Category Archives: Book review

Book Review – The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly

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First, I feel I should preface this by saying I know Gerard and his wife Chrissy through Bless, the missional charity they run serving churches across Europe. My links with Bless date back almost ten years now, I love the work that they do and feel privileged to have been involved with it. I’m not saying this to name-drop (I know an author!) but so you understand that my review is not unbiased! 😉

I have read most of Gerard’s non-fiction works and greatly enjoyed them (especially Stretch, Stretch was brilliant), so I was really excited when I heard he had written a novel, promptly pre-ordered it, waited impatiently for it to be delivered, and then waited a year and a half to actually read it… such is the state of my to-read list, and for that I can only apologise.

It was definitely worth the wait though! Gerard is a gifted communicator – whether in sermons, blogs, poetry, tweets – and his style translated well into fiction.

The story follows Colom, a teenage boy who has recently developed behavioural problems, and his mother Fiona as she tries to help him. Her husband, David, is a pastor and reluctant to seek help from outside the church, and their home has become a battleground. Fiona seeks the help of Miriam, and old friend, former nun and therapist, who gives Fiona and Colom refuge as they try to work through his problems.

The descriptions were almost tangible, the characters mostly well-rounded, although there were a few gaps in the backstories and I wanted to see more of David and his point of view. The story didn’t develop the way I expected it to, which is usually a good thing (!) and the novel as a whole was really emotionally engaging as the revelations about the family’s past came to light and the relationships shifted and deepened. I liked the continuing motif of the weather and how it paralleled and even prophesied the characters’ emotional states. I also enjoyed the sections of first person narrative, from an unknown narrator who wasn’t revealed until nearly the end – the way these were written they could have been attributed to several characters, and different ones at different points.

My only slight disappointed was the fault of my expectations. After the first couple of chapters I was expecting this to be a book about how a church community reacts and deals with mental illness and the failings of its leaders – it didn’t go that direction, and was a more personal story because of that. The novel was great as it was, and did in some ways deal with the issues – particularly of how to help someone suffering from mental illness – but for me that church community aspect was lacking. I guess I wanted a couple of extra chapters of epilogue to cover the family reunion and the aftermath for their relationships and David’s pastoral ministry.

I still think the way this novel deals with the issue of mental illness is really timely for the church, as it has been a taboo subject for so long. The novel provides an insight for those working with young people, and a challenge for parents who are involved in church leadership on balancing their families and their ministry.

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Book Review: Me, Myself and Bob by Phil Vischer

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I bought this book for my brother for Christmas several years ago. He’s a filmmaker with a background in animation who had always enjoyed VeggieTales, so I thought he’s be interested in the story behind it. Unfortunately, he was travelling a lot at the time and the book languished on his bookshelf for a while. Then I thought – if he isn’t going to read it, I will! So it ended up on my bookshelf for a while… But I’m a firm believer that books come to us at the time we need them most. Knowing we would be visiting my brother last week, I decided to take the book with me to read, so I could pass it on to him when I was done. I’m really glad I did.

I grew up with VeggieTales. I remember the excitement each time a new video came out. I remember as a teenager helping with the kids club at church, how we would insist on VeggieTales every time a video week was suggested. I loved the stories, the songs, and the characters. I had no idea, even until reading this book now, what had been going on behind the scenes.

The book takes a little while to get going. Vischer’s style of writing is more suited to scripts or picture books for children than to non-fiction for adults (something he admits to himself). But it is engaging. The first hundred pages or so included a lot of technical information that I didn’t really understand, but which my brother would find fascinating I’m sure… but once he gets to the story of producing the first couple of videos, the book picks up pace.

I couldn’t put the book down all through the rapid growth of Vicsher’s company, Big Idea, trying to fit the timeline of the book to my memories of the videos coming out. Vischer hints throughout at what is to come, trying to emphasise where he went wrong with the business to show what lead to its collapse. I would have been very sad had the book ended there, but this was not the story of a company making videos starring vegetables – it is the story of one man’s relationship with God.

After outlining what he learned about business through his successes and failures with Big Idea, Vischer gets to the heart of the matter. What ultimately went wrong was that Vischer was so focused on his dream that he lost sight of God, the dream-giver. The last couple of chapters of the book are so powerful, as Vischer comes to terms with God not saving his company, his dream, because He wanted to save him, the man, the relationship. Vischer draws parallels between his story and characters from the Bible and from literature, as he learns that God wants to be the most important thing in our lives, and we may have to sacrifice our dreams for that. One passage really jumped out at me:

‘As this truth sunk in, I found myself facing a God I had never heard about in Sunday School – a God who, it appeared, wanted me to let go of my dreams. But why? Why would God want us to let go of our dreams? Because anything I am unwilling to let go of is an idol, and I am in sin. The more I thought about my intense drive to build Big Idea and change the world, the more I realized I had let my “good work” become an idol that defined me. Rather than finding my identity in my relationship with God, I was finding it in my drive to do “good work”.’

I found this last part of the book really challenging, as I know I am prone to this. It can become all too easy to focus so much on the work that we are doing for God that we lose sight of God Himself. And He never wants that. This was a timely reminder for me, as I head into the second year of my theology course, that my focus always needs to be on my relationship with God not on my studies, or my future, or my dreams. I need Him more than I need any of those things. And I think this may be something that I’ve lost sight of over the last couple of years, may be why I have struggled to write this summer. I got too busy, too distracted and forgot to meet with God everyday.

It is okay to have dreams, to have plans. But I know now I need to hold onto them loosely, but cling onto God tightly. Time with Him is fuel for everything He calls me to do, and if I lose sight of Him, I risk losing everything. But if I focus on Him, He will give me everything I need.

As I came to the end of the book, a song from my childhood (not even a VeggieTales song!) came into me head. It is based on a couple of verses from Matthew 6:

‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

And His righteousness

And all these things will be added unto you

Allelu, Alleluia.’

(P.S. the book has now been returned to my brother, with a few heavy hints that he should read it soon)

Book Review: 31 Days of Prayer for the Dreamer and Doer

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by Jenn Sprinkle and Kelly Rucker

(Note: in case the slightly stereotypical pinkness of the cover doesn’t make it clear, this is a devotional aimed at women – although that it is not to say that men may not get something out of it as well)

I was made aware of the impending release of this book just before Christmas via an online community of which myself and the producers of the book are a part. I immediately knew that the purchase and shipping of this book from the US would be a very good and necessary use of some of my Christmas money. I then waited impatiently for its release and for international shipping to bring it to me, as I knew I needed to read this book.

Those regular readers of mine with long memories may remember I mentioned that I had started this book back in March, at the dawn of essay season (if you are interested, you can read that post here). Those of you who can count may realise that if I have only just finished the book this week (which is in fact the case) it has taken me a heck of a lot longer than 31 days…! But the funny thing is, I found I was reading each prayer on the day I was meant to. If I had stuck to the schedule I had intended for myself, some of the prayers would not have impacted me in the way that they did. Thankfully I was gracious to myself, and allowed myself to take the time I needed.

As you may have realised, my life is pretty hectic, between working and studying. I also find that studying theology has at times actually made me feel a bit distant from God as I get too academic and forget the reason for studying is to know and love Him better. So I used this book as a daily breather between my day job and my studies, to give me a few moments of peace and focus on God before getting to grips again with the essays. This was so needed. Essay writing is stressful, and it was also our busiest time of year at work, so this book gave me the little bit of space I needed each day to stop and rest and reflect.

Each prayer is on a different topic, and not all of them will be relevant to everyone, but even the ones that I didn’t think would be actually did have something to say to me. The prayers are followed each day by a page of Bible verses related to the topic and a few questions for reflection. Some days I answered the questions in my journal, others I just used them to stimulate reflection which led to writing my own prayers.

The introductions and final section of author biographies gave an insight into the process of getting the book out there and made me feel connected to this amazing community of ladies – it showed me how much they care about their readers.

I know I will keep coming back to this book and rereading it when I am in seasons where I need that daily peace. I also have a long list of people I want to lend it to (or even give a copy as a present!)

If you are a busy person who needs to refocus on God, or a lady who struggles with feeling inferior, or someone with a heart full of dreams who needs to find some focus, I am convinced this book will really help you.

This book is available on Amazon or direct from The {well} Studio.

Book Review: Scary Close by Donald Miller

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Greetings friends!

Apologies for the extended absence – between work and studying I haven’t felt like I’ve had the headspace for writing anything other than coursework. But I’m back now and promise to continue to post infrequently until the end of June, when my course finishes for the summer. After that I will have lots more time for writing for fun and you may see a bit more of me… until the autumn when I will have to start studying again…

But that’s future Ceri’s problem. For now I bring you…. a book review!

Scary Close by Donald Miller

I read this book a few weeks ago whilst on holiday. It was a pleasant tonic to my usual diet of fiction, which can get a bit heavy and fantastical sometimes.

Donald Miller is easily one of my favourite non-fiction writers. Reading his books feels like you’re sitting down to a chat with him over coffee (or tea in my case). He is charming, calming and conversational as an author. It never feels like he is lecturing you, like he is an expert with knowledge to impart. He writes as someone struggling with the journey of life who wants to share the wisdom he has picked up along the way. This is the most personal of his books that I’ve read, which makes sense as it is about being more real with the people around you to build strong and deep relationships.

I needed to read this book. One of my words for this year is ‘relate’, and I am really trying to invest in my friendships. I drank this book up, I had to force myself to put it down a number of times so I could reflect on what I had just read. A number of times I was moved to read that someone else had felt and experienced similar things to me and could share them so openly and humbly. Other times I thought, ‘Huh. That’s why people act that way’ or ‘Maybe that’s why I do that too’. It was challenging and comforting all at the same time.

My only real criticism of the book is that I like narrative, and I sometimes struggled to identify the timeline of the events in the book – the chapters jump back and forth in Don’s life and it wasn’t always easy to work out how the different incidents fitted together. But I think that that was partly the nature of the book as a memoir and it didn’t detract from the book’s message.

I’ve browsed through some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and was surprised to see a common criticism was Don’s supposed ‘name-dropping’. Throughout the book he mentions conversations with different people who had given him advice on his journey, some of them I had heard of, more of them I hadn’t. This didn’t bother me because each of these friends gave good and helpful advice that furthered the message of the book. I saw it as a man thanking his friends for the wisdom they had shared with him.

One of my favourite things about the book, I must admit, is the accompanying soundtrack which can be downloaded for free from the scaryclose.com website (I’m not sure if you have to have bought the book to get the soundtrack but I expect that this is the case). Some of the songs are referenced in the book and it is helpful to be able to listen to them as Don explains why they meant something to him at that point in his life. There isn’t a song on the album I don’t like and some of them are fast becoming favourites.

If you ever feel like you are hiding your true self and want to be more real with people, read this book. If you are in a cycle of bad relationships, read this book. If you just want to be a better friend, read this book. You will be encouraged. You are good at relationships.

Book review: The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

I have been intending for a while to post book reviews on here, particularly of books that I would like to encourage others to read… I just don’t seem to have got around to it yet.

Take this book, for example, I actually read this book in the summer, and wrote the review then, I just forgot to post it… So here it is… [I hope you like it, I don’t know when there might be another one]

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The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggeman.

This book is an excellent text exploring the role of the prophetic in the Bible and how it relates to our lives today. I would recommend it to people who have already had some experience of prophetic ministry in church, as it is quite dense in places, but it will greatly increase the reader’s understanding of the purpose of prophecy.

The aim of the book is to use the example of the Old Testment prophets to help us to challenge the consumer culture that surrounds us today and has begun to seep into the church. The first couple of chapters establish the role of the prophets in the Old Testament – first Moses as a voice against the oppression of the Pharoah, then the later prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah who spoke against the corrupt Kings of Israel and Judah. They were not just telling the future, but explaining what that meant for the present. They had two main purposes: they were trying to counter the numbness and apathy of the people by bringing to expression the fear and grief the people should be feeling over the state of their nation and their future, and they were presenting an alternative new world promised by God to free the people from their hopelessness. The second half of the book explains how these two tasks were fulfilled and continued in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus – the criticism of the current system and the energising power of the new Kingdom that was emerging. The final chapter gave more detail on how this relates to our situation in the present day and its impact on our prophetic ministry.

This book has been inspiring and also quite challenging for me. It has helped my understanding of the Old Testament context and purpose of the prophets and how their situation relates to our society today. I have been struck by Brueggemann’s explanation of the Kingship of Solomon not as a fulfilment of the Promised Land, but instead as a return for the Israelites to their situation in Egypt under the Pharaohs – a time of affluence for the few which led to complacency, oppressive social policy and “the establishment of a controlled, static religion in which the sovereignty of God is fully subordinated to the purpose of the king”[1] – where people are numb to experience and devoid of hope that things can change. In many ways it is easy to see the parallels with modern society, where wealth determines who is ‘in’ or ‘out’ and there is much hopelessness. Unfortunately, this also seems to be the situation of the Western Church, where the comfort of its members, the protection of tradition and maintenance of the status quo often seem to have taken precedence over love or justice. This has led to the consumerist culture invading the church, with it becoming more about what the individual wants than a community worshipping God. I wonder if one reason many people leave the church is its unwillingness to change, its protection of “the royal consciousness” to use Brueggemann’s term[2] – the status quo that tell us that nothing can or should change. In this situation, as in ancient times, we need prophets to remind us of the faithfulness of God and the reality of our situation, and to help us hope for a better world, because bringing that world into reality begins with our imagining it.

On a personal level, I became more aware of areas in my own life where I was falling prey to the royal consciousness – lacking hope and thinking that having more things could satisfy my need for God. I also have become more hungry again for the touch of the prophetic in my life, and have started to seek out more opportunities to receive prayer but also to prayer and prophesy over people to bless them too. It has also fed my passion to see a better world than what we currently experience, and to take opportunities to speak out for the oppressed, those suffering under the royal consciousness, and to encourage others to wake up to the truth of their situation and the newness that will come and is coming with God’s Kingdom. More practically, the book has helped me to get back into reading more Christian books, and reading them more deeply. I really wanted to spend time over this book and remember and reflect on what I was reading, so I decided to make detailed notes and copy down my favourite quotes from each chapter to help the book stay with me. This meant that I took longer to read the book than I would usually spend reading a novel, for instance, but that meant the joy of reading it lasted longer. It is definitely a book that I will return to and reread many times in the future. It is a deep text, but so worth persevering with, and will greatly enrich anyone’s understanding of the prophetic and help them towards a more spiritual life.

[1] Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Ed., Fortress Press (Minneapolis, 2001) p28

[2] Ibid., p21