Tag Archives: Instant Apostle

‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ by Kathryn Hitchins

‘Plants watered too regularly have shallow roots, Ava-Claire.  A short dry spell will force them to push deeper…  A little adversity brings resilience,” so says the famous horticulturalist, Theo Gage.

Ava is Theo’s daughter and, despite what he says about his plants, Theo has cleared the troubles from Ava’s path and watered her with his love throughout her twenty years.  Although her mother died when she was a baby, Ava has been nurtured by Theo himself, by Paloma (your carer), by your Godfather, Colin Hildreth, even by Marcus (Theo’s business partner).  Then one day, after a trivial argument with Marcus, Ava finds out that Theo is not her natural father and her whole life discombobulates.

Ava seeks the help of private investigator, Zavier Marshall, to find out about her real father. She spirals downwards, stealing money and stashing it away in insecure places.  In the attempt to find out more about her mother, she joins the staff, as a cleaner, at her mother’s former employer, Fun World Holiday Camp, a seedy place where staff are worked to the bone and paid very little, and the security guard is demanding protection money, but, as Zavier comes to realise, it’s worst than that.  This is a thriller, with a strong storyline, lurching from incident to incident.  At first, it’s about Ava trying to find out what she needs to know for herself, but, as the story progresses, it becomes about Ava and Zavier trying to work things through together.

Instant Apostle is, of course, a Christian publishing company, but nowhere is God mentioned.  (This is not uncommon in Instant Apostle books.  The religious hand is normally very light.)   The Gardener’s Daughter is a clever reworking of the parable of The Prodigal Son and the conclusions drawn at the end, by Ava, reflect Christian teaching on love and redemption, but applied to the storyline, not as a sermon.

The Gardener’s Daughter can be purchased from Instant Apostle.

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‘The Diary of a (Trying to Be Holy) Mum by Fiona Lloyd

Cover art for Diary of a (Trying to Be Holy) Mum

Attrib Instant Apostle

You wanted to do something big for God since you became a Christian, but it’s difficult when you have three primary aged children.  Your life tends to be taken up with toddler group, Mum’s group at church, potties, creche, taking children to school and parties.  Becky is married to teacher Dave and has three children, Jennifer (aged nine and already anticipating teenager-dom), Adam (six) and Ellie (two).  When she tries to take a quiet time in the bathroom, she is interrupted after five minutes, because her six year old needs the loo.  She notes that this never happened when Jesus in the Bible when he went up a mountain to pray.

The story opens on Becky’s thirty-ninth birthday, feeling that she’s never going to have the opportunity to do anything significant.  For the first part of the book, which is written as a diary, there is an air of resignation in her entries, as household crisis follows household crisis.  She makes new year resolutions which fall flat.  Becky compares herself unfavourably with other members of her circle of friends, especially Helen, who is a perfect housewife and mother and a perfect Christian too.  When Becky looks after missionaries, Rupert and Liz, as a favour for the minister, she is impressed by their commitment to their project in Guatemala, and feels she herself could never do anything like that.  When she’s asked to stand at the front in church and talk about it, she nearly dies of fright.  As a reader, I’m starting to believe that Becky’s mission is to the world around her, to her family and friends, especially Annie with the non-sleeping baby, to whom Becky is extremely kind, but, suddenly, two-thirds into the story, we lurch forward.

The Diary of a (Trying to Be Holy) Mum concerns a largish group of ordinary people who attend one church, plus Becky’s unhelpful in-laws.  The same characters, well drawn and realistic, appear consistently, so we get to know them all well.  Fiona is, I know, drawing hugely from her own experience, of church and of motherhood.   Having been part of the toddler-group scene myself once, I know that there’s a whole soap opera going on there, but Fiona is the only writer I’m aware of who has written it.

The Diary of a (Trying to Be Holy) Mum is Fiona Lloyd’s first book.  I happen to know that its title was going to be ‘The Jesus on the Bus’.  If you want to know why, read it.  Instant Apostle is, of course, a Christian publishing group, and the Christian theme in this book is more overt than in any other Instant Apostle book I’ve read, but other people should be charmed by this honest attempt ‘to be a pilgrim’ (part-quote from John Donne).

The Diary of a (Trying to Be Holy) Mum is available from Instant Apostle.

‘Out of Silence’ by Annie Try

Out of Silence, cover art.

Out of Silence, the cover

Dr Mike Lewis is a clinical psychologist working in London.   At the allocation meeting, he can find no good reason for not taking on the case of Johnny 2, an asylum seeker who is an elective mute.  Mike himself is suffering, his marriage having fallen apart following the death through cancer of his six year old son.  As a mental health practitioner himself, he has not thought it appropriate to seek the help of a counsellor, so he is living in a rented flat, in chaos, amongst coffee cups, half-dead pot plants, a sink full of washing up and the packing cases, which he has not been able to muster the courage to unpack, even though he moved out of his marital home five years previously.

However, the case of Johnny 2 fascinates him.  By throwing himself into it, invoking all his technical and experience and know-how, he starts to get his life together.  Mike and Anita, the art therapist, use art as a means of helping Johnny to communicate.  At the same time, a rapport builds up between Mike and Anita, yet he still craves Ella, who is still his wife, even though he hasn’t seen her half a decade.  He is torn between two women, not knowing if either of them really want him.  Other complications arise, when Georgina, the trainee, is stalked by one of the patients.

For me, ‘Out of Silence’ was rivetting, very emotional and, at one point, very harrowing.  All characters were well-drawn and empathetic.  A vulnerable and flawed main character goes straight to the reader’s heart.  We feel for him, when the departmental secretaries cold-shoulder him when his relationship with Anita isn’t going to – their – plan.  (I must say that, when I was a secretary in a psychology department in a psychiatric hospital, way back in the 1970s, I didn’t have that sort of excitement.)   We sympathise with Mike at the end when events  force him into a position where he couldn’t do anything else, but which is horribly open to misinterpretation.

instant Apostle (who published this book) is a small but active Christian publishing company.  Like all the other Instant Apostle novels I’ve read, the Christian content is applied with a light brush, and all the more effective for it.

‘Out of Silence’ is Annie Try’s first novel but the third to be published.  I have also reviewed ‘Trying to Fly’ earlier this year.  A full five stars for ‘Out of Silence’.

I can now go on and read something else tonight.  Do other reviewers have this problem, whereby they don’t feel they can start a new book until they’ve written up the last one on their blog?

I am a member of the Instant Apostle Facebook review group, which invites honest and rigorous reviews .  The work was supplied to me free of charge.

‘Out of Silence’ is available from Instant Apostle.

‘Rooks at Dusk’ by Chick Yuill

Rooks in tree

Creative Commons (attrib Pixabay)

You’re an experienced Christian preacher, appearing on the conference circuit and on radio.  You ‘came to faith’ at the age of seven.  You’ve been  happily married for several decades and you and your wife are very sad that your one son, Ollie, a stand-up comic, has lost his faith. So, what do you do when your faith slips away from you and you cannot carry on churning out glib nuggets about things which once seemed rock solid but have have lost their freshness and meaning.  Moreover, you find yourself attracted to another woman and you have an affair.

You confess some of this to your son, hoping for a more sympathetic response from a member of the younger generation, but Ollie is disgusted and let down.  He calls you a hypocrite because you cannot maintain the standards which you upheld to him, and which he rejected.  You decide there is no alternative but to return home to your wife, and, painful as this will be, confess your unfaithfulness.  But that night she dies in a road accident.

Through his life Ray Young  (the main character) has been fascinated by rooks circling in flight at dusk, the beauty and grace of their movements offset by their raucous call.  This has become an allegory for Ray’s feelings about God, the church and his life.  ‘Rooks at Dusk’ is a Christian book, published by a Christian publisher, so the reader anticipates a certain course.  Without giving away any spoilers, the Christian reader has to suspend his/her expectations as to the story arc.   Richard Dawkins wouldn’t like it either, in case you’re wondering.

‘Rooks at Dusk’ is a work of one hundred per cent fiction, but this novel is written like an autobiographical account.  Large tranches of, quite important, action are glossed over, in dialogue or in a few paragraphs of backstory whilst covering something else, including a pilgrimage to Santiago in Northern Spain.  Indeed the plotline rambles in places, but this lends authenticity.  In my church there is a picture of Jesus bearing a crown of thorns with a caption ‘Meek and mild?  As if!’ and this is the tone of ‘Rooks at Dusk’.  Uncomfortable truths, awkward questions, subjects not usually treated openly in Christian literature, are taken on with courage, excruciating transparency and honesty.

Having read a little about Chick Yuill the man from his website Anvilding and his emotional resignation letter from officership in the Salvation Army, I learn that Chick himself is a preacher like his protagonist.   Chick”s faith in God and his marriage, however, remain firm.  He has preached at Spring Harvest and Radio Two’s Good Morning Sunday.   Included in ‘Rooks at Dusk’ is an insightful comparison between preaching and being a stand-up comic.  Compulsory reading for all clergy and lay preachers, methinks!

I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be reviewing this one yet, as it’s not released yet.  From 21 July (end of next week), you will be able to buy this book from Instant Apostle .  I am reviewing this book in my role as a member of  the Instant Apostle Facebook Reviewing Group.

‘Rooks at Dusk’ is a must for all committed Christians, for agnostics and atheists and everybody in between.  Five whopping stars!

‘Refugee Stories: Seven personal journeys behind the headlines’ by Dave Smith

This book contains seven personal stories of seven individual refugees in the United Kingdom.  All of them were supported by Boaz Trust, a Christian organisation accommodating destitute asylum seekers and refugees in Greater Manchester.  The author, Dave Smith, the founder of Boaz Trust, was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2012, but returned it in protest at UK asylum policies.

View of Manchester.

General View of Manchester (Creative Commons, Flickr)

Each man or woman’s account starts in the the refugee’s home country, where they suffer different but horrendous persecution, as a result of which they flee to northern Europe.   The main part of each story concerns their attempts to negotiate the immigration system in our country.  All bar one succeeded, although many had to endure many years, even up to a decade, in limbo beforehand.  Each story, written up using the asylum seeker’s own words, is harrowing, the emotion heightened by their being rambling, jumbled and muddled.  Frequently the refugees do not understand the process, often they made mistakes, sometimes they cheated, but they were desperate.  The reader understands why.

Some of the refugees tried to address wider concerns, such as how the refugee crisis is depleting the third world of skilled people.  Most of the asylum-seekers have well-qualified and started out in life as moderately well-to-do and many were involved in opposing repressive regimes.

The British Home Office come out of this book very badly: heartless; prejudiced against refugees, presuming that each application is bogus and making sweeping assumptions about countries being safe when they’re not; incompetent, losing files and not knowing the law properly.  What I see is a service acutely over-stretched, staffed by overworked officers, solicitors and social workers, making mistakes and pressured by social, political and security issues.

The author, in his blurb, admits that Refugee Stories is not a book to enjoy, and it isn’t.  Very sobering, very disturbing.

You can buy this book from Instant Apostle.

(I can think of no suitable illustration for this review, so above you see a view of Manchester.)

‘An Insubstantial Death’ by Hilary Creed

Beachy Head, Sussex - well-known place for committing suicide.

‘There is nothing so greedy as the grave’ reads the strapline.  This novel grabbed me on the first page and held my attention all the way through.  (OK, I’m a glutton for cosy crime.)

What makes a good cosy crime novel?  Good atmosphere, good plot and distinct and well-defined characters – in that order.  Apart from her detectives, which appeared repeatedly, Agatha Christie always faltered at the ‘well-defined characters’ point, although she mostly made you like the murderer.  Hilary Creed, on the other hand, got me wishing and hoping, that one particular character would be dispatched.  And so he/she (no spoilers here!) was.

Dame Emily Hatherley-Browne has recently, very reluctantly, had to sell Seascape House, her family home, an Elizabethan mansion on Beachy Head, Sussex, to bombastic James Wedderburn, of Wedderburn’s Pork Sausage Company.   Emily has just moved into the Lodge, but, as the electricity isn’t properly installed, she has been invited to take her meals in the main house.   (Do you already see conflict?  Yes, I do.  Brilliant.)

In classic cosy crime fashion, we meet James’s family as they travel to Sussex, to see his new acquisition: his wife; his son and wife; his daughter and husband; his brother.   Later, we meet the staff, secretary Martin, lawyer George, housekeeper Stella, gym supervisor Ian, cook Grace and her granddaughter assistant Jayne.  Although all family members played an active part in the story, the story concentrated on brother Edward and daughter-in-law Samantha; other family members were shadowy.  The staff were more distinct and had better documented histories.  However, the person we get to know better and better as the novel progresses is the dead man/woman.

Of course, what happened could’ve been an accident, or, bearing in mind that we’re at Beachy Head, suicide.  This is one of the conundrums.  And, if it was murder – something the family struggle with –  how did the murderer manage to move the body to the cliff at Beachy Head, so as to be able to throw it on to the beach?  Moreover, how did the murderer manage to move the body silently?   And, of course, there’s a will, and an unexpected beneficiary.  Cosy crime genre novels should ask many questions and this one did.

Dame Emily, a not-so-modern Miss Marple, beavers away at both these problems and, in the final denouement when all characters are gathered together, Chief Inspector Drummond allows her the floor.  The reveal took me by surprise (and I can usually guess most).  The book should’ve stopped there, but, unfortunately, we moved on to a chapter which suddenly brought in a lot of new characters.  I can see that it tidied up the thread about Emily’s feelings about her house, but the story lost umph at the end.

Dame Emily’s character is well-written and we are on her side throughout, but, although she’s clearly elderly, there are questions unanswered, particularly what she did as a career, and why she’s a dame.  Maybe we will discover this in sequel.

Descriptions, especially of Beachy Head, were excellent.  Her depictions of rooms were also very good, especially of where characters were positioned, where and how.  The story is written in the third person and past tense.

Thoroughly recommended.

An Insubstantial Death can be found through Instant Apostle.

‘Trying to Fly’ by Annie Try

Could an unpleasant childhood experience have an impact on the rest of your life?

At the age of six, Jenny Drake witnesses a man commit suicide by jumping off a cliff above a beach in Devon.  The manner in which he positioned himself on the edge of the cliff was unusual, hands outstretched, as if he is attempting to fly.  Despite following a successful career as a librarian, and nursing both her parents until their deaths, this picture remains in Jenny’s mind for five decades, affecting her mental health.  When the reader first meets her, she is a recovering agoraphobic, just about able to leave her house in London for her appointments with Mike Lewis, her psychotherapist.

Jenny travels back to the beach in Devon, in an attempt to confront her fears, but she ends up having a panic attack in a beachside cafe.  Here, she meets, Jim, the son of the cafe-owner at the time of the suicide, who remembers the incident well.  Together, Jenny and Jim begin an investigation.  One of the first things they discover is that another man committed suicide in a similar way at about the same time; also they realise that they are putting themselves in danger.   However, this is not true crime fiction, hardly crime fiction at all, even though the other parts of the plotline hang on the detective-story thread.

The author, herself a psychotherapist, managed, very effectively, to get into the mind of a recovering agoraphobic patient.  We read about how Jenny struggles to walk from her house to the local Tube station, managing to keep herself walking only by playing peek-a-boo with a toddler in a buggy who happened to be passing.  We learn about how she confuses her own anxieties with the prudery of a byegone age.  Should she, for instance, allow on ‘a man’ into her house?  Whatever would her mother think?  And can she trust Jim, seeing as he’s ‘a man’?

The style is gentle and easy going.  A Christian novel, published by a Christian publisher, the religious content is painted with a very light hand.  Jenny prays, but her prayers are never shared with the reader.  As is often the case, Christian fiction is characterised by how characters behave – and how they don’t behave.  Christians reading this (and non-Christians, for that matter) look up Matthew 7:16.

‘Trying to Fly’ can be ordered from Instant Apostle.  I have joined a Facebook group committed to reviewing Instant Apostle works and putting my reviews on to Amazon, so I will be writing quite a few posts like this one.  The Girl at the End of the Road and The Key to All Unknown, both by K A Hitchins, which I have reviewed recently, are also Instant Apostles.  Do I recommend Trying to Fly by Annie Try?  Yes, of course.

Now, I’m going to try and publish this post, without my ten month old computer protesting too much.  We had a fit of the vapours at the weekend, in which we refused even to load Windows, and my plea to Dell brought forth four pages of close-typed detailed instructions, which got us going again, but we’re still slow and clunky.  More instructions from Dell have ensued today, but I haven’t yet had the courage, or the time, to follow them through.

As the title-theme of this book is very serious, I leave you with an image of an ancient aeroplane, which is sort of on-topic, but not quite.

Ancient aeroplane