Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The White Horse King

The back of the book advertises The White Horse King as “a mythic adventure story that stirs the imagination and races the heart.” So—I was expecting to read of an adventure, something like First Knight or The Three Musketeers set in Viking times. Instead I got a documentary. There’s nothing wrong with documentaries, but when you’re expecting an epic story, they are disappointing.

That first reaction set aside, as an historical biography, The White Horse King is well-researched and thoroughly presented. I don’t know if the author ever read You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack or not, but he followed her instructions for a biography to the letter, starting with known facts about Alfred the Great and adding cultural and historical information to complete the story, to help the reader understand what he probably did, felt, and thought about events during his time. Notes set to the side of the text, drawings, maps, and pictures add interest to the book. Each of the eight chapters begins with an historical ballad, poem, or quote relevant to the content. The book also includes a bibliography and index.

If you enjoy learning about the Vikings, early Anglo-Saxon kings, and the history of England along with the origins of some of its early myths, The White Horse King is a book you will want to read.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy of this book for me to review.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Review: 101 Simple & Thoughtful Ways to Give This Christmas Away

Wow! Matthew West wrote a book! A good book! Usually he writes songs—really good songs. But the song he wrote for the latest Veggie Tales movie gave him the idea for a book, so he wrote that, too. It’s really good. (Did I say that already?)

101 Simple & Thoughtful Ways to Give This Christmas Away is a small hardback (6.5 x 6.5). Each page lists one idea for giving Christmas away followed by West’s explanation of the idea and a Bible verse. (I had no idea there were so many Bible verses about giving, yet they were all familiar verses. Seeing them all together in one place made me realize maybe I take them for granted sometimes.)

Throughout the book, West shares personal stories of times he was challenged to give in these ways. I especially appreciated the stories of his grandfather and father giving to others in ways that taught him. Some ideas are extremely simple, like giving a smile, others are more challenging, like giving till it hurts or giving to an enemy. But each idea is well presented, thought-provoking, and easy to understand. (I especially appreciated #16.) Some of West’s ideas draw attention to well-known charities such as Operation Christmas Child and the Salvation Army.

If you are looking for simple ideas to make Christmas giving more meaningful this year—and for giving all year round!—I highly recommend this cute, little book.

Thank you Tyndale House Publishers for sending me this complimentary copy to review.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: The Sacred Meal

Nora Gallagher has a unique writing style. I enjoyed reading The Sacred Meal, and it definitely made me think. I agreed with some statements from every chapter, but at the start of each, I wondered if I would. Rather than state her point at the outset, Gallagher reminisces, moving from story to thought to another story, connections not always obvious until the end when she wraps it all up and, suddenly, her point is finally clear.

Though I liked her writing style and enjoyed her stories and found some statements in each chapter to embrace wholeheartedly, there were a few issues that greatly concerned me. Throughout the book, Gallagher refers to historical, human Jesus and seems to ignore the God Who came to save. In her chapter on the history of communion, she leaves out the biblical accounts of the Last Supper, of Jesus Himself giving us this sacrament. In fact, she compares communion to the Muslim’s Ramadan and the Jewish Seder saying that since all three faiths come from Abraham, they are bound to have common rituals. All three may involve food, but that doesn’t make them similar, historically or otherwise.

Further, Gallagher seems to define communion as something that unites people, that links them together with some mystic bond. That’s true, but only if we recognize Jesus as that bond. We are united as we remember His sacrifice, as we reflect on what He did for us on the cross, as we worship Him together with gratitude. Gallagher mentions being thankful, but there doesn’t seem to be any worship or recognition of Christ involved. At the end of one chapter, she suggests it doesn’t matter what we believe, but only how we live. I get the impression she believes we save ourselves by following Christ’s example, by living good lives, that we don’t really need him; He’s just a good life model to follow. This concerns me. How we live is important, true. But living the way God wants us to is only possible if we’ve accepted Christ as our Savior, if He lives in us.

The Sacred Meal is a thought-provoking book with some good ideas, but I hesitate to recommend it. If you do choose to read it, read the biblical accounts of the Last Supper first, be clear on what your church believes about Communion, and compare and contrast with other books and articles on the topic. I don’t think Gallagher should have the only word.