This is the third of four bumper review posts – my non-fiction Book Reviews for Spring 2018 (Jan-April). The next one is Children’s fiction. Here are ten books for your consideration:
1. When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend – Mark Meynell.
Watch out for this book on depression out 17th May 2018 – it has a CS Lewis feel about it and is brilliant. Meynell uses metaphor and some of his personal story to describe the experience of depression. It also offers intelligent theological and biblical reflection on how to navigate the experience, with a note of hope. This is the perfect book for depressed people to hand to loved ones and say, ‘This is what it’s like. This is what helps.”
Whenever I read a book on depression, I steel myself and ask, ‘Is it safe? Or will it clobber you halfway through with platitudes or condemnation?’ This was a relief to read: he writes what he knows, as he lives daily with the battle of depression, and he’s one of the best writers in the world writing on this. His chapter on suicide, reflecting on Paul, was a real highlight for me. It’s the kind of book you underline lots and quote to others. I was honoured to read an early version of this and it gave me goosebumps. It has all the makings of a classic – highly recommended.
2. All the News That’s Fit to Tell (and How to Tell It) – How to write Christian newsletters
The subtitle says it all – it’s a step by step guide of how to write Christian newsletters and an absolute must-read for anyone in that situation. Perfect for overseas workers and anyone who writes letters to raise support. Amy has written newsletters for over 20 years, really knows her stuff on writing and is an outstanding teacher. I was delighted to write an endorsement for this excellent book:
“Amy Young is an outstanding, warm and inspiring writing coach. She promises that anyone can be a writer, and with this book, I’m inclined to believe her. Filled with stories, humour and practical tips, this book is a must-read for any Christian workers who write newsletters.”
3. Honesty Over Silence – Patrick Regan (out in July)
Patrick Regan and I are very much on the same page when it comes to talking about suffering and faith, and his work is a joy to read. I’ve only connected with him recently, but he’s a gentle, thoughtful Christian who has suffered well and writes really relatable books. I was honoured to provide an endorsement for this book, which is as follows:
“Patrick Regan has that rare ability of laying his weaknesses bare in a way that enables the sweet grace of Jesus to come through. As someone with chronic illness, I found a kindred spirit who understood the depths of suffering but had dug deeper to find wisdom and hope. My copy is marked by tears and much underlining. It will move you, it will comfort you. Full of insight and gentle wisdom, this superb book is a perfect companion for anyone weakened by life, looking for God in it all, and needing to know they’re not alone.”
4. Grenfell Hope – Gaby Doherty (out June 2018)
Gaby is a dear friend who was on the ground, living opposite when the Grenfell Towers burned down and ministering in that community. This was my (long!) endorsement for her book:
“How do we offer hope when disaster comes to our door? In this timely book, Doherty offers a rare perspective: the eyewitness accounts of the political leaders and religious communities, and how they helped on the ground. This is not a book full of ‘grief tourism’, but an exploration of the good – and bad – ordinary people can do. The book identifies unexpected heroes who love justice, look suffering square on and don’t offer glib answers, but look for practical good and supernatural hope.
“As someone active in the hub of support after the Grenfell fire, Doherty not only writes hope, she lives it. She is the perfect person to present this treasury of shards of hope within the wreckage, and she does so with grace and humility. Read it for lament, not hand-wringing; intelligent critique, not outrage; a vision of justice, not despair – and above all, read it to be inspired by ordinary people, and reflect on what it means to be a hope-bearer in this world.”
5. The Great Evangelical Retreat – Finding hope in surrender – Ed Cyzewski
Readers of this blog will know I’m already a huge fan of Ed Cyzewski. This book is an extended essay on the need for (American) evangelicals to take a step away from certainty and protectionism and spend more time in reflection and contemplation. For former evangelicals in America who are considering walking away from the faith and need a reason to stay in it is an absolute breath of fresh air. He’s doing a whole series of these books, so check them all out. You can download this book for FREE here.
6. Undivided Heart – Lucy Mills
This book examines the pull on our hearts in many different directions and urges us to enjoy the benefits of knowing God now. Lucy writes what I would describe as ‘gentle theology’ – not too intellectual nor too basic, but filled with prayerful wisdom. Like me, Lucy also suffers from chronic illness, and her thoughtfulness from this experience comes through. She has prayers and poems interspersed throughout the book, which make it a reflective spiritual experience.
7. Taking Off the Mask – Claire Musters
Claire is a wonderful experienced journalist and editor who works with many Christian publications. From the description I expected this to be a memoir on adultery and what she’d learned personally about authenticity in the light of this. However, although her affair is described briefly in the first chapter, the remainder of the book is a logical, rational walk-through of some of the reasons we put on masks. It’s a great entry-level primer for a whole host of psychological topics – with biblical examples too.
8. When Life Takes What Matters – Susan Lenzkes
It describes itself as a ‘book of devotions to comfort you through crisis and change’. It’s a brief book, written like short devotionals, so easy for people to dip in and out. The curation of quotes and verses were nice, but I didn’t gel with her commentary. Not recommended.
1. Talking As Fast As I Can – Lauren Graham
For Gilmore Girl fans – imagine for a second that Lorelei Gilmore was a real person, as witty and fun as in the show, but with one crucial difference: she went to an Ivy League university and became an actor.
Talking as fast as I can is like having an extended lunch with that person, chatting about acting, fashion fame and finding love, and it is an absolute delight. Anyone who isn’t a Gilmore Girls fan will probably not be interested, but for everyone else, this is a real treat. Funny, wise, uplifting and hopeful, this was my December/January comfort reading.
2. Independent Publishing for Christian Authors – Ed Cyzewski
Cyzewski is a great advert for self-publishing for the Christian market because his self-published books are excellent, traditionally-published quality and do very well. I’ve personally found his advice extremely helpful in marketing books.
The tone is important, too. There are so many books out there that try to hustle and hassle – Cyzewski, while being realistic about the publishing industry, always leaves me hopeful and relaxed. Whenever I read an Ed Cyzewski book on faith or creativity, my breathing slows, and I feel like I’m laying down a burden. It’s great for getting you out of the panic of publishing and back into the love of writing. Buy this and all his books on writing and creativity.
Act Normal by Kristy Burmeister also released in 2018, and is one of my favourite books this year so far. I reviewed it here. Spiritual memoir at its best.
I’ve also been privileged to read an advance copy of Vicky Beeching’s forthcoming memoir, Undivided, about sexuality and faith, and it is a gripping read: brilliantly written and an important contribution to this topic. Preorder it via her site and get some goodies!
Some of these books I received an Advance Review Copy free of charge, with no obligation to review. These are my honest reviews.
Available at your local Christian bookshop. Buy these books (or anything else) using the following affiliate links, and help this site at no extra cost to you.
AND don’t forget my own book, with now 70!! glowing Amazon.co.uk reviews, Those Who Wait – Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay. Perfect for anyone who feels like they’re living life stuck in a waiting room.
“This is a gentle book full of humanity, biblical integrity and unexpected humour.” – Pete Greig, founder of 24:7 Prayer Movement.
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