Calm Before the Storm (review)

Leave a comment

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.


View all my reviews

Beyond the Purple Sky – review

Leave a comment

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!




View all my reviews

Keeping Up With the Neighbours (review)

2 Comments

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)

Leave a comment

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).

View all my reviews

Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? (review)

Leave a comment

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.

View all my reviews

Dancing in the Reflections (review)

Leave a comment

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.

View all my reviews

The End Begins (review)

Leave a comment

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.

View all my reviews

Flex Your Spirit (review)

2 Comments

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.

View all my reviews

Without Proof (review)

2 Comments

Without Proof (Redemption's Edge, #3)Without Proof by Janet Sketchley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two years after her fiancé Gilles died beside her in the cockpit of the plane he crash-landed on a Nova Scotia highway, Amy Silver is getting back on her feet emotionally and physically. She has even taken off the gold chain that held Gilles’ engagement ring. Then comes the day reporter Troy Hicks makes an unwelcome appearance at the Stratton Art Gallery where Amy works.

He is full of questions. Despite that the police investigation concluded the crash was an accident, is Amy sure? He’s heard rumors of foul play. Will she help him dig deeper?

Troy’s snooping around followed by his article in the paper starts a series of events that make Amy more suspicious than ever that the plane malfunction of that awful day was no mishap after all. But should she try to prove it? At what price?

Gilles’ good friend, artist Michael Stratton now Amy’s boss at the gallery, begins acting strangely too—protective, even possessive. Trouble is, she has begun to fall for him. So what do his actions mean? They’re probably loyalty to Gilles, big-brotherly care, or even emotional instability—surely not a sign of the deepening relationship she hardly lets herself dream about.

In Without Proof, the final book in the three-book Redemption’s Edge romantic suspense series, author Janet Sketchley introduces threats, danger, and mystery into the homey tranquility of Stratton Gallery, the gallery / residence Amy, Aunt Bay, and Michael share. Soon the sinister lurks behind each phone call and text message.

We view unfolding events through Amy’s eyes and wonder, is art buyer Ross Zarin the considerate gentleman he appears to be? Why is Gilles’ sister Emilie so desperate to get Amy out of the way? Is Michael’s concern for her genuine or the first sign of a stalker-in-the-making?

Without Proof addresses many important themes including fear, forgiveness, and self-acceptance. Through the unflinching Christian faith of Aunt Bay, Amy faces her own feelings of unworthiness. Through the testimony of Ruth Warner (from book 1 of the series) Amy realizes she needs to forgive her absent father. There’s also the sweet, but never cloying, romantic side of the story that had me cheering for Amy from the first page.

Sketchley’s skillful way with words kept me spellbound until the story’s last action-packed scene. Though this book ends the series, let’s hope Sketchley has some more romantic suspense brewing in her Nova Scotia study!

I received Without Proof as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews

Threaten to Undo Us (review)

Leave a comment

Threaten to Undo UsThreaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin meet in Yalta in 1945 to carve up the WWII German-conquered lands, someone suggests that German-occupied Prussia and Pomerania should be part of the new Poland. While Churchill demurs, fearing that this will lead to more bloodshed, Stalin’s cavalier “Most have fled the region” wins the day. This scene in the Introduction sets the stage for what happens to the main character Liesel Hoffman and her five children in Rose Seilor Scott’s WW II historical, Threaten to Undo Us.

In the book, Scott tells the story of WWII through a German point of view. Liesel and her husband Ernst live peacefully alongside their Polish-speaking neighbors in a village near Lodz, Poland until Hitler begins flexing his muscles. Ernst’s brother Gunter is the first family member to be lured by the spell of Third Reich. He pressures Ernst to join the army, even though Ernst and Liesel are uncomfortable with the expulsion of their Jewish neighbors and the expropriation of Polish properties for the resettlement of German people.

As Scott takes us through the war, we experience the long separations of the family as Ernst goes to the front while Liesel is left to care for their young family of five and her aging parents. After the brutal Russian winter of the German siege when the German army is defeated and forced to retreat, the tide also turns in the village. Poles seeking revenge and retribution for what the Germans have done to them force Liesel and her little ones to flee the family farm. Brutalized by drunken Russian soldiers, Liesel is eventually separated from her children and forced into hard labor in a prison camp. After five years of not hearing from Ernst she fears he too has perished. Is her life even worth living any more?

The telling is not strictly chronological but jumps around in time. However the time shifts are mentioned in the chapter titles so one is never lost. I enjoyed the factual historical touches that head some chapters, like quoted excerpts from treaties, giving a sense of what is happening on the world scene that relates to this area of Europe.

This is a grueling story, realistically yet tastefully told. Though often dark and difficult, it illustrates the strength of the human spirit, the tenacity of a mother’s love, and how faith in God can be an anchor even in the worst situations.

I think this is the first WWII story told from a German point-of-view that I’ve read. Though after the war ended the world vilified Germany and the German people en masse, this tale points to a subtler reality. Thousands, perhaps millions of Germans were victims of Hitler too, conscripted into his army, brainwashed with lies about racial superiority, forced to go along with his treatment of the Jews, and pressured to enroll their children into his youth movement. When the war ended, the tables were turned when Germans outside of Germany were arrested, accused of being war criminals, spies etc., and tortured in the same way the Nazis had tortured them.

I found this a thoroughly engrossing and well-plotted read with my interest high until the last page. I’d recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction and especially those interested in the story of World War II.

I received Threaten to Undo Us as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews