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Book review: Beneath the Tamarisk Tree and interview with Rob Seabrook

This post consists of a book review, Author interview and links to other posts about this book.

Book review

Cover of Beneath the Tamarisk tree showing a landscape with trees
Text: Beneath the tamarisk Tree the story of a thief's redemption Rob Seabrook

I received a paperback copy of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree from the author, Rob Seabrook on the understanding that I would write an honest review.

Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is a novel set in Jerusalem in the time when Jesus of Nazareth was living as a man. The story jumps between times in the life of the person known as ‘the penitent thief’, who was crucified alongside Jesus. Rob Seabrook has imagined the kind of life that might have led to the thief being executed for theft. He also explores what the promise Jesus made, ‘today you will be with me in paradise’( Luke 23:43) might look like. It is a gripping story, which I finished reading the day after I received it.

As I was reading, the descriptive passages reminded me of the world-building of CS Lewis and George Macdonald. There is also a slight similarity with The Shack by William P Young in the way the Holy Spirit (in heaven) is portrayed.

Some of the ideas in the book may not match the beliefs of every reader, but Rob Seabrook is aware of this and mentions it in ‘A Note from the Author’ which precedes the novel.

There are questions at the end, ideal for reading groups, who might read a chapter and then meet to discuss it. More questions are available on the author’s website.

It is a book I shall probably read again at some time. There are many layers to appreciate in it.

Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is published by Malcolm Down Publishing. ISBN 978-1-915046-01-7

Rob Seabrook is doing a giveaway from 1st to 15th February 2023, offering 5 copies of the book or eBook to new subscribers to his email newsletter. The link to a simple entry form is here.

Interview with Rob Seabrook

As I was reading Beneath The Tamarisk Tree a few questions came into my mind. The first one was answered in the story. It was, How did growing children on the streets of Jerusalem obtain clothes to wear? The second question was, Have you ever been to Jerusalem and the Holy Land?

So far I have not travelled to the Holy Land, but it is certainly on my bucket list. I actually started writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree about 6 months before the first Covid lockdown, so by the time I realised it may have been useful to travel to see Jerusalem first hand, it became impossible. Having said that, the most useful would have been to visit Jerusalem in the first century, which was even more impossible!

So I had to rely on a lot of desk research, looking at maps and city plans, reading around the topic of what life in 1st century Judea may have been like. There was more information available on the Roman side of things, which helped with the scenes around the Crucifixion, but a lot less about the Jewish peoples. So I simply had to rely on my imagination to fill the gaps.

Your description of tamarisk trees is beautiful. Do any tamarisk trees grow in the UK? I can’t remember seeing one at Kew, but there are so many plants and trees there. Perhaps I haven’t visited in the flowering season.

Yes, they do. In fact I had a large one in the garden of the first house I bought in Oxfordshire. They also grow wild, especially along the south coast and in April and May you can often see the light pink fluffy flowers in full bloom. Since Beneath the Tamarisk Tree has been published, I have been given two saplings, which are both planted in my garden and are starting to flourish.

The penitent thief’s introduction to heaven was very gentle. Some people believe that purgatory comes before heaven. What do you think about that idea?

I spent quite a long time reading around the topic of eschatology – the theological study of what happens after we pass, our final destination and judgement. There are many theories, gleaned from some of the pointers that are contained in the Bible, and many people who will tell you that they know the answers.

The simple answer though is that we just don’t know, and won’t know until it happens to us and we get there. We simply have to trust in a loving, caring, kind and compassionate Father whose intention is not for us to suffer.

We know two things about the Penitent Thief – that he was a thief and that Jesus promised that he would be in Paradise. So in the story of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, I wanted to paint the picture of the Penitent Thief going through a process from one condition to the other. From a thief to being rescued. This must have involved redemption, repentance, confession, healing, forgiveness, receiving the Holy Spirit … all the things that we as believers can enjoy. However, in the thief’s case it probably happened all in one incredible instantaneous moment, all at once. But that would not have made for a great story, so I took a little artistic licence to lengthen the process, to allow for a little more explanation as well as drama.

For anyone interested in looking deeper into the topic, I would recommend further reading from some superb academic experts, like NT Wright, or the likes of Randy Alcorn whose book “Heaven” is a very accessible but thorough study.

I know very little about you, except that you have reviewed some of the same books as I have. Can you tell me and my readers a little about your faith journey, please?

I grew up in a very loving, but not a Christian, home. My teenage years were spent at a boarding school which involved Chapel services three or four times per week, which I always found quite a dry experience. But something must have gone in even if I did not realise it at the time.

When at University I was going out with a young lady who began to re-discover her faith, hanging out with Christian friends and attending the Christian Union and a local church in Oxford (St Aldates). So I had two choices really!

In fact, I started going along with her to meetings, meeting Christians and finding it increasingly of interest and relevance. After some procrastinating I made a commitment, and of course ended up marrying that special lady!

Since then we have been actively involved in local churches wherever we have lived, and our family have been always blessed by the church community.

A few years ago we felt called to extend our family by fostering children, which has opened up our lives and our home to support others. The reason for mentioning this is twofold – firstly, it is incredibly challenging to our faith, testing patience and needing every ounce of spiritual support going. Secondly it proved helpful when writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, as it gave me significant insight into the sort of behaviours displayed by traumatised children.

Thank you, Rob. That is all very informative. Are you working on a second book?

I am working on another novel, although it is a little different, moving away from the Biblical fiction genre. I am just starting on a story that will look to highlight the wonders there are in creation, through the eyes of a young man who is fascinated by the natural world. He may not be looking for meaning or seeking the Creator, but he finds it through encounters with some older and wiser people who show him there is more in creation than he first imagined. I am just at the point now of having completed much of the research and background reading, and am about to embark on the writing … the thought of starting it is quite daunting though!

That sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading.

Other posts about Beneath the Tamarisk Tree

Natasha Woodcraft

Joy Margetts

Maressa Mortimer

Clementine Barton

Rob Seabrook has been interviewed by Matt McChlery in a podcast.

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Book Review and author interview: Friend of God

This post consists of a book review of Friend of God, an interview with the author, Rachel Yarworth, details of where to buy the book and links to other reviews of Friend of God.

Review of Friend of God

Cover depicts a woman on a mountain and purplish sky.
Text reads 'Poetic, authentic lines... touching you with the love of Jesus. ' Anne Calver, Unleashed Church
Friend of God
The miraculous life of an ordinary person
Rachel Yarworth

My attention was drawn to this book in a Facebook group. I almost didn’t accept the offer of a review copy, but I am really glad that I did. I read a digital copy on my phone the evening I received it.

Friend of God by Rachel Yarworth has the tagline The miraculous life of an ordinary person. It is a memoir, which emphasises God’s leading and friendship in Rachel’s life from childhood onwards. The chapters are short ending with a sentence about Rachel (or people in general) and continuing ‘BUT God…’

This drew me on to the next chapter every time (although I actually read it in two sittings). There are footnotes explaining terms which may be unfamiliar to a general readership. The writing is good and the book has been edited well.

Many people (especially women) will find that Rachel’s experiences resonate with their own in some way. I found this an encouraging and challenging book.

In these uncertain times Rachel Yarworth’s message that the God of love wants our friendship is a reason to hope.

Interview with Rachel Yarworth

Rachel Yarworth drinking from a china cup decorated with baby owls
Rachel Yarworth

In Friend of God you focus on the way God has influenced the course of your life. There are some aspects of your ministry you only mention in passing. One of these is music. Would you like to tell me and my readers about your musical activities? Are you a singer or an instrumentalist, or both?

I am – or was – a singer (I don’t do much any more, other than on my own at home).  When I was younger I flirted with various instruments (e.g. drums, clarinet, piano), but never really stuck with anything for long enough to get good at it, because I preferred just singing; I could do it anywhere, without any extra equipment.  I sang in school choirs and informal worship groups, as a backing singer for amateur bands, as an alto in a 4-person chamber choir and eventually as a worship leader in several churches.  I’m not keen on singing solo or lead though: I much prefer harmonising with others, especially when it’s spontaneous. There’s something about the blend of voices all singing different but complementary notes, that feels to me like we’re touching Heaven.

On your blog you mention that you are writing more books. What can we look forward to seeing from you? Are you working on one book or do you have more than one work in progress?

Hmm, I’d love to know the answer to that too!  I have a variety of works in progress and am itching to get writing again – I’d love to get stuck into any of them – but I’m not sure which one is right for now.  I know writing is partly about the discipline: sometimes you just have to sit down and write, even if it turns out to be drivel.  But writing Friend of God flowed so naturally (at least the initial draft did, before I started the slog of editing and rewriting), there is a real part of me that is waiting for that kind of divine inspiration again.  So I might be completing my children’s novel, my Advent devotional, my study guide on friendship with God, or starting something new. It really depends on where I feel God wants to focus.  I get quickly bored of my own work if He’s not in it, but writing with Him is much more interesting.

Did you enjoy writing from an early age?

Yes and no.  I was a very early reader – I have always loved words, and read copiously – but it was at secondary school that I really started to enjoy creative writing, especially poetry and the occasional short story.  My creative writing tutor at college was very encouraging about the possibility of publication, but after I left college and got married, it just became less of a priority for quite a while.  Then when I started home educating my children in my early forties I felt the urge to start blogging about our journey… and I have continued writing in some form or another ever since.  I like the Isaac Asimov quote that’s on my website: “writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers”.  Writing is how I process my thoughts – a way of pouring my most complex subconscious thoughts onto paper in order to make sense of them. I can’t imagine not writing now.

Who is your ideal reader for Friend of God?

Ooh, there’s a question!  Contrary to current writerly wisdom, I never managed to pin down a proper target audience.  With God in the book’s title I figured it would generate most interest among Christians, but the whole time I was writing I felt strongly that I didn’t want it to be exclusively for that audience – I wanted non-Christians to be able to access it too, and that’s why I use footnotes to explain terms that will be obvious to most regular church-goers. 

As I was writing I did keep a few specific friends in mind (an atheist, a young new-ager, and an older religious church-goer with no concept of God as friend), in the hope that if I could speak to them, anyone would be able to access the book  But they weren’t so much an ideal or target reader as just representatives of the kinds of people I wanted to include.  And the lovely thing that has happened since publication is that yes, Christians are easily my most prolific customers, and they are a generous bunch, buying copies to give to non-Christian friends who they believe will enjoy it.  That has made me really happy, that they believe my book is accessible.

Ultimately I suppose if I did have a target reader, they would be someone – anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or anything else – who is interested in simply getting to know God as a friend.  And I hope that my book can encourage them in getting to know Him more.

Thank you, Rachel. I wish you well with your writing.

Book details

The paperback edition of Friend of God may be ordered from bookshops, the ISBN is  978-1739257705, or from Amazon where it is also available as a Kindle edition.

Other reviews of Friend of God

Alex Banwell

Maressa Mortimer

Liz Carter

Rachel Yarworth’s guest post for Claire Musters

Ruth Leigh’s Q & A with Rachel Yarworth

Natasha Woodcraft

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Book Review: Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Sometimes book recommendations come from unexpected places. Hubby and I recently went to a talk about a local resident’s travels in Tibet. He began by asking how many people in the audience had read Lost Horizon. Only one octogenarian had. Then the speaker told us how the book began with a mysterious disappearance of an aircraft. He mentioned a few more tantalising things about the story, before going on to show us his own slides.

Cover of Lost Horizon in two tones with black printing. Buildings are perched on sheer cliffs in a mountainous landscape.

We were intrigued and downloaded the book onto our own devices. Hubby began reading Lost Horizon and found that, in spite of being very dated having been published in the 1930s, it was a page turner.

I had other reading priorities but, once I began to read it, I found the same. The story was fascinating, with many unexpected incidents. There was also some incidental, unobtrusive exposition of people’s philosophies for life. Buddhist ideas and those of a Christian missionary were included.

To whet your appetite (as our speaker whetted ours) time and people’s lifespans were different in Shangri-la.

How do you decide what to read?