Archives For Reviews



I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing one of Tyler Braun’s books before.

He’s a writer I’ve come to respect, admire and listen to, primarily because what he writes resonates strongly with where I find myself and where I believe so many others in this generation do as well.

So when he got in touch with the opportunity to review his new book, How to Find and Thrive With a Mentor, I jumped at the chance. Mentoring is an area of the church which is constantly misunderstood and misinterpreted and yet one which is vitally important.

Tackling the issue straight on, Tyler manages in this short book (it’s only 25 pages) to not only define mentoring, but give a hugely encouraging example from his own story. In an age where so many millennials seem to be struggling to find their place in the world, this book puts forward a strong argument for all of us having a mentor.

As someone who doesn’t have a mentor and who has regularly thought about having one, this book is a significant prompt. More than that, it provides a picture of a church community which is constantly seeking to encourage and equip emerging generations. By passing on wisdom, knowledge and advice, mentors can truly speak powerfully into our lives and encourage us on our walks with God.

Whether you have a mentor, are a mentor or are thinking of having one/becoming one, I encourage you to read this book. It will take you less than an hour, and it might just push you to make a life-changing decision.


Tyler’s new book is available as an e-book to download here. You can read his blog here and follow him on Twitter.



I came across Shawn Smucker’s blog earlier this year by accident. I wasn’t looking for it. But from the first sentence I read, I was hooked. I read a fair amount, but it didn’t take me long to realise that Shawn’s writing was different. There was something special about it, something which really resonated with me. His blog is now a daily read for me, and continually inspires me and encourages me.

When I discovered Shawn was writing a book based on his family’s adventure, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I won’t give away the story as it’s a beautiful read, but I will say that there isn’t a person I know who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

Shawn was kind enough, amid his busy schedule, to answer a few questions about the book and his writing process. Like all his other work, it’s worth taking to time to read these responses and let them sink in.


What pushed you to write this book?

Writing this book was a huge part of how I debriefed from our 10,000-mile adventure. When you dream for years about doing something, and then you do it, and it’s over, re-entering normal life can be a difficult transition. After returning, some days the trip felt like it had never even happened. I felt it was important for me to dwell on that experience of traveling, at least for some time, you know? To be mindful of it and make sure I didn’t simply slide back into normal life. Plus, when we got back, a local news reporter asked how the trip had changed me. I knew it had, but I couldn’t express it in words. Writing this book was in some ways my attempt to explore how the trip had changed me.

What was the hardest thing about writing it?

This was actually one of the easiest books I’ve written. It was so much fun to go back through the photos and the stories and the places and the people we met. I guess the hardest part was reliving the time we lost our brakes. I still get sick to my stomach over that.

Do you consider the process an act of worship to God?

That’s a great question. Sure, I do think it’s worship. Perhaps one of the most powerful, beautiful ways we have of worshiping God is by entering into the creative process with a mindfulness of his existence and presence. Not that everything we do has to be overtly Christian or fit into that label, but I like your question. I like seeing it as worship.

Do you think there are parallels between the journey you guys went on and life in general?

Every journey has its parallels to life, because life itself is a journey. Things like perseverance and being open to change, holding your plans loosely yet being prepared, a willingness to place yourself in challenging situations – these are all important in life as well as in an adventure.

If you could tell people one thing you learned from the trip. what would it be?

Be adventurous! Take risks! Do the exciting things you’ve always wanted to do even if they make you super uncomfortable or you feel ill-equipped. Don’t wait. Do them now. There is never a comfortable time to leave on an adventure, because if you get to the place where you’ve planned everything out, there will be no adventure left to partake in.


You may have guessed my response from what I said earlier, but this book is stunning. It’s not just a story of one specific journey; it’s a story of life’s journey, a tale which will resonate with so many because of its honesty, integrity and familiarity.

Shawn writes in a way which means you feel like you are sitting alongside him. I often feel it’s as if the two of us are talking late at night by a fire somewhere. His sentences are put together carefully, with every word laboured over.

But ultimately, what I think makes this book – and his writing as a whole – so powerful is that God is using Shawn to speak to so many. If you don’t believe me, try reading his blogs for a week, or read this book. Within these pages is a rich story. It’s a story of adventure, fear, hope and bravery. In a sense, it’s a small-scale version of the story we are all on.

Perhaps that’s why it’s so challenging yet beautiful. Because every new adventure Shawn and his family take is like the small steps we all take on a daily basis. Scary, yet thrilling. Unsure yet confident. Unknown, yet somehow known.

This book drips beauty. I can’t recommend it enough.


Shawn blogs here, and you can buy a copy of his book here. He very kindly answered the above questions but in no way influenced my review of the book.


You may not have heard of Josh Riebock, but he’s someone worth watching out for. An author and speaker based in the USA, his book Heroes and Monsters is one of the most brutally honest accounts I’ve read in a long time.

Before I say what I thought of it, Josh was good enough to take some time to answer some questions – and these are well worth spending some time reading.


The book clearly makes reference to some painful memories in your past. What was is that led to want to write it, and was it a difficult experience?

One of the most pressing motivations for me was the desire to write the kind of book that I would want to read. Something honest. Something unconventional, imaginative. Something that doesn’t spell out the moral of the story. Something that cherishes the magic of words. Something that some people are going to hate and not understand. Those kinds of books are the ones that seem to stick with me longest, and well, I wanted to write a book that would stick with people. Beyond that, writing this book was my way of retrieving a big piece of the sanity that I’ve lost through a lot of different events and years. It was a cheaper form of therapy. And, at times, yes, it was difficult. But reliving the painful memories, tracing back over my scars wasn’t the most difficult part. The most difficult part was working to capture the events and emotions and thoughts of my life in a thoroughly vivid way. I had a lot of fears that in writing about my life, I might cheapen it, both for me and for others, that the words on the page wouldn’t present, in a lively way, what life has often felt like. That’s the wonderful and frustrating challenge of writing: arming words and sentences with the electricity of real life. Doing that was very difficult.

There’s a strong sense throughout that we live in an uneven world full of uneven people. Where do you think God fits into all of that, and how do you reconcile God with this uneven world?

Well, in a lot of ways I have no idea. But to me, one of the most wonderful aspects of life is born out of this very thing. The idea of God loving composed, symmetrical, good people is a fine idea, but it doesn’t stir my soul all that much. But the idea that God loves uneven people, and an uneven world? That moves me so much. And I believe that. He doesn’t love me or you or whoever because we are refined, or even because we’re going to become more refined. He loves us. That’s it. He loves us regardless of whether we grow or not, whether we mature or not. Of course, in the broken way that I view the world, I sometimes find it easier to see beauty in an ideal, in some kind of perfection. But beauty doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with perfection, or the absence of flaws. Often, the greatest beauty is the presence of love or hope or peace or freedom in places of endless flaws. So for me, knowing that God loves me, a wildly erratic man, well…I don’t know if there is anything more beautiful than that. The fitting together of him and us is stunning because of the differences between us.

The book is at times brutally honest; do you think that people today find it difficult to be honest, both with themselves, with others and with God?

Well, I know that I certainly struggle with being honest. And while I’m confident that I’m growing more and more honest with myself and others and God with every passing year, that goal of being fully transparent and open is still far away. It’s still a dot in the distance. And I suppose part of me is okay with that. Part of me wants it that way. In some ways I’m in no rush to be more honest because a lack of honesty has often served me pretty well. That’s the trouble of it all. At times, my lack of honesty grants me acceptance with others, career or social success, personal safety or comfort or pleasure. Lack of honesty helps me avoid things that I don’t want to deal with, numbs me. And often I don’t want to give those benefits up in order to become more honest. In that way, the journey toward honesty is really the journey towards believing that the benefits of being honest with others and God and self outweigh the benefits of refusing to be honest.

What does your ideal day look like?

Ha, I always hate questions like this. I’m so tempted to lie, to concoct a really exciting or odd or adventurous answer, because I don’t want to come across as dull. I guess my actual ideal day isn’t nearly as interesting as the one I could invent. So can I do both? I’ll do both. First, my invented ideal day…I wake up next to my wife, after a night of camping on a beach. I step into the sand and do sunrise yoga, my breathing set to the rhythm of the tide. After that I catch and cook breakfast for my wife and dog and I. The fresh fish is always good. Our afternoon is spent wandering art galleries and book stores, sitting cross legged and sipping beer and wine, pointing to the pieces and sentences that we love, trying so hard to explain why we love them, but never quite finding the words. In the evening I attend my weekly piano lesson with an old jazz musician, and he tells me that I’m almost ready for my first live gig. He wants to be there, in the front row. A few hours later, my wife and dog and I climb up onto the side of a hill, blankets in hand, and bundled together, we watch the sun melt into the water. For dinner, it’s seafood at a local restaurant, and then it’s off to a movie marathon—80s movies, movies starring Daniel Day Lewis and Edward Norton, slightly weird but honest and gritty art movies. Then we retire back to our house. The rest of the night is spent on the back porch with a few close friends, laughing and playing cards, sharing stories and writing all over the interior walls of our house in chalk, creating murals that we hope will never fade. And they never do. Yea, that’s my fake ideal day…Now for the true ideal day. My wife and dog and I sleep in, happily. We spend the entire day together, going for walks, drinking coffee, not worrying about work, laughing and laughing and laughing some more, watching a movie or two, never getting out of our pajamas, never really needing to in order to have an ideal day.

Where is your favourite place to be?

Oh I’m such a homebody, so there is rarely a place that I’d rather be than at my house in Austin, TX. I travel a good amount for work, but when I’m back in Texas, I often won’t leave our house for days. I’m not always sure why that is. As a kid, I spent loads of time at home, alone, so I’m sure that’s part of where my love for being home comes from. But I also think that the older I get, the more I crave familiarity, and being at home—in my bed, at my table, lying on the couch with a book, on the floor with my dog, the smell of my wife’s hair in every room—provides that sense of familiarity. Being there, I sense that I belong. And everybody wants to belong.

If there’s one thing you want people to take from the book, one thing they carry from it, what would it be?

Well, I think you just said it. My hope is that they would take one significant thing. Maybe that will be a newfound freedom to be honest, or the belief that they aren’t alone in their struggles and doubts and pains and neurotic behaviors. Or maybe that will be a newfound inspiration for creativity or pursuing their dreams. Or maybe that will be a fresh belief that no matter what, they are loved and they aren’t alone. But I really don’t care too much what that thing is. If someone reads this book and takes something significant with them, then it has done what I hoped it would.


So what do I think? I think Josh has written a book which is difficult to read. Not because it’s a badly written book (it’s beautifully written) or because it’s not interesting (it’s absorbing).

The reason it’s so hard to read is that it is so honest. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in which the author was so brutally upfront and honest about their life, relationships (both with others and God) and situation.

The notion of story that runs through the book is vital, and as a reader I found myself sucked into Josh’s life story, sharing the moments with him and feeling his pain at times.

I have a huge amount of respect for Josh for writing this book. In a sense, the answers he’s given above provide more of an insight into the book than I could ever give. But I would say that if you want to read a book that challenges you, makes you feel uncomfortable, and forces you to question those things closest to you, then this book will do all those things and more.


Josh was kind enough to provide answers to the above questions for this review, but graciously made no attempt to influence my review. Having communicated with him over the last few weeks, I can also say that he is an outstanding person, and I appreciate his honesty and help.


A month or so ago, I saw a tweet by Jon Foreman (leader singer of Switchfoot) about a project he’d been involved in called For the Sender. I knew nothing about the project and so did a little bit of internet investigation. It turns out it’s one of the most unique and moving artistic expressions I’ve come across for a while.

In the midst of his own grief, singer Alex Woodard received a letter from someone he’d never met before. He and a friend turned the letter into a song, and For the Sender evolved from that point. The final book and CD offers 12 songs born out of four letters, with the musical talents of members of Nickel Creek, New Found Glory, Switchfoot and many more.

Alex was good enough to answer a few questions to give a bit more background to the book.


This is a pretty unique project. Can you give us a short summary of the process you took from receiving the letters to creating the songs and the For the Sender project?

I was trying to let go of this identity I had created as a singer-songwriter, as well as my best friend, when I received a letter about a different kind of letting go. A woman named Emily lost her soulmate, and writes him a letter every autumn since he passed. She sent me that letter, which I showed to my friend Sean Watkins, and we wrote a song about it. It was the first time I had co-written a song I didn’t sing. That song led to another song, and another, and as more letters crossed my path we wrote and recorded more songs about them. That set me off down quite a different path than I was on, which changed the course of my life.

What was the response of those who you approached to be involved – there’s some pretty big names on the CD, was hard to get them in?

It wasn’t hard because we are all good friends…everyone’s response was positive, even though they didn’t know exactly what they were signing up for at the time because the project was still evolving. They trusted me with their voices, and hopefully I did good by them.

Where is your favourite place to be?

These days, on my horse.

What does an ideal day look like?

I wake up early, feed my horse, feed my dog, feed myself, and see what the day brings. That’s my ideal day, and lately almost every day.

What’s your hope for the book – the one thing you want people to get from it?

Probably that people take away the message that we are all part of one story, one conversation. What I call my pain, or joy, may be by a different name, but it’s the same as yours at it’s core. The loss of my dog might be the loss of your partner, or dreams, or childhood. We all have the same victories and defeats, the same triumphs and tragedies, we just call them different things.

What’s your hope for the future?

I think ‘hope’ takes power out of the present moment, which is all we have to create the future…I’m more interested in the steps you take every day, how you speak to your neighbor, how you treat yourself and the planet. Don’t hope for better times…create them.


What sounds like a slightly curious finished product is actually a moving journey, one on which as the reader you feel immediately involved. The combination of the letters and the songs means that this is more than just a re-telling of a season of Alex’s life. It’s as if the letters are given a new lease of life, a new telling which places them in part of a bigger story.

The drawing in of so many famous musicians is testament to the unique nature of this idea, and the love so many people have of telling and re-telling stories. There is a feeling throughout the book that this is just more than a musical project; this is a coming together of ideas, people and stories to produce a snapshot of a moment in time, giving an enduring legacy to letters and emotions.

Given the nature of the book – built on personal stories – the finished work doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions that arise in dark times. However, there is a sense that – as Alex hinted at in his answers above – we are all part of one bigger story. There is no denying we live our own lives, but this book more than any reminds the reader that so many people have similar stories – of loss, grief, pain, hope and hurt.

Above all, there is a real beauty throughout this project. It feels more like poetry at times. The letters are heartfelt and genuine, and there is a rough around the edges feel to the whole thing which only adds to this. Alex and his friends have put together a beautiful reminder that whilst life is difficult, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and that creativity and community can help us through our sorrow.

Alex very kindly answered questions for this piece, but had no influence over my verdict on it. For more information on For the Sender visit the website, and for more information on Alex click here.


This week, I’ve had the privilege of being able to read Why Holiness Matters, the new book by Tyler Braun. Tyler is a 27-year-old pastor from Portland, Oregon, and was good enough to answer a few questions about himself and his book.

Hi Tyler.

Hey James.

Give us a little background on yourself and where you’ve come from to get to where you are today.

I grew up as the oldest child of a pastor and have known the church as a home for my entire life. Over the past 12 years I’ve primarily served within the church through music, and over the past 5 years I’ve been studying at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in pursuit of a Master’s Degree (I graduate this December). I’m from Oregon and love the laid back culture of the Pacific Northwest.

What does your ideal day look like?

I never thought I’d say this but it starts by getting up early and spending at least 30 minutes in prayer, meditation, and reading. From there I enjoy a good bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee while I write for an hour or so. I like to go on a run before my day fully begins. But the ideal day would have to include some golfing in the afternoon, and a movie on the couch in the evening.

Where’s your favourite place in the world?

Of all the places I’ve been to, Crater Lake (in Oregon) and Jackson Hole, Wyoming have always been top on my list of most beautiful places. I also enjoy spending time with my in-laws in Alaska during the winter. I’ve never experienced a slower pace of life than Alaska in the winter, which is perfect for a restful vacation. I guess that isn’t just one place. Hopefully 3 works for you!

Why did you write this book?

So other people could begin to experience the abundant life God designed for us all to live. I don’t believe this is possible without a pursuit of holiness.

If there’s one ‘take-home message’ you want people to carry with them after reading it, what would it be?

Holiness begins through God’s love for each of us, and is lived out as our love for Him changes the way we live.

What’s your hope for the church over the next ten years?

I would love to see my generation, with all their zeal for loving people, to also love their God with the same zeal.

Thanks for answering these questions!

No problem.


The book itself is a brilliant read. It’s just shy of 150 pages which, in my opinion, is a great plus-point. The book doesn’t try to be something it’s not or labour over the same point page after page; instead, it is an easy read, but still packs a punch.

A self-confessed millenial child (someone born between 1980 and 2000), Tyler’s outlook on the world and on people is one that I could easily identify with, even though it’s naturally written from an American perspective. Tyler doesn’t write with any sense of arrogance or superiority; in fact throughout, there is a genuine sense that he is on this journey to pursue holiness as much as the rest of us are, and that makes the book infinitely more accessible.

He’s also refreshingly realistic about the call to holiness, making the point that it’s “not a quick fix”. In a world which offers and demands instant results, the call to a lifelong pursuit of holiness is counter-cultural, but it’s one of the most important challenges we face as Christians.

One of the most important points Braun makes is that holiness is not a new concept, or a new set of rules. Holiness comes out of our relationship with God, and it is that relationship – and the relationships we consequently form with other people – that is central.

Also important is the idea of community, of the pursuit of holiness not being a solo act but one conducted in and amongst groups of believers, with deep relationships. Whilst these may sound like obvious points, they are important ones, and the book makes clear the importance of remembering these crucial foundations.

This book doesn’t answer all the questions you might have about holiness and the challenge of being holy, but then I don’t think that’s what Tyler set out to do.

What he has written is not an instruction manual but a beautiful book which encourages, inspires and challenges the reader to consider what it is to be holy in the 21st century, and why holiness – something which has slipped out of many people’s religious consciences – is so important.

About why holiness matters.


To find out more about Tyler Braun, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. He was hugely helpful in providing information for this review, but didn’t attempt to influence my thoughts on it.

I’ve just finished reading Donald Miller’s new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And I highly recommend it to everyone.

It’s a really honest, frank and genuine piece of story-telling, and one that will make you not only feel challenged by the author’s walk with God, but will encourage you in your own walk. I was really struck by the idea Miller brings out in the book that we are all part of this amazing story that God is directing.

Like a good movie, our stories have great plot lines and twists and turns, but God is always in control of them. There is a really big challenge in the book to live our lives to the full, to make the most of every opportunity and to really take advantage of the gifts and opportunites that God has given us.

So I highly recommend this book; a great read, and one that will challenge you and inspire you in your walk with God.