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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Appalachian Serenade (review)

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Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When 33-year-old widow Delilah Morrissey comes back home to Wise, West Virginia to live with her sister Charlotte, husband Ed and daughter Perla, she’s not the happiest person. Her husband of 14 years has recently died but his disastrous handling of their money has left her penniless. She had a good job in Chicago but it’s 1945, the war has recently ended, and her job has been given to a returning soldier. When she overhears Ed grousing to Charlotte about her being an imposition, she determines to help out in any way she can.

Robert Thornton, upper-30s bachelor, owns the general store in Wise. He loves chatting with his customers but his garrulous manner doesn’t make for efficiency when it comes to serving people quickly and he can’t seem to keep good help. Pretty Delilah catches his eye when she makes her first trip into town. She aids a fellow female customer and her intuitive advice has Robert daydreaming about how great her presence would be for business.

A donkey-drawn pony cart, lots of misunderstandings between these middle-aged singles, plus the reappearance of Robert’s old flame, newly separated but now with four kids in tow, add spice and humor to this historical romance novella.

Delilah and Bob’s decisions are molded by their faith and their romance is thoroughly chaste (in other words, no hot-and-heavy love scenes).

Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas is a prequel to her first full-length book, Miracle in a Dry Season, which picks up the story of Delilah’s niece Perla in 1954. As of this writing, Appalachian Serenade is a free Kindle download at Amazon.com. (It also contains the first few chapters of Miracle in a Dry Land, Book 1 in the Appalachian Blessings series, which I actually enjoyed more than Appalachian Serenade. Miracle in a Dry Season is scheduled to release in early August 2014.)

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