Tag Archives: Janice L. Dick

Review: Eye of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Eye of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

During the turbulence of the Great War and the Russian Revolution, Eye of the Storm continues to follow the lives of the Hildebrandt family, Russian Mennonite landowners in an era of upheaval, and of Paul Gregorovich Tekanin, revolutionary and journalist.

Setting and circumstances unfold in sweeping historical saga style, giving readers a glimpse into the turmoil of Russia in 1917-1919. We see urban and pastoral, slum and estate, tragedy and hope… and the occasional flash of humour to keep the story from becoming too heavy.

Like the Amish in North America, the Mennonites’ faith teaches pacifism—a choice for which many have been persecuted or killed over the years. Here in this part of Russia where they’d been promised peaceful haven, some are now considering the desperate step of taking up arms to protect their families. Others press into the way of peace with the knowledge that it may cost their lives.

Favourite lines:

“Life is demanding. I believe when once one accepts the fact that it is so, one becomes much freer to make the best of it.” [Maria Hildebrandt’s grandmother, Chapter 2]

“No matter how insignificant or overwhelming our contributions may be, if we act in obedience to God and our conscience, we can make a difference.” [Johann Sudermann, Chapter 3]

The ideas were raw and unchewed, but Paul swallowed them whole, starved as he was for something to fill the enormous void in his life. [Chapter 14]

Reading this novel in the middle of the uncertainty of a global pandemic helped me draw courage from the Hildebrandts’ example. As they struggled to make sense in the darkness and to see their way forward, relying on their faith, I was reminded that for all that changes, much remains the same. Every generation faces difficulties, and somehow that perspective can give us hope.

Eye of the Storm is book 2 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series, originally published by Herald Press and now re-releasing as part of The Mosaic Collection’s historical line. For more about the author, visit janicedick.com. For more about The Mosaic Collection, visit mosaiccollectionbooks.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

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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.]

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Review: The Road to Happenstance, by Janice L. Dick

The Road to Happenstance, by Janice L. Dick

The Road to Happenstance, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

A whimsical town, a host of quirky characters, and events that seem to conspire to keep Matthew Sadler from leaving once he arrives by “happenstance.”

Fleeing painful memories, Matt and his motorcycle are roaring along the highway when a near-accident forces him onto a hidden side road. On the far side of a covered bridge, he discovers the town of Happenstance.

He’ll leave as soon as he gases up. Or after a night’s rest in the charming Happenstance Hotel. Or after he helps the elderly sisters who run the hotel. Or after…

As well as the sisters, he meets Bear, a local mechanic with some unusual turns of phrase, and Veronica, who bears a startling resemblance to his dead wife.

The longer he stays, the more he suspects a mystery behind the hotel’s troubles.

This gently-paced novel will bring smiles—and maybe a wistful longing to find a place like Happenstance in the real world.

Favourite lines:

The road was scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass, a dirt path with a scattering of gravel on top as a sort of apology. [Kindle location 30]

We got whatcha want, unless you want what we don’t got, and then you prob’ly don’t need it. [Bear, describing the town; Kindle location 50]

They came with their offerings of food to their gods of guild and duty and pity, but he would rather have been alone. [Matt remembering the visitors after his wife’s death; Kindle location 1788]

Author Janice L. Dick is known for her faith-filled historical fiction. Although The Road to Happenstance is a contemporary novel, the town’s nostalgic feel lends an impression of stepping back in time, and Matthew’s personal struggles are affected by his faith. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

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

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Review: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Book cover: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2019)

Danny Martens, now a man, was an infant when his Mennonite parents fled the USSR to China in the 1930s. The refugees became farmers, then refugees again. At long last, they’re in a refugee camp in Germany—far from their promised destination in Oregon.

Far Side of the Sea is book 3 in the In Search of Freedom trilogy, beginning in 1951 and spanning 40 years to bring this multi-generational family saga to a satisfying conclusion.

I appreciate the characters, especially Rachel and Luise. Despite their many hardships, these two women live a sincere faith. They don’t deny the pain, but they choose to let it press them closer to their Saviour. Danny carries trauma he won’t share with them, and in his anger at God he bears it alone.

With this novel, we move from a foreign setting to the western US, and from the 1950s (which are still in the historical genre) to 1990, which is recent enough for me to remember. Readers with longer memories will enjoy recognizing nods to their past.

While you could enjoy this novel as a stand-alone, I recommend beginning with book 1, Other Side of the River. Take time to savour the Martens family’s full experience. As difficult as parts of their journey are, there are also moments of laughter. And some well-turned phrases.

Some of my favourite lines from this book:

As Rachel watched Luise from day to day, the older woman grew more tired, more worn. But then, they all felt weary after years of homelessness, persecution and fear, as though their souls were getting thin.

He didn’t even say amen, because now that he’d begun a conversation with God, he didn’t think the dialogue was over. [Danny, after a brief, desperate prayer for help.]

“A broken heart does not heal quickly, but it does mend enough to allow us to live again.” [Brigette, another favourite character, who doesn’t appear often.]

Historical novelist Janice L. Dick has also written Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm, and Out of the Storm, a Mennonite historical series set during the Russian Revolution. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Note: I received an advance review copy from the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Author Interview: Janice L. Dick

Janice L. DickJanice L. Dick is a Canadian author of Christian historical fiction, and she’s celebrating the recent release of her newest novel, In a Foreign Land.

Janet: Welcome, Janice, and thanks for taking time to join us. Let’s start with a few details to place your this book in context on the world stage. Where is it set? What’s the time period, and what are a few world events that would have happened at the same time?

Janice: Hi Janet, and thanks for this opportunity. My latest book is set in northern China between 1945 and 1951. WWII has just ended, China is in turmoil, and the ensuing civil war disrupts every corner of the land.

Janet: You’re a Canadian author, of Russian Mennonite descent, and family stories were part of your childhood. Have some of those anecdotes found their way into your fiction?

Janice: Oh yes. The stories I heard as a child at family gatherings were one of the reasons I started to write these historical fiction books. Some of my characters resemble certain of my forebears, either in character, experience, or both. Turning life into fiction is what I love to do.

Janet: Your In Search of Freedom series was to some extent inspired by a true story. How did that come about?

Janice: I had read about the escape of an entire Mennonite village in far-eastern Russia across a frozen river into China in 1930, and I wanted to retell it in fictional form. I was blessed to discover a little chronicle of the events, Escape Across the Amur River, which was written by participants in the 1940s. I inserted my characters into this milieu.

Janet: Do you have a favourite character in the series?

Janice: The main characters change from book to book, so it’s hard to have a favourite through the entire series, but Luise is my fav for book one, and Danny for book two.

Janet: I can see that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see who’s your favourite in book three. What do you want readers to take away from these books when they’re done?

Janice: The most important takeaway is that God is faithful, no matter what circumstances the characters find themselves in. This is also true in our own lives. The stories are just vehicles to show this truth.

Janet: In a Foreign Land is book 2 in this series. Could a reader start here without getting lost?

Janice: I hope I have written the story clearly enough for a reader to be able to find satisfaction at the end of the book, even without reading the first, and that references to former characters are informed enough to create a full picture. It’s a trick I didn’t get quite right in my first series, so I was mindful of it this time through.

Janet: It’s a tricky balance, to include enough but not too much. What do you have planned for the rest of the series?

Janice: The final book, Far Side of the Sea, is in process. The construction of the book will be somewhat different than the other two, which are written linearly, but I plan to connect it to the others as the final book of the series, tying up any loose threads.

Janet: I’m looking forward to it! In your research, what’s the weirdest bit of trivia you’ve picked up?

Janice: Maybe not weird, but definitely strange, was trying to gather information on post WWII China. That history was rewritten by Mao, and apparently, everything that existed before was destroyed. Even GoogleEarth comes up flat across the Amur River. So I had to dig deeply in order to offer a realistic setting. Thanks to my source for the second book (the man it was written about), I was able to piece together what I wanted to convey.

Janet: GoogleEarth is flat… thanks for making me giggle! Random question time… Chocolate or vanilla? And are you a morning person or a night owl?

Janice: There is only chocolate!

As to the next question, I got this apt description from Facebook and I concur: “I am neither an early bird nor a night owl. I’m some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.” Thanks to whoever made that up; I know I’m not alone.

Janet: Yup, I’m one of those pigeons too. Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

Janice: Lots of space here on the prairies, lots of privacy on the farm, and four of our grandkids only a mile away.

Janet: That sounds idyllic. Thanks for visiting today. I’m looking forward to Far Side of the Sea – but no pressure!

Janice: Thanks again, Janet. (I put enough pressure on myself!)

===

You can discover more about Janice Dick’s books at janicedick.com, as well as find some traditional Mennonite recipes. While you’re there, take a look at her blog posts for readers and writers.

In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick

In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick

Manchuria has been home to the Martens and Giesinger families ever since they escaped Soviet Russia in 1930. At fifteen years of age, Danny Martens and Rachel Giesinger are content with their lives, and with each other.

But the end of World War II changes everything. In 1945, the Soviets invade northern China, infiltrating the temporary vacuum of power, and repatriate all men who were older than twenty years when they fled the Soviet Union.

Robbed of home, livelihood and security, Danny’s family and friends move southward, trying unsuccessfully to acquire emigration papers.

Amid the difficulties, a ghost from the past stalks the Martens family in search of vengeance for previously hidden crimes. Danny struggles to honor his father’s wish to move his family out of the country, but all his plans are thwarted.

In desperation, Danny’s mother requests sponsorship from friends, Phillip Wieler and Jasch Fast, who emigrated to the States in 1932. In spite of their own struggles with personal and economic tragedy, the Wielers and the Fasts attempt to help their friends who are held captive In a Foreign Land.

This story is based loosely on memoirs of a survivor. It is the second book in the In Search of Freedom series. The first book is titled Other Side of the River.

Review: In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick

In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. DickIn a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2017)

Fifteen years after Luise Martens and her family escaped from Russia to China, the past catches up with them. Soon they must flee again, from a terrible enemy they thought they’d left behind.

The novel opens in 1945, and it’s a sequel to Other Side of the River. If you haven’t read that book, you may want to do so first. It’s not necessary for comprehension, but it adds a level of depth to understanding these characters’ lives and struggles.

Book one was Luise’s story as a young woman. Book two is partly her story, but partly the story of her son, Danny. It’s interesting to watch the dynamics between the son facing trials for the first time and the mother who has endured similar times.

I always appreciate Janice Dick’s historical fiction, for its richness of character and setting and for what it teaches me about the Russian Mennonites and their struggle to live as pacifists, trusting God’s care in the middle of dangerous times. As Luise says, “Sometimes living for a cause is more difficult than dying for it.” [Kindle location 412]

Luise’s faith has grown stronger through her suffering, but Danny can’t embrace a God who could allow so much to be taken from him.

In a Foreign Land is an inspiring tale of courage, danger, family, and love, set against a backdrop of international conflict and an oppressive regime. The novel is based on a true story.

The In Search of Freedom series will conclude with book 3, Far Side of the Sea. For more about the author and her books, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

5 Blogs to Watch

How do you keep up with a blog series? I subscribe via email, because I’d never remember to check the site on a regular basis. And if the series has been going for a while before I find it, I’m unlikely to go back to the beginning to catch up.

Here are three new-ish blog series in early enough stages that you can start from the beginning if they catch your interest:

At Serving Singles, Rev. Shirley DeMerchant has just begun a series where she’ll explore what she’s been learning from studying the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Since this is a book I’ve heard recommended in the past, I’m seizing this chance to learn a bit more.

Author Janice L. Dick is moving from traditional publishing to indie (self-publishing) and she’ll be sharing her journey in a series of Tuesday posts. For those interested in the possibilities of independent publishing, here’s post 1: My Indie Adventure.

Author Bobbi Junior is blogging her memoir, When the Bough Breaks, chapter by chapter. Here’s the link to chapter 1: Nothing Rattles Rick.

And here are two of my favourite blogs which, while they aren’t series blogs, I count on for regular spiritual encouragement:

Hearing the Heartbeat with Carolyn Watts (Mondays).

Beech Croft Tales with Mary Waind (on the 1st and 15th of each month).

Learning and Remembering

“The problem isn’t that we aren’t learning. The problem is we forget.” (Emily P. Freeman, “How I Keep Track of What I’m Learning“)

Forgetting leads to remedial lessons and to missing the chance to learn even more. If you take time to read her post (well worth it, just click the link above) you’ll see her wonderful journal suggestion. journal and penI’d love one with graph paper markings (that’s the sort of paper I use in drafting my fiction ideas), but I went to Dollarama instead. Here’s the (straight-lined) one I chose.

I wondered why that particular colour resonated with me in the store. You’ll see in a minute.

I take notes at conferences and retreats. I even had a “listening journal” that I carried on a few trips, because God often speaks to me in snippets that string together over time. So why would I not have one for the day-to-day?

The idea is to review the notes regularly to reinforce the learning and discern any patterns. Of course, while it’s new and fresh, I’m extra alert. Here are a few recent online sources of my learning :

Janice L. Dick shares one reader’s response to her fiction that makes it all worthwhile: “The Power of the Spirit in Our Writing.”

God’s abundant supply involves far more than finances and material things. Check out the list Mary Waind includes in her blog post, “Abundance.”

When I put these two books side by side, I saw why the colour drew me:

Bible and journal... both the same colour

Bible and journal

On Joy and Interruptions

How did I lose the joy of Christmas?

It would be easy to blame the commercialism and hype. The music that starts too early in the stores. The trees that pop up, fully decorated, after Halloween – not even pausing for Remembrance Day.

Or the details, oh, the details. What to buy? Make a list. Be sure everyone gets enough – enough stuff they don’t have room or need for. Cringe when the bills come in.

Beneath it all, the dread – what if I can’t find the perfect gift for each loved one? They like money, but it always feels like I’ve failed to come up with anything better. The giving, after all, is to please them – not just a hollow ritual.

Pull out the same old decorations. Hang them in the same places. Bake. At least the baking’s fun – and the eating, if not the weight gain.

Cram an already-full schedule even fuller with extra events and gatherings – and with the unstated pressure to do it all, “because it’s Christmas.”

Jesus didn’t come to bring expectations and guilt – just the opposite. He didn’t come to drive us into debt or anxiety, but to set us free, enrich our spirits, and pour His peace into troubled hearts.

He came to interrupt our mundane lives and give us new life – abundant life. How often do I cling to the mundane instead?

I think that’s where the joy went – brushed aside because my agenda is as full as the Bethlehem inn.

This year, instead of carrying the weight of the doing, I want to cultivate the being. Being still with God, daily exploring the message of Advent. Being open to the interruptions that December brings to my plans. Not resisting the decorations as one more clutter-filled chore, but embracing the chance to love my family by creating a festive environment.

Choosing to enjoy the opportunities to spend time with friends and family. Hearing and celebrating the music of the season. Being with God, even in a crowded store, and listening for His nudges in what gifts to buy for whom.

I don’t want to miss the joy of Christmas by clinging to the mundane. I’d rather be a shepherd than a sleeping (or grumpy) citizen of Bethlehem.

Writing this post on Sunday helped me articulate the issue and put me on a better track. There’s something about identifying the problem that lets us begin to fix it.

This may be too early in the season for me to experience Christmas joy, but I’m finding meaning in deliberate, daily Advent readings, and once I stopped avoiding the Christmas activities, I’ve even begun to enjoy those. We have no decorations up yet – my husband and I are both sick. But we did a bit of shopping Wednesday night, and in God’s sense of humour, He helped us find a surprising amount of gifts (including one for us).

If you’re experiencing Christmas angst, you might check out Janice Dick’s post, “Christmas Stress.”

I encourage you to pop over to Carolyn Arends’ website and click on her song list to play “Vacancy.” It’ll bless you 🙂

Review: Other Side of the River, by Janice L. Dick

Other Side of the River, by Janice L. DickOther Side of the River, by Janice L. Dick (Helping Hands Press, 2014)

It’s been too long since we had new historical fiction from Janice L. Dick. Once again she immerses readers in the world of Russian Mennonites, a persecuted people wherever they try to settle in the Soviet regime of 1926.

Despite the growing turmoil in their village, Luise Letkemann is eager to marry her beloved Daniel Martens. Her family wants to move somewhere safer: to Canada, or at least farther east towards China. But will anywhere be safe from vindictive officials out to break her people’s hope?

As the story opens, Luise is determined to remain optimistic and to see the bright side in everything, but sorrow brings change. Elderly Tante Manya has some of the best lines, wisdom-wise in the story. Here’s my favourite:

Manya: The purpose of prayer is not to get what we want, Luise, but to lay hold of God Himself. He seeks always to reveal Himself to us. Once we begin to see Him as He is, we can relinquish our tight hold on our will and trust Him for His. Do you understand?

Luise: Sometimes I don’t understand anything, Tante. [Kindle Location 3725]

In some ways this was a heavy book because of the people’s struggles, but the way they dig deeper into faith and find the resources they need to carry on in the face of oppression is an example and an encouragement to readers today in whatever stresses we find ourselves.

It’s not a traumatic read. These are resilient people and although some break, the community bond is strong and supportive. Luise, her gentle father Abram, her acidic stepmother Anna, Luise’s step-brother and step-sister, Tante Manya and Daniel are all real characters with individual struggles, weaknesses and strengths.

Other Side of the River originally released as a ebook series. This review is of the complete series in one volume. If you’re looking online, be sure to get the full novel and not just a piece that leaves you wanting more. Sadly, Amazon.ca does not yet offer the print version although the US and UK Amazons do.

Janice L. Dick is a Canadian author of Mennonite heritage. Her Storm series (Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm and Out of the Storm) also traces the lives of Russian Mennonites. I hope we’ll see another novel to follow Other Side of the River. You can find Janice, and more about her books, at her website: janicedick.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]