August was a blur of fun-making, resting – and rain. (British weather: we want our money back. We are owed a summer).
Storybook Party of the century
The boy aged another year and we threw him a storybook party. I wrote a story where he and his friends met the Sophie from The Tiger Who Came to Tea and they all went hunting for her lost tiger in the worlds of other storybooks. It was a 77-page book, in seven chapters, and it seemed to occupy the kids between games quite effectively. They played Mr Silly Says with Mr Silly, pinned the tail on the Eeyore, and built houses for the three little pigs (with lego bricks, sticks, or drinking straws. (For the last activity, the dads may have got a bit competitive – they were so well-constructed that the wolf wasn’t able to blow any of their houses down…)
Jon made an epic cake, and I wrote an award-worthy story, and we poured our heart into the party as a love-gift.
Before the party, we were all, “It will be legendary! The kids will be talking about this party when they’re SIXTY! When the other kids hear about this party they will be sobbing to their parents and berating them for taking them to Disneyworld instead of going to our boy’s party!”
After the party, we remembered that only really happens when you’re eight. When you’re five, you’re still treating each activity like it’s an optional extra, and if you find the bark of a tree more interesting, well, then you’re going to play with tree bark for half an hour. You hardly touch any of the food, and the highlight is the end when all the kids go home and you get to play on the trampoline.
I fear we may have peaked too soon…
Jon took the boy to his first ever Christian conference, which was a great hit, while I chilled at home and rested from all the birthday excitement. Then we had some special, dear friends to come and stay, and like that – August was over.
This is a beautiful, lyrical memoir about finding God in brokenness, and searching for a home. I knew this would be theologically thoughtful, and beautifully written, the words of a poet, but I hadn’t anticipated it would make me cry as much as I did. Everyone else was reading it and crying, and I thought, ‘maybe they’re crying in sympathy for Amber’, because I knew something of her backstory, which contains some really hard times. When I read it myself I realised they were crying for themselves. Amber beautifully intertwines her story with Adam and Eve, searching for Eden, in a way that helped me see myself afresh, naked, before God.
For ages I didn’t know how to write this review, except to say I was quite undone by it. In some senses her story is a classic one (lost girl finds God, tries to be good, fails, finds God again), but it is the beauty of the writing, the depth of the truths, and the Spirit-filled energy that makes this a classic. It touched me deeply, and made me want to find God in a fresh way.
Amber is a true poet – she is one who sees. Her insights about American culture and the church towards the end of the book are brilliant. I just kept highlighting it for quotes. I got a Review Copy for free, but when I read it, I went straight out and bought my own hardcover, because I knew I would want to keep it and return to it. I keep telling people about it. Highly recommended. Currently £5.22 for Kindle, £10.99 hardback or $8.01-$10.23 Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
Jen Hatmaker is known for two things: being insightful about church, social justice, and culture, and being very funny. The best way to know if you will enjoy this book is to read her blog: rather than a typical book with an overarching message, this is a fun eclectic mix of essays – some of which were tongue-in-cheek rants about growing older and having kids, others of which were insightful essays about the church and culture. It reads a little like a magazine, and is very enjoyable to flip through and dip into, laugh and think.
For me, I preferred the insightful parts to the funny parts, and my favourite part was the essay on short-term mission. If you’re new to Jen Hatmaker, but you like what you see on her blog, you’ll enjoy this little collection of blogpost-type essays. Currently £6.02-£14.99 or $9.13-$13.56. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
This is the novel that everyone is talking about – Winner of the Pulitzer prize, New York Times Bestseller – and I can see why. It is about the second world war, but told through the perspective of two teenagers: a German orphan boy, and a blind girl. Because we follow the perspective of a blind girl, the war is brought to life through smells, sounds, touch, taste – it’s one of the most vivid books I’ve read in a long time.
The reason it’s a ‘must-read’ is his mastery of language, every other sentence you come across a morsel that you want to savour, and yet it’s written with the pace and plot of a good thriller. The other thing that makes it stand out against the usual war books is that it doesn’t feel sensationalised, despite the subject matter: the real action happens around the two characters, their relationships, and whether or not a priceless diamond will be stolen by the Germans, and it intertwines a love of physics and biology in the midst of a war story.
Like Shadow of the Wind, it felt ‘sweet’ in tone, rather than bitter, and I was gripped. For the last few weeks it’s felt as though I’ve been living in a six-storey house in St Malo as the bombs have come down around me. Highly recommended. Currently just £5.89 or $15.21. Get it from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
I must be the only person left on the planet who still likes to buy CDs rather than paying for Spotify or Apple Music, but I fear I may be nearing the point where I give up owning my music, and turn to renting it instead. This was what I listened to all summer (links go to Amazon):
- Jazz: Stacey Kent – The Boy Next Door (a new discovery – so light and airy); Diana Krall – Live in Paris; Melody Gardot – Currency of Man (sultry, bluesy- now just £4.99!!) and The Absence (like being on a tropical island – just £3.80!)).
- Singer/songwriter: Joy Williams – Venus (Former Civil Wars singer going solo – now down to £7.99); Meiko – Dear You; Kina Grannis – Elements (like Colbie Caillat’s older stuff); Tristan Prettyman – Hello (blusey-country-chilled)
- Alternative – Hozier by Hozier (the rhythms! I love anything with an atypical time signature); Sia – 1000 forms of fear (dark, beautiful); George Ezra – Wanted On Voyage (cheerful and hummable); Chelsea Moon and Uncle Daddy – Hymn Project 1 (hymns with a country twist)
- Pop – Sam Smith – In the lonely hour (just £5); Colbie Caillat – Gypsy Heart; Taylor Swift – 1989 (not on Spotify and worth every penny for the CD); Little Mix – Salute (my guilty pleasure – just £4.89)
If you would like to pretend you’re me in summer (which might be a little weird, but let’s go with it) – here’s the link to my Spotify Summer playlist. (I learnt how to make a Spotify playlist! Check me out! I’m so hip!)
- Dodgeball – a classic. I’m such a Vince Vaughan fan.
- Blades of glory – like Dodgeball but men on ice. Worth it for seeing the North Korean ice routine.
- Life in squares – if you’re a fan of the Bloomsbury set, this mini-series showing the life and convoluted affairs of the Woolfs is well worth checking out. They really wanted to be born in the sixties, I reckon.
- Partners in Crime – Absolutely love love love this series with David Walliams and Call the Midwife’s Jessica Raine making a fabulous squabbling crime-solving married couple.
- Empire – The finale!!!! Oh my goodness – I didn’t see that one coming.
- Still watching Nashville, Jane the Virgin, New Girl. I love the episode where Jess and Cece fight by complimenting each other on their hair.
Miscellany on the internet:
- Mark Meynell’s black dog series on depression is brilliant – check out all eight blog posts here
- Tim Lott for Guardian – Why you shouldn’t tell your children they can be whatever they want
- “…drop the social Darwinism. Success is not a sign of virtue. It’s mostly a sign that your grandparents did well.” On America and social mobility
- Ranjana Srivastava – Doctor Google is here to stay – and here to help
- Ranjana Srivastava for Guardian – What do doctors do to our patients when we label them as ‘anxious’?
- Dr Heather Rolfe – Real Case Studies Can Help Us Understand the Effects of Benefit Sanctions
- Guardian – Migration Crisis Quiz (I got 7/10)
At the end of August, buried on a bank holiday weekend, the government released the statistics for those who had died while being declared ‘fit for work’. Here are two of the best responses:
- Centre for Welfare Reform – Work Capability Assessment – deaths and suicides
- Frances Ryan for Guardian – Death has become a part of Britain’s benefit system
Sign the petition for a proper assessment into the impact of the budget cuts on disabled people (UK only)
On the reality of severe M.E. (for severe ME awareness day)
- This moving video about Whitney Defoe, a very severe ME patient, and his father, who is trying to find a cure, is a must-see
- Heartbreaking mistreatment of children with M.E. (via Tymes Trust)
- My friend Catherine Hale describes how she was abused by doctors because they didn’t believe in M.E. This is fairly shocking, but important. Severe ME Day 2015
Research is being done for first time specifically into the severe ME subset – maybe new hope for all? Donate here
On the blog
I was in lots of different places, but my post on Wearing a Bikini to Church was popular, as was my post on The Church, Disabled People and Awkwardness, and lots of people resonated with my experience about When Your Holiday is Not Heaven.
Readers of my newsletter will know I’ve been plotting an Advent project… Watch this space! And to be the first to get news, make sure you sign up to the newsletter, if you’re not already.
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
I received a free advanced copy of many of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are. This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the world, you help this site, at no extra cost to you.
Over to you:
- Are you a CD person or a Spotify person?
- What have you been into this August?