Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction
Daughters of God: finding our identity in Him
by Christina Feenstra 2022 / 198 pages This workbook of six chapters is “a course to help young women find their value and self-worth in God and w...
Adult fiction, Book Reviews
by Cheryl Grey Bostrom2021 / 328 Pages This page-turner takes place in the Pacific Northwest, a little north of Seattle, and tells the story of two...
Adult biographies, Book Reviews
Out of the depths
An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis 208 pages / 2016 by Edgar Harrel, USMC In 1944 Edgar Ha...
Adult biographies, Book Reviews
Dancing Under the Red Star
by Karl Tobien 368 pages / 2006 This is American Margaret Werner's perspective on the USSR's forced labor camps – the Gulag – that she was sentenced to for a ten-year term. While the subject matter is heavy, this is not a difficult read; it is encouraging to see how Margaret and her mother both trusted that God would see them through. Contents So how did an American woman end up in a Soviet prison camp? Margaret Werner's father Carl worked as a supervisor at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. In the beginning of the 1930s, Ford built a modern manufacturing plant in Gorky in the Soviet Union and recruited 450 specialized employees to move to Gorky to operate it. Carl was one of them, an idealistic person who believed that he could make a difference in the Soviet Union by helping to build affordable cars. Carl, along with his reluctant wife Elizabeth, and their 11-year-old daughter Margaret left the United States in 1932. The family was shocked at the poverty they saw on their arrival in Moscow, but their first years in Gorky were bearable, and the family settled into the American Village there quite well. But in 1938 Carl Werner was arrested for a trumped up treason charges and sent to one of the labor camps. His wife and daughter never learned where. Elisabeth and Margaret struggled greatly through the war years and survive only to have Margaret arrested in 1945, also for treason and espionage. She was sentenced to ten years of hard labor and sent to the brutal lumber camp, Burepolom. In spite of the inhumane conditions, she still had hope. Her mother, left behind in Gorky, was a praying woman who believed that despite their wretched life, God had a plan for them. As the years went by in the labor camps, Margaret also started to see God’s hand in her life. A number of times she was saved from certain death in a mysterious way. Her English skills landed her a job in the office, which allowed her to escape the brutality of the labor brigades. She later said, “These new arrangements were like heaven to me, and silently I thanked God for his grace and the secret divine opening of little doors.” Margaret was often moved from camp to camp, eventually be shuffled off to a camp called Inta, in the extreme north of the Soviet Union. She writes about the cold: …the temperature had dropped at least forty degrees, from the teeth-chattering-but-somehow-bearable cold to now, the unbearable, loss-of-all-sensation cold, covering ourselves with everything we owned or could find, trying to become as small as possible, then huddling together as tightly as we could. But our train kept moving, going still further north, into more cold. At Inta, Margaret’s job was to sew clothing for the men who work in the mines nearby. Many artists were also in this camp, as well as a few ballerinas, some musicians, a seamstress and others. Many of this group had been famous, and even traveled the world. They formed the Cultural Brigade and put on ballets that were enjoyed by the Camp directors and the inmates – this is what the "dancing" in the title refers to. One of the saddest parts of the story, and one that might make this too much for young readers is what happened when one of the young dancers in the Cultural Brigade became pregnant. The girl chose to abort her baby by drinking a potion concocted by one of the other girls. Margaret and a few other girls were very upset and tried to convince the girl not to do it. But she went ahead anyways, giving birth to a live child of 5 months, which was quickly smothered by the other girl who helped her. This is recounted in a short, somewhat clinical manner but the results were such that the young mother became lifeless as if a part of her had died along with her baby. Margret explains that, "Even at that time, before I had a developed consciousness of the divine sanctity of that baby's life... I had a strong sense that it wasn’t what God wanted.” When her ten years were up, Margaret was released. She married Gunther Tobien, also a political prisoner and also recently released. Margaret was already 35 years old when their son, Karl, was born. Unfortunately Margaret and Gunter’s marriage was never strong and after they received permission to leave Russia for Gunter’s home in Germany, and later escaped the Iron Curtain before the Wall was built, Gunter left his wife and child. In 1961, nearly thirty years after they left, Margaret and her mother Elizabeth, along with Margaret's son Karl, arrived back in the United States. Conclusion Even though this book is about political insanity, inhumanity in the labor camps, her struggle to survive in civilian life, Margaret and Elizabeth never lose hope and continue to trust that God. Reading this book a reader will become aware that God can work in different ways. Margaret did not have a Bible in the prison camp, but God makes himself known to her. This book is not difficult to read. The reader agrees with one of Margaret’s observations: could not turn to religion for hope; atheism was the Soviet religion. Hopelessness was deeply and permanently etched into their faces.…A country without God is a terrible place. A horribly cold, harsh spirit hovered over the country, like a cloud that would not lift. It thickened the air and filled your nostrils everywhere you went. You could feel it crawl into your skin, into your pores.… One becomes thankful that we live in a country where we are allowed to worship in peace and freedom. We must be thankful that we have a judiciary that will hear our side of the story and treat us fairly. We need to pray for our country because this freedom that we take for granted can very quickly be taken away....
Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Church history
Radiant: Fifty remarkable women in Church history
by Richard M. Hannula 330 pages / 2015 I found this book very interesting and met a lot of fascinating women. Professor Eta Linnemann who taught historical-critical theology for 30 years but in 1978 became convinced that she was wrong and she threw out all the books and articles she had written and asked those who had bought her material to do the same. Bilquis Sheikh (1912-1997), a very wealthy woman in Pakistan in a prominent caste who was unhappy with what she read in the Koran. She compared it to the Bible and became a Christian. Her daughter asked her why she was doing this. Bilquis answered: “My dear, there is nothing that I can do but be obedient.” She was baptized but had to flee the USA to save herself from being murdered. Queen Berta (550-606) who prayed for her husband, King Ethelbert to be converted. She was a shining example of a Christian wife and eventually he did become a Christian. The Pope sent him along with Augustine and 40 monks for mission work to the Kingdom of the Franks where they were given a run down little church which was the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral. Monica, the mother of Augustine, is also mentioned. It was told her by the Bishop that “it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” There are many more short profiles including Martin Luther’s wife, and Francis Schaeffer’s wife. The author and publisher come from a Reformed background, so most of the women Richard Hannula profiles are people we’d agree with on most theological matters. But as you might expect in a book that covers 50 different women, there are also a few who got notable matters wrong. For example, Hannula tells us of Amanda Smith, a former slave, who travelled the world singing and sharing her testimony about Jesus Christ. She was told that the Holy Spirit could perfect here on Earth so that she could live her life from then on without sin. She prayed for this perfection and believed she had received it. So this should not be read as some sort of theological treatise. It is, however, a fascinating look at, as my minster Rev. Kampen once put it, how the Lord spreads his Gospel message using imperfect people, in imperfect ways, with their problematic interpretations of the Bible. What came to mind in reading this book was how St. Boniface brought the Bible to those stubborn and wild Frisians – I remembered my mother once telling me that Boniface not only brought the Gospel but also relics. His was a flawed presentation, but it was still the Word of God, and we must not underestimate how God will use it. My thoughts are not with some of the irritations as mentioned above but with the amazing women in "God's army" who had such a love for the Word of God and were so convicted to follow His example. These are wonderful stories. I would most certainly recommend it, but add the caution that readers do need to have some level of discernment....
Eight Twenty Eight: When love didn’t give up
by Ian & Larissa Murphy 208 pages / 2014 I really enjoyed this book. It is the true story of Ian and Larissa. Soon after they decided to marry – ten months into their courtship – Ian was in a horrific car accident, receiving a traumatic brain injury. He spent many months in the hospital, and when Ian did eventually come out of the coma he was quite handicapped. Larissa felt that the old Ian was still there and continued to grow in love for him. Then on the 28thof August, 2010, they married, seeking to serve God and enjoy life together with much laughter. After the accident a person made a well-meaning comment to Larissa, "You need something to keep you going" which really hurt her because it sounded like he thought she "had nothing to be living for outside of an improved Ian." But what carried her, what she discovered was the understanding that God turns everything– Ian healed, or Ian handicapped – for good (Romans 8:28). Anyone who has sat beside a loved one’s bed in ICU and gone through intense therapy with him or her, or someone who has had to come to terms with the handicaps of a loved one, will want to cling to the encouragement found in that promise. You can read the prologue and the first chapter here. And the book trailer can be viewed below. ...