Book Review: Deep Undercover

I’ve always been fascinated with the inner workings of the spy life. In fact, “spy” was often what I would say as a child when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Movies and television have greatly romanticized the spy experience, so I was looking forward to reading the new memoir by an operative in the Cold War KGB Illegals program, in which KGB officers were embedded in the US as full fledged citizens, in an effort to gather intelligence for Moscow.

Jack Barsky was living the American Dream with a good job in the corporate world, a nice house and two beautiful children when he was detained by the FBI in 1997. To the surprise of his family and friends, he admitted to being a former KGB operative.

Jack Barsky was born as Albrecht Dittrich in East Germany right after World War II. He was brought up in an austere home with little in the way of family affection. He was raised a staunch Communist, and had dreams of becoming a chemistry professor (science was a noble effort in Communist countries.)

As Albrecht was getting ready to begin his chemistry career, he was approached by The Party (Communist officials), who attempted to recruit him. He said yes, and a new life had begun.

After several years in Moscow learning to speak English as an American native, Albrecht was sent to New York City with only a birth certificate for one Jack Barsky and money. He had to procure all his own legal documents and make his way up in the world on his own.

The book talked about Albrecht’s training, Jack’s early days in the US, and the ideological shift that Jack faced after being in the US. Albrecht had a wife and son behind the Iron Curtain, and Jack had a wife and two children in the US, and neither family were aware of the other. He also discusses how he cut ties with the KGB with a sneaky untruth. The book finishes by talking about Jack’s conversion to Christianity, and how that shaped his after-KGB life.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed reading about Albrecht’s childhood (thought it was sad because of the lack of love from his parents and the harshness of his country), and I also really enjoyed the making of the spy–turning Albrecht into Jack, and all the training that entailed. It was so fascinating, and sobering that the USSR was able to put agents into place in the US, posing as US citizens and speaking perfect English.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers. All opinions are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: Different

Being the parent of a special needs child can be isolating and lonely. We often feel alone in our struggles, weary that we seem to be the only person we know dealing with these things. Life with Junior has been a lot of ups and downs, from day to day. Some days are good, some days are awful, and most days are a big ball of lots of good and awful all wrapped into one little 24-hour period.

I have read most of Sally Clarkson’s books, and have gotten a lot of helpful encouragement out of each of them (I’ve given all of these previous books 5 star reviews because they are all quite good), but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but have the negative inkling of “this woman has the perfect life. Her children, her marriage, her homeschooling…all perfect. If I had the perfect life, I bet I could have a peaceful home/homeschool/marriage/life as well.”

Well, how surprised I was to see that Sally Clarkson was releasing a new book titled, Different, written with her grown son Nathan, who has always suffered from OCD, ADHD, and ODD among other things. This book is basically about how Sally managed to raise Nathan and to love him in spite of his issues, seeking to understand him, guide him, teach him, and show him unconditional love through and despite all his struggles.

This book was eye-opening, and allowed me to see Junior in a different light. I suddenly wanted to understand his world instead of trying to make him fit into mine. I no longer saw a little boy who was pushing my buttons for the sake of making my life difficult, but instead I saw a little boy who craved the safety and security of unconditional love and grace from someone who sees him as he is and adores him anyway-his momma.

Sally and Nathan wrote the book together. Two-thirds of the book is Sally writing from the mom’s perspective, and probably 1/3 is from Nathan’s perspective–the misunderstood child who was always an “out of the box” kid. Both perspectives were really helpful. As a mom, I only see this side of it, but Nathan gave some insight into what special needs kids go through in navigating this big world that seeks a one-size-fits-all personality.

Overall, I loved this book and will reference it frequently. I’ve already recommended it to many people, and even purchased another copy for a friend who is in need of encouragement dealing with her struggling child.

*I received a copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

Book Review: In the Shadow of Denali

I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska. In fact, my husband and I were planning a cruise to Alaska when I became pregnant with our firstborn, and 9 months of chronic morning (afternoon, and night) sickness got in the way of that. She’s worth it, but I still would have enjoyed Alaska. But, I digress.

There’s something about the thought of the untainted beauty of Alaska that just draws you in and refreshes your soul. Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse have teamed up to write a new series about early 20th century Alaska called The Heart of Alaska. Book one is entitled In the Shadow of Denali, and takes place in the 1920s near Denali National Park.

Allan Brennan is traveling to Alaska to find closure after his father, Henry Brennan’s death some 6 years earlier. Allan’s father attempted to climb Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley) and never returned. Henry was on an expedition with business partner Frank and local expert wilderness guide John Ivanoff. Frank returned to their hometown of Seattle and told the Brennan family that John allowed Henry to die on his watch. As a result, Allan has always harbored resentment toward the native Alaskan without ever having met him.

When Allan arrives to work at the Curry Hotel at the foot of Mt. Denali, he is stunned when his new boss is no one else than John Ivanoff. John and his daughter Cassidy both work at the hotel–John as a guide and Cassidy in the kitchen. Allan and Cassidy begin to enjoy each other’s company, but Allan still has too many questions about his father’s death to let anyone into his heart. When he begins to question Frank’s account of the story, Allan learns that sometimes the truth can have deadly consequences.

I really enjoyed this book. I could imagine myself at the Curry Hotel, in the shadow of Mt. Denali, taking it all in. There was a lot of good development in Allan’s character…you could see him work through his issues and grief, and eventually become a different man. I am looking forward to book #2 in this series.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

Cookbook Review: Food52: A New Way to Dinner

As a busy homeschooling mom with a special needs child, cooking and prepping ahead is a lifesaver for getting dinner on the table. So, I was intrigued and downright excited to see that the popular Food52 team put together a new cookbook based on the premise of prepping on weekends so you can spend minimal time during the week to get meals on the table.

The recipes are divided by season…Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Each season has several different full week menus (5 dinners plus a couple of lunches) using fresh in season ingredients. Then, there is a “Game Plan” page, that lays out all the things you’ll need to do over the weekend to prep, and gives an approximate time you’ll be spending prepping (times range anywhere from 1.5-3 hours). Then, there is a grocery list, divided up by category (produce, herbs, pantry, spices, meat, etc.)

Each recipe begins with an introduction, typically where the author learned about the dish, or to explain certain obscure ingredients. At the end of the recipe, it tells you what to do the day of, since the recipes are meant for prep day.

Some of the recipes include:

-Oven Roasted Char with Herbed Mayonnaise
-Grain Salad with Asparagus, Baby Turnips, Feta, and Preserved Lemon Dressing
-Garlic Scape Pesto Quesadillas
-“Low-Maintenance” Fish Tacos with Pickled Onions
-Summer Squash Pasta
-Poached Tuna
-Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragu
-Applesauce Cake with Caramel Icing
-Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine
-Oxtail Stew
-Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry

I loved the premise of this cookbook. Prepping a few hours on the weekend to get 5 healthy, home cooked dinners on the table in no time flat? Yes, please! That said, I have a few little complaints:

1. The recipes are a little “gourmet” for us. Homemade Lamb Sausage, Couscous Salad with Pistachios, Brussels Sprouts Salad with Anchovy Dressing, and Oxtail Hash Over Toast are not the kinds of things that will make their way onto my weekly menu…ever.

2. As a result of this, the format becomes a bit challenging. Each menu was meant to be made in whole, so picking and choosing will affect prep time, ingredients (since many ingredients are reused over the course of the week in other planned meals), and prep instructions.

I still really liked the cookbook, and while I am probably not going to use as intended by making a full week of their recipes in one day, there are a few recipes I will probably try.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to give a review, positive or negative. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

 

Book Review: 365 Devotions for Rest

Oh a mom’s glorious life. It’s kind of like a version of Groundhog Day. Wake up, shower, make breakfast, do school, make lunch, go grocery shopping, clean kitchen, do laundry, clean bathrooms, clean living room, make dinner, clean up dinner, put kids to bed, go to bed, wake up, shower, make breakfast, do school….well, you get the idea. So, where in there is there any time for rest? God wants to give us rest, but many of us are too caught up in getting everything done to remember it.

So, it was perfect to receive a copy of 365 Devotions for Finding Rest, a new devotional from Zondervan Publishers. There are, of course, 365 devotions, one for every day of the year starting on January 1.

Each titled devotion begins with a Bible verse (verses are taken from pretty much every version you can imagine), followed by several paragraphs of devotional followed by a short one sentence prayer. The devotionals are all centered around the concept of rest (obviously), for mind, body and spirit. There are sometimes little anecdotes, sometimes commentary about a particular story from the Bible, and sometimes both.

Each devotional I looked at was like a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to making this devotional a part of my daily routine. It will remind me that I’m never too busy to sit down and accept the rest that God so desires for me to have.

*I received a copy of this book from Zondervan Publishers via BookLook Bloggers but was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.