Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

Clive Staples Lewis is one of the most engaging, thoughtful, and challenging Christian writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. And he’s funny. Very funny. Even when dealing with the gravest of matters, he always finds a way to incorporate a liberal dose of humor and wit. Which is just one of the many reasons I love his work.

Humor – albeit grim at times – plays a key role in The Screwtape Letters. Lewis, in the introduction, begins by asserting with deadpan bluntness that he has “no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.” And throughout the rest of the book, the reader can’t help but chuckle at the deliciously clever way in which he spins out the diabolical dialogue between senior devil Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, a budding tempter who has just been assigned his first “patient”.

This “patient” – a young man – soon afterwards embraces the Christian faith… much to the dismay of those who would undo him. Through a series of letters, Uncle Screwtape advises his nephew on how best to eradicate (or at least neutralize) the young man’s faith. As the book progresses, we see the two devils labor unstintingly – through means subtle and devious – to lure Wormwood’s “patient” away from Christ and destroy his soul.

As I said, there is much humor woven throughout the book. And yet, amazingly, it does not undermine the seriousness of the subject matter. “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils,” Lewis warns. “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” God forbid that we should do either.

Too often, Christians have the tendency to disregard the clear and present danger of “spiritual wickedness in high places”. (Ephesians 6:12) They brush it off, ignore it, when they ought to be taking it seriously. “Put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11) We are engaged in a desperate war with eternal ramifications. To close one’s eyes to it, or treat it as a trivial matter, will inevitably be fatal.

Now, this is not to say that we should go to the extreme of being obsessed with spiritual warfare or demons or demonic arts. We should, however, be aware and vigilant. “Wherefore,” says the Apostle Paul, “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” ( I Corinthians 10:12)

The Screwtape Letters will help you cultivate a “healthy interest” in devils, and also make you more acutely aware of the destructive ways in which Satan and his fallen angels work in the hearts, minds, and lives of men – especially Christians.

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Book Review: The Road

Reading The Road was one of the most disturbing, haunting, and profoundly moving experiences I have ever had. It was like taking a literary punch to the gut; a punch so hard it was nauseating. As another reviewer aptly said, “There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull… making it easily one of the most harrowing books you’ll ever encounter… Once opened, [it is] nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive…”

A masterful, inventive piece of apocalyptic fiction, The Road – written by prolific American novelist Cormac McCarthy – is a tale of desperate survival, unrestrained depravity, and courage in the face of horrifying odds. But most importantly, it is a love story; a powerful love story. One that passionately depicts the fierce, undying affection that burns between a father and his son.

McCarthy’s novel follows an unnamed father and son as they walk alone through the desolation that was once North America. Nothing stirs in the ruined landscape except ash, blowing in a wind cold enough to crack stone. When the snow falls, it is gray. When the rain falls, it is sooty. The sky is dark and forbidding. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what awaits them there. They have nothing: nothing save the clothes on their backs, a shopping cart full of scavenged food, a revolver, two bullets – and each other.

This world-wide devastation was the result of a cataclysm, one which McCarthy wisely leaves unspecified. Most of mankind is dead  – snuffed out by famine and disease. But there are survivors. Some, like our protagonists, are forced to pursue a life of perpetual wandering, scavenging for food and fighting for life as best they can. Others commit suicide, convinced that there is nothing to live for. Still others – indeed, the vast majority – become cannibals, eaters of human flesh, banding together to prey on their weaker brethren. Thus the story. Thus the tragedy.

Heavy stuff, indeed.

McCarthy possesses a massive vocabulary, and he unleashes it to stunning effect. The stark, hardened prose fits the story like a glove. When the characters feel fear, you feel fear; when they grieve, you grieve; when they find refuge from danger, you are relieved. Consider this passage:

He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.

The world of The Road is a world unto itself – a world that feels real; danger that feels real; and characters that feel as real as you or I.

Speaking of characters, those in McCarthy’s story make for a very interesting study…

The Mother views the devastated world through a lens of bitterness and selfish despair. She offers no encouragement or strength to her husband and young son. She forsakes them. She rails against God; and then she kills herself.

Standing in contrast is the Father. He is ill – dying in fact – and yet, through wracking pain and exhaustion, he is purposed not to give up. His lion-like devotion to his son, and his determination to protect him at all costs, is what keeps him going. “My job is to take care of you,” he tells the child. “I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?”

For the Boy, the devastated world is the only world he knows. He was born into it. He remembers nothing before it. There is an innocence, a purity, a gentleness about him which, at times, acts like a restraining hand upon his father’s harsher inclinations. Yet he loves and trusts his father implicitly. He could not live without his father; his father would not live without him.

As far as content goes, I wouldn’t recommend this book for readers under 15. The themes are mature, and there’s quite a bit of disturbing, violent content related to cannibalism and suicide. There is also some crass swearing scattered throughout.

The Road is definitely not for everyone. And McCarthy is not coming from a distinctly Christian worldview. But for lovers of exceptional literature, I would highly recommend this one. It offers much to think about: especially concerning the power of filial love, and the deep dark ugliness that naturally lurks within the heart of man.

Book Review: America Alone

Mark Steyn’s America Alone will amuse you. It will sober you. It will disturb you. But most of all, it will challenge you to look at Islam and its relation to the world in a completely different light. Conservative political commentator Michele Malkin summed it up well when she remarked, “Mark Steyn is a human sandblaster. [America Alone] provides a powerful, abrasive, high-velocity assault on encrusted layers of sugarcoating and whitewash over the threat of Islamic imperialism.”

Because Islam is a threat – a most emphatically serious threat. The future, as Steyn brilliantly shows throughout his book, belongs to the fecund and confident. Islam is both, while the West is looking ever more like the ruins of civilization.

Someday soon, you might very well be awakened by the call to prayer from a muezzin. People in Europe already are. And liberals will continue to tell you that “diversity is our strength” – while enforcers from the Taliban cruise Greenwich Village, burning books and barber shops; and the Supreme Court decides that sharia law doesn’t really violate the “separation of church and state”; and the Hollywood Left decides to stop pursuing “gay rights” in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.

If you don’t think that can happen… think again. You haven’t been paying attention.

Throughout the course of his book, Mark Steyn addresses this Islamic threat and challenges readers to take it seriously. In fact, he manages to cover quite a bit of ground in just a few hundred pages. The key factors which he deals with, however, are 1. demographic decline, 2. the unsustainability of the advanced Western social-democratic state, and 3. civilizational exhaustion. And he does it all with confidence, wit, and a liberal dose of humor.

One of my favorite passages in the book is on page 200, where Steyn brilliantly sums up the delusional way that the Western world views Islam:

Bomb us, and we agonize over the ‘root causes’. Decapitate us, and our politicians rush to the nearest mosque to declare that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. Issue blood-curdling calls at Friday prayers to kill all the Jews and infidels, and we fret that it may cause a backlash against Muslims. Behead sodomites and mutilate female genitalia, and gay groups and feminist groups can’t wait to march alongside you denouncing Bush and Blair. Murder a schoolful of children, and our scholars explain that to the ‘vast majority’ of Muslims ‘jihad’ is a harmless concept meaning ‘healthy-lifestyle lo-fat granola bar’. Thus the lopsided valse macabre of our times: the more Islamists step on our toes, the more we waltz them gaily around the room.

That’s denial. Serious denial. And it can only lead to one thing: ruin. As philosopher Jean-Francois Revel wrote, “Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”

Steyn believes that America can survive, prosper, and defend its freedom only if it continues to believe in itself, in the sturdier virtues of self-reliance (not government), in the centrality of the family, and in the conviction that our country really is the world’s last best hope. However, I would add that putting God back where He belongs in our hearts and minds is the real starting step. He is the Beginning and the End, and if He is not put first, all other measures, however good in and of themselves, will fail.

As Christians, we must also remember that God is wholly sovereign. Nothing is outside of His control. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “… all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.” We are to live and look at the world in light of this fact. However, this does not mean that we are to turn a blind eye to the danger that is seething around us. We are to be watchful and aware. And reading this book will help you be more fully conscious of the threat that Islam poses.

I will add that this book is not for readers under 16. The themes that Steyn deals with are very mature, and there is some strong and crude language scattered throughout.

If you’re looking for something to read on current events, then definitely pick this one. It’s laugh-out-loud funny while simultaneously giving you a sobering new look at the world around you.

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Considering that ninety-percent of young adult fiction these days is hardly worth the cost of the paper it’s printed on, I was thoroughly shocked when I finished The Hunger Games Trilogy and found myself concluding that it was one of the best things I’d ever read.

Stephen E. Ambrose – author of such classics as Band Of Brothers and Undaunted Courage – once observed that reading for pleasure usually gave him an escape from work and on rare occasions something to remember and on a very few occasions a book that he couldn’t put down until he’d finished it and one that he could never forget. And without a doubt, The Hunger Games Trilogy falls into the latter category. Well-conceived and written, gripping, poignant, and sometimes downright brutal, it offered me one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a while.

Among the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. 74 years before the narrative begins, there were thirteen districts. These districts rose in rebellion against the Capitol, but were crushed. District 13 was completely obliterated; the other twelve were forced back into servitude. And to make sure that no such rebellion happens again, the Capitol requires that each district contribute one boy and one girl to the yearly Hunger Games, a type of futuristic gladiatorial contest, where the combatants fight each other on live TV. Only one of them will make it out alive.

In the first book of the trilogy, The Hunger Games, 16-year old Katniss Everdeen, an inhabitant of District 12, volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Games. She regards it as a death sentence. Then again, Katniss has had near-death experiences before. For her, survival, is second-nature, and soon she becomes a serious contender. But to win, she’ll have to start making decisions that pit survival against humanity, and life against love.

Catching Fire is the second installment, and Collins dutifully ratchets things up a notch, creating one of the most intense atmospheres I’ve ever had encountered. And the final book, Mockingjay, is simply phenomenal. To call it a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy is an understatement. I won’t spoil these for you. You can read them for yourself and see what I mean.

Collins’ achievement is no small matter. She has succeeded in creating a true trilogy, one where the books mesh flawlessly with each other to form a cohesive, breathtaking whole. Her writing style is entirely lucid and engaging, her pacing is perfect, and she has an astounding knack for unleashing twists and turns that her readers never see coming. Reading the final half of Mockingjay was probably one of the most jarring experiences I’ve had while reading a book. The sheer emotional impact of it was nearly overwhelming.

As far as content goes, these books are pretty clean, though I wouldn’t recommend them for audiences under 15. The themes are dark, intense, and very mature. The violence, though not gratuitous, is quite brutal at times (particularly in Mockingjay), and there are some disturbing scenes of torture, mutilation, and death. There is also some incidental nudity (related to the Games) in the first two books, as well as some mildly suggestive dialogue. And though a love story is woven throughout the trilogy, Collins doesn’t go overboard with it; it actually adds an interesting facet to the story.

Collins, to my knowledge, does not profess to be a Christian, but there’s plenty for Christians to think about as they read The Hunger Games Trilogy. Just how far would you go to survive? Is it right to meet brutality with brutality? How does society glorify violence and death in its entertainment? Is murdering children in an arena really any different from killing them in the womb? In what ways is the depraved President Snow – the one who smells of “blood and roses” – like Satan? How do his tactics against the people of Panem resemble Satan’s tactics against our souls? And how often do the very safeguards designed to protect liberty only endanger it?

Do yourself a favor and read these books. Collins’ blend of thoughtful science fiction, suspense, romance and political intrigue won’t disappoint you. Like another critic said, “Whereas Katniss kills with finesse, Collins writes with raw power.”

 

Book Review: House

While perusing the bookstore the other day, I happened to pick up a copy of House a novel collaboratively written by best-selling Christian authors Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. I was intrigued by the description on the back cover, which dubbed the book a mind-bending supernatural thriller”. I had read and enjoyed other “thrillers” before. So, why not check this one out? After all, I’ve always been one for complex stories that mess with your head.

Needless to say, I took the book home with me and started reading eagerly. It was my first headlong dive into the world of Peretti and Dekker. And it will probably be my last. House is dark and dismal – and it’s authors do poorly what others have done well.

The premise, in a nutshell, is this: Seven people – four men, three women – end up trapped inside an abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere. No lights. No phones. No way to get out. And to make things worse, the entire set-up has been engineered by a criminal – a demonic psychopath who wants them to play a little game: he wants one dead body… or everybody dies. One game. Seven players. Time’s up at dawn.

First off, let me say that this book is better classified in the horror genre than in that of suspense. Indeed, the Peretti/Dekker team appears to derive an uncanny pleasure in creating a consistently sadistic atmosphere that virtually never lets up. And with that said, what do we have on our hands? A “Christian horror” novel? Does anybody else smell an oxymoron?

There is a fine – a very fine – line between the genres of suspense and horror. I’m all for
suspense. Don’t get me wrong. It can add incredible new dimensions to a story. But horror is a different matter altogether. Horror is nightmares on steroids. Evil and darkness and sin are held up, and we gape at them in a sort of depraved awe and wonder, egged on by a sense of perverted curiosity. Instead of exalting God as the sole object of our fear and awe and wonder, we exalt darkness and tremble at the deeds of darkness.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

I am all for claiming every area of life for Christ. But the genre of horror is – by very definition – evil. It is anti-Christian. And it should be left alone.

I’m sure there are those who’d argue that the Salvation message at the end of House is what ultimately redeems it. I would contend otherwise. To be sure, the book manages to score a few points about the depravity of man and the need for redemption: but to get to these points, one must wade through a lot of filth. Is it really worth it?

No. Not when there’s a plethora of other fiction that explores these same themes in a much fuller, deeper, better way. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a prime example. Or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Or Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Why mess with House when you can delve into treasures like these?