Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Icefall – Matthew J. Kirby

© 2011, Scholastic, New York

Last year I discovered a brilliant new writer—Matthew J.Kirby—by virtue of our school’s “Book Fair.” His first book—The ClockworkThree—was filled with signs of a master wordsmith. Buildings and forests came to life. There was magic in the words—from beginning to end. The result of that read was two-fold: I am in the process of reading The Clockwork Three in pieces to my children as part of their bed-time routine (it takes awhile because we’re only good for about five pages at a time); and I couldn’t resist getting his second book (which I also found at a school book fair).

Icefall mixes myth and legend with period adventure and coming of age. It is the story of Solveig told in her own words. She is the second daughter of a Norse chieftan/king, sent with her older sister and younger brother to a safe haven while her father wages war against a would-be suitor for her sister, Asa. The story begins slowly but builds as you read—you will need to allow three or for chapters to get into the story—and the window into the world of old Norse legend is priceless.

We encounter berserkers, the elite fighting force of the king. Men who have learned to call upon the beast within for power during battle have been sent to protect the small band made up of the king’s children, their guards and the servants who attend them. The berserkers arrive with Alric the skald (story-teller) just as winter arrives at their fjord.

As you read you will hear tales of Odin and Thor and Fenric (the Wolf). You will get caught up in the intrigue, the battles, and the stories of treachery. All the while you will laugh with Solveig, cry with her, hurt with her, tremble with her as she develops her skill as a skald in her own right.

One of the drawbacks to the book is the story that is inserted between most of the first chapters—meant to provide some of the characterization and aid the plot development, these little one- and two-page breaks do more to distract the reader than to further the story (it is my opinion that the book would read actually better without them). Another tactical error on the part of the author is the choice of first person active voice. He is consistent throughout the book, and the first person telling is good. However, the present active voice takes some getting used to.

Once you have mastered the voice of the story, you will be caught up, though—so get this book—buy it, borrow it, don’t steal it—and read it. I give the author three and three-quarters stars for a grand story with some issues (mostly at the beginning—by the end of the story you won’t want to put it down) in the telling.

—Benjamin Potter, January 24, 2012

[Just another note, in case you think Kirby is not worth reading (because I think he is): Icefall has received nomination for both the Edgar for best juvenile fiction and the Cybil for best Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy. I think we'll be looking forward to much more from Mr. Kirby!]

Friday, January 13, 2012

What Does God Want of Us Anyway? – Mark Dever

© 2010 Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois

I am slowly working my way through a number of short titles written and produced by a variety of authors at 9 Marks. Some of them have been placed on my “must read” shelf, while others are good, but probably won’t be revisited. Among the books are What Is aHealthy Church?, Dever’s concise discussion of his original Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (I recommend the smaller digest for all but the really deep readers out there); Thabiti Anyabwile’s What Is a Healthy ChurchMember? which highlights the purpose and life of a Christian who really wants his Christianity to mean something (it’s a nice concise overview of Church Life, and I recommend it to anyone who either is unsure about joining with a local church or is considering what kind of church to join); and What Is the Gospel?, the little black book by Greg Gilbert that I think ought to be read by everyone—Christian and non-Christian alike.

My latest read in this “What Is . . .” series is a digest of some material that Dever presents in two volumes elsewhere at great length. In this short book, the author takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Scriptures. Part I composes roughly the first half of the book and argues that the entire Bible (Old and New Testaments) are worth our while as Christians. In parts II and III, Dever focuses on the Old Testament and the New Testament respectively.

The really positive aspects of this book may spur you to get a copy for a quick read. It is short (only about 120 pages), it reminds the Christian of the usefulness of studying Scripture, and it develops excellent arguments concerning the unity of the message in the whole Bible which leads to a unique unity in the preaching that is based on the Bible and the Life that is lived according to the message found within its covers.

All that said, there are some drawbacks to this volume. For all its shortness, I found it easy to put the book down to read something more interesting. The writing is at times dry, and (even with the author’s warning that it’s about to happen) the repetitive material can at times bog down the reader. I have not read the longer books—Promises Made: The Message of the OldTestament and Promises Kept: The Message of the New Testament (collections of sermons that this volume is based on)—but think that it might serve the reader to dive into the them for a more complete look at this much needed topic.
Three and one-half out of four reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, January 13, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – J. D. Wetterling

© 2010 Smashwords

If you recognize the title of this e-book don’t get upset. Wetterling did not write it, and yes, it is Jonathan Edwards. What Wetterling has done is edit this time-tested sermon into shorter, more manageable sentences (and the readers say, “Thanks”), and couple it with another of the great Puritan preacher’s sermons.

I have long heard of and read bits and pieces of “Sinners . . .” but have never read through the sermon in its entirety until I accessed this copy for my Nook. Edwards, it is said, was not an eloquent speaker, but rather read his sermons in a fairly monotonous voice. When he looked up it was to make eye contact with the rope used to pull the church bell. Even so, this sermon so moved the hearts of his listeners that they envisioned themselves literally dangling above the fiery pit on the strand of a spider’s silk.

Now, having had my turn at reading the sermon (even this edited version), I have little question in my mind as to why the sermon did its work. The one troublesome thing that “Sinners. . .” did was to advance a view of Puritanism which focused over-largely on a wrathful God. In fact if the only sermon you ever heard of Edwards was this one, you might also think that God is always and only angry.

This is what prompted our editor to include the second sermon in this short book—“The Christian Pilgrim.” This second selection focuses on the Journey that each person takes, with the hopeful destination of Heaven. Edwards pulls no punches – insisting that if there is a heavenward destination, there is also an opposite life’s ending (we call it hell). But the tone of this message is one of a more benevolent and loving God offering a final destination of awe and wonder.

Of the two sermons, I must admit that “Sinners . . .” is the more compelling, but there are reasons why one work of art is considered a masterpiece and another fodder for the ‘fridge. Some books and movies are considered classics, timeless, while others find a quick spot on the back shelf of the video rental house. We classify certain songs as vintage or classic, while others aren’t even good enough for the ‘b’side of a 45 (ask you mother). While “The Christian Pilgrim” is a good sermon, and achieves its purpose in this collection of two, the real star of the show is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It is well worth your time to find a copy—either this edited version (which is free for your Nook, by the way) or in other collections of classic sermons from American History. It’s a great message for Christians to read to remind them of the great, grace-filled gift that is theirs, and to share with others who are waiting to hear.

This edition is worthwhile for any collector of great sermons, four and one-half reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, January 7, 2012

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