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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A Giving Heart (review)

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A Giving Heart

A Giving Heart – front cover

This stylish adult coloring book includes 46 coloring pages that incorporate sayings from the Bible and quotes from famous people. It honors mothers and motherhood.

There is nice variety in picture design styles in the coloring pages. These include intricately decorated pictures similar to the one on the front cover, square and rectangular pieces where words are in the spotlight, round mandala-like designs, messages enclosed in decorative wreaths, stylized objects familiar to modern North American moms (like take-out coffee cups, camera, sewing machine,  ball of yarn, and the teacup pictured on the back cover), and full-page designs. The drawings are detailed, youthful, lighthearted, and whimsical.

Coloring pages are printed on the right-hand side, one side only, making it possible to detach them to frame or give away as gifts (though the spine edges are not perforated to make for easy tear-outs). The reverse (left) side of many of the coloring pages is printed with a Bible verse or quote that coordinates with the picture on its opposite side—not the picture that appears to the right of it in the opened book.

This 96-page volume is printed on heavy white paper. I tried out a variety of media on it—Artist’s Loft Watercolor Duo-tip Markers, Crayola Metallic Markers, Accent Sharpies, and regular Sharpies. The only bleed-through I got was from the regular Sharpies.

A Giving Heart-back

A Giving Heart – back cover

This lovely book would make a perfect gift for a new mom, or any mom for that matter, who would enjoy unwinding after a hectic day by beautifying affirming words like, “Thank God for mothers,” “Clothe yourself with tenderhearted mercy, kindness & humility – Col 3:12 NLT,” and “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me – Abraham Lincoln.”

I received A Giving Heart as a gift from Hachette Book Group for the purpose of writing a review.

No Limits (review)

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No Limits: Blow the CAP Off Your CapacityNo Limits: Blow the CAP Off Your Capacity by John C. Maxwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though he’ll be 70 this year, John C. Maxwell is still going strong. No Limits, his latest book, gives readers an understanding of what drives him with lots of how-to on staying productive themselves long after one would expect their batteries to be drained.

The book’s organization is based on Maxwell’s formula for reaching maximum capacity: “If you grow in your awareness, develop your abilities and make the right choices, you can reach your capacity” – p. 2.

The first section of only two chapters, explores awareness. The second seven-chapter block focuses on abilities. Maxwell discusses abilities in many spheres including energy, emotion, thinking, people, and leadership. The last eleven-chapter section focuses on choices. It challenges readers to increase personal capacity and the capacity of the group they’re leading by making the right choices in areas like taking responsibility, being intentional, having a positive attitude, faith, being a good partner, and more.

Though the book targets leaders in the world of work, it also has much to offer individuals who lead in informal ways.

I found this book wide-ranging, positive, encouraging, and wise, though it did leave me wondering where Maxwell gets the seemingly boundless energy he has for work, family, and friends. His recitation of the activities of only one of his days left me tired. How does he manage to live such a full and productive life? I would say by actually living his own advice.

Even as I read it, I realized, this is not me. So, though I personally will not be trying everything in this book, I did find myself underlining passages all over the place and will, in the days ahead, implement more than one of Maxwell’s suggestions to hopefully boost my own capacity and productivity.

Here are a few of my favorite bits:

From Thinking Capacity: “Writing about an idea gives your thinking intellectual weight. It creates clarity in your thinking. Talking about an idea gives it emotional weight. It connects your thinking to your heart – p. 83.

From Creative Capacity: “You will become as creative as the amount of time you set aside for it…. There is a relationship between scheduling a time to be creative and being inspired to create” – p. 129.

From Production Capacity: “Find ways to focus your time and attention and work toward eliminating from your schedule anything that doesn’t have a high return” – p. 145.

From Character Capacity: “Good character uses the same standard in every situation. It something is right, it’s always right. If it’s wrong, it’s always wrong. People with good character are consistent” p. 190.

From Discipline Capacity quoting Steven R. Covey: “Once you have a burning yes inside you about what’s truly important, it’s very easy t say no to the unimportant” – p. 214.

This would be a great book for leaders in any field, as well as young people entering the work force, middle-aged workers who are considering where they’ve been and asking where to now, and healthy, energetic seniors who want to make the most of the years remaining.

I received No Limits as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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