New Year’s Resolutions: Reviewed

This year, I had decided to set myself a resolution for the first time in years. Remarkably, I’ve achieved what I intended. For the first time ever (personally and globally perhaps?) I have stuck to a resolution. Insert shocked emoji here!

I’m pretty sure whoever invented New Year’s Resolutions dreamed this day might come, but maybe never truly believed it would happen. Am I being over-dramatic? Probably. Am I proud of myself? Hell yeah! Did I really believe I could do it? Not even slightly.

This time last year, I decided I enjoy reading and quite frankly don’t do it enough. So I set myself a challenge for the new year: I will read one book a month for 2017 – between January 2017 and December 2017, I will read 12 books.

Okay, so I fell short of the first part. I didn’t read a book a month. Some months I read 2 or 3 books and other months I didn’t pick up a book at all. But still – I did good. I mentioned my challenge to a friend, and she suggested I publish reviews for each book I read. So I thought I would do it at the end of the year – as a proud reflection on what I’ve achieved.


Please be warned there are spoiler alerts in each review – if you have not read these books and do not want to know what happens, I can’t help myself. Let me assure you, you will still enjoy each of these books.

1. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

Now you might say this was a bit of a cheat. I’ve read the Harry Potter books countless times. However, I had decided to re-read them before going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage in March. So I’d read books 1-5 in 2016 and was on to the last couple of books in 2017.

My favourite Harry Potter book is Prisoner of Azkaban, because it introduces my favourite characters: Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. I love the friendship of the self titled Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, and in Half Blood Prince, you experience a more sinister vision of these childhood friends in Snape’s memories. It makes the characters more fallible – and in turn, more believable. This novel really gives more depth to the characters we know and love, and you can tell the story is only getting darker. You start to understand the depths of depravity that Voldemort has sunk to, to achieve immortality and total power.

The juxtaposition of youthfulness and the darkness that is ever growing is stark – Quidditch and childhood romances next to daily news of more disappearances and the private lessons Harry has with Dumbledore learning of Voldemort’s dark past.

One of my favourite scenes in the book series is when Harry takes Felix Felicis potion – and he essentially acts a little drunk. This book sees Harry becoming increasingly sassy, which again is one of my favourite things about Harry getting older.

I also love that this book is unafraid to face the fact that the good side is more than just Dumbledore. There has been a lot of talk within the Order of the Phoenix that they must trust Dumbledore’s decisions and that Dumbledore is essentially the be all and end all. His death marks the fact that fighting for the right thing is more than just one man.

You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

Man, this book. It shows the utter brilliance of JK Rowling. You can be guaranteed that there are no loose ends at the end of this series, everything has been so entwined and links together – there are patterns you don’t necessarily pick up on first reading, so I do urge you (funnily enough) to read this series several times. There are so many amazing layers.

After Dumbledore’s death, we learn so much about the man. Like Harry, we realise we only ever knew Dumbledore on a surface level. His personal history is just as twisted as Voldemort’s, as we learned in the previous novel. However, Dumbledore had several opportunities to become dark, and he rejected them. He blames himself for bad decisions, which makes him a more human character.

Much of this book is of Harry, Ron and Hermione moving from place to place, camping every night, waiting for inspiration to hit. There are negative reviews saying this has a negative impact on the book – it’s boring. However that is the point! Harry doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he knows he has to be doing something. It’s about these relationships that have been forged over the past 6 books being put under pressure.

As we reach the climax during the Battle of Hogwarts, we are reminded that all war comes at a cost. There are innocent bodies littered around the grounds, including young children who were supposed to have left being ravaged by werewolves. Some of our favourite characters are lost in the battle, and it is utterly heartbreaking to read.

One of the victims, is Severus Snape. However, before he departs this world, he allows Harry to collect his memories and Harry sees the heart wrenching story of this lovesick, much misunderstood man. It kills me every time I read that chapter (much like the chapter when Sirius Black dies) and I cry buckets. JK Rowling is truly a master.

You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

3. Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

I saw the film that was based on this novel and loved it up until the end. Where I got confused. More often than I would care to admit, I Google the meaning of endings of films. Usually, the ones I Google are searched by many, many other confused viewers (some aren’t, but we won’t mention those). I didn’t realise this was based on a novel, and I was perusing the book aisle in Tesco and saw this on offer. So I picked it up,hoping the ending in the book would be clearer.

It’s a strong, and different story. It presents a book within a book – an ex-husband sends his ex-wife his first novel, and the narrative follows Susan (the ex-wife) reading this script. She can hardly put the book down – it’s a gripping story following a family in a horrendous circumstance.

However, the family much resembles her and her ex-husband, and their daughter. The violence that happens to these women is unspeakable, and you see how it affects her. The ending of the novel is much different to the film, and much more satisfying.

I loved following the reader’s response to a fantastic novel. The twists and turns, and brutality of the fiction the ex-husband has written is truly riveting. Like Susan, I couldn’t put this down.

You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

4. Never Trust A Smiling Pirate by Tom Ingham

This was a very special treat – a friend of a friend is a budding writer and was asking for people to proof-read his latest work. I volunteered and got to read this children’s book before it was published (and offer some feedback).

I love the message this book conveys. As someone who has (and is) battling depression, I do believe that we need to educate people on what it is, but also let people know that it’s okay to feel this way. If we can sow this seed early on with children, the better.

The story follows a young boy called Sid. After he loses his mum and his dad remarries, the boy who usually has the biggest smile has his smile stolen by some pirates. The book follows Sid’s journey to get his smile back – with some unexpected twists and turns in the middle.

Tom handles this subject so delicately, whilst still having fun with the story that he treads the fine line to ensure that his story isn’t too preachy about self worth, but also doesn’t lose focus on the message he’s promoting. It’s well worth a read for young readers, and should open a topic of conversation that could be difficult to broach otherwise.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

5. Live Love Lead by Brian Houston

Now, I started this book in 2016, but literally every word in this is gold, so I took my sweet time finishing it.

You will often hear me saying that Brian Houston is my main man. He is an incredible pastor with a heart for the local, community church. This book changed the way I consider him (whilst I was reading this book, he went from an author and senior pastor of Hillsong Church to an incredible writer and senior pastor of my church) – he stopped being an unknown quantity and become an incredibly fallible human being (in my eyes, he confesses things in this book that most other people wouldn’t own up to in their own lives) – he owns his mistakes and his reality, and it’s really sobering.

He also sees opportunities to witness the gospel in everything. In every anecdote, he used it to share his faith, not just his life. This is something I strive to do within this website, and hope I’m doing a half decent job of it (I don’t have an editor like he does).

I was tempted to turn straight back to page one when I got to the end of this book, I just wanted to continue reading it. The only book I’ve ever felt that way about before is the Harry Potter series.

Fundamentally, this book does what it says in the title – through anecdotes and stories of his life to illustrate, Brian Houston teaches us how to live, love and lead, putting the Holy Spirit at the centre of our lives. It’s life changing stuff.

Seriously. Buy this book (if I haven’t already for you – I should have shares in Brian Houston ministries. I’ve bought a lot of copies of this book).

You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

6. Baby Doll by Hollie Overton

I love a thriller, and this doesn’t disappoint. This was recommended by my colleagues at work (and borrowed from them).

It’s the story of a kidnap victim, and the opening chapter is her escaping from the basement of her captor. She had an opportunity to escape and she took it.

She’s been missing for 8 years and the story unfolds with her and her family coming to terms with what happened and starting life living with what happened to her. It was compulsive reading and I read it within 48 hours whilst off work sick. It was gripping, right up to the very end – when you can’t believe the book just finished…

You can purchase this book from Amazon here.

7. Sun Stand Still – Steven Furtick

So this was another recommended book in an entirely different genre! I’d heard that this book had literally changed a friend’s life. They’d read this, prayed their sun stand still prayer and moved across the country. They’re now a Youth Pastor at a growing church and got engaged in the past few weeks. Incredible story. Anyway, I thought I would give it a go.

I think my view may have been a little tarnished after reading Live, Love, Lead which changed my world. I enjoyed this book and the message held within it’s pages, but I didn’t find it life changing per se. It encouraged me to pray in the sun stand still way that Joshua does in Joshua 10 – which meant that I did step out and I have changed the way I pray as a result… so I guess, in that sense it is life changing. Hmmmm.

Might take me a while to work out if this was life changing or not, so in the meantime, I encourage you to read it, and make up your mind yourself.

Steven Furtick is a brilliant writer, in the same way that he is a brilliant speaker. If you’ve ever listened to him preach and loved it, you will love this book.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

8. Swipe Right – Levi Lusko

Now, this was a game changer. I can say that with absolute certainty. I decided to read this because Instagram was reading it. Most people I follow who are pastors posted a photo of them reading this book on Instagram. So I figured if they’re reading it and posting about it, it must be good. And I was right.

This is a book about relationships – romantic relationships – and how to approach them within your walk with Jesus. This is a concept I struggle with – I find myself wanting romantic relationship, but also feel that emotionally Jesus is enough for me. I also find it difficult to be around people for extended periods, so you know, there’s that. This book really confronts that (not me finding it difficult to be around people – Jesus is enough for me, where would a partner fit) and outlines why sex is for marriage and how damaging it can be to not follow that.

Levi Lusko isn’t afraid to confront some raw issues about sex and relationships, but he does it without preaching condemnation, but love (the voice of Jesus is definitely in there). His voice is that of a loving father, giving advice to his daughters. It’s a protective voice that wants to ensure the very best for the reader. In doing this, he echoes the voice of our Eternal Father brilliantly.

Super highly recommend. Even if you’re not single and confused about it like I am, it’s still worth a read.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

9. Stay The Path – Bobbie Houston

I kind of got on a roll with Christian books. My pile of ‘to read’ books was getting too high and I kept adding to it with new releases like this one.

To be totally honest, this book was really underwhelming for me. I discussed it with a few friends from church and we were on the same page: we loved her previous book, titled ‘The Sisterhood’ (in places it moved me to tears) and we super loved her husband’s book (have I mentioned how much I loved Live Love Lead?!) but this was a bit vague for our tastes.

It was lovely to hear again some of the anecdotes that appeared in Live Love Lead from Bobbie’s point of view – it fleshes out the stories and gives them a female perspective.

But ultimately, I really struggled to take anything away from this book. I re-read several chapters 2-3 times, because I realised I had no idea what I just read. Maybe I was distracted when I read this by other things going on in my life, but maybe this message wasn’t meant for me right now, and I’ll read it again in the future and it’ll blow me away.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

10. Horns by Joe Hill

And once again we find ourselves in a completely different book!

Much like Nocturnal Animals, I’d seen the film adaptation, not knowing that it was based on a book (I should really read the credits more closely). I watched the film because it had Daniel Radcliffe in, and not surprisingly, I love him.

The film was amazing. I absolutely loved the premise of the story. It was a twisted and dark comedy about a tragic event that happened. However, again much like Nocturnal Animals, the ending left me scratching my head and feeling let down, after a film whose only down fall was Daniel Radcliffe’s dodgy American accent.

Again, I purchased the book hoping the ending would either make more sense, or just be better (deja vu here?!). I was not disappointed. The difference between film and book reminded me a little of the difference between medias for The Shining. The book is infinitely better, with much more meat to it than the film.

Much like The Shining, the book is much more sinister, and it really challenges you to think how you might behave in the lead character’s, Ig’s, shoes.

The premise is that Ig’s girlfriend has been murdered, and he is the main suspect. He denies this, however the police believe he was responsible, so they stop looking for suspects. They don’t have enough evidence to convict Ig, so he is a free man. Though the whole town believe him to be a murderer who has walked free.

The story starts and Ig has woken up with bumps on his temples. As the book progresses, these bumps become horns. However, no one can really see them, and when they look at him they confess their darkest secrets. You can see the potential for black humour here. He decides to use this new found power to find his girlfriend’s real murderer.

Alongside this twisted investigation he is leading, are flashbacks to his relationship with Merrin, including how he met her, how they ended up together etc. There’s also a questioning narrative about religion. He often wonders if he is becoming the devil and if so, what did he do. He reflects on his time in church, and wonders if God is real, why didn’t he stop Merrin’s murder.

I wasn’t expecting to have my faith challenged reading this book, and I found it refreshing to have this inside a fictional book. I was expecting something much like the film, however the roots went so much deeper and there was so much more to the story here. And – the ending was entirely different and much more satisfying.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

11. Love Does – Bob Goff

This again came highly recommended to me – in fact, might have been a Christmas present from Ellen? I’m not sure. But my mum and my sister rave about Bob Goff. He had spoken at Colour Conference one year, and they couldn’t get enough of him (I believe he’ll be back at Colour 2018, so maybe get your tickets here).

Having now read this book, I can understand why. His take on life is infectious. He wants to live out the love Christ shows him in everything he does, and it’s amazing the results he gets. His honesty and integrity and his sense of humour – they all just keep you completely buoyed up. He’s (literally in fact) like a kid in Disney Land. And that’s his every day. He’s living life at that level constantly, and he writes about it in this book.

You need to read it to believe it, and even the most Grinch like Scrooges will brighten up after reading about Bob Goff. You can’t help but love him!

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

12. The Shack – Wm Paul Young

Again (you can see a theme emerging here) I saw the film before I read the book. It’s so rare that Christian films are legitimately released on the big screen, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it whilst on holiday in Edinburgh with my sister and brother-in-law.

I thought it was a brilliant film to see with non-believers. It ultimately answers some of the most common questions about faith that come up when sharing your beliefs with your friends and family. Things like: how is there only one God, but there’s Jesus and the Holy Spirit too? Why does God allow suffering? So watching this film would get you half way to the truth.

However, you can’t allow this film to do the evangelising for you. You still need to talk about it once the film is finished and bring your friends and family to church with you. It’s a great first step, basically.

I decided that I would read the book after seeing the film. Between seeing the film, and reading the book, a dear friend of mine passed away. And the story took on a more personal journey of my faith, rather than seeing it as an evangelising tool.

The story is about a family, and the husband takes 3 of the kids camping for the weekend. At the end of the weekend, he leaves the youngest in the tent colouring in, after the other two capsize a canoe on the lake they’re camping next to, and get into difficulty in the water – one of them hasn’t resurfaced. When he saves his son from the water and things are calming down, he realises the youngest, Missy, is missing.

The other families help look, but she is never found. Eventually the police find a shack in the woods, with a lot of Missy’s blood and the dress she was wearing, covered in blood. She’s assumed dead. The story is of the husband, Mack, and his tormented grief in the loss of his daughter. He blames himself for taking his eyes off her. His other children are grieving too – the other daughter blames herself, she capsized the canoe by accident, and the son blames himself, for almost drowning. The family is falling apart after this tragedy.

Mack receives a note inviting him to the cabin and it’s signed by God. He goes, not knowing what to expect – whether it’s the killer luring him there, or a prank, he’s not sure. The last thing he expected was to encounter God, and that’s what happens. God helps Mack to process the pain and grief of his loss and it helped me a great deal too. It’s really easy to explain to someone why God allows suffering, until you’re the one suffering and asking. This book helped me to come to terms with what happened to my friend. I wrote a blog about that particularly, and you can read that here.

I highly recommend this, if you haven’t read it already. And if reading isn’t your thing (I don’t know how you got this far if it’s not, but good on you) definitely watch the film.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

13. The Snowman – Jo Nesbo

Guess what? I saw the film before I read the book! And guess what?! I thought it was incredibly underwhelming (ha – you thought I didn’t get the ending, am I right?!)

I went to see the film with 2 friends who are massive Jo Nesbo fans (I’ll admit, I thought he was a girl). They were disappointed with the film too. They thought it lacked energy.

The casting for Michael Fassbender though was spot on. When I read the description of Harry Hole, I’m sure Nesbo had Fassbender in mind.

The plot was much tighter and the story was fast paced, in a way that wasn’t reflected in the screenplay. Harry Hole was a disgraced detective that only kept his job because he’s brilliant. The film kind of suggested that – but everything about it was vague and wishy-washy. Whereas the book grabbed you.

I’ll never look at a snowman in the same way again. Avoid the film, but definitely pick up the book.

You can purchase this book on Amazon here.

So there you go – I even got in 1 extra book to make it a lovely 13 books read in 2017. Instead of setting myself the same challenge, I want to read some longer books in 2018. So hopefully this time next year, I will tell you how great Les Miserables is and how I rate Anna Karenina.

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