REVIEW: God’s Not Dead

God's_Not_DeadRelease Date: 2014

Director: Harold Cronk

Genre: Christian, drama, apologetics

Starring:   Kevin SorboShane HarperDavid A. R. White and Dean Cain

Well, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. I’d read a decidedly mediocre review of the film when it came out, so wasn’t hoping for much. One thing the review had right was that this is not, regardless of what the filmmakers may or may not have intended, a film that is likely to convert many non-Christians. Certainly it’s unlikely to have much impact on committed Atheists. Instead, it’s wholesome feed for faithful Christians.

It’s not that such arguments for the existence of God as are included are bad. It’s more the rest of the set-up. All the Christian characters (with the exception of a girlfriend whom it’s never made clear is actually Christian) are extremely nice, brave and good. All the non-Christians are in various degrees of dire straits, in terms of both their lives and their characters. The main atheist ‘bad guy’ is really quite unpleasant. Christian viewers, able to identify thoroughly with the ‘good’ characters, will enjoy it. But the characters offered up for non-Christians to identify with just aren’t appealing, and will act as a turn-off.

As you may have gathered from my previous paragraph, subtlety is not the film’s strong point. Although the film does a reasonable job of displaying the various gut-wrenching predicaments of life which are hard enough to get through with God, and even harder without him, everything is presented in nice, clear extremes. It’s all ever so nice and clear, in fact, enjoyable to watch if you’re already convinced of the film’s central message (which is that ‘God’s not Dead’, in case you were in any doubt) but probably rather off-putting—and liable to provoke a dismissive stance—in anyone who isn’t.

One of things I enjoyed was the way the lives of all the various characters interlink and intersect. It showcases the way God works through a web of subtle influence (okay, not so very subtle in this film, but anyway) to bring about good from evil. But non-Christian viewers in particular may be frustrated by the fact that virtually every non-Christian character has had some kind of conversion by the end. That’s just so in-credible, I can hear them moaning.

I can see why they might feel that way, though the argument doesn’t entirely hold up. After all, filmmakers tell stories about the people something actually happens to. A film about someone nothing happened to would be extremely dull. A faith-based film is therefore going to follow the people something faith-related actually happened to, not the several thousand characters seen moving around in the background, to whom, presumably, nothing happened. But to really satisfy a non-faith audience, the film should probably have left a bit more irresolution with regard to some of the non-Christian characters, rather than giving in to the temptation to wrap up the ending ever so pristinely, with scarcely a messy loose end in sight.

The film clearly takes the Evangelical stance—which may well seem extreme to Catholics and more moderate Protestants—that if you haven’t absolutely 100% explicitly acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Saviour, you’re going straight to hell, but the attitude is not obtrusive enough to seriously mar viewing enjoyment. I think I was supposed to have heard of/recognise some of those famous Evangelical figures & pop groups who made cameos, but I’m afraid it was lost on me!

One thing that struck me was right at the end. After the end credits, the film states that it was inspired by and based on all the cases where individuals and college groups have had to go to court to defend their right to their beliefs. And then there’s a list. And it’s a long list. Quite sobering.

Overall: I did enjoy this film much more than I expected, and may well watch it again, however, I think even I, as a committed Christian, would have much preferred it—and enjoyed it more—if characters and events had been more balanced, and less ‘cardboard’.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: None at all, that I can recall.


SALE ALERT: ‘The Other Side of Freedom’ by Cynthia T. Toney

TOSOF front cover FINALWhen the reward is the most costly sacrifice of all…

This isn’t actually a review since I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s written by a fellow ‘Catholic Teen Books’ author, it looks awesome, and it’s high on my to-read list so seeing that it’s currently on sale until Saturday, I thought I’d let you know about it!



In a U.S. southern farming community in 1925, thirteen-year-old Salvatore and his Italian immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man and family friend. Will Sal keep the secrets about that night as his father asks, or risk everything he and his family cherish in their new homeland, including their lives? 

Amidst bigotry, bootlegging, police corruption, and gangland threats, Sal must discover whom he can trust in order to protect himself and his family and win back his father’s freedom. Sal’s family, their African-American farmhand, and the girl who is Sal’s best friend find their lives forever changed as dreams are shattered and attitudes challenged in a small community called Freedom.


Cynthia writes for preteens and teens because she wants them to know how wonderful, powerful, and valuable they are. The Other Side of Freedom is her first historical novel. She is also the author of the Bird Face series, a contemporary series for girls.

Inspiration for Ms. Toney’s novel came from her own ancestry.

“Possibly orphaned but definitely impoverished, one of my great-grandfathers journeyed from Sicily to America as a young boy with a family not his own, and he grew up with their children. He established the strawberry farm that inspired the setting for this novel.”

Written for ages 10 to 17, but with appeal for adult readers, The Other Side of Freedom lends itself to discussions on immigration, segregation, Prohibition, and numerous other topics. The book includes thought-provoking questions for classrooms and book clubs.


The Other Side of Freedom releases October 9, 2017 in both paperback and e-book versions through major online book retailers.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘The King’s Prey’ by Susan Peek


An insane king. His fleeing daughter. Estranged brothers, with a scarred past, risking everything to save her from a fate worse than death. Toss in a holy priest and a lovable wolfhound, and get ready for a wild race across Ireland. Will Dymphna escape her deranged father and his sinful desires? 

For the first time ever, the story of Saint Dymphna is brought to life in this dramatic novel for adults and older teens. With raw adventure, gripping action, and even humor in the midst of dark mental turmoil, Susan Peek’s newest novel will introduce you to a saint you will love forever! Teenage girls will see that Dymphna was just like them, a real girl, while young men will thrill at the heart-stopping danger and meet heroes they can easily relate to. If ever a Heavenly friend was needed in these times of widespread depression and emotional instability, this forgotten Irish saint is it!

I recently read (and reviewed) Peek’s ‘Crusader King’ and loved it, so I was delighted to receive a review copy of her new book, ‘The King’s Prey’. ‘The King’s Prey’ tells the story of little-known Saint Dymphna of Ireland, patron saint of those with mental illness. I hadn’t really heard of this saint before reading and I deliberately didn’t find out about her, so I read the entire novel not knowing whether she was a confessor, a martyr, a hermit, or what—which hugely added to the suspense of the story, so if you don’t know anything about her, don’t go and look her up, just buy ‘The King’s Prey’! It’s all the introduction you could need!

Although there was the odd hint of plot convenience here and there (characters making stupid-but-convenient decisions being the chief offenders) I could not put this book down. Peek interweaves what is actually known about St Dymphna (Princess Dymphna, in fact) with the fictional story of her companions, and others. I was gripped from the first chapter, desperately wanting to know not only what happened to the princess saint, but also what happened to estranged brothers Breoc and Turlough—and not to forget the wolfhound, Sam.

Some of the misunderstandings that take place between characters were absolutely agonising—and something I was totally not expecting happened part way through that eclipsed them all. Ultimately, I simply had to read straight to the end to find out what happened. It’s full of adventure, heroism, romance, and lovely characters, and it also gives a sensitive look into the world of someone suffering from mental illness. I don’t feel I can say more without giving things away, so I suggest you simply read it for yourself.

I would highly recommend this book to both adults and young adults. I think it is suitable for all but the most sheltered and sensitive teens, since although St Dymphna’s insane father wants to marry her, it is all handled extremely discretely and age-appropriately.


[I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The author is a fellow member of ‘Catholic Teen Books’ and the Catholic Writers Guild.]


REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

Wind RiverUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 8th September 2017

Running Time: 107 mins

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Genre: Thriller, drama, crime

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille, Apesanahkwat, Graham Greene

Finally, another film review! Sorry it’s been so long. Just a quick one:

Haunting and beautifully filmed, I thought Wind River was just a fairly normal (albeit very good and unusually interesting) sort of crime thriller until this pre-credit information flashed up on screen at the end: ‘The US keeps records of missing women for all groups—except Native Americans. No one knows how many Native American women are missing.’ Coming after the film I had just watched, that struck hard. For this reason alone, I hope people will see the film.

From a non-social justice point of view, it’s also well worth watching. Although there are a few caveats. Firstly, it’s not for sensitive viewers. Despite what I’ve just said, there is one scene during which a group of supposedly respectable men act like a pack of animals that I could happily delete from my memory, if such a thing were only possible.

Secondly, though riveting and far from predictable, the film ultimately left this Christian viewer feeling like something was missing. As it was. Without meaning to give too much away, certain events, although feeling more like rigid ‘an eye for an eye’ justice than revenge, were completely lacking in any notion of forgiveness or redemption, or even the possibility of such. As for the need for such? That gets no look in at all.

Overall: A powerful indictment of the lack of interest in the fate of Native American women, and a gripping crime thriller, well worth watching both by those wishing to broaden their awareness of this issue and by those simply wanting a cracking good film. But it is flawed in crucial ways that leave this Christian viewer unlikely to be buying it for her shelf.


Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: Premarital sex/sexual activity implied. Rape (on screen). Considerable violence, with both gunfights and fistfights, with injury detail. Plenty of profanity.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hush Hush’ by Michelle Quigley

51iHrSVY9sLAnother book review, I’m afraid! I’ll try and review some more films soon!


Blurb: ‘Why do I have to stand here and pretend that everything is alright, when the truth is I want to curl myself up into a ball and die somewhere?’

Molly is a normal sixteen-year-old working as a factory girl in Derry, Northern Ireland, until one night her world is turned upside down. After experiencing a brutal attack, she is left mentally and physically broken, slowly withdrawing from her family and community, suffering in silence. She tries in vain to keep her increasing despair to herself, but life has more surprises and heartache in store. As her family battle to conceal a dreadful secret and expected allies shun her, Hitler steps up his invasion of Europe. With the outbreak of war an even greater strain is placed upon her family when her brother enlists in the army. Will she ever manage to make amends with him again? And with gossip rife among the community, will her secret remain hidden forever?

Hush Hush will draw you into Molly’s struggles and desires and leave you hoping that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who can help turn her life around.


This was a gripping read that I should have put down more often than I did. Molly is a sympathetic heroine and the characters and scenarios were, for the most part, very credibly drawn. There was also a really lovely love interest (I want one!), and for me the romance was a very satisfying part of the plot.

To begin with I found some of the writing a little awkward, but I suspect it was mostly due to the differences in Northern Irish dialect and phrasing since I got used to it and stopped noticing it quite quickly.  The Northern Irish and Irish settings were vividly drawn and made me want to go and explore them! The historical angle was also fascinating, especially the glimpse at the culture of the period.

In many ways this book could be described as a fable about lying, and the consequences of lying. All the way through runs this huge ‘if only’. If only she had told the truth… But this pent up frustration makes the climax of the novel all the more poignant.

The only thing that really annoyed me was what some reviewers have called the plot ‘twist’ at the end. Quigley carefully leaves the identity of the attacker up in the air for the majority of the book, making it a mystery. Is it one of two possible candidates – or someone else entirely? It’s an effective technique, only I suspected that while we were supposed to assume it was one suspect, it might turn out to be someone else.

My issue was that if it was this other person, some of the scenes in the novel were implausible, because it was not credible to me that the first person narrator could think about certain things without thinking related thoughts that would give away the identity of the rapist. Essentially, by including such scenes, Quigley should have been ‘proving’ that a particular person wasn’t the rapist – but I had a feeling this might prove not to be the case and I was irritated when my suspicions proved correct.

As a Catholic I was also a little frustrated by the fact that at one point, in a time of need, Molly decides to pray the rosary every day. When she plunges further into despair and darkness, we are never told whether or not she is doing it. In fact, the whole subject is never mentioned again. I would have liked to known more.

However, these two small niggles don’t change the fact that overall HUSH HUSH was a gripping, satisfying read, with a strong, life-affirming message, and I would recommend it, especially to Catholics and all those committed to the cause of life.


Please note, the rape is fairly discreetly described, but I would strongly caution anyone who has suffered a sexual assault.

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

REVIEW: Amish Grace (2010)

amish_grace_posterUK Rating: None

Release Date: 28th March 2010

Running Time: 88 minutes

Director: Gregg Champion

Genre:  Biography, Drama

Starring: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tammy Blanchard, Matt Letscher

SYNOPSIS: A grieving Amish mother struggles to forgive the woman whose husband killed her daughter and four other schoolchildren in this movie inspired by the true-life events that unfolded in a Nickel Mines schoolhouse on October 2, 2006.

This is the first of a pair of linked reviews about ‘Amish Grace’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. If you happen to know of both of the films, you’ll think it an odd pairing indeed, but read on!

First, in this review, ‘Amish Grace’. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much from this film. I feared it would either be appallingly sentimental and/or unbearable to watch because of the central tragedy that occurs. I was very favourably surprised.

There is plenty of hugging and praying (as one can well imagine) but it doesn’t tip over into cloying sentimentalism. But I was particularly impressed by the way they handled the shooting itself, which I was dreading. It is portrayed with extraordinary discretion and sensitivity. There is no Hollywood-style blow-by-blow recreation of the events inside the school. In fact, once the killer has entered the schoolhouse, the camera never goes inside again. There is no blood. There is nothing graphic at all. Everything is shown entirely through the reactions of those outside, the 991 call, the frightened—then grief-stricken—parents. It is very well done, and extremely moving, but totally non-graphic. Considering that the only real fictional aspect of this film is the insertion of an invented family as the main characters, this can only be a good thing.

This film is a compelling look at the consequences—and difficulties—of forgiveness and of not-forgiving. My main criticism would be that the main Amish character, the bereaved mother, Ida, reacts too consistently in the way a non-Amish person would be likely to react. This is somewhat ‘explained away’ in the film by the fact that her sister has left the faith and is living in the modern world, and that she has been coming somewhat under her influence.

But it’s clear enough that Ida’s attitude really has a more practical explanation: the film makers felt it necessary for her to react in such a way in order for the (exclusively non-Amish) viewers to identify with her plight and thus be invested in her spiritual and emotional journey. So although the inaccuracy chafes slightly, it’s a justifiable inaccuracy. After all, even many Christians may find the Amish’s ability to react so instantly to the tragedy with such forgiveness awe-inspiring—and perhaps even hard to comprehend.

Overall: A surprisingly uplifting story about an outstanding real life example of grace, forgiveness, and the authentic living out of the Christian faith, suitable for all but the youngest and/or most sensitive of viewers. One for the shelf.

This has not been classified for UK release and can be bought on Amazon. In terms of on-screen violence, this could be a U. However, due to the subject matter, obviously it would really classify as a PG (or higher depending on your children’s sensitivity).

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Pretty much none of any of the three. Subject matter deals with a vicious shooting attack that caused the deaths of five girls and injured five others.

REVIEW: Silence

silence_2016_filmUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 1st January 2017

Running Time: 161 minutes

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre:  Period

Starring:  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

(This review contains Spoilers)

Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ is a ‘Marmite movie’. You love it or you hate it. Tim Hanley, writing for the Catholic Herald, describes it as, “the most profound piece of Catholic art produced in recent years”, whilst Monica Miller in Crisis magazine considers that although, “This movie seriously examines Christian themes and ideas” it is not in fact a Christian film. I would have to agree with the latter statement. ‘Silence’ is that most dangerous of things, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It is not the main character’s apostasy itself that is so problematic. None of us know if we would stand or fall. This beautifully filmed and acted piece could easily have been a sensitive portrayal of human weakness. But it’s not. Rodrigues isn’t shown as apostatising from simple weakness, unable to bear the emotional torment or to withstand the voice of the devil (so loud and clear through the coaxing authorities). Instead, he hears—or thinks he hears—the voice of Jesus telling him that apostasy is okay. Clearly Our Lord forgot to mention that in the Bible.

Rodrigues lives out his life spiritually dead, only, the film hints, it’s all okay really, because deep, deep down, he still believes—even though he obediently writes books ‘disproving’ the Christian faith. Even though he never again gives even the tiniest public sign of his faith. Even though he apostatises over and over again. Even though he appears to refuse absolution to someone begging on their knees. This is all okay, because he’s doing it to save the lives of the Japanese believers. Their lives, note. He—and the film—seem to have forgotten the existence of souls.

So what is the final message of ‘Silence’? That staying alive and avoiding suffering are far more important than keeping the faith. That the importance of our mortal life here far outweighs that of our eternal destiny.

This film is poison. Beautiful, well-acted, compelling… and spiritual cyanide.

Overall: I suggest you avoid. With a barge pole. Preferably a blessed one.

Sex/Violence/Nudity: No sexual content. Scenes of torture and execution, quite graphic. No graphic nudity.