Monday, March 30, 2015

John Wyndham

In high school my absolute favourite English text was The Day of the Triffids. Every couple of years I read it again and discover even more depths to it.

A new breed of plant, the triffid, which can walk, communicate, kill with a flying whip-like sting and feeds off rotting meat has been slowly colonising the world. When one night almost all humankind is struck blind by a dramatic comet fireworks display, Wyndham explores what would happen to mankind if a natural predator was on hand who now had the advantage.

It’s the story of Bill and Josella who through luck & circumstance remain sighted, and so both literally and figuratively see the decay of England around them. Who would you care for? Do you take responsibility for others in need or fend for yourself? Do you band together with others to survive or go it alone?

I have always found it a fascinating analysis of what man might do in such a situation and Wyndham’s assessment is quite possibly a frighteningly accurate one.

In all these years it never occurred to me to see if Wyndham had written other books. And, wonderfully – he did, quite a few in fact!*  There is no doubt he liked apocalyptic themes, and the question of how mankind would react to them.

In The Kraken Wakes, the threat to life on earth is something in the water; something that colonises deep water from outer space and moves calculatingly to threaten all life on earth. I won’t give all the details away, but similarly to The Day of the Triffids, Wyndham presents an alarming scenario of what might happen through the eyes of Mike & Phyllis Watson, a couple who see the events unfold from start to finish.

In The Day of the Triffids, you can sort of predict what’s going to happen and the interest lies in the telling of it and how it unfolds. By contrast in The Kraken Wakes, you have no idea what is happening, the reader discovers it alongside the characters when events take place, with explanation following later. As such the tension was markedly higher.

These are great books that make you think. Wyndham’s writing is very enjoyable to read: it’s highly intelligent and educated, with references you sometimes need to look up to understand. His prose is insightful, thought-provoking and very interesting. What a gift some writers have!

I started The Day of the Triffids with Mr almost 12, and he struggled a bit. Adult novels like this do not always have predictable happy outcomes and raise many moral challenges along the way. Interestingly what he struggled with was the tension of me reading it aloud – it took too long to find out the solutions to the problems raised. He went on and finished it himself. It seems he is on the cusp of being able to read adult fiction, yet with the caveat that he will not understand the full meaning. It made me realise that I could not possibly have understood it fully at high school either, but it whetted an appetite for good quality writing and interesting themes, which I am still enjoying feeding, over 20 years later.

* I also read The Chrysalids which explores the idea of genetic variation, and how people might decide which 'form' of humankind was the true one, in the image of God and which would be the work of the devil.  It's told through the eyes of children who gradually realise they are not in the 'acceptable form' of their society, and is an interesting analysis of religious fervour gone awry and how people are generally threatened by those who are different to themselves.  Wyndham chose interesting topics to explore!

Friday, March 20, 2015


Easter is approaching - no doubt the large amount of chocolate in the shops has alerted you to it!

If you would like to think about some ways to celebrate Easter with your family, you could read my previous posts on Easter.

If you would like to use the "Preparing for Easter with your family"  readings the link can be found via the resources tab on this blog.  It starts on Monday.

Also, this year I have included a pdf of the titles, key verses and clipart pictures I use, in case you want to cut them up and put them in your eggs.   This photos shows the things I print out and use.

Have fun with your family preparing for Easter!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Girl in Times Square

The Girl in Times Square, Paullina Simons

I love this book. I have probably read it 4 times over the last 10 years and every time I come back to it, I enjoy it again.  A good, extended, long, involved story is a special treat.

Lily Quinn is 24, an arts student, and almost broke living in New York. Life just seems to go on around Lily, big things happen to those around her, but not to her. She heads off to Hawaii to visit her parents, yet on her return finds out her flatmate and good friend Amy has gone missing.

Enter Detective Spencer O’Malley from the missing persons unit, in his mid 40s and battling his own demons. As O’Malley searches more into Amy’s life, what was really going on, and how Lily’s family were a part of it, it takes a long time to unravel what has happened.

At the same time, some big things finally start happening to Lily – one very good and one very bad.

This novel has enormous scope covering the vast complexity of extended family relations especially mothers and daughters, the life of immigrants to the USA after WWII, and the careful unravelling of what happened to Amy.  What I love though is the development of the friendship between Spencer and Lily.  A great, enjoyable, long book.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished, Scott James

It's been some time since I have reviewed any of the books sent to me by New Growth Press.  The only reason is not having time to read them - I hope to rectify that very soon!

This one however seemed worth putting time aside for now and indeed it was.   

This family devotional by Scott James is designed to be started on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) and continued through Easter for two weeks.

I love the format: one week is spent "Walking with Jesus to the Cross" and the second week looking at "The Risen King" and our response to him.

When I first began looking into Easter material many years ago, the only things available focussed heavily on the Passion Week, with details that I did not think needed dwelling on, especially for families of young children.  So as regular readers of this blog will know, I wrote my own material   (accessible via here) that our family has used for the last 6 years

James done a similar thing, with even more emphasis on the risen Jesus.  Each study (mainly from Luke's gospel), has a 1-2 page explanation, some questions to discuss, things to pray about, and then either a song to sing or an activity to do.  Each could easily be done in 10 minutes, but some of the things to talk about could take longer if there was time and everyone was interested! 

I think this will appeal to families with school-aged children.  James has pitched the explanations at a reasonable level of understanding, which could be simplified if needed for younger children, or used to stretch older children and teenagers.  

As our family has a tradition of doing our own material, we will stick with that, as well as the other things we do to celebrate Easter

However, I think Mr (almost) 12 would really benefit from this material.  I will give it to him to work through for his own devotional time though Easter and then talk about with him.  It will be good to stretch him a little further and I think this book will do that.  Because of this, the only thing I wish was different was that the answers to the questions were at at the back of the book (if you needed to look them up) rather than alongside the questions themselves.

New Growth Press are trying to get this to Australian distributors in time for Easter.  If it doesn't make it in time, perhaps look out for it over the next few months and save it for next year!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pigs in Heaven

Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver

I love my local library. They sell old fiction books for 50c, so whenever I see something I might want to read, I tend to pick it up.

After having loved a more recent Kingsolver novel, The Poisonwood Bible, I thought I’d try this one.

Taylor is adoptive mother to 6 year-old Turtle, a child who was handed to her by a desperate aunt in a carpark to care for 3 years before. When Turtle becomes famous after helping to save someone’s life, she is recognised by the Cherokee Nation as being one of their own. Annawake Fourkiller, a Cherokee lawyer, with her own sad family history of Indian child removal, intervenes to ensure Turtle knows about her history and her people and in so doing, threatens the strong and loving relationships that Turtle and Taylor share. As events unfold it seems that all sides just might be most closely connected that anyone realises. This is another book where it pays dividends keep of the track the characters by name and relationship so you can see events unfold.

It’s a wise author that can raise issues well for both sides of an argument, ensuring that both are heard, understood and matter. The story of native American Indians is not one I know well, though there are strong parallels with our own Indigenous population.

Just like in the Poisonwood Bible, the beauty of Kingsolver’s writing shines in this book. It is a delight to read. A review of her website revealed that this book actually follows on with the same characters of her previous book (The Bean Trees). I read that one after and while it was fine, I  definitely preferred Pigs in Heaven, both the subject matter and the writing.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom

This is a gentle, honest book about a man’s descent to death. Morrie is a sociology professor who taught Albom in the 1970s. Sixteen years later when he is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, Albom gets back in touch and they have one last ‘class’ together. A class about the lessons of life, what it important and what Morrie has learnt about living and dying. As he states “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live”.

I have never seen death close up, not really close up. I have seen it from afar and a bit more distantly, but I have not sat & watched it, week by week, day by day, all the while talking to that person about what really matters. Perhaps not many of us have, especially those of us who spouses and parents are still living.

What is clear is how things gain true importance and clarity when you come face to face with death. Does a career, or a house, or someone’s opinion of you matter? Morrie’s view is that what does matter is how you have lived – the way you treat people, whether you forgive, whether there is love in your life.

There is almost no spiritual element to this book, but it still has much to offer. For those of us who know there is more than this life, but sometimes forget to live that way, we can still be reminded from books like this of what really matters.

This would be a great book for a book club, it could open up discussion about things that really matter to each of us. 

Albom has also written some fiction – I am tempted to try them also. Have any of you read them?