Tag Archives: family

Review: Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

Family dynamics, faith, coming-of-age, and gentle romance, all set in the turbulent days leading up to the Russian Revolution.

From a haven-like estate in Crimea to impoverished rooms on the wrong side of town in St. Petersburg, from starving soldiers near the front lines of World War 1 to a private hospital for the mentally ill, and with other settings along the way, Calm Before the Storm evokes 1914-1916 Russia as experienced by the Hildebrandt family and their friends.

The Hildebrandts are Russian Mennonites, people of German heritage whose ties to this land only go back a hundred or so years. As the poorer classes grow more desperate for political reform, hostility also brews toward these “German” Russians.

Katarina Hidebrandt is a young woman who sees the best in everyone, yet she must acknowledge the growing tension and the sense that life is about to change. As her family separates and the young teacher she loves is sent to serve in the hopeless war effort, she learns to rely on her faith and to make what difference she can in her world.

What could be a depressingly heavy tale is instead told with a careful touch, beautiful descriptions, and traces of humour. The characters are honest in their questions and their choices, and somehow despite the pain they find hope (most of them).

As well as providing a fascinating glimpse into this period of history, the novel resonates particularly well with the brooding uncertainty of 2020. Katarina’s struggles in the face of unwanted change and trouble can help readers who are feeling the same concerns even if our situations are different.

It’s not a preachy story, but Katarina’s and others’ examples of living out their faith give us clues we may take to heart. I feel a bit better-equipped to face my own doubts when they sneak up on me again.

Some favourite lines:

The Juschanlee River wandered westward over the Russian steppes, collecting little villages on its meandering way… (Chapter 1)

“The air is so clean and clear, like it’s been washed and left to dry in the sun.” (Johann, in Chapter 5)

“In political crises people cease to view others as people, and instead consider them merely a means toward an end or, in this case, an obstacle to a desired end.” (Heinrich, Chapter 6… timely, no?)

“Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is in God’s hands. No regrets, no worries. I can put all my energies into this day.” (Katarina, Chapter 8, but this peace was not easily won)

Calm Before the Storm is book 1 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series. Book 2, Eye of the Storm, is expected to release in December 2020. The series was originally published by Herald Press and is now out of print. I’m glad to see new editions being released in print and ebooks as part of The Mosaic Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit her website.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: When Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson

Wen Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson

When Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson (His Image Publications, 2019)

Mikayla Gordon’s discovery of a family secret sets her on a quest to find answers. In the process she may find herself—and find God. 

Mikayla is the outdoor, adventurous type, thriving from childhood on fishing with her father. Her journey takes her away from her magazine-writer job on a cross-country trek, with a tiny dog as her travel buddy.

From her native Minnesota, Mikayla ends up Colorado, where the mountains capture her heart. Camp director Dawson Dunne, who offers her a temporary job, may claim her heart too, although Mikayla’s committed to returning home in time for her sister’s wedding.

The scenery in this novel makes it a beautiful place to linger, and I enjoyed hanging out with the characters. Mikayla’s anger and hurt takes time to work through, but the kind people she meets are a balm to her and to readers as well.

Favourite lines:

“No use hurrying through life when all we have is what’s here in front of us.” [Kindle edition, page 75]

Layers of jagged mountain peaks surrounded them, from green and detailed in front to a hazy blue in the distance. Thick forests spread like carpeting, a river winding through the valley. [Kindle edition, page 178]

Recommended for nature lovers, this gentle story of self-discovery and romance includes themes of disappointment, family secrets, forgiveness, faith, and relationships. The bond between Mikayla and her two sisters is warm and strong, despite their very different personalities.

When Mountains Sing is book 1 in the My Father’s House Series, and it’s one of the books in The Mosaic Collection. Visit stacymonson.com to learn more about author Stacy Monson and her books.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: The Printed Letter Bookshop, by Katherine Reay

The Printed Letter Bookshop, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

Friendship, self-discovery, love, and a celebration of reading—and of independent bookstores.

Maddie Cullen had a knack for engaging with her customers and knowing the right book to suggest. When she died, she left envelopes for her two employees and her estranged niece. Each woman’s letter included a Bible passage and a list of books.

Madeline, her niece, inherited the store but doesn’t want to keep it. Claire and Janet, Maddie’s employees who supported her through her final days, wish the new owner would just let them carry on the business as usual. As the three women work together, each also reading the books Maddie’s letter “assigned,” they develop a strong friendship and each grow toward the potential Maddie had seen in them.

Each woman’s point of view is written in a different tense: first-person past, third-person past, and third-person present. I always find that sort of delivery jarring, and I confess I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. All three were a bit of a mess at first.

I’m glad I stuck with it, because it’s a heartwarming story. As it progressed I grew to care for each of them. And I wish I could visit the bookstore!

For more about Katherine Reay and her books, and for book club resources, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon

Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon | Christian fiction, Australia, Bible storytelling, cancer, family
Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon (2018)

Author Christine Dillon’s fiction tackles some of the hard issues that Christians face in the real world. In Grace in Strange Disguise, the challenge was “what happens when the prayer of faith doesn’t heal?” In Grace in the Shadows, it’s “how—and why—would God love me, after what I’ve done?”

Book one’s Esther believed her faith wasn’t good enough, and book two’s Rachel believes she isn’t good enough. They both must overcome negative father influences and false ideas of who God really is.

Readers of book one will be glad to see Esther and her family again. Grace in the Shadows is Rachel’s story, but Esther has plenty of point-of-view time as well.

Rachel is resisting God’s call, while Esther, who’s been growing in faith, comes face-to-face with the realization that she needs to re-learn some of the lessons He’s already walked her through. Isn’t that typical of most Christians in our spiritual lives?

What keeps the Grace books from feeling preachy is that the conversations about God and faith are natural to the characters and their struggles. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on real people who are working these things through in their lives. Here are some of the lines that resonated with me:

“God loves to take the worst things and bring good out of them.” [Naomi, Kindle location 202]

Esther always wanted to rush in and explain, but Joy kept saying, “Use questions, not explanations.” [Kindle location 856]

“Your mistakes can’t derail God’s plans. You and I aren’t big enough to do that.” [Naomi, Kindle location 1801]

I didn’t engage as fully in this story as in the previous one, but I attribute that to the different subject and to having already encountered the Bible storytelling theme in book one. There is perhaps a storyteller voice to the narrative, instead of the deeper point of view that’s common these days, and this can make it easier to maintain a bit of reader distance. Yet the novel is well-executed, and the characters’ experiences are worthy of our time and can encourage us in our own daily lives.

And the ending is beautiful.

Christine Dillon is a missionary whose tag-line is “multiplying disciples one story at a time,” and the author of the Grace fiction series. She has also written non-fiction books about the Bible storytelling approach. For more about the author, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

The Importance of Community (Guest Post)

The Importance of Community

by Steph Beth Nickel

We're created for communityAccountability Partner

My hubby and I are going to Jasper, Alberta this summer. Dave has been dreaming for decades about showing me his favourite place in the world.

Because he wants to hike when we’re there, Dave feels the need to improve his cardio endurance. So, earlier this week, he decided to get a gym membership. Mine has been dormant for quite a while despite my best intentions, but this will get us there every other day. At least that’s the plan.

Many people are more motivated to work out if someone else is counting on them. Accountability is a very good thing. I happen to enjoy exercise but keep putting it off if I’m not answerable to anyone.

The benefits of accountability and community aren’t restricted to fitness endeavours.

Christian Community

Just this week at our staff prayer meeting (I work as administrator at our church), we discussed the importance of coming together to pray, worship, and fellowship.

For good reason, in Hebrews 10:24-25, God instructs, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together . . .” (ESV)

These are among my favourite verses in Scripture. They overflow with a sense of community and our role within that community. Each of us has something of value to offer. It’s significant that the Bible refers to believers in Jesus Christ as not only members of the same family but also parts of the same body. We really do need one another. In fact, each one is indispensable.

We are to encourage, build up, and keep one another accountable.

One Anothers

In fact, the Bible overflows with “one another” statements:

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10 ESV). What an amazing community we’d have if we obeyed these directives!

“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16 ESV). Harmony … such a sweet word!

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7 ESV).

We can only obey these commands and the numerous other “one anothers” throughout the Scriptures in the context of community.

Worth the Risk

Granted, there are risks involved. We’ve all been hurt by others. And if we’re honest, we’ll admit we’ve hurt others as well.

If larger groups are too difficult to face, we can seek out at least one other person who will support us and keep us accountable. We may then want to become part of a small group. Our Growth Group has been a real blessing, a safe place to “do life” with one another. And being part of a local fellowship gives us lots of opportunities to come alongside one another, to minister using our unique gifts and abilities, and to fulfill God’s plans for us.

Do you have a support system? Do you offer support to others? Are you part of a Christian community?

(Scroll down to share your comment.)

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Review: The Things We Knew, by Catherine West

The Things We Knew, by Catherine WestThe Things We Knew, by Catherine West (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Lynette Carlisle can’t remember what happened the day her mother died, but she was there. Now, in her dreams, it feels like her mother wants to tell her something. Or is it her own mind trying to communicate with her?

Lynette divides her time between her daycare job and caring for her father, who exhibits signs of dementia. The family home on Nantucket Island is falling down around her. Her older brothers and sister have left the area and are too wrapped up in their own lives to realize how much help she needs.

It takes a crisis to force her family to come home. Nick Cooper, who grew up with them, has also come home. Also not by choice. Being together again brings past hurts to light and reveals present turmoil each one is trying to hide. This family may have drifted apart, but they’re ashamed to let their siblings see their hurts.

Beautifully crafted and satisfying, The Things We Knew is a novel about family secrets and ties, about extending grace and finding hope. For Lynette and Nick, it’s even a chance at love.

Rich in setting and in relational dynamics, this is a novel worth enjoying. From the first page, I found it one of those rare books whose characters and setting welcomed me into their midst and invited me to stay.

Favourite lines:

The magic he’d felt when he’d first arrived tonight had only been a lost memory trying to find its way home. There was no magic here anymore. Only desolation. [Page 84]

If they were ever going to be free from the past, they needed to exhume it. [Page 274]

Catherine West writes stories of real life, healing, and hope. Her other novels are Bridge of Faith, Hidden in the Heart, and Yesterday’s Tomorrow. For more about the author and her work, visit www.catherinejwest.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]