"They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?"

Author: Patrick F. McManus
Genre: Humor/Outdoor

When it comes to humor, Pat McManus is in a class all his own. In the spirit of Mark Twain, but with a rather dry and cynical twist, he manages to craft the most hilarious essays and short stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading, bar none.
Occasionally I come across a person who doesn't find McManus funny. I can only offer my sympathies to those people. I can't imagine what life must be like for them.
They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?, while not my favorite McManus book (A Fine and Pleasant Misery takes that prize) nonetheless provided hours of entertainment and laughter for both me and my family. The author's accounts of his outdoor adventures both as a boy and as an adult, and his advice to aspiring outdoors-people are just irresistible.
Since McManus is not a Christian writer, occasionally I come across a slightly off-color remark or reference in some of his work, but it is never anything terrible and only once in a while. My family reads McManus books aloud to each other all the time with no problem.
If you're looking for some light-hearted reading and side-splitting entertainment, or if you simply desire a well-rounded reading repertoire, anything written by Pat McManus is a must-read.


"The Mysterious Maya"

Author: George Stuart
Publisher: National Geographic
Genre: Non-Fiction/Archaeology/History

I've always been intrigued by the ancient cultures of South America, and I occasionally fantasize about being an archaeologist, so finding The Mysterious Maya at the local library sale was a special treat.
The first half of the book was excellent, explaining the history of the Maya people and their culture (including a great story about a Spaniard marrying a Maya woman and then leading the Maya revolt against the Spanish himself), as well as discussing excavation sites and discoveries by modern archaeologists.
The second half of the book veered more into the current state of affairs regarding the modern Maya, descendants of the ancient peoples. I have no problem with that, but the author also took a rather melodramatic excursion through his own journey to understanding the Maya culture. He carried it so far as to have his own children 'christened', for lack of a better term, with ceremonies preserved by the Maya people from ancient times, and to participating in ceremonial offerings to the Maya rain god in times of drought.
All of this, while not particularly surprising to me, was still a bit over-the-top for my tastes. As a history and archaeology book, though, The Mysterious Maya was unquestionably informative and educational, and wouldn't be a bad addition to a person's history library.


"Kristina, the Girl King"

Author: Carolyn Meyer
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Series: The Royal Diaries

In spite of the claims of the historical notes at the back of the book, calling Kristina "the most talked about queen in history, second only to Cleopatra", I had never heard of her before reading this book.
The book was a great read, though (I read the whole thing in a single afternoon) and Kristina herself made a fascinating study.
Since both her parents were disappointed at Kristina's birth over the fact that she was a girl, her father made the decision that she would be raised as a prince and trained to be king after his death (in that culture queens were looked upon as merely the wives of kings, having no power or authority themselves). So, rather than embroidering and gossiping like the other girls in the royal court, Kristina spent her time fencing, riding, shooting, and studying to become a wise ruler.
Her mentally and emotionally unstable mother creates a never-ending source of tension and worry for Kristina, as do the constant promptings from her advisors, telling her that she should marry.
The author does a fabulous job letting the readers into Kristina's thoughts. Of course it's all speculation, but when you read the actual historical facts about "The Girl King of Sweden" and see how well it coincides with the fictional portrayal of Kristina in this book, you feel like you actually know the girl.
If you're looking for something pleasant and relaxing but still educational to read, I definitely recommend this book.


"Isabel, Jewel of Castilla"

Author: Carolyn Meyer
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: The Royal Diaries

By now I'm sure you've guessed it: I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, and The Royal Diaries series is one of my all-time favorites. I've been reading them since I was 14, and it doesn't look like I'll be stopping any time soon!
Isabel, Jewel of Castilla is the fictional diary of future-queen Isabel of Spain, the woman who would play such a vital role in sending Christopher Columbus on his epic journey of discovery.
I haven't read much about the history of Spain, so this book offered some great insight into this corner of the Renaissance world.
The plot of the story itself was intriguing and enjoyable as well. Though far from being 'gripping' or action-packed (the journal-entry format just seems to have a dampening effect on that aspect, no matter how thrilling the story itself might be) the plot was still engrossing as Isabel is forced to watch and wait as advisors, nobles, and estranged siblings make decisions that will forever alter her fate. Her brothers are warring for the throne of Castilla. Her mother suffers mental illness. And all the while, a host of disagreeing parties are attempting to arrange Isabel's marriage to one of an equally large host of suitors.
On the whole, this book was a fun, intriguing, and yes, educational read. As usual, any book in The Royal Diaries series would be a great way to supplement a history study, but they make great pleasure reading as well.


"Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics

Author: Alisa Harris

Genre: Memoir, Politics

Publisher: Waterbrook

When I first saw this book, I read the author’s name, Alisa Harris, and subconsciously assumed it was ‘Harris’ as in Joshua and Alex and Brett, as in kissing dating goodbye and doing hard things. I took the title, ‘Raised Right’ to mean ‘Raised Correctly’ and the subtitle, ‘How I Untangled My Faith from Politics’ to refer to keeping one’s beliefs uncorrupted by the influence of political correctness.

I was wrong on all three counts.

Raised Right is the memoir of Alisa Harris, who was, in her own words, “picketing since before [she] could walk”. From praying outside abortion clinics to protesting outside capitol buildings and from Worldview Academy to debate class, her parents raised her to uphold strong Republican ideals and to be ready to combat false beliefs.

Early on in the book she gently criticizes her upbringing, citing instances such as her mother’s avoidance of explaining the definition of a prostitute but freely and graphically explaining the definition and process of abortion, as well as involving her in political circumstances and arenas she was too young to fully understand.

I do agree that many parents thrust their children into political arenas far too early, before the children are capable of understanding what they are taking part in and making the choice to participate themselves. As the author grew older, she began seeing this for herself and grew disillusioned with the extreme political nature of her faith.

What follows is an account of her rocky journey from being a far-right-wing conservative to a moderate to a self-professed liberal feminist.

Personally, I was deeply disappointed, even outraged, by this book. The author’s journey of ‘learning to live out the gospel’ consists mainly of a touchy-feely blurring of the lines between right and wrong, an embracing of vague bipartisan ideals, and subtle subversion against biblical principles.

In discussing the biblical role of women, the author relies on ‘a convincing interpretation of Scripture’ that said the Bible’s command to women to be silent in church was directed only at a particular church in a particular culture, to help them ‘avoid being a stumbling block’ to their culture. But, the author says, in twenty-first century America, ‘forcing women to be silent and denying them certain ministry roles because of their gender’ makes churches who practice that belief a stumbling block to our culture.

But if that is the case, perhaps we the church should stop preaching that adultery and promiscuity are wrong. After all, both those practices are widely accepted parts of our culture, and if people know they will have to give up those practices if they become Christians, that could become a stumbling block for them. See? That theory just doesn’t work.

The author also endorses an ideal of marriage in which both the man and woman are equal, ‘each submitting to the other in Christ’, which is completely contrary to the Bible’s clearly outlined plan for the man to be the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the church. Biblical marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Is Christ supposed to submit to the church out of love, then? Should Christ and His church be compromising on tough decisions? Somehow I don’t think so.

Later in the book the author quotes a friend of hers who makes the following statement: “The whole gay thing? Jesus never mentioned homosexuals at all. I just feel that Jesus’ heart was more for the impoverished and the sick. I don’t feel like He would get so flared up.” Although the author did not make this statement herself and she does not expressly endorse it, neither does she refute or correct it. No, we have no record of Jesus saying anything about homosexuality when He was on Earth in the flesh. But Jesus was God, and the entire Bible, not just the words in red ink, is the Word of God. The Bible makes it quite clear that homosexuality is an abomination. As for Jesus getting ‘flared up’, I would like to point out the cleansing of the temple—throwing over tables and chasing people out with a whip qualifies as ‘flared up’ in my book. And, in direct relation to the homosexuality issue, God rained fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the rampant and unrepentant homosexuality taking place there. If that is not ‘flared up,’ I don’t know what is.

The author also expresses angst about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wondering how war can possibly solve anything, and confusion over the fact that we liberated the people of Iraq from a violent genocidal dictator only for them to look at us as invaders. However, later in the book as she is describing the horrible treatment women in the Middle East receive at the hands of men, she criticizes Americans and Christians for caring more about unborn children being aborted every day than they do about born women being abused, tortured, and killed in the Middle East every day. My question is this: if we were to go in by force and liberate these abused women from the men abusing them like we liberated the men, women, and children suffering under a tyrannical dictator, what would stop them from having the same irrational perspective of us—seeing us as invaders—as the others we liberated?

I agree with the author’s view that Christians can often become too militant and combative in promoting their beliefs, and that we do need to speak the truth in love rather than shouting it from protest groups. I agree that finding a way to speak the truth in love to a culture that doesn’t want to hear it is difficult. But that does not give us license to reinterpret Scripture to suit our own desires and the desires of a corrupt and godless culture.

I received this book from the publisher free of charge in exchange for my review.



Author: Donita K. Paul
Series: The Dragonkeeper Chronicles
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Waterbrook

I’ve read lots of good novels. Lots of good fantasy novels, even. And it’s hard to say what makes one certain novel a classic while other novels, perhaps equally good, somehow lack the ability to endure. But I feel confident in saying that Donita K. Paul’s novel Dragonspell possesses that staying power, that mysterious spark that makes a book a classic.

The cover touts it as “A fantastic journey of discovery for all ages” and it’s no exaggeration. I have known twelve-year-olds and twenty-somethings who enjoyed the book equally.

Dragonspell is the story of Kale, a village slave who finds a dragon egg and is consequentially thrust into a world of adventure she never dreamed of. Encountering grawligs, kimens, wizards (good and evil), a tumanhoeffer librarian, mordakleeps, and of course, dragons.

The action of the story is intense and exciting, but there is no gore or excessive violence, making it appropriate for younger readers. The characters are colorful, loveable, and their interactions with each other are heartwarming and hilarious. Donita K. Paul has created a fantasy world full of strange creatures, geography that begs exploration, and stories waiting to happen.

Dragonspell would make an excellent choice for family reading, book reports, or just personal reading for fun, no matter what age you are. If you want an exciting adventure, a delightful cast of characters, based on a Christian foundation, read Dragonspell.

I received this book free of charge from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my review. A favorable review is not required; Waterbrook is committed to gathering honest opinions about the books they publish.


Christian Encounters, "Fyodor Dostoevsky"

Author: Peter Leithart
Genre: Biography
Series: Christian Encounters
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

I read this book over Thanksgiving after a long haul of nothing but fiction (time to get back to reality for a while, I figured). Interestingly, I discovered that in spite of the fact that this book is a non-fiction biography, it is written in such a way that it reads like a novel. In the author's notes he explains that this is for an easier, less dry reading experience, which sounds great in theory. However, I personally found that it made the facts of Dostoevsky's life more difficult to pick out - the dates, places, people, etc. The enormous and ever-changing cast of characters became confusing too, especially in light of the author's constant jumping back and forth in time, from Dostoevsky reminiscing with a friend, to flashbacks of his early life.
However, this book did provide a window into the heart behind Dostoevsky's work, and his desire to profoundly effect the Russian culture and people he loved so much. The thought behind his passion for the common people, as well as the symbolism and analogy woven into his writings becomes much easier to see through this book.
I do have to note that his 'deep Christian faith' and his desire to bring Russia to Christ came into question quite frequently as I read this book. I won't presume to pass judgment on the sincerity of Dostoevsky's faith, I just have to say that the salt loses some of its savor when a man is talking about turning his country to Christ, while he's carrying on an extramarital affair and gambling away every penny he has.