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Entries in Book Reviews (32)


Book Review - Indian Horse

I love books which keep me turning the pages. That is what Indian Horse did. I read it in three days. I could have read it in one, but I had other things going on. It was one of the most poignant, beautiful, tragic stories I have ever read.

Indian Horse, by indigenous writer, Richard Wagamese, is the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy who is taken to a residential school. I don't know if the US had residential schools for its indigenous people, but here in Canada, they are notorious. While at the school, in the midst of his sorrow and suffering, he is introduced to hockey by Father Leboutilier. Saul is a natural. He has a vision of the game that is instinctive to him, and he is a hard worker, practicing in the cold morning hours with frozen horse piles because he does not have a puck. When he begins to show his skill, he is given a way out of the school and an opportunity to pursue his dream.

Unfortunately, while playing for a minor hockey team, he confronts the inevitable racism. Saul does not want to react to the racism; he does not want to become a fighter. He just wants to play the game, a game he is told is the white man's game. Playing in junior hockey is what robs him of the joy of the game. He returns home, angry and defeated.

I still had grace, the flowing speed, but my eyes were feral beneath my helmet. I blazed up the ice with locomotive force, and when anybody hit me, I hit back. When they slashed me I slashed back harder, breaking my stick against shin pads and shoulder pads. When they dropped the gloves with me I punched and pummelled until I had to be torn off by my teammates. There was no joy in the game now, no vision. There was only me in hot pursuit of the next slam, bash and crunch. I poured out a blackness that constantly refuelled itself. The game was me alone with a roaring in my gut and in my ears. I heard nothing else. When other members of the Moose stopped talking to me, I knew that I was beyond them, the tournament teams, and the game, forever.

The last part of the story is the account of Saul coming to terms with what has happened to him. It is written brilliantly, with the reader walking alongside Saul, discovering things about him as he does himself. That which is buried deep inside of Saul is revealed to Saul and the reader at the same time, so that the emotional impact is shared. Told in the first person, it is a journey of mutual discovery between reader and narrator. And the prose is beautiful.

I cried at the end of the story not only for the sorrow of what happened to Saul, but for the perfect ending that Wagamese provides. It was one of the best endings to a novel I have read.

Canada often likes to portray itself as not having a racism issue. We certainly do, although it is different from the U.S. While we did not go out and seek slaves from other countries, in a sense, we enslaved the people who were here before the white man. Taking away the culture and identity -- which is what the residential schools were designed to do -- is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. That is why when I read comments online about how there is only "one race, the human race" (technically, are not homo sapiens a species, not a race?) I think of how the logical conclusion to that belief is simply trying to drive away a significant part of someone's identity. 

The story of Saul Indian Horse is fiction, but it is by no means fabricated. The record of what happened to indigenous children is residential schools is very real. And this novel might be a good way to get a glimpse.

I have already ordered the paperback (I read it on Kindle) so that I can go back and re-visit those breathtaking passages. I was so intent on finding out how the story ended that I didn't dwell on them nearly as long as I would have liked. This is a book I want to own in paper, not just Kindle.


Do you need to be refreshed?

In between Greek pronouns and Hildegard of Bingen (the subject of my term paper in Church History) I managed to read and thoroughly enjoy Shona and David Murray's book Refresh. I've reviewed it today at Out of the Ordinary.

Here is a snippet from the opening: 

OverwhelmedExhausted. Depreessed. Panicky. Stressed. Burned out. Broken. Paralyzed. Drowning. Empty. Recognize yourself in any of these words? Maybe in all of them?  
You're not alone. These are the most common words I've heard Christian women useing to describe themselves and their lives. 
Whatever happened to the words peaceful, calm, joyful, content, quiet, rested, refreshed, and fulfilled? Wouldn't you like to exchange the second set of words for the first? 

Click here to read the review.

This was an encouraging and helpful book. I would definitely recommend it. 


Book Review and Giveaway - The Happy Christian

People love extremes, Christians included. At one end, we have the prosperity mind set that says a lack of happiness is a sure sign of a lack of faith. And then there is the other end that sees Christianity with every negative possible. In David Murray's book The Happy Christian, a balance is struck between those two extremes. While this book does not promote the power of positive thinking, it does promote the reality of a positive faith in Christ.

Murray sets out in this book to combat what he sees as a ramptant negativity in the world, a negativity which has invaded the church. The subtitle for the introduction is "The Happiest People in the World." And so Christians ought to be. Given what we have in Christ, we have cause for rejoicing.

Murray points out that we are what we think:

A positive faith produces a positive life; a negative faith, a negative life. That shouldn’t surprise us. King Solomon wrote, “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.”

We are what we think and believe. 

In ten chapters, Murray provides formulas for putting a positive faith into practice, dealing with areas such as the media, our salvation, how we look at the future, extending grace to the world, giving praise, giving finances and time, our work, and celebrating diversity.

Murray has done extensive research about the habits of happy people in general. Many of his findings look at how unbelievers change their thought patterns and attitudes to exhibit more happiness. He returns to the point often that if those who are outside of Christ can be happy, how much more should we as Christians be happy? Have we not a precious hope that brings happiness? Murray challenges us in this book to look at our faith in the positive, not always the negative. He does not turn a blind eye toward or excuse sin, but he encourages us to remember that the truth of how much we have in Christ, which should evidence itself in a positive faith.

I particularly liked his chapter "Happy World," where he talks about common grace, which he refers to as "everywhere grace." I, myself, tend to look at the world without seeing the grace everywhere. Sometimes, we as Christians look at those outside of Christ as interlopers into our domain, and we look look at them with a miserable glance. We ought to be looking for signs of grace wherever we can. We don't ignore sin, but neither do we ignore the evidences of God's grace whever it can be seen. I appreciated his comment about our reluctance to patronize services from unbelievers, insisting that "Christian" services, etc., are more virtuous:

Sometimes Christians and churches may decide to buy a certain good or service from a company simply because it is a Christian company. The product or service may not be the best, but it has a Christian owner. That’s faulty thinking, thinking that results from failing to understand God’s everywhere grace. If God has enabled a non-Christian to make the best product or provide the most efficient service, we should gladly buy from him or her and regard it as God’s grace to that person and to us. 

The fact that unbelievers can excel in their work, produce beautiful works of art or music, or counsel someone who is hurting is evidence of grace, and we ought to rejoice in that. I believe it would help us show more love toward those who don't believe.

I really benefitted from this book. I tend to be someone who sees the worst-case scenario before I see the benefits. It was a challenge for me to think about how that can inadvertantly make it seem like the Christian life is dire and gloomy. This was a refreshing, encouraging read.

The only thing I didn't like is that the Scripture passages which were the foundation of the arguments were relegated to the footnotes rather than included in the text. I'm sure the publisher has reasons for this, but I would rather not have to flip to the back of the book to find the reference. It was a minor thing, and did not really detract from the content.


Thomas Nelson has generously allowed me to offer a free copy to a lucky winner. If you are interested in getting a free copy of this book, and you live in Canada or the United States, please leave your name in the comments. A first name and a last initial should suffice in the event that two people with the same name enter the draw. I will announce the winner on February 17th, a week from today, and you will receive the book from Thomas Nelson directly.

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If you pre-order the book before February 24, you are entitled to some free resources. Click here for more details.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for their generosity in providing me with this book in exchange for an honest opinion.



You Can Pray - Book Review

Do you struggle to pray? Do you feel bad because you struggle to pray? Do you get easily distracted and wonder why you just can't focus? You're not alone. Prayer is something that is as easy as opening our mouths or directing our thoughts heavenward, but it can be a struggle.

Chester's book, You Can Pray is founded on the premise that we can pray. There is no mystery to it, and any weakness is more about our heart than the actual activity of praying. Chester points out that any prayer is a good prayer if it is motived with the right heart. The Father loves to hear us pray. He wants us to pray. The problem starts with our own weakness. 

The book is divided into three parts, "Why Prayer is Easy (How We Pray)," "Why Prayer is Difficult (Why We Pray)," and "What We Pray." Every chapter is rich with Scriptural foundations. That is what I loved the most about this book. Throughout, Chester provides passages of Scripture to reflect upon, and at the end of each chapter, there is a prayer based on a Scripture passage. In the third section of the book, Chester examines the Lord's Prayer as a model of praying, and gives examples of how to apply the various petitions of the Lord's Prayer to our particular circumstances. Chester even suggests praying with an open bible, because, he queries: "How else are we going to know what to pray for?" 

I really appreciated how he dealt with feeling that our prayers are unanswered. After reminding the reader that sin is not always the reason for unanswered prayer, he encourages the reader to examine his heart:

The really important thing to realize is that it's not God who's holding us at arm's length. We're holding God at arm's length. That's why he feels distant -- because we're either pushing him away (by harbouring sin in our hearts) or hiding behind a mask. If God feels far away, then examine your life.

Chester writes with a warm, pastoral tone. It was not a cumbersome read, but it definitely got me thinking about my own prayers. Chester is a pastor, and he comes across like one. Sometimes, that is what we need most: to have someone come alongside and shepherd us. It is evident that Chester has a heart for people, and a heart to see God's people find intimacy in prayer. This book would make a great gift, and Christmas is coming. There's still time to get one! 

Even people who have been Christians for a very long time occasionally struggle to pray. Through various seasons of life, it can be more difficult. Sometimes, we just don't know what to pray, and that can trip us up. Tim Chester's book reminds us that we can pray. His reminder that our prayers don't have to to be eloquent or polished was a reminder I needed myself. Initially, I wasn't going to review this book, because I really don't like reading digital books. To my delight, I was given a paper copy of this book. I am very thankful to have been able to read this book. It was a refreshing encouragement to me, and one of the best books on prayer I've read. 

I was given this book free of charge in exchange for an honest opinion. I am grateful, as always, for P&R, for supplying good books.


The Story - Book Review

I'm always excited to see good bible study resources for teenagers. While I worked with youth ministry, it was always a burden on my heart for kids to get as excited about Scripture as I was. Jon Nielson has written a resource I'm really excited about.

The Story is a 365 day devotional for teens and young adults. The subtitle is "The Bible's Grand Narrative of Redemption." Nielson's goal with this devotional is to introduce to students the entire scope of the bible, the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. I think this is a brilliant idea. I know for myself, understanding how individual portions fit into the larger story has been invaluable for my own study.

Nielson breaks down the account of Scripture into five acts: Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Samuel, David to Exile, Exile to Jesus, Jesus to the End. Each day contains a portion of Scripture, usually a chapter of a book. There is commentary and application to follow. Day 1 to Day 243 cover Old Testament readings, and the remainder are in the New Testament. While entire books of the Bible are not covered, major themes are covered, enough to give the student the big picture, as well as encouragement to read the whole of the book. The only books he does not have readings from is I and II Chronicles, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Haggai.

In the course of 365 readings, Nielson continually directs the students to the character of God, His sovereignty, His mercy, His grace, His holiness, and His providence. He also encourages the students to recognize and address their own sin. Personal holiiness is a consistent them in the book. His applications did not resort to simple moralisms, but remained consistently anchored to the nature of God himself.

Many student devotionals fail to communicate that the bible is about God, not us, and this book makes God the subject of each day's reading, while not neglecting application. This tool is not a substitute for reading all of Scripture, but it is a great way to get a student motivated to tackle that goal. 

I highly recommend The Story. I found myself wanting to buy copies for the youth in my own church, despite the fact that I am not working with youth ministry any more. I am certainly intending to get a copy for my youth pastor.

I want to thank P&R Books and Net Galley for providing me with a digital copy to preview in exchange for an honest review.