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Books for Your Beach Bag

Mixed Media

The Other Side of the Bridge

by Mary Lawson
reviewed by Jim Romahn

Arthur and Jake Dunn are brothers who are as different as Cain from Abel. They both love Laura, the parson’s daughter. So does Ian, a teenager from the next generation of stout souls who populate the tiny town of Struan in northern Ontario. Lawson brings these people and this place to life with a delightful economy of words, an eye for landscape, and easy dialogue. Set against the Great Depression and World War II, the stories are local, realistic, and tragic. (Knopf Canada)


The Language of God

by Francis S. Collins
reviewed by Clarence Menninga

Francis Collins is a medical doctor, a leading geneticist, and the director of the Human Genome Project. This easy-to-read book consists of two strands: the story of Collins’s personal journey from agnosticism to vibrant Christian faith and the story of deciphering the human genome, the detailed structure of human DNA. Collins provides examples of the benefits of knowing that structure for the treatment of human diseases and for better understanding of the relationships among various species of God’s creatures. Especially recommended for pastors and teachers. (Free Press)


Finding God Beyond Harvard

by Kelly Monroe Kullberg
reviewed by Jenni Parker

Finding God Beyond Harvard is the fascinating account of—and personal story behind—the founding of the Veritas Forum, a groundbreaking event that has become a growing spiritual movement on campuses across the United States. The first Veritas Forum in 1992 brought together thinking Christians and searching, often skeptical, college students. The movement probes the “Veritas” (truth) alluded to in Harvard’s motto in efforts to combat the “spiritual desert” created when the academy tries to suppress Christ, the embodiment of Truth. (InterVarsity Press)


The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation

by M.T. Anderson
reviewed by Kathryn Hoffman

Octavian is a young African who receives a classical education from a group of philosophers in pre-Revolutionary Boston. When he explores behind a forbidden door and learns the true nature of his role in their house, his life takes a tragic turn. Octavian runs away and joins the Patriot army, only to discover that the cry for freedom does not apply to him. Both stark and poetic in style, this young adult novel eloquently illustrates a sad historical irony. (Candlewick)


Son of Secession: Douwe J.Vander Werp

by Janet Sjaarda Sheeres
reviewed by Wayne Brouwer

Meticulous and respectful, Sheeres gives a marvelous biography of Vander Werp, a thoughtful teacher caught in the spell of the early 19th century Netherlands pietistic revolution. He became a workhorse for the splintering secessionists. Through career challenges and personal trials, he maintained passion for ecclesiastical purity. Vander Werp eventually led Michigan secessionist movements that produced the Christian Reformed Church. In this bittersweet story, Vander Werp and his friends are impressive like piranhas. They rabidly attack liberalism wherever they find it, until they turn on one another in feeding frenzies that exceed godliness. (Eerdmans)


What Is the What

by Dave Eggers with Valentino Achak Deng
reviewed by Phil Christman Jr.

With uncharacteristic humility, novelist Dave Eggers uses his narrative talent to tell, in first person, the fictionalized story of real-life Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng. The book reads like a memoir, but it isn’t. Deng treks across the desert to escape civil violence in war-torn Sudan. He immigrates to America, only to experience new challenges and violence in the land of opportunity. This book recovers an important personal history, calls its readers to action, and, in the process, revives the nonfiction novel, that literary form pioneered by Capote and Mailer in the ’60s. (McSweeney’s)


Rasputin’s Daughter

by Robert Alexander
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

When Maria, Rasputin’s daughter, is interrogated by the Thirteenth Section about her father’s role in the demise of Tsar Nicholas II, she asserts that “monarchists and revolutionaries have proved equally adept at twisting both my father’s life and his death into political legend.” As she tells her story, Rasputin’s complex character, misguided spirituality, sexual excesses, and abuses of power are revealed. Robert Alexander’s suspenseful historical novel, which contains profanity and sexually explicit scenes, masterfully captures a turbulent period in Russian history. (Viking)


The Children’s Hospital

by Chris Adrian
reviewed by Phil Christman Jr.

Chris Adrian’s fine novel is a surreal blend of theology, magic, realism, humor, and horror. When a second flood destroys the earth, a magical children’s hospital is left afloat. As the 701 survivors try to rebuild human existence, insecure nurse Jemma Claflin finds herself blessed with miraculous powers. Adrian’s giant imagination ably combines elements of the New Testament, Moby Dick, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” into a coherent vision. In Jemma, he’s created one of the most lovable screwups in modern fiction. (McSweeney’s)


The Loud Silence of Francine Green

by Karen Cushman
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Against the backdrop of McCarthyism’s destructive forces, 13-year-old Francine Green adopts her father’s motto: “Don’t get involved.” When Sophie Bowman transfers to her Catholic girls’ school, Francine reconsiders. While Francine is silent about injustices and troubling events, Sophie speaks her mind and suffers the dire consequences. Inspired by Sophie and her father, an innocent man targeted as a communist menace, Francine finally speaks up. Cushman’s juvenile novel brings to life the dilemmas McCarthyism forced upon Americans—adults and children alike—and explores theological choices faced by both. (Clarion)


When God Stood Up

by James Cantelon
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

James Cantelon, a Canadian pastor and founder of Visionledd, calls upon Christians to emulate God’s character. His vision for fighting Africa’s HIV/AIDS pandemic rests solely on the mobilization of the African church to confront denial of the problem’s existence, to educate, to care for orphans and widows, and to organize volunteers to provide care to those dying of AIDS. Cantelon’s compelling book combines solid biblical exegesis with gripping stories of the church’s faith and victory in horrific circumstances. (John Wiley)


For Men Only

by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
reviewed by Paul Delger

Men seeking greater understanding of their wives or girlfriends may find help from the practical and insightful book titled For Men Only. This easy read is the male version of the bestselling For Women Only. Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn encourage men to focus on six areas where women are unique from men. With a better understanding of female perspectives on topics such as emotions, sex, and beauty, the male reader can take steps to improve his relationship with that special woman. (Multnomah)


The Whistling Season

by Ivan Doig
reviewed by Sandy Swartzentruber

Oliver Milliron and his sons have lost their wife and mother. In 1910, that means they’ve also lost their housekeeper. As their situation turns desperate, an advertisement for a housekeeping position with the intriguing headline “Can’t Cook, But Doesn’t Bite” catches their eye. The ad’s author, Rose Llewellyn, arrives at their Montana farm with a mysterious past, a comforting manner, and her uninvited eccentric brother. The Whistling Season is a soulful, soul-grabbing book that you should not miss. (Harcourt)


The Lowdown

Summer Movie Edition

In Theaters

EVAN ALMIGHTY: A politician is summoned by God to build an ark in suburban America. Like Bruce Almighty, pastors will use scenes from this movie for message illustrations. See for info on a nationwide good-deeds program inspired by the flick.


RATATOUILLE: Pixar (creators of Cars, Toy Story) will likely hit pay dirt again with this unusual tale of a rat determined to become a great chef.


JUMP IN: You think your kids loved Disney’s High School

Musical? They’ll be skipping all the way to the video store to get this movie about a young boxer who discovers a passion for jump roping. (Disney)


STRANGER THAN FICTION: In honor of our summer reading issue, here’s a movie about a character who, upon hearing a narrator in his head, discovers he is a character in a writer’s mind as she figures out a way to kill him off in her book. (Sony)


BLOOD DIAMOND: Set in Sierra Leone, this is a brutal film of child soldiers and extreme violence, where rebel soldiers mine diamonds and trade them to mercenaries for guns. (Warner)


MURDERBALL: This Oscar-nominated documentary follows quadriplegic wheelchair rugby players as they quest toward the gold medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games. (Velocity)


Still Need More Books?

Grace (Eventually) Anne Lamott continues the offbeat “Thoughts on Faith” series in her own self-revealing, slightly self-obsessive way. (Riverhead)


In His Feathers James C. Schaap presents the spiritual and physical journey of Sharon Bomgaars, an ovarian cancer patient, as documented in her own journals. (Dordt Press)


Summer of Light W. Dale Cramer offers this humorous novel about construction worker Mick Brannigan, who suddenly finds himself a stay-at-home dad. (Bethany)


The Wednesday Wars Gary D. Schmidt’s newest young-adult novel chronicles Hollis’s struggle to survive both seventh grade and his teacher, Mrs. Baker. (Clarion)

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