises hours and hours of inspirational coloring fun and relaxation.

I received Joyful Inspirations as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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