Blood Ties – review

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Blood Ties by Tracy Krauss



My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In Blood Ties, Book 2 of Tracy Krauss’s Three Strand Cord series, we again get involved in the lives of Stella, Tempest, and Cherise.

College-educated Stella returns to her ranch home in Texas to find both ranch-hand brothers in love with her.

Dirk, Cherise’s brother, falls for Tempest but when she doesn’t reciprocate, this rich sometime-playboy decides to volunteer at a Mexican orphanage (maybe this new leaf will convince Tempest that he really has changed).

Cherise, meanwhile, gets involved in a relationship with one of Stella’s friends but, unable to face hurting him due to her track-record of short-term serial romances, decides to join Dirk at the orphanage. There, confronted by the superficiality of their lifestyles the siblings, Dirk and Cherise, are challenged to look for deeper meaning and purpose.

A mean-spirited computer hacker in Texas and suspected drug activity out of the orphanage add danger and suspense to this contemporary romance.

Though some of the shenanigans of Cherise and others would put this book (and the series) into the edgy category, the message of God’s love and ability to change hearts, desires, and actions comes across loud and clear. That dual focus makes the series relatable to contemporary young people, Christian and non-Christian.

I received a copy of Blood Ties as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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Three Strand Cord (review)

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Three Strand Cord by Tracy Krauss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The friendship bracelets that Stella, Cherise, and Tempest braid for each other in elementary school come to symbolize the ties that bind them long past their school days. However, when they meet again as young adults, their varied interests, experiences, social status, and temperaments have set them on vastly different paths. This makes for lots of conflict as their loyalties to each other compete with good sense, ethics, and even self-preservation.

Cherise, the rich bad girl of the trio, traps her girlfriends and others in a net of trouble when she decides to do whatever it takes to follow her latest boyfriend to Italy. Meanwhile Tempest, the professing Christian of the three, struggles with her part in Cherise’s deception, which involves living a lie of her own.

Krauss’s romantic suspense is well-written, has interesting characters, lots of action, many surprises, and Christian spiritual elements throughout.

I received a copy of Three Strand Cord from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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Calm Before the Storm (review)

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Calm Before the Storm by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The year is 1914. All is idyllic on the Hildebrandt’s Succoth estate in Crimea—but for the death of mother. This has left the well-to-do Hildebrandt family (father Heinrich, children Katarina [16], Maria [14], Peter, Nicholas, and Anna) wifeless, motherless, and without a teacher. Enter Johann Suderman, a young teacher from the Mennonite Molotschna Colony, whom Heinrich soon employs to tutor the youngest children.

The beginning of World War I together with growing tensions between the land-wealthy Mennonites and their poor Russian neighbours heightens suspense and brings a sense of foreboding. Through Johann’s Russian friend Paul Tekanin we see Bolshevism and the revolutionary movement take root. The Hildebrandt’s and Johann’s connections of family and friends in the Molotschna Colony make us privy to premonitions of change coming there as well.

A blossoming romance, that ripens like the sweet fruit of the Succoth orchard, ramps up emotional interest. Watching characters flesh out gradations of spiritual faith, from rote religion to a deeply personal relationship with God, challenges us to examine where we are in the practice of the faith we claim to have.

Calm Before the Storm is beautifully written. Characters are believable and sympathetic (even the not-so-favourite ones). Dick does a great job of placing us in the setting with masterful broad-brush descriptions of the landscape to fine-painted details of cottage and barn. I could all but taste the familiar foods—the zwieback, rollkuchen, borscht, and cracklings of my youth—which load the tables of these forefathers and foremothers.

Calm Before the Storm is a wonderful read for any lover of historical fiction and a must-read for the student of Mennonite history. I can’t wait for the release of Book 2, Eye of the Storm, hopefully later this year.


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Beyond the Purple Sky – review

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Beyond The Purple Sky by Eunice Cooper-Matchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In dramatic scenes fueled by an informed imagination, Cooper-Matchett takes us into a little-known time in Israel’s history. The Jews are in exile in Babylon. Zerubbabel—a brilliant Jewish lad and companion of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar and sister Belshalti-Nanner, is being groomed for service to Babylonian royalty.

However, Zerubbabel also feels the tug of his Jewish heritage. We follow him as he matures to adulthood and is challenged with the ultimate assignment—to lead his people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The cost is great and the pursuit of his divine destiny—predicted by prophets Daniel, Zechariah, and Haggai—tests him to the core even as it highlights God’s intricate plan for His people.

Matchett’s writing is tight, her story-telling taut and filled with Middle Eastern sights, sounds, smells, and machismo. Beyond the Purple Sky is a good read!




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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.

YesterCanada (review)

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YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and AdventureYesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure by Elma Schemenauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In YesterCanada Elma Schemenauer tells thirty historical tales of Canada.

Using her considerable story telling skill she puts us right into the various Canadian settings these stories inhabit, from the grassy fragrance of the Saskatchewan prairie, to the bone chill of the arctic, to the salt spray of the seaboards, east and west.

What a fun read! You’ll find individuals, mysteries, wonders, and heroes aplenty in these 230 pages.This book is a must-have for all Canadian 150th birthday memorabilia collectors (a celebration just around the corner in 2017).

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Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? (review)

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Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention?Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? by John Murray Cpd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After he had written a memoir about his childhood, John Murray’s wife asked him, “When are you going to write about your experiences in Eastern Europe?” Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? is that book.

In it Murray tells many fascinating stories from his twenty-year stint as the Executive Director of Euroevangelism Canada and supplements these anecdotes with Bible teaching.

The telling is organized in eight chapters, each titled with a question: “Does God Care?”, “Does God Answer Prayer?”, “Does God Heal?” etc. Within the chapters he relates incidents that happened to him and others that speak to the chapter’s question. He also explores what the Bible says, sharing rich insights developed over a lifetime of pastoral and missionary work. Each chapter ends with a “Guide for Group Study” section that includes a Bible reading and discussion questions.

I loved this book for its inspiring stories, like the one Murray tells in the chapter “Does God Protect?”:

Some Christians in Budapest had bought a derelict restaurant to renovate into a church. Due to low funds members of the congregation were doing most of the work. Every week the place was busy with volunteers.

Regularly on Friday mornings the church leadership had a prayer meeting to pray especially for the renovations. During one of these prayer meetings a deacon said he felt they should pray about the roof, though he didn’t know what to pray for specifically.

On a Saturday morning not long after, when forty people were working on the building, a man working in the rafters caught his hammer on something made of metal. The movement dislodged the object, it fell, and banged hard onto the concrete floor below.

The object turned out to be an unexploded WWII bomb which, the army bomb squad later told them, was live. The army men couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t exploded on impact (pp. 101-103).

I also loved this book for its teaching, like this bit from the chapter: “Does God Intervene?”:

“Whether we are looking for healing, for guidance, for comfort, or any other aspect of God’s intervention in our lives, we are encouraged to look in the right place. we have been given the Word of God so that God can speak through it. We have been given the privileged channel of prayer by which we can share with Him our devotion, our worship, our thanksgiving, and our supplications. We have been given the ministry of God’s Spirit within our lives to guide us in all areas. The Spirit of God is also the one who plants the gift of faith within us, so that we might look expectantly for God to work. We ask, and then we wait. The waiting is the most difficult part” p. 142.

The amazing stories and wise insights in John Murray’s Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? will help grow your faith high and deep. I recommend it.

This book is part of my own collection.

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Dancing in the Reflections (review)

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DancingDancing in the Reflections by Patricia Mussolum

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Dancing in the Reflections, Patricia Mussolum rejoices in the beauty of nature and the simple pleasures of home. Dancing is full of stories of God’s simple gifts to her—like an armful of lilacs when she was hankering for a small bouquet, or the assurance, through a deer, a fawn, and rabbit, that God loved her on a day she felt like a failure. Any of us who have collected such moments of our own will find ourselves saying “yes,” and “yes” again as we read this memoir.

Mussolum adds to the significance of her stories by finding spiritual lessons in them. Her knowledge of the Bible and love for it are obvious. Inevitably she casts thanks back to God for the ordinary “miracles” that once filled the box in her living room as a collection of notes, and now make up the contents of this book.

As I read her descriptive stories I felt like I was having a visit with a warm and upbeat friend. The short chapters would make this book a good choice for devotional or waiting-room reading.

Don’t be surprised, though, if Mussolum’s recollections get you to do more than just read. They may have you recalling God’s goodness in your life—and fattening a journal with your own danceable remembrances.

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The End Begins (review)

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The End Begins (cover) The End Begins by Sara Davison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s October of 2053. After a series of terrorist attacks, for which a fringe Christian group has claimed responsibility, Canada is under martial law. For feisty Meryn O’Reilly, soldiers storming into the service of the Kingston church she attends is just the beginning of trouble in Sara Davison’s futuristic romantic suspense The End Begins.

For his part, Captain Jesse Christianson isn’t exactly comfortable with enforcing orders to detain and question “… every adult in the building.” This day he lets Meryn leave with only a warning. But the memory of her spunky attitude and defiant blue eyes won’t leave him alone.

More trouble follows for Meryn when she secretly orders Bibles and begins smuggling them to whoever she feels needs them the most. Inevitably the ordered and predictable life she knows becomes something else altogether in the Christians-are-lepers social climate. Meanwhile Jesse fights his own war between duty and desire.

Davis’s story gave me an appreciation for the freedoms we still have. At the same time it made me consider a lot of what ifs, like, what if it was illegal to be a Christian? What if it was against the law to own a Bible? What if obeying God meant committing civil disobedience? The End Begins is a gripping story of a fictional future I hope the Christian church doesn’t have to face any time soon. And, as the title implies, it’s only the beginning. This is the first book in Davis’s The Seven Trilogy.

The book ends with a set of discussion questions making it a good choice for book clubs.

The End Begins is part of my own Kindle collection.

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Flex Your Spirit (review)

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Flex Your Spirit (Fit for Faith)Flex Your Spirit by Kimberley Payne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Flex Your Spirit—Discover a New Way to Express Yourself with God Through Journal Writing and Stretching, author and lifestyle coach Kimberley Payne promises to “…unite physical and spiritual health to help you lose weight and develop a deeper relationship with God” – Flex Your Spirit, p. 5.

She explains how this can happen in three sections of the book. Chapters 1-3 deal with physical stretching. Chapter 1 (“Stretch Your Body”) answers the question what are stretching exercises, lists their benefits, and explains how they differ from warm-ups. Chapter 2 (“Stretching Strategies that Work”) describes how to get the most out of stretch exercises (though it doesn’t give details on specific exercises). Chapter 3 (“Stretching Goal Planning”) lists five questions to ask ourselves as we set exercise goals.

In the second section (Chapters 4-6) Payne talks about spiritual journaling, something she suggests will benefit us spiritually in the same way physical stretches help our body. In Chapter 4 (“Stretch Your Spirit”) she describes what journaling is and how it equates to stretches. Chapter 5 (“Journal Writing Strategies that Work”) and Chapter 6 (“Journal Writing Goal Planning”) list journaling tips and suggest journaling goals.

The third section (Chapter 7-8) is a review of all that we’ve learned (Ch. 7 – “Test Your Knowledge”) and (Ch. 8) an “Action Plan” of how to actually fit regular stretches and journaling into our lifestyle.

This book is short—only 24 pages of content. But in that small amount of space Payne manages to say plenty. Her writing is always easy to understand. With efficient simplicity she dispenses information, encouragement, and inspiration. The examples and worksheets she includes show us how to move forward with the “Flex Your Spirit” program.

This little booklet would be an excellent manual for women’s groups, whose goal it is to develop more than just a toned body. It would also be a great addition to any personal library, and a fine companion to that list of New Year’s Resolutions we re-construct yearly.

I received Flex Your Spirit as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review. Visit Kimberley Payne’s website to see other lifestyle materials Kimberley has authored and is offering as books, e-courses, and free programs.

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