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Three Sisters–survival in the midst of death
by Heather Morris
I present to you a review for a book that will transport you unwillingly from Slovakia into the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The horrors are especially difficult to read about because this novel was so well researched including interviews with primary sources, two of the three sisters who are protagonists in Heather Morris’ Three Sisters. The third sister had passed away before the author began this project. Unlike some survivors of the concentration camps, these sisters talked about their experiences to people who wanted to hear, especially their family members. These relatives were a treasure trove of information about the camps, the Nazi selections of individuals, hiding from the SS, and the kindness and treachery of nonJews.
Family, of course, is very important to Cibi, Magda, and Livi, the three sisters. Their father makes them promise to always stay together and support each other. Their grandfather gives them the mantra of “hope and strength” which they carry with them through the worst of times. Later they can joke about bad conditions by comparing them to the deprivation they experienced in the camps.
Three Sisters is a hard book to read, but another worthwhile reminder to not allow this history to repeat itself. Ironically, the last part of the book which was about happier times brought the strongest emotional response from me. This reaction is a tribute to Heather Morris as a storyteller who, despite the tragic subject matter, brings her characters to life in such a way that you feel like you really know them and you understand them as much as is possible as an outside observer.
I recommend this book. I know these characters will stay with me for a long time.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Notes: by the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Publication: October 5, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
As the plaintive cries of their families fade, new voices—angry, hate-filled voices—greet them as they make their passage through the town. Their former friends and neighbors are hurling rotten fruit and stale bread at their heads, yelling their joy that the Jews are finally leaving. Cibi and Livi are stunned by the taunts, the full-throated bile being dispensed from snarling mouths.
…they will never forget their desperation to put something, anything, in their stomachs. These days they savor every mouthful, but, more than that, they cherish the freedom to move around the city as they choose, no longer under the watchful and penetrating gaze of a kapo or worse, an SS officer.
Cibi thinks about the space in her heart where God used to live and wonders, for a second, if the peace she feels in her sisters’ arms is a sign that maybe He never really left.
The Walnut Creek Wish–freedom through forgiveness
The Walnut Creek Wish
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Rhonda and Jeff Davis are a financially successful couple living in a townhouse in Canton, Ohio, where she manages a hotel and he has his own restaurant. They love each other, but they have a fairly testy relationship often exchanging hurtful barbs. Neither wants anything to do with God because each had deep-felt prayers that had not been answered the way that they wanted them to be. Rhonda’s dad had affairs and eventually left his family behind. Jeff’s mom passed away when he was a teenager.
Rhonda and Jeff’s lives intersect with those of Orley and Lois who own an Amish antique store in rural Walnut Creek, Ohio, when the younger couple try to rejuvenate their marriage by purchasing a beautiful house and commuting to their jobs. Orley and Lois take every opportunity to encourage Rhonda and Jeff to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. A lot has to happen in the young couple’s lives before their hearts are opened to their need for God.
The Walnut Creek Wish is a quick and easy read, but it deals with some real issues—satisfaction, childlessness, abandonment, and forgiveness. The writing, especially the dialogue, in the first part of the book is somewhat stilted. Then the author breaks into a pace that is much more comfortable after the character backgrounds have been established and the action in the plot develops. It is a clean read with strong Christian themes involving both Amish and Englisch characters with interesting comparisons and contrasts of their lifestyles and their problems and how they react to them.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: 1. #1 in the Creektown Discoveries series. I will be reading the next book in the series. I am interested to see if there is an overlap or continuation of characters and/or of setting and to see if the sudden improvement in style and pace in this book holds up in the next book.
2. Recipes for a cucumber dip and bacon cheese muffins are included.
3. There are questions for individual thought or book club discussions.
Publication: August 1, 2021—Barbour Publishing
She and Jeff had been married twelve years, and all they had to show for it was a modern townhouse, an expensive sports car, a luxury SUV, and a chasm of disinterest between them.
“I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m sure the Lord directed that young man to our store for a purpose beyond looking at antiques.”
“Any time’s the right time to share God’s love and the redemption He offers because of His Son. Pray for the right words to say, and speak them from the heart with love.”
The Horse and His Boy–excellent storytelling
The Horse and His Boy
by C. S. Lewis
Herein lies the tale of Shasta, abused son sold as a slave. He joins forces with Aravis who is trying to avoid marriage to a much older, ugly, powerful, rich man. Shasta and Aravis devise a plan of escape that includes their Narnian horses who can, of course, talk.
There are many complications on their adventure including mistaken identity for Shasta and recognition of Aravis by an old friend. Lucy and Edmund, characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, play minor roles in this book as does their big sister Susan. Her rebuff of a suitor, Prince Rabadash, could cause a war.
Aslan, the Lion, appears and disappears, always a part of events as they occur. The characters learn that there is more to happenings than luck or chance. Even those who don’t already know about Aslan immediately feel there is something special about Him when they first encounter Him.
The Horse and His Boy includes characters who are noble and heroic and also those who are traitors. Aslan gives the despicable Prince Rabadash a second chance, and the outcome is perfectly constructed. It is fitting, but I certainly couldn’t have predicted it.
The Horse and His Boy is another storytelling triumph by C.S. Lewis who again has written a book that can be enjoyed on two levels. It is a fascinating fantasy, but it can also be read with religious themes in mind. Regardless of your reading goals, you will enjoy this entertaining fantasy without the intricate world building of current fantasies.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian
Notes: This book is #3 in The Chronicles of Narnia. This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. The series begins with the highly popular The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but many readers find each one of the books in the series to be their “favorite” as they encounter it.
Publication: 1954—HarperCollins Publishers
Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
“I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him, and now I’m in Narnia.”
“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book–outstanding Bible curriculum
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book
by Nelda Hoyt Banek
The chronological scope of the Bible is huge, spanning approximately 4,228 years. Have you ever wished for a collection of Bible stories that covers that length of time completely and deals with the complexities of the Bible in an understandable way? Obviously a labor of love, the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book by Nelda Hoyt Banek is just such a book. At 649 pages, it is a large volume containing 312 stories and over 270 incredibly detailed engravings from 19th century folios. Until you actually examine the format, it can seem overwhelming, but it has an exceptional structure which can be used by individuals, in family units, or by schools as a complete curriculum. Parents who homeschool could use this for the Biblical portion of their curriculum. If the book is used cyclically as children mature, students will glean new knowledge each time they are exposed to the stories and discuss the truths found therein.
The introduction provides tips for sharing the stories with preschoolers in a family setting. A special mark divides longer stories into two more manageable pieces. Families can expect to read through the book in two years. Classrooms could cover the material in three years of 36 weeks per school year. In both instances, the pace would be one section every day for four days a week.
I have been personally studying the story of Joseph’s life, so I chose to closely examine those passages in the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book. The dysfunctional family story and the first mention of Joseph are found in story #21, but the first story that focuses on Joseph is #25, “Joseph Sold into Egypt,” based on Genesis 37. The Scriptural reference for each story is noted at the beginning of the account. A handy, but not intrusive, pronunciation guide is included at the bottom of pages for each story. There are eight stories dealing with Joseph. They are all well-written and true to the Scriptures from which they are drawn in Genesis.
Because the storybook is arranged chronologically, the next story concerns Job and is taken, of course, from the book of Job, but also from Ezekiel and James in an effort to place this account in the larger context of the whole Bible. The next story returns to Exodus with the tale of Moses’ birth.
In order to create a full curriculum for Christian schools or Sunday Schools, Nelda Banek has also created a series of workbooks for student use. The workbooks for grades K5-3 are called Bible Story Lessons. Scripture Studies are intended for 4th grade through adult learners. Upon examination of the workbooks, you can see that the curriculum is, indeed, rich and the lessons could be repeated in a two or three year cycle. There are six workbooks for each age range.
I am pleased that the student workbooks include both the story and the followup questions for discussion that comprise the large hardback storybook. That inclusion adds a lot of flexibility and support to teacher and learner. The activities in the appropriately named Scripture Studies are, as they should be, more advanced and complex than those found in Bible Story Lessons. I do think the teacher of younger students within both age ranges for each workbook would need to provide some support in completing the activities while the older students in each age range would be able to work more independently depending on their reading levels and experiences with Bible study.
My survey of Bible Story Lessons (Book A: Creation to Sinai and Job) revealed a variety of interesting activities. As an example, the workbook activities for the Joseph stories are a dot to dot, word search, matching descriptions with pictures, hidden words, fill in the blanks, secret letter puzzle, and color by description. All would serve to reinforce the information provided by the stories.
Looking at Scripture Studies (Book E: Nativity to Zacchaeus), I surveyed the activities for the first six lessons which cover Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Activities for these older students send the learner to the Bible to explore the original text for a variety of interesting fill in the blank activities. These activities help the student to delve more deeply into the Scriptures as the source of information and to understand the theological implications of the stories. The illustrations found in the hardback book are also included in the workbooks and sometimes are a part of the activities.
The end of Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book includes notes, a chart of the kings and prophets, index of proper names, timeline of Biblical history, illustration of the Tabernacle, the marching order of the tribes and depiction of their camping locations, four maps, and a list of resources. All of these are helpful aids for students of God’s word. According to the author in describing the curriculum: “Teacher’s guides are available for each book in these series, containing instructions for pacing the curriculum, the reprinted stories, an answer key to the student worksheets, discussion and short-answer review questions, review game ideas, and memory work suggestions.”
I taught in a Christian school for two years before I entered the public school arena. I would have loved to use this curriculum with my students. Having taught grades K-adult in my thirty-four years as an educator, I can attest that this is a well thought out curriculum by an author who is both a Biblical scholar and professional educator. More importantly, as I peruse its pages, I can tell that it was prayerfully constructed to provide teachers and parents with a tool that lays out the whole story of mankind in a Biblical perspective from the creation and fall of humanity to redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book for anyone wishing to read an easily understandable overview of the Bible through engaging stories or to teach Biblical truths to others in the same way. The workbooks are an excellent addition to help students focus on the facts of the stories and dig deeper into the Scriptures.
I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Nelda Hoyt Banek, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Nonfiction, Christian, Religion, Theology
Notes: 1. For best pricing, I suggest you contact the publisher at www.aelfredrex.com.
2. Suggested ages:
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book—all ages
Bible Story Lesson (workbook)—Ages 5-9
Scripture Studies (workbook)—Ages 9-13
Publication: September 1, 2014—Ælfred Rex Publications
Sample Quotes Taken from Joseph’s Story:
As they ate, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite and Midianite traders coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices, balm, and myrrh to sell in Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What do we get out of killing our brother secretly? Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites. He is our brother and our own flesh. Let us not hurt him ourselves.”
Then Potiphar was angry, and he put Joseph in the king’s prison. But the Lord was with Joseph there, too, and caused the keeper of the prison to look on him with favor. The prison keeper gave Joseph charge of all the other prisoners. He did not have to check up on anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him. Whatever Joseph did, the Lord made it prosper.
All This Homeless Veteran and His Dog Needed Was Human Kindness…
Being the hands and feet of Jesus…
While seated at a Starbucks, a homeless man came in and sat nearby.
His scent was unpleasant and people looked at him and rolled their eyes. He was simply doing what we were all doing, drinking coffee and taking advantage of free WiFi.
He brought his dog, Legacy, who was well behaved. He proceeded to tell me he walked 60 miles from Seattle to Tumwater over a few days period. He spoke highly of Legacy who, in stride, journeyed along with his master every step of the way without complaint. As soon as Legacy was told to lay down, he fell asleep.
It was sad to see people distance themselves from this homeless veteran. Kids who inquired about the dog were quickly shielded by their parents and hurried away.
This Veteran explained most people have no concept of being Christ like because they simply place Christ on the shelf as…
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Shadow Among Sheaves–sacrifices
Shadow Among Sheaves
by Naomi Stephens
The Biblical story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth is known and quoted as an example of devotion. Upon the death of her husband and sons, Naomi encourages her daughter-in-laws to return to their home countries, but Ruth says: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16).
In Shadow Among the Sheaves author Naomi Stephens uses this story in a new setting. Nell (Lady Hawley) and her daughter-in-law Rene move from India back to England in the glory days of the British Empire. Rene, from the highest caste in India, has promised to take care of Nell, but because of discrimination against Indians, they are treated as outcasts and beggars. Stephens’ story follows the same general lines as the Biblical story but is fleshed out with a deeper plot and extensive character development. Using the complexities of the ethnic divide and the social and class norms in Britain at that time, Stephens weaves a riveting tale of love and conflict.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Romance
Notes: You do not have to be familiar with the Bible story of Ruth and Naomi to enjoy this book, but if you would like to read it, the book of Ruth is found in the Old Testament and is only four chapters long.
Publication: April 1, 2019— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)
An aching belly, an empty room, skin pulled tight over hungry bones—all of these sacrifices were worth it, she knew, if it meant staying with Nell, if it meant her family would be her family forever.
Thomas had never been a monster, exactly, though he had always been monstrously arrogant.
Music began tumbling across the now barren fields. The notes were thick and plucky, sticking to the window like hands pressed up against the glass.
The Simplest Way to Change the World–opening your home to others
The Simplest Way to Change the World
by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements
Why would an introvert with no gift for entertaining read a book on hospitality? True confession: when I clicked on a link in an email to see what the book was about, I was unknowingly requesting a review copy of the book. I have to admit I was intrigued by the subtitle: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life, and I had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, God was drawing me out of my comfort zone to show me a way that I could share the love of Jesus with others as a part of my daily life.
The Simplest Way to Change the World presents a biblical basis, both historically and scripturally, for hospitality: making your home, yard, and life open for engaging conversations with both non-Christians and other Christians. It shares the difference between entertaining (a high pressure show to convince others of your worth) and hospitality (opening your heart to others). A discussion of the rhythms of your life shows how to include others in what you and your family are already doing and also to intentionally create opportunities to include others. In addition, there are suggestions for “reverse hospitality”–how to share Jesus’ love with those who are uncomfortable with an invitation into your home or are physically unable to leave their own residence.
The authors include anecdotes from their own experiences as well as tales related by family and friends who are sharing their homes, lives, and hearts with others. They emphasize that hospitality can be planned or spontaneous, and they point out that Jesus’ ministry was not a three step plan, complete with PowerPoint, to bring people into a physical church building. Instead, He wandered from place to place, listening, sharing, and meeting people’s needs.
This is not a difficult read, not a philosophical or religious treatise. It is practical, sometimes humorous, and always interesting. It stimulates readers to think of ways they can use hospitality in their own circumstances, where God has located them, and with the people He brings into their lives. At the end of the book there is a helpful study guide for those who want to use this tool as a church or in a small group setting to learn about hospitality.
And as to the mouse click that brought The Simplest Way to Change the World to my iPad? No regrets here! Reading this book was a blessing.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Nonfiction
Publication: February 1, 2017–Moody Publishing
And while the everyday use of our homes to welcome others may not feel like the most exciting cause in the world, we must remember that ordinary does not equal insignificant.
As you simply listen well, you practice Christ’s compassion. The world is full of people who halfway listen to others just so they can take their turn talking next.
But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world.
The end goal of hospitality is care and healing–we do the caring and Jesus does the healing.
Riveting Memoir of a Romanian Lawyer– Could be Used in Christian High School?
Saving My Assassin
by Virginia Prodan
Virginia Prodan has written a riveting memoir Saving My Assassin. It was difficult to read many parts of this book because of its troubling, torturous content, but the triumphant spirit of this tiny powerhouse of a woman kept me returning to discover how God could possibly use the evil that surrounded her for His greater purpose.
Virginia Prodan was formerly a lawyer during the cruel Communist dictatorship of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Currently she is an international lawyer residing in the U.S. where she continues her work representing Christians who find themselves in legal difficulties because of their stand for Christ.
Saving My Assassin begins with a brief glimpse at a pivotal moment in Prodan’s life. That part of the story ends abruptly, but is repeated and continued later in the appropriate time sequence. This is a technique which could be annoying, but is used here to skillfully draw the reader into the critical nature of the happenings in Prodan’s life. Next we learn of mysteries and events in her younger years which help us understand how she became such a determined adult. She endured a cruel childhood which left her determined to discover the truth on all levels. Why was she so mistreated by her own family? Why did she look so different from them? Why were people in Romania not allowed to worship God when their laws said they could? What motivated the cold violence of the Securitate, the Communist government agents who stalked her, interrogated her, and threatened the lives of her and her children? Why were they so willing to torture and kill their own citizens, innocent of crimes, many of whom apparently disappeared into the night?
Although this book is written for adults, I think mature high school students would appreciate it as well. I taught high school English in a Christian school before I became an elementary public school teacher. This is the kind of book I would have used with my seniors. It would be particularly appropriate for reading in conjunction with a history or civics class as it deals with a Communist dictatorship during the Reagan era and shows the power and influence the U.S. can choose to wield in supporting Christians around the world. Because Saving My Assassin has a strong Biblical message, I assume it could not be assigned for reading in a public school setting, but I would be interested in feedback from teachers with more recent public high school experience than I have.
Saving My Assassin has a proposed publication date of June 7, 2016. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the publisher Tyndale House for allowing me to read and review this book in exchange for an unbiased review.