Friday, March 28, 2014

Alexander the Great

by Jacob Abbott
196 pages / 2009

Alexander the great is one of those pivotal historic figures we should all know a little about. He lived just 33 years, but in the space of 13 he crafted an empire that extended from India to Egypt. It was short-lived, collapsing soon after his early death, but its influence lived on in the spread of his Greek culture.

The attraction of this Alexander biography over any other is that author Jacob Abbott (1803-1879) is a great writer, and provides a frank Christian assessment of the man. He readily agrees that the moniker "great" was well earned, but concludes:
He was simply a robber, but yet a robber on so vast a scale that mankind, in contemplating his career, has generally lost sight of the wickedness of his crimes in their admiration of the enormous magnitude of the scale on which they were perpetrated. 
First published in 1849, Canon Press has reissued the book in an updated edition that modernizes a few words here and there to ensure Abbott's writing remains as engaging as ever. It is highly recommended for teens and adults will also enjoy this as an engaging introduction to a man they have heard of many times, but may not otherwise know much about.

Canadian readers can find the Canon Press edition at while Americans can click the Amazon link here..

Friday, March 21, 2014


by Matt Phelan
227 pages, 2013

Buster Keaton was one of the first comedy stars of the silent movie era, as famous at that time as Charlie Chaplin, and far funnier. But what was he like as a little boy?

That's what we get to find out in this fictionalized biography. The story begins in 1908, in the small town of Muskegon, Michigan, where a cast of "vaudevillians" – performers of all sorts who would tour the country together as a traveling variety show – spent their summers. Buster Keaton's father, Joe, founded an "Actor's Colony" right next door, at Bluffton, where it existed from 1908-1938.

Henry Harrison spends his summers playing baseball with Buster, and wishing he could do what Buster could do, and wishing he could go the places Buster has gone. The "moral" of this story takes place late in the book when Henry's dad assures him that he doesn't need to take over the family hardware story – he can make his own choices – but that he should worry less about what he is going to be, and focus more on who he is going to be. It's far from preachy, and most kids will miss that this is the central theme of the book. For them it is just a fun look at a group of very unique people - we get to see how vaudevillians really lived.

Henry Harrison is fictional, but the vaudevillians that are mentioned are all real. So this is an intriguing look back at both vaudevillians, and a key silent picture star, Buster Keaton. The only language concern I noticed is a single instance of "holy cow." The book will be of no interest to young children – it is too slowly paced – and is probably best suited for 12 and up. Adults will love the beautiful color washes, and the patient way the author slip in wordless sections, allowing a dozen or more panels to go before anyone says a thing. It is just really wonderfully done!

 You can get a copy at by clicking here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Thunder: A novel on John Knox

by Douglas Bond
P&R Publishing, 2012, 400 pages

John Knox turns five hundred this year and I can't think of a better way to mark the occasion than to read Douglas Bond's biographical novel of the man. All I knew of Knox before reading this was that he was supposed to be the Scottish John Calvin. But after The Thunder I think a better comparison might be some combination of action hero and Scottish Elijah.

His first notable foray as a Reformer was as a bodyguard, wielding a two-handed sword in protection of a preacher. He was then ordained himself, and shortly thereafter imprisoned and sent to a French galley to row for almost two years. And when finally freed, though the trial left a permanent impact on his health, Knox then made a habit of speaking Truth to power, chastising the regent of England, encouraging the child King, Edward VI, and then admonishing Mary, Queen of Scots as well as her mother, the Dowager Queen Mary of Guise. This was a guy, weak though he was in body, who would not back down!

So that's the man, but what about the novel? Douglas Bond does a smashing job, telling the tale from the perspective of one of Knox's students. This device allows Bond to tell one near unbelievable tale after another about his principle figure, but make it all believable by having the young student also marvel at the spiritual might of this Reformation giant.

This is a great novel for anyone who likes history, older teens through adults, and simply an amazing tale told exceptionally well. It is available at