Book review: Awaiting a Savior
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Awaiting a Savior The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty Publisher: Cruciform Press Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes I tend to be more concerned with my own poverty than anyone else’s. My assets comprise of two older model vehicles which the bank doesn’t consider assets, a violin, a piano, and assorted electronics. At the time of posting, my smallest student loan still comes in at $500 more than our retirement savings, and our total student loans still amount to tens of thousands of dollars. If you were to stop me on the street and ask me if I’m poor, I’d be quick to say an emphatic “Yes!” We live hand-to-mouth from month-to-month, one of the many North American families who are a single paycheque away from bankruptcy. I have long considered our condition to be one of poverty, despite the fact that we eat delicious, wholesome food every day and have a shelter over our heads every night. Did I have anything to learn from Aaron Armstrong’s Awaiting a Savior? More than I knew. That said, Armstrong didn’t have me from hello. With some weariness I waded into the first chapter thinking, ‘here…

Book review: Between Two Kingdoms
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Between Two Kingdoms Publisher: Standard Publishing Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: No Between Two Kingdoms by Joe Boyd is the fantastical story of a group of children from the Upper Kingdom who infiltrate the Lower Kingdom to bring about the Dark Prince’s demise. I may as well confess it outright: I requested a review copy of this book based on its incredible cover, which was designed by Michael Erazo-Kase. Unfortunately, the book does not live up to its cover and ends up underscoring the old, old adage. The novelette may be fantastical, but it’s not fantastic. Amazon reviewers praise Between Two Kingdoms to the sky, but in reality it bears little resemblance to the writing of the Inklings, who had a timelessness and style that Boyd lacks. This should not strike anyone as devastating criticism, for an Inkling-like writer only comes along once in blue moon. For all his imaginative plot twists and allegorical elements, Boyd is not that one. As regards literary elements, I cannot begrudge Boyd his imagination. He has envisioned a multi-textured mountain kingdom that holds much promise. But the promise of literary excellence is never fulfilled. The characterization is superficial, the dialogue is…

Book review: Tokens of Grace
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Tokens of Grace Cape Breton’s Open-air Communion Tradition Publisher: Cape Breton University Press Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes Compared to the history of our neighbour/neighbor to the south, the history of Canada is not quite as explosive. Even so, a lifetime of study could not exhaust the social, political, and economic events and upheavals seen and experienced north of the 49th parallel. Then there is the religious history of the nation, of which Canadian church history is a subset. In her 2006 book Tokens of Grace: Cape Breton’s Open-air Communion Tradition, history professor Laurie Stanley-Blackwell focuses in upon the rise and demise of Cape Breton’s annual Gaelic tradition of outdoor mass communion. In all probability, the book will not prove overly rewarding for those unable to summon up a modicum of interest in the niche historical topics of Gaelic culture, church history in Canada, linguistic history in Canada, or the sociological phenomena of groupthink and/or individualism. However, Tokens of Grace should adequately engross any reader even remotely interested in any one or more of those areas. Author Stanley-Blackwell writes in an evocative style and knows just how much detail to include ‘ or leave out ‘…

Book review: Words That Hurt, Words That Heal
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Words That Hurt, Words That Heal Speaking the Truth in Love Publisher: NavPress Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes On the cusp of Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, it may be an auspicious time to read a Christian living book written by a doppelganger for Her Majesty (I’m a dual Canadian citizen and British subject), NavPress author Carole Mayhall ‘ at least in her older publicity headshots. On the other hand, anytime is a good time to working towards improving the quality of the words emanating from your tongue. The re-issued NavPress National Bestseller Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: Speaking the Truth in Love by Mrs. Mayhall is such a book. A brief exposition of the power of spoken words, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal helpfully takes the reader back to the basics of godly speech in a winsome and straightforward way. Mayhall writes for the average or occasional reader, which is to say that this book accomplishes the founding mandate behind all NavPress publications: to motivate Christians to greater holiness and faithfulness in all facets of life. In a word or two, to deepen discipleship. More specifically, the book is geared towards women, but I…

Book review: Back on Murder
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Back on Murder A Roland March Mystery Publisher: Bethany House Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes How do you like your fiction served? Prefer a character-driven story? A relationship story? A suspenseful crime thriller? Or perhaps you simply want to read something written by a master craftsman of the English language? Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand is all these things and at the same time is more than the sum of its parts. It may be clich’ to the hilt to say the following, but I just could not put the book down, and not merely because the plot swept me up and wouldn’t let go. Kindly allow me the duration of this review to explain. I haven’t read a mystery in ages, but I’m no stranger to the genre. I cut my teeth on the Hardy Boys, read Nancy Drew when I had exhausted the Hardys, then moved on to Agatha Christie. Throughout university, while completing an undergraduate degree in language and literature, I dabbled with other mystery writers but never become a fan of another one…until now. It’s no secret that a story needs some sort of human interest element in order to…

Book review: A Stand-Up Guy
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

A Stand-Up Guy A Novel Publisher: Zondervan Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes The most interesting man in the world I’m not. I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore, to my dismay, but when I do, it’s usually Michael Snyder. His first novel, My Name Is Russell Fink, is a realistic and lighthearted case study in Family Systems Theory without the evolutionary baggage. His second novel, Return Policy, is a successful exercise in multiple narrators during which I found myself in tears a few times. I looked forward to his third novel, A Stand-Up Guy and the subject of this review, with great anticipation for over a year. The protagonist of A Stand-Up Guy is Oliver Miles, a small-time comedian who moonlights as a hotel night security guard. Despite the hard knocks he has experienced throughout his life, he has the gift of making others laugh, including the cute and quirky kleptomaniac who has recently taken the night auditor position at the same hotel. You can never quite predict what is going to happen next in A Stand-Up Guy, a character-driven novel indebted to the style and sensibility of novelist Douglas Coupland. A Stand-Up Guy takes…

Book review: Lit!
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books Publisher: Crossway Books Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes To be sure, Mortimer Adler had a lot of good things to say about reading in his seventy year-old classic How to Read a Book. But he certainly didn’t say it all. Authors and thinkers throughout the subsequent decades have weighed in, offering reading strategies and techniques to increase reading speed, reading comprehension and reading retention. Enter Tony Reinke with his first book, Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. First, let me say that the exclamation mark in lieu of a colon pleases me. Second, let me assure you that although this book may be the author’s first publication, his book will do for any regular Christian what Adler’s did for everyone else who desired to read better. Lit! may not become a bestseller in the way that How to Read a Book did, but it ought not to be unduly overlooked. Throughout the book, Reinke’s approach and choice of tone are best described as “gently encouraging.” He doesn’t expect those who read his book to delve directly into Calvin’s Institutes or Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Rather, he hopes that his…

Book review: He’s Not a Mind Reader
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

He’s Not a Mind Reader And Other Brilliant Insights for a Fabulous First Year of Marriage Publisher: Standard Publishing Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes I knew that I was destined to read and review He’s Not a Mind Reader as soon as I cracked the cover of Put the Seat Down, the book-at-hand’s companion for the males of the species. I was intrigued on many levels: Would it be as insightful for women as the other is for men? Would it impart complementary wisdom in as winsome a way? Would its cartoons be as amusing? Although the woman’s guide (officially “a girl’s guide” according to the cover and the copyright information) is obviously different in terms of content, and author Garrison has a style all her own, I can report that it matches the version for males page for page. If you have read the afore-linked review, you are already ahead of the game and I will not repeat myself ad nauseam here. The two books naturally share stylistic and formatting particulars, and Garrison’s was just as fun and beneficial to read as MacCallum’s. I wasn’t nearly as convicted by this book, probably owing to the…

Book review: The Hospitality Commands
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

The Hospitality Commands Building Loving Christian Community, Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors Publisher: Lewis & Roth Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes It goes without saying that the Western world rat-race has infected the church. Our perennial busyness militates against ministry of time and presence. The ancient Christian practice of hospitality has suffered as a result, to the detriment of Christian community in general. In his booklet The Hospitality Commands, Alexander Strauch estimates that each church may have only one or two couples known for hospitality, which he sees as a tragedy. Strauch’s lament is neither guilt-inducing nor shrill, however. Calling hospitality a “missing crown jewel” in the church, he grounds the necessity of hospitality in God’s command to the church to carry out His mission in the  world: As Bible believing Christians…We need to rediscover the New Testament’s dynamic teaching on hospitality. We need to awaken Christians to their scriptural duty to practice hospitality. We need to show the rich blessings that await all who practice hospitality. We need a fresh vision of hospitality’s potential for strengthening our churches and for reaching our neighbors and friends with the gospel. Hospitality engenders Christian community (Strauch uses…

Book review: Unleashed
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Unleashed Release the Untamed Faith Within Publisher: Thomas Nelson Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: No In his re-released The Barbarian Way, now going under the title of Unleashed, Erwin McManus puts forward his critique that Christianity has become too civilized. He rejects the belief that “Jesus died and rose from the dead so that you can live a life of endless comfort, security, and indulgence,” and declares his “mission to destroy the influence of the Christian clich’, ‘The safest place to be is in the center of the will of God.’ “ Following Jesus is not about safety or security. McManus points out that John the Baptist lost his head while in the center of God’s will. “We look to Jesus not to fulfill our shallow longings or to provide for us creature comforts. We look to Him to lead us where He needs us most and where we can accomplish the most good.” McManus calls Christians to reject conformity and security, and to embrace what he calls the barbarian way, which is “about love expressed through sacrifice and servant hood.” Like early followers of Christ – John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul – we “are called…