Summer Reading List


Something long, something poetry, something non-fiction, something recent, something faith building and something classic; this is how I’ve put together my summer reading list.

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks
Summer holidays and Christmas are a signal to reach for the tome. Relaxing on the beach or in the garden, car journeys, train journeys and long afternoons without term time responsibilities, this is a great way to eek out all the joys and slow the holidays down. Anything in excess of 500 pages will do the job and Ann Bogel, my favourite book blogger has written and recommended on this subject.
I’m not being too ambitious and have chosen a modest 624 pages. David Mitchell’s latest novel spans sixty years, from the early eighties of the previous century into the future decades of the next. Tracing the story of Holly Sykes and her troublesome psychic powers, the story moves between this world and another, masterfully combining genres and confusing expectations as only Mitchell can. Mixed reviews for this book, but fans will be delighted to find that several characters from previous Mitchell novels make an appearance.

Alfred Habegger, My Wars are Laid Away in Books
I often use anthologies to help me chose poems but have decided to make a more serious study of one of my favourite poets. I have bought a biography of Emily Dickinson as a companion to the collected works.

Robert Mcfarlane, The Old Ways
Andy recommended this to me as the best book he has read in quite sometime. The Old Ways is the narrative of a walker travelling our ancient by-ways, seeking to explain how the landscape has informed our imaginations over hundreds of years.

Antony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
So many readers are recommending this world war two story of a blind girl and the father who builds her a model of Paris so she can remember the city.

Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions
I’m saving a little space for making a purchase or two from the Greenbelt books store but I do have two books by Karen Swallow Prior on the list, an author who has been on my must read pile for quite some time. Fierce Convictions is the biographical tale of Hannah More, eighteenth century abolitionist and social reformer. I also hope to dip into, Booked which promises to explain to me those powerful places where literature and faith collide.

Checkout this piece by Prior for Ann Voskamp’s blog. It inspired me to buy the book.

In addition to this I have a kindle full to the brim with Antony Trollope and Christian classics, for the trips when I’m travelling light.

Other reading lists

Faith based reads – The (in)courage book club

A great list I could easily adopt as my own from my blogging friend Heather

Ann Bogel’s excellent guide (a woman totally committed to understanding what we like to read)

The Guardian – various summer reading lists

New York Times – summer reading ideas

What are you reading this summer? And where do you go for book reviews and recommendations?


So much surprising beauty, so many gifts.

Our TV hasn’t been working for about eight weeks now, but no one seemed to care much. There has been plenty to keep us busy and on quiet evenings we sit a while in the garden and sometimes the kids make a fire.

Last night was date night but I didn’t much feel like going out. Sometimes you’re full up on food and drink and tired of the outside world. You part with money and share your space with a bunch of strangers, when all you really wanted was a little time alone.

Andy managed to get the TV working whilst I finished my sewing. We perched on the single bed, put in the TV room for the summer whilst Peter is home. We had Magnums and a smokey inch of single malt and watched documentaries from the BBC. In these days, where the future of the public broadcast service is up for discussion, we got to enjoy a little awe and wonder, of universal size, right there in our own tiny TV room, watching the Sky at Night we saw the New Horizon mission bringing back the first flyby pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto. It brought tears to my eyes, an invitation to share in their moment, such accomplishment and so much surprising beauty. We can see a magnificent 7.5 billion kilometres away! It would take light over 4 hours to travel that far and the numbers are much too big for me to imagine the size of the space we share.

At John Hopkins, as the first pictures were about to be received, a hush fell on the auditorium. The space craft is moving much too fast to be stopped now, it has already received the commands that everyone hopes will result in a series of photographs. New Horizon is 12, 500 kilometres away from the Pluto and there are only a few short hour in which to get this right.

Holding up phones to capture the moment, the image of the planet fills the screen. Realisations, moment on moment, filter into the room. There are whoops and embraces and signs of pure exhilaration, un-inhibited displays of bliss. The mission, entirely successful, has delivered something beyond expectation and reasoned responses are rendered void. This gorgeous, multi-textured silver globe of a planet, floats on a backdrop of deep unknown space and every detail is illuminated for our eyes to see. This is a glorious side of science that no one expected when they took on the job.

The auditorium rises in a spontaneous applause.

A single unanimous act of joy. 

These people are crazy drunk with delight.

We sit in our little TV room and listen to caffeine fuelled scientists, wired and bright eyed from too little sleep and too much awe. For in the bright regions on a the distant planet, by the icy heart of white, they see exotic ice flows and strange mountains rise a mile upon mile above the plains. And they do not know how this can be, ice as hard as rock and geological activity in the quiet, dead regions of outmost space.

Just a few days ago I to sat in another small room with strangers and friends and after a bring-and-share meal we came together to pray.  A guitar strummed somewhere in the background and a few unremarkable voices begin to sing. Babies, just fed, nestled to sleep and there were toddler footsteps and the noise of children playing out in the hall. We hadn’t been at it more than a minute and everyone knew, the presence of God was filling the room. A gift for that moment, all for us, you couldn’t make it up. Such love brought so close. Some people knelt and others stood. Why would we not whoop or embrace or rise in spontaneous applause? I’ve seen it all, a life spent amongst crazy charismatics and holy Joes, people who see God and spill over, well up, crash down loud, knocked off their feet. We’re crazy with delight, a unanimous response to miracles much bigger than the room we are in.  Astonishing.

As in days of old, in our days now: such wonder, so much surprising beauty, so many gifts.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2). 

Something lovely for the weekend 11.7.15

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Frederick Buechner

I had a poo day yesterday.

Right in the middle of all the good glory of our God touched lives we find the joy, give the thanks and keep our closeness to God as the most precious thing we have and yet it is ok to say, that was a bad day. Jesus transforms us from the inside out. A new heart, our world is changed, startling and true but when something is bad we call it what it is. This is what it is to really seek truth: no cover up, no lies, no falsifying the evidence. Let us tell the truth.

Yesterday, I held it together (on the whole). Things did not go as I had planned and when stuff went wrong I was taken by surprise, it put me in touch with fears and insecurities that I thought I had tied up and tidied away.

Yesterday I did the things I had to do, kept most of the pieces of my calm in tact. All the kids got fed and taxi-ed, all the books got marked. When I got home I hid myself under the duvet with a novel and Lucy brought me a scone covered in strawberry jam (the jam was on the top of the scone, because, who has the time to cut a scone in half?) Later the boys lit a fire and we laughed long and drank whisky as the light faded and the worries of the day began to loosen their hold.

This morning I had a little cry and said it out loud, I had a terrible day.

A short post on prayer


I have a little dream of writing a short Kindle book all about being sad. It is the kind of book I would like to have read when I was depressed. But it will not be at all miserable or insular.

It goes without saying that I can not help but make it about God; he is the only response I have to the whole emotional-spiritual game they call sad. The writing is hard. I do not want it to be harsh, a hard task master to those who feel wounded, rejected or misunderstood by the church or the world or their own families and friends. For it seems to me that so much sorrow originates in these kinds of rejections and misunderstandings. If the book could just be a welcoming place for people who feel excluded because of their low mood and struggles with depression, I would be content.

Today I was writing a piece on prayer for the book and did it with great care because the last thing a sad person needs is another ‘to do’ on an impossibly long list of demands. I asked my friends to tell me how they prayed. Wow! They are the people after God’s own heart, the people after my own heart, because they told their stories and didn’t make it sound hard or exclusive at all.

They are the people living on the far side of “it is done”. They have learnt to rest in the full acceptance that followed the death cry of Jesus on the cross. For this is where all of the important parts of our story await us. When we pray from a place of rest in God, there is peace and love and freedom. When we don’t there is shame and guilt and a crushing sense of defeat. The Spirit did the hard work for us, the Spirit does the hard work for us. He brings good prayer out of us and he can bring good prayer out of our previous poor experience. Good prayer will come from a trusting heart like water from an underground spring or a bowl that is full to the brim.

I only have a few words on how to pray and all the best ones went into the chapter. I do however have some quotes: two from Scripture and one from Saint Isaac the Syriac. I hope they encourage you to pray happy and good.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Matthew 11.28-30 The Message

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Romans 8. 26-28 The Message

When the Spirit takes its dwelling-place in a man he does not cease to pray, because the Spirit will constantly pray in him. Then, neither when he sleeps, nor when he is awake, will prayer be cut off from his soul; but when he eats and when he drinks, when he lies down or when he does any work, even when he is immersed in sleep, the perfumes of prayer will breathe in his heart spontaneously.

Saint Isaac the Syrian

Top Ten Books for Boys

The summer holidays are almost upon us and there are plans to be made. The library is of course one of summer’s most abundant resources. You may want to approach those endless shelves with something of a list, to help narrow down the ever multiplying choice. If you are looking for reading for your children or something for yourself to remind you of those long summers of childhood, I have added some reading for boys to my previous post on reading for girls. 

All of the books are classics and by that I mean that they are older than me and well known amongst librarians, books sellers and bibliophiles across the English speaking world as an important part of every reading child’s experience.

The gender distinction is very loose. I think my boys are familiar with most of the fiction on the list for girls and Lucy is familiar with most of the fiction on the list for boys. The distinction matters more for some readers than others. Whatever your reading habits, gendering books is extremely problematic but often a helpful starting point.

Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
Four children embark on a summer holiday island adventure only to find their plans thwarted by the ‘pirates’ Nancy and Peggy, who accuse them of trespass. Set in the English Lakes this book has all the ingredients of a very successful children story: a long summer holiday ready to be filled, all the adults out of the way, an island, boats, camping, mild mystery and a strong sense of the joys of the great outdoors.

John Meade Faulkner, Moonfleet
A seafaring adventure in the tradition of Treasure Island, more smuggling than piracy, Moonfleet is the story of 15 year old John Trenchard who discovers a secret passage and the promise of finding a valuable diamond. John soon finds himself entangled in a smuggling ring but all the promise of riches and wealth are not what they at first seemed.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
When Bill Bones arrives at the Admiral Benbow Inn, Jim Hawkins has no idea of the adventure that is about to begin. Pirate treasure, mutiny and some of the finest characters ever written in children’s fiction, including Ben Gunn and Long John Silver. We enjoyed this many times over on audiobook and I also noticed you can purchase a Kindle version of this book this for free.

Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows
Ratty, Badger, Mole and Mr Toad! Is there anything as English as this tale from the riverside? My first port of call for beautiful character pieces and carefully observed description of the natural history of the English countryside. Most people are familiar with stage and TV version, but the book is more than worth a read. Perfect on a summers day, lying on a rug amongst the buttercups watching the clouds go by.

Erich Kastner, Emil and the Detectives
Short and very easy to read which are two important features of a book for reluctant boy readers. Emil is sent on his first train journey alone with strict instruction from his mother to keep his money safe. When the money is stolen Emil and his Berlin friends become the detectives of the book title, in their adventures to retrieve the money.

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I think it is a wonderful thing that readers of a young age can get to experience something by a writer as brilliant as Mark Twain. Something of a challenge for readers used to more accessible children’s fiction, the language and some of the structuring of the story is a little difficult.  You may want to try an audio book; look for one with good accents! if you are not familiar with the plot, Huckleberry Finn runs away from a violent father and finds himself involved with a run away slave. A great abolitionist story and an excellent introduction to slavery and race issues. You will find a free version of this book for Kindle.

Ian Serraillier, The Silver Sword
A traumatic story of war torn Europe told with compassion and sensitivity. I teach a little history these days and I find that kids love stories of how other kids survived the war. I think this classic from my childhood has fallen a little out of favour but it is an incredible tale of war refugees who escape the turmoil of Poland on a journey across Europe in search of their parents.

Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
In this wonderful fictionalised historical setting England is Ruled by King James and over run with wolves. The children of this story are entrusted to a governess who is not what she seems. Will Bonnie and Sylvia escape her evil clutches and unravel the mysteries of the criminal underworld she is dragging them into? I lost myself to the magic of this story as a child and I still find the same charms between its pages today.

Lucy M. Boston, The Children of Green Knowe
Tolly is quite at home with the magic of his Grandmother’s ancient home. He loves to hear the tales of his own ancestors and family histories and is barely surprised at all to find himself making friends with the children who lived there many centuries past. This is very beautiful story telling where magic and reality merge as naturally as the pieces of this unusual ghost story flow together seamlessly. A real winner with many sequels.

Clive King, Stig of the Dump
Barney strays too close to the edge of the disused gravel pit and tumbles into the home of a Neolithic survivor, Stig ,who has created for himself an enterprising life out of the waste that other people dump in the disused pit. A classic from the 70’s that needs resurrecting.

Philippa Pearce, A Dog so Small
This is a story written for any child who really wants a dog. Ben the hero of the story is disappointed when for his birthday he receives a picture of a dog rather than a real pet. But he is not to be defeated and with a little help from a powerful imagination his adventures as a serious dog owner begin. I came to this book as an adult, a recommendation from a writer friend whose judgement I trust, and I was not disappointed. A lovely short read for reluctant readers or read aloud parents who are tired at the end of the day.

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You may also be interested in, Top Ten Books for Girls