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Mark Nenadov "arm-chair reader" (Essex, Ontario Canada)

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The Obsession Book of Timbuktu
The Obsession Book of Timbuktu
by Bruce Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.68
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4.0 out of 5 stars Have You Been to Timbuktu?, Aug. 20 2014
This book makes me want to go to Timbuktu. This has got to be one of the best and most innovative books of contemporary poetry released in the last few years. I say that both in terms of the design elements of the book (the graphics, the fonts, the layout) and the content (the cohesiveness of it all to a theme, the colourfuness/craftmanship of language, the thoughtfulness of it, the obvious delight of the poet, the connection to history and other literature). How refreshing it is to see a book of recent poetry that is thematically sophisticated and plunges the reader into a historically and geographically astute journey. I mean, how many books of poetry have you seen that have a Dramatis Personae at the end? Please do not be mistaken, this does not mean I enjoyed the poetry all the way through.I found myself getting impatientand rolling my eyes part way through at a few places. That said, I also found myself approaching the edge of genius at a few points as well. It really is quite a wild journey--be warned.

The Help
The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, June 26 2014
This review is from: The Help (Paperback)
The Help is an excellent read. It really drew me in. Normally it takes me at least a month or two to finish a book of 200 or so pages. This book weighs in at just over 450 pages and I finished it in well under a month. That's pretty remarkable for me. At no section of the book did I get impatient or become tempted to skip some pages. It was captivating throughout.

The reader is treated to a rich portrayal of the complex social life of white and black women in Mississippi in the early 1960s. Filled with racism, alienation, ambivalence, and vicious ugliness, no doubt, but also camaraderie and sisterhood. The characters are well done: Eugenia (Skeeter), Miss Hilly, Aibileen, Celia, and Minny, are especially well done, to name a few.

Stockett makes the gutsy (and, successful, I believe) move of trying to capture the dialect of the two black maid narrators (the other narrator is a white woman, Eugenia/Skeeter). For example, they say things such as: "Law, I'm thirsty" or "gone done". The effect can be jarring at first. But, as the reader gets used to it, and it fits really well. This linguistic twist certainly adds to the appeal.

Overall, it is believable, moving, and engaging, especially for one who is interested in the South and the civil rights movement.

This book generally has gotten rave reviews. On Goodreads, as of June 2014, it has over 1,000,000 ratings, with a mere 9% below four stars. That's pretty impressive. It does, though, have some harsh critics. The less than 1% who gave it a one star rating are fairly vocal. Though I regard myself as a fairly critical reader, I am not one of those critics. I loved it. I say, go and pick up the book and give it a try!

Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact
Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact
by Marvin Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.76
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Resource, Overall, June 17 2014
Though I have no special expertise with the early church fathers, I’ve recently read Basil’s Hexaemeron as well as Dr. Michael Haykin’s wonderful introduction to the fathers, which has a section on Basil. So, it was with considerable excitement that I began this book. I must tip my hat to Jones for taking on this project. I’ve always pictured it as being hard to write a biography of a figure from over 1,000 years ago. That said, there are at least some advantages to the lack of proximity in time!

Basil is a 4th century Christian leader, a hero in the history of Christian orthodoxy. He was a skilled preacher and a theological “heavyweight”, so to speak. And yet, he was a dedicated pastor and a very humble man, so much so that Jones suggests that: “His life and ministry can be and should be stated in a single word — humility!”

Jones’ basic desire herein is to prove to the modern evangelical church that Basil is an important figure who has much to say to the present-day church. In that endeavor, I believe Jones succeeds. And in doing so he provides a valuable history to the contemporary church. I hope many evangelical and reformed Christians will take up and read, not only this book but also Basil’s works themselves. Jones portrays Basil skilfully and with the touch of one who loves his subject. He’s distinctly appreciative of Basil’s legacy, but isn’t fawning over him, either. He shows some of Basil’s key mistakes and carefully documents the development of his theology, in addition to his triumphs. I love that the book is very attentive to the environment around Basil. It spends a great deal of time covering the theological discussions, figures, and controversies in which Basil was immersed. You don’t get the feeling that you are reading a narrow biography, but rather that you are getting a tour of Basil’s world. No matter where you are at in terms of background, you will be be, to some degree, more broadly informed.

Though I generally think this is quite the fine book, sadly, there are some ways in which my admittedly high expectations were disappointed.

First, I found the overall writing style left something to be desired. These two sentences are a good example of what I mean: “The ecclesiastical compromise of worldliness and the attempt of the church to seek God’s glory must be renounced as sinful. The church simply cannot live worldly and seek God’s glory at the same time.” I would suggest that the first sentence isn’t sufficiently clear–potentially leaving the reader with the impression that seeking God’s glory should be renounced as sinful! The second sentence clarifies what the author really means, but there is also an awkward redundancy between the two sentences. I don’t think this example is an isolated one. Writing issues aside, the book is relatively readable and often moves quite well. That is not to say they aren’t challenging parts. Unless you’ve read a great deal of theology, you’ll likely stumble a bit on the discussions of “homoiousian” and “homoousios”. I certainly did, but don’t let those parts scare you off–it’s quite well worth it to slug through those parts.

Second, from the standpoint of one who has no real expertise on this subject, I do wonder if a few of his modern day applications might be a bit overextended. Perhaps even a tad oversimplified or anachronistic. I am not, however, in the position to judge that and I would gladly leave that task for a more qualified reviewer. I would just add that my suspicions in that regard, even if accurate, amount to a fairly minor quibble.

Third, I wish that the author took a bit more time to show how people in the quite large period between the early church and the present-day church have appropriated Basil’s legacy. What about the Protestant Reformers? I felt that the author rushed to a present-day application, and hence truncated our view of Basil’s significance and perhaps did his readers a disservice.

Fourth, while the breadth of coverage and background information is a clear strength of this book, it may be also its weakness. I feel that perhaps an inordinate amount of time and space was spent discussing Athanasius, Didymus, etc, and perhaps in some of those areas the author strayed a bit too far from the core of the book. Trimming these areas down and pointing the readers to additional helpful resources may have been more profitable.

Whereas some of these flaws I’ve outlined have demoted this book down to 4 stars, it’s still a wonderful book and Jones has done a great service to the church in writing it. The book gave me a renewed appreciation for those who have struggled through some very tough battles to hash out for the future generations a solid bedrock and legacy of truth. Even with its flaws, this book is an impressive work. We need to hear more stories of men and women who loved the truth like Basil did. This encounter with Basil’s life was certainly profitable and worthwhile. Overall, I recommend it for those who want to learn about the great Christian theologian named Basil. And I’m looking forward to checking out other books in this series!

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church ,by Haykin , Michael A. G. ( 2011 ) Paperback
Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church ,by Haykin , Michael A. G. ( 2011 ) Paperback
by Michael A. G. Haykin
Edition: Paperback
2 used & new from CDN$ 25.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, May 15 2014
Haykin has done a wonderful job of presenting a warm, substantial, and inviting introduction to the Church Fathers. The book covers a nicely diverse cross section of figures from the early church. Haykin conveys a lot of enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm is contagious. In the past couple of months, in connection to this book, I've ended up reading On the Incarnation by Athanasius and The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus by Mathetes. I highly recommend this book.

by O. Palmer Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 5.22
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4.0 out of 5 stars Packs A Lot Of Punch!, May 15 2014
This review is from: Jonah (Paperback)
This is a great little practical commentary weighing in at a mere 64 pages. O. Palmer Robertson has done a great job with providing pithy comments that really get to the heart of the book of Jonah. I really do wish there were more commentaries like this. It's not very detailed and is rather simple, but it is highly effective and devotional, not getting bogged down into too many details. My only minor complaint is that the typesetting on quotes and Bible references ought to have been more consistent and more clearly delineated.

Gospel Assurance and Warnings
Gospel Assurance and Warnings
by Paul Washer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.95
20 used & new from CDN$ 13.41

3.0 out of 5 stars A Passionate and Sound Treatment of the Topic, but..., April 24 2014
"Gospel Assurance and Warnings" is the third and final book in the "Recovering the Gospel" series by Paul Washer. The first section handles the topic of assurance. The second discusses "gospel warnings" for those who have an empty profession.

As I we might expect from Washer, the presentation is stark, heartfelt, and passionate. Most of the citations are Scriptural, and while he is generally careful to introduce nuance, his presentation is rather uncomplicated and straightforward.
Washer's purpose is to make up for a deficiency in the current evangelical scene. Perhaps the deficiency is best summed up in a quote from near the end of the book: "Throughout the history of Christianity, the most godly ministers were marked by their balanced and consistent warnings to converts and congregants, but in our day such warnings are rare, and in many cases, they are nonexistent."

Especially helpful is its searching treatment of the marks of the true Christian found in 1 John. Ultimately, this is not a book that will make you feel uppity, but it is excellent fodder for exploring what the Gospel is and what it does. It was very helpful in prodding me to further meditate on the work of God in the heart of the believer.

I have no doubt that there will be those who will dismiss this book, because of its emphasis and approach. Even among those who proudly wear their "Reformed" identity or consider themselves heirs of the Puritans. There will be some who will dismiss this book's emphasis on self examination by calling it "law", "pietism", "assurance destroying", or "too introspective". However, upon a careful examination, I see nothing controversial from a Biblical and Reformed standpoint. In fact, I'd go so far to say that most who have a bone to pick would not have an issue with Paul Washer persay, but rather basic Reformed and Puritan spirituality. In his earnest call to self-examination and the application of Gospel warnings, Washer stands with Reformed luminaries throughout history. This book is a helpful corrective in a day when so many are allergic to self-examination. Washer brings forward a theology of assurance and Gospel warnings which reflects the theological heritage elucidated in the Westminister Standards and the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, both are repeatedly cited.

Washer seeks to draw out a balanced position, avoiding pitfalls in both extremes. A serious inventory of our sin, that is--an awareness and concern in regard to it, need not be "a downward spiral leading to debilitating remorse" and "deadly introspection". Rather, in light of the gospel, Washer says, "it is the path to freedom, assurance, and joy".

So, then, in light of these praises, why only 3 stars? While this book is certainly engaging, helpful, and theologically sound, it could have used quite a bit more editorial work. I have the feeling that the editor sort of gave Washer free reign and didn't tamper with his prose much. If so, I understand why they do that, but it seems to have had negative consequences.

For a contemporary book, the author is far too reliant on numbered points. There is a disconcerting use of repetition, with the book unnecessarily weighing in at 258 pages. I felt like becoming an impromptu editor and crossing out some of the redundancies. No only does Washer belabour certain points, but he also returns to and rehashes certain paragraphs almost verbatim. I love longer books, and 258 page books are needed at times, but I don't think this book is one of them. Given its aims and audience, this book would be much more useful if pared down to 150-200 pages. What is most frustrating to the reader is that careful and thoughtful editing work could have easily reduced it by 50 or 100 pages without really losing any value. Such editing work would have made it far more digestible and likely to arrive in the hands of those who need it most.

For a book exceeding 250 pages, there are a couple areas that are disappointingly underdeveloped. For instance, the treatment of antinomianism is tepid and weak in its definition. Certainly, no one would expect the author to provide a historical treatment akin to the one recently provided by Mark Jones. However, I wish Washer spent a little more time, perhaps a paragraph or two, developing the definition of antinomianism and explaining how it relates to the subject at hand. Also it is unfortunate that there is no scripture index. Washer repeatedly cites the Bible and having the full range of Bible texts accessible via an index would be extremely helpful in further study. Washer did all the hard work of citing every single Bible verse in chapter endnotes, even those without a formal quote. It seems to be a no-brainer to take that and assemble a scripture index for the convenience of the reader.

With both commendations and criticisms outlined, let me say that this book has very valuable and sound things to say and I hope my criticism of the editing does not obscure that. If my comments about the flaws are accurate, I hope they do not prevent the book from receiving a wide reading. I recommend this book to those readers who are professing Christians and are persistent enough to finish it. I hope that it accomplishes its intended task. I am convinced that those who stick with it and slowly read and ruminate upon Washer's thoughts will find the result highly profitable.

Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection
Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus' Death and Resurrection
by Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.97
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Feb. 16 2014
We live busy lives and there are other cultural pressures at play which make it hard to focus on one subject and linger. Thabiti's mission in this book is simple--to get Christians to gaze at Jesus, especially in his death and resurrection. We can often make things so complicated, but sometimes we must reorient our schedule to contemplate the two events which turned the whole world upside down. Yes, it's OK to stare sometimes!

I've previously read two of Thabiti's books on ecclesiological matters and also follow his blog and have attended a conference he spoke at, the Carey Conference here in Ontario. He's a great guy and I had pretty high expectations going into this book. And yet, I wasn't exactly sure by a book by him on this sort of subject would look like.

The book is split into five sections, which are question found in the Biblical books of Matthew, I Corinthians, and Luke. They are: Is There No Other Way?, Why Have You Forsaken Me?, Where, O Death, Is Your Victory?, Why Do You Look for the Living among the Dead?, and Do You Know These things?

Each of these sections focus in on aspects of the death and resurrection and bring forward their essence powerfully. In each section, Thabiti leads the reader in both some basic exposition and searching application.

I really enjoyed reading this book and finished it in a few days. My favorite parts were about the resurrection and its implications. It's a mere 100 pages and the writing is very clear and simple to digest. Overall, it is a very warm, experiential, practical, and winsome book and I highly recommend it. It powerfully brings forward the gospel with many of its implications, and it would be a great read for just about anyone at any time, especially around Easter!

The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality (Hc)
The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality (Hc)
by Donald S. Whitney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 60.34
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Collection of Essays, Feb. 2 2014
This is a festschrift in honour of Michael Haykin, the prominent Baptist (and, might I add, Canadian) historian. All of the essays are connected to the theme of Christianity spirituality or piety, covering individuals from an expansive range of history. Essentially, the time period covered is the history of the Christian church, extending from Basil of Caesarea to the current day. The list of contributors is also quite impressive, including theologians such as Carl Trueman, Erroll Hulse, Donald Whitney, Tom Nettles, Fred Zaspel, Mark Jones, and Peter Beck.

As I read it, this book captured my attention, often exclusively. For an often distracted reader like myself who tackles many books at a time, that says a lot! I was floored to see a good biographical section on Dr. Haykin himself. I’ve read five books by Haykin, but he doesn’t tend to talk about himself a lot, so I found his life story to be fascinating and fresh. The “circa 1970/1971″ portrait was also quite delightful.

I found most of the essays to be compelling and instructive. You get a feel for not only incidental facts, but the real passion and heart and soul of some “spiritual giants”. The early parts of the book can be tough sledding, but don’t be discouraged, it gets easier as it moves along! One might want to jump around and read some of the last essays first (I don’t think there’s any reason why they need to be read chronologically). A little “reading diligence” is rewarded in droves here and you will find many treasures. I feel like there really is something here for everyone, and any Christian who wants to be serious about living the Christian life will find several essays that really hit it home.

I was confronted, in an up-close-and-personal way, with a window into the life of some prominent characters in the history of Christian spirituality, some of which I’m familiar with, and others which I’m not. It’s hard to pick my favorite essays in this book, but if I had to, I’d probably pick the ones on Anselm of Canterbury (David Hogg), Edwards (Beck), B.B. Warfield (Zaspel), Erskine/Mason (Stewart), Bunayn (Beeke), Boyce (Nettles), and Spurgeon (Whitney).

In conclusion, this is a fitting tribute to Dr. Michael Haykin. So fitting that you might say he could have edited something like this himself. Kudos to Weaver and Clary. They have not only given Haykin an excellent 60th birthday gift, they have also given the church a fantastic goldmine of essays which will reward the diligent reader.

The Wordy Shipmates
The Wordy Shipmates
by Sarah Vowell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.50
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3.0 out of 5 stars Both Far Better and Far Worse Than 3 Stars, Jan. 24 2014
This review is from: The Wordy Shipmates (Hardcover)
For me, this book evades a star rating (so, don't read too much into my 3 star rating: the book is both better and worse than 3 stars). It was both an enjoyable read and an infuriating read. I think one of the commendations is right, Sarah Vowell IS the Madonna of Americana. She's also a true purveyor of Gonzo history. Like her other books, there's a strong travel writer slant to this book. Vowell is like a three-way cross between Bill Bryson, Joel Beeke, and...Hunter S. Thompson.

She looks at the American Puritans with a mixture of fascinated admiration and unveiled contempt. If you are looking for a careful, reverent, thorough, focused people's history of the Puritan colonists, this book is probably not going to please you.

On the other hand, if you want a gentle introduction that's an fun, easy read (and don't mind a provocative, snarky, and opinionted approach with plenty of rabbit trails), this might very well be the book for you. You will find a good deal in here about John Winthrop, John Cotton, the Pequot War, the banishment of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson

While I would say some aspects of this book were thoroughly annoying to me, I also found a good share of interesting tidbits presented in a way far more palpable to the modern reader than the dusty volumes you'd probably need to otherwise peruse. And so, in no way do I regret spending my time reading this book. Vowell certainly has a knack for "contemporizing" and spicing up history. Sometimes she gets way too carried away.

Devil In The Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
Devil In The Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
by Gilbert King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars One word: Wow!, Jan. 17 2014
When we think of America's southern states where lynching and other racial injustices occurred, few people think of Florida. Somehow, in spite of damning statistics, Florida has escaped much of the notoriety that has haunted states like Alabama or Mississippi. And yet, the flavour of white supremacy that flourished in Florida in the 20th-century was particularly brutal and extensive.

This book by Gilbert King is fantastic, an important and engaging window into the fight for justice in Groveland. I suppose you could call it historical non-fiction--with a bite!

The first book I read by King was The Execution of Willie Francis, the story of a black man in Louisiana who went to the electric chair twice. After finishing that book, I was already convinced of Gilbert King's genius. He writes non-fiction in a fresh, compelling way. So, when I eagerly picked up Devil in the Grove, I was initially confident I'd like it. However, as I began to read it, I started to wonder whether it might disappoint me.

It did take over half of this book convince me that Gilbert King has one-upped The Execution of Willie Francis--which, to be fair, is quite a tall task. The book won me over. King has produced a rip-roaring narrative, loaded with dramatic moments, and yet, it is conducted with the rigour of steady historical method. Not only does it move your emotions (it made me angry, outraged, sad, and I even laughed at a few points), but it is also highly informative and conveys an incredible amount of detail.

The book is centered on the efforts of NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall to exonerate four boys accused of rape, or at least spare them from execution. The "Good Ol' Boys" network was amazingly influential among law enforcement, judges, jury, and the general citizenry. As King repeatedly suggested, the line between the law enforcement and the KKK was a very, very fine line.

Along the way, we hear of the assassination of Henry T. Moore, and other bombings that consistently lead to no convictions. We meet a despicable Sheriff McCall, who seems to be the perfect stereotype of a Southern "Jim Crow" Sheriff. He proves to be quite capable of murdering defendants with impunity and, in his prejudice and lawlessness, he continued to supervise what could be justly called a "reign of terror".

Thurgood Marshall stands tall as an eloquent and courageous man who gives his all to fight against injustice. He was imperfect and, at times, frail and exhausted, but yet he had the tenacity of a bull dog. His fight in Florida was noteworthy, not only for his immediate effort, but also for the broader impact it had on the Civil Rights movement. The four Groveland boys stirred up a nation and the nationwide attention to the trial helped the NAACP raise funds and helped alert the country to the severe and systemic nature of racism in Florida and beyond.

I highly recommend this book and found it to be an amazing read, one that grew on me right up until the very last page! If you find the first half challenging, press on, the drama will likely draw you in.

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