Saturday, 31 May 2014

Sofa Spotlight - Iron Sharpens Iron, Orlando Saer

What's it About?

This is a book about leading small groups in church. That's what the front of the book told me, and it proved to be an accurate description. Each of the six chapters covers a different aspect of what it means to lead a small group. There is a chapter on preparing to be a leader, but also a couple of very practical chapters about group dynamics and what to do during the meeting. The most important chapter for me was the first one, which was explaining why you would want to orientate your group around the Bible. As I am involved with a student Bible study it was a good book for me to be reading - I learnt stuff!

What was Good?

It wasn't just about the theory of Bible study, it went over the details and gave examples and practical advice. Also it is a short book, and that makes it manageable. With six chapters you could read one a day and have it finished within a week.

What was Bad?

I won't be able to remember everything that I learnt. I suppose I will just have to read it again sometime.

Who is it for?

Anyone who leads small groups, or is about to start leading one, or is just thinking about it. It wouldn't be a bad thing to read if you don't lead a small group and don't ever intend to, because you never know what might happen, and also it might give you an idea of how to help a small group leader.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Sofa Shelf - Why am I taking on more books?

So two more, because I didn't have enough already:

Iron Sharpens Iron - Orlando Saer

One about preparing and leading a Bible study. Useful, as that is what I do sometimes.

Mosses from an Old Manse - Nathaniel Hawthorne

This has an amazing cover, which is not why I bought it... It is a collection of short stories. Maybe he won't commentate on these as much as he did in The House of the Seven Gables

On Looking - Alexandra Horowitz

I've been looking forward to reading this one for a while. It is about what we observe, or don't observe in the environment that surrounds us. From what I can gather Horowitz does the same walk eleven times with different people to see what they see, and also what she misses.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Sofa Shelf Update: How I was Scared by a Door

Reading when I can:

A Book of Narrative Verse - compiled by V. H. Collins

Or in this case, not reading when I can.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith 


Racing Through the Dark - The Fall and Rise of David Millar

I'm up to the point where he has been arrested and is trying to put his life back together. Been sad reading this part.

Celebrated Crimes - Alexandre Dumas

Progress. I've finished the bit about the Borgia family. From what I could gather they used their influence, whether that was financial or violent, to get what they want. But then the one who is Pope dies and they have to run for cover as everyone tries to get their own back. Also read the one about Joan of Naples. That was just sad, everyone tried to kill everyone else and I didn't really understand what was going on most of the time. 

One Thousand and One Ghosts - Alexandre Dumas 

Got scared reading this one earlier in the week. Not because the contents were that spooky, although they were sort of bordering on scary, but because the wind was blowing my bedroom door shut and I thought it was someone knocking on the back door. It took me a full ten minutes to pluck up the courage to go and look. Yep, I'm a wuss.

The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Finished this. This is what I thought.

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

No reading happening here.

The Journal of Madame Giovanni - Alexandre Dumas

Or here.

The Prince of Thieves - Alexandre Dumas

Or here.

Dig Even Deeper - Andrew Sach & Richard Alldritt

Finished this one. This is what I thought.

Le Tour - Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Early days yet, but looks good. The Tour de France has come along way since the first edition. My favourite bit was reading about the fans of one rider attacking his rivals. Sounds more like what you hear about football. 

Sweet Poison - David Gillespie

There has been some science that I don't understand, but I'm getting the idea that too much sugar is the root of many problems.

Inferno - Dan Brown

So far I like it. No one seems to have been murdered... yet. But Langdon has lost his memory and I'm enjoying the piecing together of his memories. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

El Mexicana

Happy Days
Burritos are at present my favourite food. I've been making my own for a few months and I think that they're not bad. But I don't want to stop there, there are other Mexican dishes that I want to have a go at making. I have a recipe for churros (this is one that I really want to have a go at) which are sweet and edible - I don't know how else to describe them other than that they taste amazing and if you've never had one go out and find a place that sells them and buy some. You won't regret it. 

EG is waiting for me to try making quesadillas, but I also want to try enchiladas and have another go at making flautas. Flautas are a sort of deep fried fajita. It was the first time I'd ever attempted to deep fry anything and it didn't go too well!
Anyway will keep you posted on my Mexican food adventures - will try not to burn the house down! 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Why Read a Christian Book?

Why would you pick up a Christian book?

They help you study the Bible

There are some books that are written to help you get the most out of your Bible study time. They could be books such as Dig Deeper by Nigel Benyon and Andrew Sach that give you tools for studying the Bible on your own. Or they could be commentaries like Ryle's commentary on Matthew that will bring out the details that you might have otherwise missed. However, none of these would ever be able to replace reading the Bible itself.

They help you understand an issue that you or someone you know may be struggling with

 Ever been in a situation where you don't know what to say? Or has something unexpected happen and you don't know what to do? Or it's been going on for a while and you don't understand what the Bible has to say about it.  There are books out there that can help you get to grips with the stuff that you are dealing with from God's perspective in the Bible. They can be good to read with someone if you want to be honest with another person. Compared to Her by Sophie de Witt is a good one for that. One of the best books that I have read is Depression - Looking up from the stubborn Darkness by Edward T Welch. I don't have depression but it helped me see things from the point of view of someone who does and I don't think it was a waste of time checking that I knew what the Bible's view of it is. 

Benefit from other people's wisdom... or in some cases not

From what I can gather we live in an age where there are more Christian books available than any other time in history. And it's getting easier and cheaper to get them. So one would be smart to make use of someone else's brain and the work that they have done to understand the Bible. There is a slight probelm with this. With it being easier to get your book out into the market there is some rubbish stuff not worth reading along with all the really good stuff. The problem comes when you have to pick out the good from the bad. You need to think about what you are reading, or get recommendations from people you know that read good books. But don't let all those good books go to waste.

What are you reading?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

A Two Star Week

I feel like the stars are appearing, but the progress is still slow. I am five books behind EG, who has read 15 of her 64 book target. I have only read 10 of the 66 I need to read. It's not looking good. And I suspect that EG has just finished another.

EG has been reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson for the book club that she goes to. From what I've heard it sounds confusing so I might give that one a miss. Also it is massive, so not great for quick reading in order to get stars on the chart.

What I do when I'm not reading
One thing that I have been doing this week is to make a spreadsheet for all the books that I own. The idea is that I will know what I have got so that I don't buy duplicates. This is a worry as I've managed to buy three copies of the same book!

The weekend is coming soon so my plan is to get the spreadsheet finished and get more stars. We'll see how that works out.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sofa Spotlight - The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne

What's it About?

This is about a feud between the Pyncheon family and the Maule family, that goes on for a couple of centuries. The Pyncheon family uses some underhand methods to get hold of the property that belongs to the Maule family. The patriarch of the Maule family isn't too pleased and puts a curse on the Pyncheon family. The story follows the last surviving members of the Pyncheon family, who are not grasping, like the previous members of the family. They have fallen on hard times and it seems that they are about to be crushed, but you never know what might happen.

What was Good?

The plot is gripping. There are spooky moments and mysteries to be solved. It makes you want to keep reading to find out what is going on, and if the Pyncheon family will ever be free from the Maule curse.

What was Bad?

Hawthorne loves to commentate on what is going on. He spends whole chapters giving his opinion on what is happening, which we could probably do without.

Who is it for?

Anyone who enjoys American literature, or a good, spooky story, but you need to be prepared to contend with Hawthorne's commentary.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sofa Spotlight: Dig Even Deeper, Andrew Sach & Richard Alldritt

To get the most from this book, you need to have the book in one hand and a Bible in the other. It also helps if you have read Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach. Dig Deeper explains some tools to help you study the Bible. Dig Even Deeper, shows you how they work in practice.

They use Exodus as their case study. It is well worth reading Exodus before reading the book so that you can have some idea of what they are talking about. They have broken Exodus down into about fourteen sections, each covered by a separate chapter. Each chapter gives you an opportunity to use the tools for yourself and they don't answer everything so you do have to do some work.

The writers use a tone that makes it an easy book to read. They are friendly and not afraid of making a joke or pointing out the obvious. Sometimes though this comes across as a little patronising, but that is a minor thing. If you've read Dig Deeper and enjoyed it, then you will like this.

Who is it for? Anyone who has never studied the Bible for themselves and doesn't know where to start, or anyone who wants to improve their Bible study skills. I've enjoyed reading Exodus by using these tools so it’s worth it just for getting to know Exodus better, but you have the tools that can be used anywhere in the Bible. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Sofa Shelf

Even more newbies:

Dig Even Deeper - Andrew Sach & Richard Alldritt

This is the sequel to a book called Dig Deeper. Dig Deeper gives you tools to help you study the Bible, and Dig Even Deeper shows you what it looks like to use them on the book of Exodus. So Bible in hand I'm looking to see how they work.

Le Tour - Geoffrey Wheatcroft

The Tour de France isn't far away so now is a good time to read a book about the history of the Tour. I have a vague idea about how it all started but I'm looking forward to finding out more about it.

Sweet Poison - David Gillespie

Last year I found out that I was probably having too much sugar. This is a book that I discovered when I was trying to find out why I felt so bad when I tried to cut down my sugar intake. I've pretty much succeeded with the sugar, but I'd like to know what was going on when I was addicted to it.

Inferno - Dan Brown

The last of the Robert Langdon series. Maybe he can redeem himself.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Sofa Shelf Update - Will the French books outnumber the English books soon?

There seems to be a fair bit on the shelf right now. The French books have been translated into English. My knowledge of the French language is almost non-existent so I need the translations. 

A Book of Narrative Verse - compiled by V. H. Collins

Not been inspired to pick this up.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith 

Not read for a while :(

Racing Through the Dark - The Fall and Rise of David Millar

I've just been reading this. So far I've got through the process that he went through to get into doping, he has been caught and is starting to put his life back together. It has been a sad read, although interesting, because of the cycling world's attitude to doping. Good to see that things have changed. 

Celebrated Crimes - Alexandre Dumas

Not fancied reading about the Borgia family this week.

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

I finished it. This is what I thought. And it gets me a star.

One Thousand and One Ghosts - Alexandre Dumas 

As this book has so far failed to live up to its title, in the number of ghosts it is supposed to be about, I have not read any in protest. Not really, just not had time.

Walking with God - J. C. Ryle

Another one that I have finished. This is what I thought. No star with this one.

The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne

A good plot, creepy at times, but it is hard work getting past Hawthorne's commentary. It is about the descendants of a man who brought a curse on the family. I am assuming that this curse will be undone at some point in the story.

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

Not read it this week. I last saw the main character (who I think was a real person) freezing, starving and trying to get into a city without any identification. It wasn't going too well for them.

The Journal of Madame Giovanni - Alexandre Dumas

Not read, but I am liking the adventures that are told, even though some of them are a little random.

The Prince of Thieves - Alexandre Dumas

A fifteen year old Robin Hood has just told a noble man that he can't be the bandit that the noble man is looking for, because he has a nice face and lives with his parents. I've never thought of Robin Hood living with his parents before, sort of diminishes his heroness ('heroness' not a real word, but I can't think of a better one!)  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Sofa Spotlight - The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown

Hardback books are not my favourite books to read because they are a bit unwieldy. But having done battle to just hold the book, the size of which would have made an effect door stop, I even managed to finish it. There were points when I didn't think I would, and the surprising thing is that the closer I got to the end the more I wanted to give up.

Why? Because I got bored. This book does contain a fast storyline and it does keep you guessing, but I felt that there were a few interruptions that slowed everything down. 

It's typical Brown. There is a race against time and lots of secrets that some people people want to reveal and that other people want to conceal. The secrets in this one belong to the Freemasons. You want to keep reading because you want to know if Langdon can break the code to save his friend. And you also want to know what motives the other parties involved have. I have to admit that Brown has painted a good villain. By that I mean he is the kind that you love to hate. With some twists towards the end, the book does keep you on the edge of your seat.

But then there are moments when you could fall off your seat with boredom (or at least I could). And it is the main character Langdon that seems to slow everything down. Everytime he opens his mouth I can feel the urge to skim over his bit, to the action on the other side. I think that what may have happened is that you as the reader need to know certain information in order to understand the unfolding drama, and so you get it from the symbologist, Langdon, who knows it all. I could be wrong, maybe what he had to say was interesting and important for narrative flow. But for me it just made me want to switch off. 

The worst example of this came at the end. As you draw towards the resolution of the crisis you can feel the pressure lifting and I could also feel the desire to read on lifting too. With the drama done, I nearly gave up as there were more explanations that didn't interest me that much. To be fair, when I read this part of the novel I was very tired, and as I hadn't paid much attention to the details Langdon had given earlier on in the book, most of it was lost on me. 

So, overall there were parts that were really good, but also parts that I didn't find interesting. I enjoyed the action but not the philosophy, history or symbology. Which is odd for me, I often find that stuff interesting. Maybe it just wasn't presented in a way that appealed to me.  

Have you read it? What did you think? Am I wrong, did I miss something? I'm open to having my mind changed, and maybe even giving it a second chance... 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Three Reasons to Read J. C. Ryle

So far on this blog I have talked about three books by J. C. Ryle, Holiness, a commentary on Matthew and Walking with God. I have enjoyed working through all these books, so here are three reasons to read J. C. Ryle.

1. He is very readable 

Reading his books is like having a conversation with the man himself. He might be writing from a different time but the language of the nineteenth century does not take anything away from the friendly tone with which he writes. His ideas are not just intellectual, he believes what he writes and the way he lived his life proved that. What is even better is that his writing shows that he cares about the people who read his books. He is not there to show off his knowledge but to help people see the truth about Jesus

2. What he has to say is relevant to you whether you know Jesus or not

Most of the chapters in Ryle's book end with a practical conclusion. There is something for everyone to be doing in response to what he has just written. If you don't know Jesus then Ryle wants you to know that getting to know Jesus is the most important thing that you can do. For those that do know Jesus and are following Him then Ryle will want to push you on to know Jesus more and to not stop following Him.

3. His books show that the good news about Jesus does not change

Because Ryle is writing for readers in the nineteenth century some of the situations that Ryle discusses were relevant for those readers but not for us. The church then was at a different stage to what it is now. However, what doesn't change is the need to follow Jesus nor the way to do that. The battles that Ryle and the Christians of his day are the same battles that Christians face today, and it is the same Jesus that helps us to fight them. 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Lengths that I will go to in Order to Win!

With 58 books left to read before the end of September I've had to come up with a plan to help me win. EG has 49 left to read, so I also have some serious catching up to do. My cunning plan? Children's books.

My copy used to be a library book.
Doesn't look like it was taken out much between
March 1978 and June 1986
In my defence I'm only reading one, and it is an old one. 161 years old to be exact. When Pierrot was Young is a good short read. I'm sad that it seems to have fallen off the radar. In a previous post I've talked about what I first thought when I finished reading it. You can read that here. It has everything that a good book for children should have; humour, drama and something to make you think. I hope that it will one day become popular for children again. It deserves to be.

So that is my cunning plan. I'm off now to find other short books to read!
The lesson I learned from this page was,
don't upset fish!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sofa Spotlight - Walking with God, J. C. Ryle

This isn't a long book. It has taken me just over a week to finish it. My conclusion at the end of reading it was the same as the conclusion that I had when I finished it the first time. It's a good book.

So why would you read it? If you've ever wondered what life should be like for the Christian, then this is the book for you. In previous posts when I've been talking about Ryle I've mentioned that his books require a bit of concentration. This is true of this book, but the advantage of this one is that the chapters are short, so you're attention span doesn't have to be that long. If you want to read a book with a friend this would be a good one to read. This is how I ended up reading it the first time round. I hadn't heard of it before someone suggested we read it.

What should the Christian life look like? Each of the chapters looks at a different aspect of what it means to walk with God. So there is a chapter on happiness, and a chapter on pride, and with fourteen chapters a good bit of ground gets covered. The chapter that stuck out for me was the chapter on hell. Ryle doesn't soften the blow. Hell is real and he doesn't want anyone to end up there. His explanation of what hell is has shaken me, and now I'm thinking about how little I've cared about it and that that needs to change. It's easier to care when you realise how awful it is.

The other part of the book that I'm giving some thought to is the appendix that is about the "Lord's Day". It raises the question about how we treat Sundays. I'm not sure that I agree with Ryle on everything that he says in this chapter.  So, I don't think it is a bad thing to be reading a novel on a Sunday, but I think that he has a point about how little time we spend thinking about God and His holiness (so novel reading would be a distraction from this which is why he doesn't recommend it). It's something I would like to be clearer on, so further thinking will be happening.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Sofa Shelf

A couple of new ones this week:

A Life's Ambition - Alexandre Dumas

The edition that I am reading comes from 1924 and was a Christmas present. It describes itself as the adventures and tribulations of an actor. It looks and feels old. Could be a quick read but that remains to be seen.

The Journal of Madame Giovanni - Alexandre Dumas.

I think this was first published in 1856, but my edition is from 1946. It is a bit of Dumas' travel writing and as the title suggests is the journal of a French lady who travels the world and records her adventures. Will probably be a harder read than A Life's Ambition but I look forward to it.

The Prince of Thieves - Alexandre Dumas

A tale of Robin Hood, although the man on the front cover looks suspiciously French. This is a true hardback, with front and back covers made of cardboard about an inch thick. It looks hideous but I think I am going to enjoy it!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Sofa Shelf Update

Lots to read, not much time:

Narrative Verse - compiled by V. H. Collins


The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

No time :(

Racing Through the Dark the Fall and Rise of David Millar

So far he has experienced his first season as a pro cyclist, and has seen the world of doping. However, he is not involved himself yet. Didn't realise he cycled on the same team as Lance Armstrong

Celebrated Crimes - Alexandre Dumas

Having a break from the Borgia family for a bit.

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Still fast paced. Don't know who to trust. Who is behind what? It is all very confusing, suppose I should read on for answers.

One Thousand and One Ghosts - Alexandre Dumas

So far I am yet to meet one ghost, let alone a thousand and one. There is talk of one, but those involved are doing all in the power to prove that the head was still alive when it spoke to the person who had removed it from its body. Their evidence comes from the Revolution when heads that had been removed by the guillotine rolled their eyes and gnashed their teeth in the baskets that caught them. Weird and gruesome.

When Pierrot Was Young - Alexandre Dumas

Finished this one, find out what I thought here.

Walking with God - J. C. Ryle

I'm not far from finishing. Like the other books by Ryle this comes full of challenges. Each chapter has a conclusion that does what it should and helps you process what you have just read.

The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne should talk less and tell the story more. His commentary makes following a good story difficult. However, I'm liking the story and it keeps me reading.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sofa Spotlight - When Pierrot was Young, Alexandre Dumas

It is a children's book and has a good number of pictures that take up whole pages in some cases. With only 88 pages to begin with it shows what a short story it is.

The opening page has a note from the translator, explaining that Dumas told his readers that the story was written by Aramis, a character from The Three Musketeers. Aramis had apparently told it to the children of the Duchess of Longueville. Given how much I like The Three Musketeers I found this piece of information added to my enjoyment of the book.

And enjoy it I did. The story is about how Pierrot came to be the entertainer of children. It begins with a woodcutter and his wife finding an unusual child in the woods. The child's face is white and a variation of the story spreads to the city, in which not a child with a white face is found by a woodcutter, but a white bear is eating the woodcutters in the surrounding forest.

My favourite part of the story comes next. The city panics and hides. The King of Bohemia rides through the city with his Queen, and cannot understand why there is no one to greet him. The Queen is carried by her servants in a litter and falls asleep. When the King finds out about the bear he decides to go and kill it so leaves with his army. The servants carrying the litter flee and the Queen remains asleep in her litter, in the middle of the road. She is later retrieved by the servants when the panic is over and returned to the palace still asleep and non the wiser.

Pierrot is discovered by the King and brought to be part of his court. There are two villains in this story. One is the King of Bohemia's Chief Minister, Lord Renardino and the other is Prince Azor, the ruler of a neighbouring kingdom, who has his sights set on Bohemia. Together the two of them plot the downfall of the King of Bohemia, but are foiled by Pierrot.

A light read, but comedic and very enjoyable.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sofa Shelf

A few newbies to the shelf this week:

One Thousand and One Ghosts - Alexandre Dumas

A Christmas present and from what I've read a bit of scary one. Page seven and I was terrified. We will see if I have the courage to make it to the end. So far it is about the murder of a woman who is decapitated by her husband. He goes mad because he claims that the head spoke to him after he had removed it. Spooky.

When Pierrot was Young - Alexandre Dumas

Another Dumas, another Christmas present. This is a children's book and there are lots of pictures! It will definitely help with the book challenge! It is about the King of Bohemia and how he met Pierrot. Bit of a fun read.

Walking with God - J. C. Ryle

The last of the Ryle books that I own. I've read this one before a few years ago, but I thought I would revisit it. It is an abridged version of Practical Religion. It weighs in at 144 pages, and the chapters look to be of reasonable length. Would probably be a good place to start if you've never read Ryle before.

The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Time for a bit of Hawthorne. Not my favourite author but he is ok. Have read one book by him before but not this one. Apparently it is about the Pyncheon family who are a clan under a dead man's curse. Sounds dramatic. We shall see if its 319 pages are worthy of reading.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sofa Shelf Update

Shocking how little I have read recently. 

A Book of Narrative Verse - compiled by V. H. Collins
Not read any.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith
Not read any of this either. More sad about not reading this one.

Racing Through The Dark - The Fall and Rise of David Millar
Not read. Cycled a bit though.

The Woodlanders - Thomas Hardy
Finished this one. Find out what I thought here. And it became book of the month

Matthew - J. C. Ryle
Finished this one too. Find out what I thought here.

Celebrated Crimes - Alexandre Dumas
This is one that I have read some of but not finished. It is good. Still with the Borgia family. In essence they poisoned and bribed their way into power and then did everything that they could to stay there, mainly using poison and bribery. Makes me glad that I live now and not in those times.

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown
Dan Brown may be redeeming himself. It has a fast pace, already I'm a third of the way through. There is clearly a formula going on for his novels, but if it works that might not be a bad thing. So far, there has been a chase across a city and a building blown up, oh and some murders too. Typical Brown.