Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

Friendship and Loss

 
A Feature Review of
 

Raymie Nightingale: A Novel
Kate DiCamillo

Hardback: Candlewick Press, 2016
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Reviewed by Sarah Brown
 
 
 
It is hard to review a book like Raymie Nightingale without wanting to append a great big post-modern ‘spoiler alert’ in flashing red letters, because a full appraisal necessitates mentioning the ending. Three quarters of the way through the book, you find yourself holding it at arm’s length, squinting at it with only one eye open, and hoping for the sort of redemption that wends its way through most of Kate DiCamillo’s other novels. True to form, DiCamillo delivers her characters from what seem to be insurmountable challenges; equally true to form, she eschews a fairy tale sort of ending in favor of one more recognizable to young readers as a resolution they might actually encounter in their own lives.

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Can a Murderer Change His Ways?

A Feature Review of 

Writing My Wrongs:
Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison

Shaka Senghor

Hardcover: Convergent, 2016
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Reviewed by Deborah Bloom

 

Is it possible for a violent murderer to change their ways and become a productive member of society? That is the question at the heart of Shaka Senghor’s engrossing New York Times bestselling memoir.

We first meet Shaka (birth name Jay) as he is growing up in an middle -class neighborhood on Detroit’s East side in the 1980s. At first Shaka is a happy child, an honor-roll student who dreams of becoming a doctor. But his life quickly unravels when Shaka runs away from home after his mother becomes more abusive after his parents’ divorce.

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Shattering our views
of Criminal Offenders

A Review of

Where The River Bends: Considering Forgiveness in the Lives of Prisoners. 
Michael McRay

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2016
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Reviewed By Paul D. Gregory

 

In the documentary “What I want my words to do to you,” American playwright and activist Eve Ensler spoke of the metamorphosis in her thinking about incarcerated women in the Bedford Correctional Institution in Bedford Massachusetts. Similar to most of society, Ensler originally viewed these incarcerated women as “mistakes” saying:

 

“Everyone is here at Bedford because of a mistake. Some of those mistakes occurred within months—some within minutes. Most of the mistakes were dreadful, catastrophic. Now we [society] have frozen you in your mistake. Marked you forever. Held captive. Discarded. Hated for your mistake. You have essentially been forced to become your mistake, the walking daily embodiment of your mistake. Held in the monument constructed to punish mistakes. Before I came here to Bedford, I imagined you the women here—mistakes lying on mistake cots behind steel mistake bars. Mistakes do not have faces or feelings or histories or futures. They are bad. Mistakes. We must forget them—put them away” [ 1 ]

 

Most of the mistakes we make are forgivable. A young man fails to show up for his weekly coffee date with his best friend. A young woman breaks off her engagement to her significant other. We unthinkingly berate a coworker, causing hurt to her/him. Forgiveness is granted for a large majority of our own mistakes.

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The Third Inkling

A Feature Review of 

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling
Grevel Lindop

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2016
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Reviewed by Mark Wendland

 

Listen to C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Guite
make the case for reading Williams.

 

Alice Mary (Smyth) Hadfield penned the earliest work about Charles Williams’ life. Because she had replaced Phyllis Jones as the librarian at the London branch of the Oxford University Press where Williams worked nearly his entire career, Alice was a beneficial source of information, but she was, arguably, too close to Williams to ever write a true biography. For some time this was all we had. Secondary literature, on the other hand, seemed ignorant of the facts that would begin to trickle out over the next decade. The introduction to Thomas Howard’s The Novels of Charles Williams (1983), for example, can confidently proclaim, “Charles Williams was not interested in the occult at all except during a brief period in his early life. One might be pardoned for forming the impression from his novels that he was quite caught up in the occult, but that would be a mistake.” We now know this to be false. Lindrop seconds previous research into this area. Williams was heavily involved in Jewish Kabbalism filtered through the modified Rosicrucian philosophy of A.E. Waite. There is also a hint that his parallel membership in the Lee-Nicholson group probably was not a casual preoccupation.

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Exceptional Humility, Class, and Endurance

A Feature Review of

For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr
Duncan Hamilton

Hardback: Penguin Press, 2016
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Reviewed by Emma Sleeth Davis

 

When most people hear the name Eric Liddell, they think of the Scottish runner who refused to run on the Sabbath and won gold at the 1924 Olympics in Chariots of Fire.  The movie, of course, is only half of the story.

In For the Glory, Duncan Hamilton takes an in-depth look at the life of Eric Liddell, from his missionary childhood in China, through his schooldays in Scotland, and at the height of his fame at the Olympics.  But where Chariots of Fire closes to the triumphant strains of Vangelis, Hamilton uncovers the even more remarkable second half of Liddell’s life—as a missionary in China, devoted husband and father, and heroic internee during WWII.

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Sensing Death So Close at Hand

A Review of

And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-Bye
Kara Tippetts

Paperback: David C. Cook, 2016
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Reviewed by Tiffany Malloy

 

When I first heard about Kara Tippetts, I was sitting in a circle of moms, talking and sipping hot tea while our kids were gleefully wreaking havoc on the playroom downstairs.

“Hey! Have you all heard about that woman in Colorado who is dying of cancer and blogging through it? This woman is amazing. You have to check out her blog, it’s called Mundane Faithfulness. But I’m warning you, you’ll definitely shed some tears….”

While the rest of the moms continued talking, I turned my attention to a toddler who had found an abandoned pile of goldfish crackers on the table.  As I watched him happily enjoying some other kid’s snack bounty, I tried to think about something, anything, other than that dying momma of 4 young children. Any parent knows it doesn’t take long before our imagination gets the best of us and suddenly WE’RE dying of cancer and how-in-the-world-are-our-kids-going-to-make-it-without-us and–oh no – we need to make an appointment with our lawyer to make sure our will is up-to-date.

It was too early in the morning for that kind of heartache.

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Reordering Our Loves

 
A Feature Review of
 

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
James K.A. Smith

Hardback: Brazos Press, 2016
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Reviewed by Jeff Crosby
 
 

Most of us have heard the aphorisms since childhood from parents, pastors or other well-intentioned people concerned for our welfare and trying to ensure we find a productive, healthy place in the world:

“You are what you eat.” (So be sure to eat that broccoli!)

“You are what you think.” (So be careful what books you read and songs you listen to!)

“You are what you speak.” (So be certain to control your tongue and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”)

Or if you grew up around a fan of the music of Frank Zappa, you might have heard: “You are what you is!” (“And that’s all it ‘tis.”)

Calvin College professor of philosophy James K.A. Smith begs to differ just a bit with our parents about eating, our pastors about thinking, our teachers about speaking, and even the inimitable Zappa about whatever esoteric truth he was articulating in his 1981 recording that still garners a cult following more than three decades later.

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Up and to the Right

 
A Feature Review of 

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
Andy Crouch

Hardback: IVP Books, 2016
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Reviewed by Ryan Johnson
 
 
In the heart of every woman and man there is an acute understanding that we were created for flourishing.  Equally present, however, is a devastating realization that we have failed to realize that purpose.  One needs only point to the exploitation of young children by traffickers or the amassing of wealth at the expense of others to prove the point.  The subsequent effect on our neighborhoods and communities is heart-wrenching.  The critic and prophet share the ability to bring these things to light.  The difference, however, is that the critic ends with this illumination while the prophet goes on to offer a message of hope and a vision for change.  This is what Andy Crouch has done so well in each of his previous books, Culture Making and Playing God.  This is what he does again in this important book, Strong and Weak.

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Tackling the Sacred Cow
of Youth Sports

 
A Review of
 

Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to the Sanity in the World of Youth Sports
Margot Starbuck and David King

Paperback: Herald Press, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle  ]
 
Reviewed by Adam Metz 
 
 
One of the most impressive and respected structures in my hometown of Columbus, OH is Ohio Stadium, nicknamed “The Horseshoe,” and it is where the Ohio State Buckeyes football team plays.  Originally built in 1922 (and now on the National Register of Historic Places) it has been expanded and renovated several times over the years to the point where the seating has nearly doubled its original capacity to over 102,000 seats.  As the largest venue in the entire state of Ohio, Ohio Stadium  illustrates just how powerful sports are in American culture.

What would our communities be without the social cohesion and identity partly forged by our allegiance to professional and collegiate sports teams?  Regional pride and identity are best on display through the distinctive college mascots and corresponding colors emblazoned throughout communities: Gators in Florida, Volunteers in Tennessee, Hoosiers in Indiana, Longhorns in Texas, Ducks in Oregon, and – of course – Buckeyes in Ohio.  These sports allegiances are further nuanced as attention focuses more locally.  At one level, high school athletic programs foster their local community pride, while Saturday morning recreation leagues within those same communities further divide allegiances.

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Learning to Let Go.

A Feature Review of

The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our “Correct” Beliefs
Peter Enns

Hardback: Harper One, 2016.
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Reviewed by Bob Cornwall.

 

The book of Hebrews declares that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The author of Hebrews tells us that our spiritual ancestors received approval for their faith, even though they could not see their hopes come to fruition. To live by faith is to trust your life to a God who remains unseen. Nevertheless, many of us have a need more certainty than this. There is a need on the part of many for a bit more definition of the faith. That leads to a desire for what Peter Enns calls “correct” beliefs. Whether those correct beliefs emerge from Scripture or from tradition, they offer a sense of certainty. Peter Enns learned the hard way that this can be dangerous. Thus, he concluded that the search for certainty is in itself a matter of sin.

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