Monday, 2 December 2019

Sofa Spotlight - Lock Every Door, Riley Sager

This was nominated for the goodreads thriller of the year award and I was very sad to see that it didn’t win! If you were with me at any point when I was reading this you would know that I loved it, couldn’t stop reading it nor would I shut up about what I thought was coming next.

The idea is that a luxury apartment building, The Bartholomew, needs apartment sitters to keep an eye on the empty apartments. Qualifications for this job seem to be that you have no family or friends who would come looking for you. They don’t say that outright but you get the vibe. Enter the main character who has come to sit one of the apartments.

At first I thought I’d picked up a ghost story but it’s much much better than that. The Bartholomew is full of secrets and odd characters. One of whom is an author who wrote a book set in The Bartholomew.

Like I said, when I read this I couldn’t put it down. Nor could I stop trying to guess what would happen. I nearly got it right but I was close enough to the truth to be both satisfied with my efforts and how the book ended. If you read any book this year it should be this one.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Sofa Spotlight - The Shadow Doctor, Adrian Plass

Not a long read but a very interesting one. The basic premise is that the main character, Jack, has lost both parents and his grandmother, who he was particularly close to. She has left him a letter explaining how she met someone called Doc who became a good friend to her in her final months. She wants Jack to contact him as she thinks the Doc will be able to help him. 

Jack does so and as readers we quickly become aquatinted with the Shadow Doctor, who is kind of a like a super hero whose super power is counselling! And Jack soon finds himself acting as side kick. 
There’s a few themes in this book but probably the overall one is of Christians being themselves as created by God, and being hurt by programmes and cultures that try to fit people into one or occasionally several boxes. The shadow Doctor is working to undo some of this hurt and free people to follow Jesus. 

Overall I enjoyed this book but there were a few themes that were left undeveloped and I would have liked to have seen more. But I feel that leaving these things open ended may have been the point. 

Monday, 25 November 2019

Sofa Spotlight - The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry

This is a very real contender for my favourite book of the year. It’s set in Victorian England and is full of atmosphere and mystery. There are so many things that I love about this book but I’ll try to capture just a few.

The story follows Cora Seaborne who has just lost her husband. Turns out he wasn’t that nice a chap and she’s still very young so she’s in a much better position. There are two potential love interests in the book and I found it hard to decide who I was rooting for! But what I loved about this book is how normal the characters are. All of them are flawed in their own way and that makes them human and very believable. Not one of them is set up as the perfect protagonist. Which makes the ending perfect, because if it had ended any other way it wouldn’t have worked or felt authentic.

A range of themes are covered, evolution as a new, developing theory, the role of women in society and social housing/poverty. It could feel like there’s a lot going on but each thread pulls together to weave into the main story which is Cora’s search for the Essex Serpent which plagues the village of Aldwinter. This is the part that is suitably creepy and the mystery and melodrama is fantastic.

It’s the kind of book that you should read on a cold December night with a mug of hot chocolate!

Friday, 22 November 2019

Sofa Spotlight - Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash

Zeal without Burnout is a very short book, primarily written for pastors and church leaders to help them avoid and deal with burnout and mental exhaustion in the course of their ministry. It’s a very practical book, looking at both the causes of stress and the Biblical principles of being human and the limits that that puts on us. 

Not being in church leadership this book wasn’t strictly relevant but I found it to be an illuminating read. Firstly I was shocked, but also not shocked, to discover that this book was needed, and needed by so many in leadership. It reminded me of how easy it can be to forget how much pressure our church leaders can be under. Secondly the Biblical principles that Christopher Ash goes through are relevant to all of us. We are only human, and not God, and there are limits to what we can do. 

There is real depth to this book as Christopher Ash talks about his own experience and also draws on the stories of others who have gone through breakdowns. I would highly recommend this book, it’s not a long book at all, and it gives insight to those on the outside looking in, but also compassion and help to those in leadership. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ronaldo the Flying Reindeer

Earlier this year I reviewed Maxine Sylvester’s book Ronaldo: The Phantom Carrot Snatcher. If you remember my review you will remember how much I enjoyed it. It’s not my intention to give a full review now, that will come later, but I was so excited about the release of The Vixen of Pederson that I wanted to let you know that it was available.

What I love about Maxine Sylvester’s books are the way that they combine fun, gripping storylines and life messages so beautifully. And this is now exception to that. My worry about books that have life messages woven into them is that they can be trite and give and awkward interjection to the flow of the narrative. Which I think is what I love about this whole series, not only are the stories good in themselves but the characters are relatable and so the messages that are conveyed come across naturally.

It’s nearly Christmas and I can’t think of a better way to get into the Christmas spirit than by reading the books in this series.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Sofa Spotlight - The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill: A Novel, James Charkesworth

I took a day to read this, which afterwards I regretted a little bit because it left me feeling sad. But in hindsight I don’t think stretching out the reading process would have helped that. But that’s not to say I don’t think this isn’t a good book or that I regret reading it because it is very well written and seriously intriguing.

The story is about a man who made his money as a US fast food and oil tycoon, but as much as he was successful in business he wasn’t successful with relationships and left a trail of broken people, in the form of his children, behind him. Now middle aged the four of them, scattered to different parts of the country and very different lines and heading in their father’s direction for a confrontation.

It’s all about how each of the four children have ended up where they are, and follows the thread of destruction that leads back to their father. It’s a fascinating read, but maybe not a comfortable one. I couldn’t put it down but nor could I find a character that I was rooting for. And that to me was the one downside to the book. Having said that, I think the book would have lost some of its power if it had had a likeable protagonist, so although I missed liking a character it’s not something I would change. For me it really was a window into another world and that is why I would recommend it.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Sofa Spotlight - Everyday Church, Tim Chester & Steve Timmis

This isn’t a new book, in fact when I went to check when it had been written I was shocked to discover that it’s not far off being ten years old. But its age doesn’t mean that it has lost any of its relevance. In fact if anything it has probably become more relevant. The message it is speaking is one of how the church can reach out to our generation with the message of Jesus as a community.

The book starts with facts and figures that paint a dark picture of where we are as a church in terms of numbers in pews. But this isn’t designed to be depressing (though it is a little discouraging) but to state the fact that the world in which we live is different to the world in which our grandparents went to church.

What I loved about this book was the way they used 1Peter to illustrate and explain what it is like to live as a Christian on the margins of society. It described how communities look different on the margins rather than at the centre of society. Implications for evangelism are also described and make for an interesting read as it turns typical methods which I grew up in their head.

So yes well worth a read and I’m glad I found it lurking on my bookshelf.