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review 2021-08-25 00:00
Sands of Time (Mission: Russia #2) (Steeple Hill Women's Fiction #41)
Sands of Time (Mission: Russia #2) (Steeple Hill Women's Fiction #41) - Susan May Warren Actual Rating: 4.5

After reading Vicktor's story, I was excited to continue on with this series. I quickly picked up the sequel, but admit I wasn't convinced I'd enjoy Roman's story quite as much as Victor's. Not anything against Roman, I loved his role in In Sheep's Clothing as Victor's friend, and as a Christian who tried to do the right thing and was always there to support his friends along with David (Preach)'s help when issues arose that needed prayer or advice. He struck me as the fun more carefree one of the group, well if there is such a thing in a group of Russian FSB (formally KGB) members and American soldiers. But, still.... He's the one with the jokes and always trying to make light of a dark situation when his friend need the hope and a loyal companion.

That said, his story, and character, are drastically different from Vicktor's. Whereas Vita is the 'tall, dark, and handsome, Russian cop, take no prisoners type tough-guy who things women are either cursed or all crazy, and is hard set on revenge to atone for past sins, with or without the help of his Believing friends. Roman is different. Coming from a very different background, Roman is just trying to prove himself worth and good enough as a man of God, trying desperately to avoid his father's failures, while struggling to find his place in God's will in the harsh Siberian reality.

Much to my surprise, I ended up loving this one! More so even than book 1, which blew me away and snuck up on my toward the end! I loved seeing Roman and Sarai's story unfold, but also loved how the truths they discovered, about themselves, each other, and God's will were relevant in my life today, and how they even had the chance to display their newfound knowledge before the story ended, which was a satisfying addition to the story.

I also must mention Genye and Anya! I enjoyed meeting them early on in the book, and loved their role more as the story plays out. They serve several purposes, missionaries, mentors, friends, and a sort of adopted/found family for Sarai for a time along with others. I loved their wisdom and guidance, from Genye's silent knowing and protective kindness, to Anya's talk in the kitchen and her guidance as a medical missionary alongside Sarai.

I also loved seeing the duel POV as Roman and Sarai's relationship grows and develops. I always love duel POV for romances and similar stories, but this one was extra important and enjoyable amidst all the twists and surprises, sometimes even the character themselves made a new discovery of self realization that changes things in how they react to each other in the future, and I loved seeing that progression, and the thought processes that lead to those new turns!
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review 2021-08-18 00:00
In Sheep's Clothing (Mission: Russia #1) (Steeple Hill Women's Fiction #25)
In Sheep's Clothing (Mission: Russia #1) (Steeple Hill Women's Fiction #25) - Susan May Warren Actual Rating: 4.5

Quick Thoughts: How have I never heard or seen this series anywhere? 2005!!! God works in mysterious and wonderous ways indeed! Right when I needed it, and the reminder, and when my heart has been crying out for the persecuted Church, especially in Russia!
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review 2020-09-09 17:26
The Captain's Daughter and Other Stories by Alexander Pushkin
The Captain's Daughter: And Other Stories - Alexander Pushkin

There’s a little sense of dissonance when I read a classic and my response is “huh, okay.” This is especially true when I read the classic in translation; in this case, the translation is very smooth, contemporary, and easy to read, which causes its own form of dissonance. These now feel like contemporary stories rather than something written in the early 19th century, and compared to contemporary stories they don’t particularly stand out to me, but then I neither read them in their original language nor am familiar with the history of Russian literature so as to appreciate the ways in which Pushkin was blazing a new trail.

The stories:

“The Captain’s Daughter”: This novella occupies almost half of the book. It involves a romance between a young officer and the angelic daughter of the captain, set during the time of Pugachev’s rebellion, and Pugachev himself is the most vibrant character in it. The story moves along briskly and is fairly satisfying, though the characters are not particularly complex. This edition also includes an omitted chapter, which is interesting in that Pushkin ditched a bunch of melodrama and overt paternalism.

“The Tales of Ivan Petrovich Belkin”: These five stories, mostly around 15 pages each, are given a framing device in that they were all collected by a fictional young dead man, but they aren’t actually linked, so I’ll discuss them separately.

“The Shot”: The narrator pieces together the story of a multi-episode duel from others. It’s a bleak world in which men are expected to kill and die in duels over the most mundane insults, and those who refuse lose all respect from their fellows. (Pushkin, sadly, died himself in a duel at age 37.)

“The Snowstorm”: A prank disrupts a love affair. This is a cleverly structured story, in which after reading the end you go back and read over the earlier parts with fresh eyes, something I love in a short story. It made me uncomfortable in that I didn’t find Burmin’s behavior deserving of a happy ending.

“The Undertaker”: A man has ungenerous thoughts and is punished with a nightmare. Um, okay.

“The Postmaster”: Another narrator piecing together someone else’s story, this time of a postmaster and his prodigal daughter. This didn’t do much for me.

“Mistress Into Maid”: A sweet little story about a forbidden romance, also involving some pranking, but this time harmless. I enjoyed this one.

“The Queen of Spades”: This is a somewhat longer story about gambling and obsession, in which a calculating young man will go to almost any length for a guaranteed win at cards. I found this one pretty good and with a satisfying ending.

“Kirdjali”: Eight pages about the legend of an Eastern European bandit. Okay.

“The Negro of Peter the Great”: This is an unfinished fragment, around 40 pages long, of what was perhaps intended to be a novel. The title isn’t politically correct these days but the “Negro” in question is a (lightly fictionalized?) version of Pushkin’s own maternal great-grandfather, Abram or Ibrahim Gannibal, who was brought to Russia as a boy, adopted by Peter the Great as his godson, sent to France to study military engineering, and later returned to Russia to be an important figure in the military and the court. The fragment deals largely with Ibrahim’s love troubles, as well as his relationship with Peter the Great, who’s presented in a very positive light. This is interesting from a historical perspective though a fragment is unlikely to satisfy in a storytelling sense.

Overall, I’m glad to have read some work by a classic author I hadn’t been exposed to before, and appreciated the window into 18th and early 19th century Russia. But while the writing is perfectly fine, I can’t say any of it blew me away. I also have the sense that this collection doesn’t represent Pushkin’s best work, much of which was poetry and plays.

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review 2020-05-22 22:21
Bondage by Alessandro Stanziani
Bondage: Labor and Rights in Eurasia from the Sixteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries - Alessandro Stanziani

I picked this book up with the hope of learning about how serfdom actually worked in 18th century Russia and eastern Europe, and I did learn from it, though as with a lot of academic books it seems to have been written with the expectation that only about 12 people would ever read it, all of whom are other researchers in the same or related fields. The writing is unnecessarily dense and there are a lot of unexplained references to authors that this one is apparently refuting.

 

That said, the author’s thesis is an interesting one: essentially, that in the early modern era, Europe wasn’t so much divided between states where workers were free and states where they were serfs, as on a continuum. Workers in England and France weren’t nearly as “free” as you might believe, and labor laws were actually getting stricter at the time. Workers were often required to sign long labor contracts (a year was common, much longer was possible), and there were criminal penalties for leaving before a contract was completed, with the result that “runaway” workers could be jailed, fined, or even in some rare cases, whipped. Meanwhile, Russian serfs had more freedom of movement than some sources have given them credit for, with some going back and forth between town and the estates, and some areas of the country not sending back runaway serfs at all. Serfs could also initiate lawsuits against landowners, and some won their freedom this way (generally it seems because the landowners as non-nobles weren’t actually qualified to own populated estates), though as always the poor winning lawsuits against the rich was quite rare.

 

As someone unfamiliar with the literature the author is responding to, I found the arguments related to England and France (and the general descriptions of forced labor in Eurasia and in certain Indian Ocean colonies of the European powers) more coherent than the arguments about Russia. In some places it seemed like Stanziani was being overly technical, as when he points out that the laws establishing serfdom were all really about establishing who could own populated estates rather than delineating serfdom per se. I’m unclear on why this is important. He also seems to gloss over a lot of abuses described in other sources – granted, my other reading on this topic involves popular rather than academic sources, and this book is much too technical to engage with works of that sort at all. But while he states that Russian serfdom was nothing like American slavery, he doesn’t provide much basis for this conclusion.

 

At any rate, I’m clearly not the intended reader for this book, but I did get some interesting ideas from it. I’d love to see a book on this topic that’s a little more accessible for the general reader.

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text 2020-04-24 18:40
Ebook on Sale $1.99 at major retailers
Russka: The Novel of Russia - Edward Rutherfurd

I bought my copy from Amazon due to several authors on Twitter revealing that NOOK isn't paying royalties from purchases in February 2020. I wanted to make sure this author got his money.

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