Friday, March 31, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Miss 11 bought this with her own money the moment she could and read it the same day.   She loved it, for any continuation in the HP empire is a treat as far as she is concerned (hence her Christmas presents filled in the gaps in the DVD collection!) 

J.K. Rowling has teamed up with two other writers, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne to write a play set 19 years after the Harry Potter books – it picks up at the point of the final chapter of book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It mainly follows Harry’s second son Albus Severus as he starts his education at Hogwarts.   Surprisingly for many, he ends up in Slytherin House and becomes friends with Scorpius Malfoy, Draco’s son.  Over the course of the play, with the introduction of a more powerful time-turner, Albus and Severus seek to change the past.  As such we are introduced to two other possible realities, where the events of the previous books are changed and the future is very different.  It’s an interesting premise, but in the end, it just rehashes the events of previous books and rework the endings – so it doesn’t feel especially new. 

I found the play format frustrating.  So much more could have been done with a novel, and plays are by nature harder to read and follow.   Miss 11 agreed with me on this, also preferring a novel format.  With no explanation of who some characters were, there were times we weren’t sure if a character was a fellow Hogwarts student or an adult. 

In the end, it was a light, mostly entertaining read delving back into the world of Harry Potter - a book series which we have enjoyed.  Existing fans will probably like it, as it continues the characters they have grown to know and love, and watching their children together is always a fun continuation of a loved story.  Yet, I finished it feeling it lacked something – and I think it was depth and originality.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Grief Undone

Grief Undone, Elizabeth W. D. Groves

This raw, honest, yet hope-infused book charts the diagnosis, decline and death of Elizabeth Groves’ husband Al from cancer.    It's a testament of God’s grace to this family even in hard times that they never would have chosen. 

In 2006, at age 52, happily married with four children, two still in high school, and working as Academic Dean at Westminster Theological Seminary, Al learns his previous melanoma has returned as spots on his lungs.  With no real treatment options, they prepare for his final months.  The book divides into two main sections, life before and life after, which also includes some reflections from Elizabeth over seven years later.   Much of the material in the first half are reflections Al himself write on a blog at the time.

The chapters are very short, rarely more than 2-3 pages, which Groves’ acknowledges are purposeful, in case others reading it are also in the midst of grief and cannot read much at a time.

As I read it, I was struck by many things.  This family’s continual trust and faith in God’s goodness, in all circumstances.  Their deep and purposeful reliance on him.   Their desire to keep serving and honouring God in their midst of their grief and pain.   Their very healthy approach to Al’s final months, declaring “it’s always OK to cry”.  They grieved openly that he would never walk his daughters down the aisle, never see his grandchildren, never see any more children’s graduations.   They expressed their love for each other, were able to say goodbye, and it seems had few regrets about his final months.    What a marvellous gift that was, and I doubt there are many who could look back on such times with the same confidence and grace.  As such, it’s a marvellous witness to those who are yet to face such challenges in their own lives.   It may however be hard to read for those who have faced similar circumstances, without the support, love, care, faith and trust that this family had.

I found Groves’ comments on the balance between life here and life in heaven insightful and very helpful:
How do we find the balance between holding onto life here and looking forward to life in heaven?  … On the one hand, is it right to pray boldly for a miraculous healing?  I would say yes.  On the other hand, is it right to accept the cold, hard reality of a terminal diagnosis and walk toward death with faith and grace?  I would say yes.  Should we treasure life here on earth?  Yes.  But should we look forward to heaven with anticipation?  Yes.  The two mind-sets may appear to be mutually exclusive, but I think that in Christ was can actually do both at the same time.  We can fully treasure life and do all that reasonably lies within our power to preserve it, while at the same time resting in the knowledge that our lives are in God’s hands and when he chooses to take us home, we can let of this life and gladly embrace the better one ahead. (p32)

I have read this book at exactly the same time a dear friend is facing this very reality.   God indeed had his reasons for making me wait two years to get to it.   Reading it has been a cathartic experience in many ways.   At various points I found myself weeping, or rejoicing, or thankful for God’s mercies; and ever desiring and praying that all who walk the path of the valley of the shadow of death, can do so knowing they have an Eternal Father who longs to bring them home.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Percy Jackson

Percy Jackson

This review is by Miss 11 (almost 12).

This series of 5 books starting with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan, are for ages 11 and up and are very good!

Percy Jackson thinks he is a regular boy until he finds out that he is half Greek god and he needs to stop Kronos, the Titan Lord from rising and taking over the world. The series is based in modern time, eg, to get to Olympus you must take the Empire State Building elevator to floor 600.

In the first book, Percy goes to a camp where half-bloods are trained to fight monsters, receives weapons, tests his powers and finds out which god is father is. He also makes friends with Annabeth and Grover the satyr (half goat and half boy) and they go on a quest to return Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt to him.

In Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters Grover’s goal in life (like all satyrs) is to find the great god Pan, the Lord of the Wild. However, he’s lured to an island where he’s captured and asks Percy for with Annabeth and a new friend Tyson, a Cyclops.

In book 3: Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Annabeth goes missing after she, Percy, Grover and Thalia (new friend) are tasked with bringing two new half-bloods safely to Camp. Percy is desperate to find her, however the goddess Artemis is also missing, and her followers, the Hunters of Artemis, are the one tasked to save her.

In Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Tyson adventure into the Labyrinth, a maze full of traps and try to find Daedalus, it’s creator. In the end, monsters invade the camp and must be stopped.

The fifth and final book Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian, Percy and the camp must protect the city of Manhattan from Kronos’ army, and so the final battle begins.

There are no Christian references, because the entire premise is based on the Greek gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, Hera, Artemis and more.  

One of my highlights was when a quest was issued, the leader is given a prophecy to help them.  The main prophecy from the series is:

A half-blood of the eldest gods, shall reach sixteen against all odds,
And see the world in endless sleep, the hero’s soul, cursed blade, shall reap
A single choice shall end his days, Olympus to preserve or raze


Miss 11 also loved the next series of five books: The Heroes of Olympus.  Mr 13 has also devoured all of them, and pretty much anything else by Rick Riordan.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


As Easter is approaching, you might like to consider how to celebrate it with your family.

Every year we have two weeks of bible readings that we do together, as well as things to discuss, prayers and also optional inserts for openable eggs.  It's been a great way to focus our attention on Jesus’ final week and reflect upon his death and resurrection as a family.

If you would like to use them for your family, both are available as pdf files via the resources tab.   Note the start and finish dates are different for each so that the events of the Easter weekend itself line up with the readings.

Preparing for Easter with your family: Readings from the Gospel of Luke

  • Aimed at more primary aged kids, although flexible and adaptable.
  • Print in format needed (Acrobat Reader allows you to print as a booklet)
  • Start on the Wednesday nine days before Good Friday (April 5 in 2017) and go through until Easter Tuesday.
  • If you want to use my inserts which include the titles of the days, the bible verses and some suggestion for pictures, they are also available on the resources page.

Preparing for Easter with your family: Readings from the Gospel of Matthew

  • Aimed at younger families, although flexible and adaptable.
  • Print in format needed (Acrobat Reader allows you to print as a booklet)
  • Note: this is exactly the same material as in previous years, it has just had a format update.
  • Start on the Monday 11 days before Good Friday (April 3 in 2017) and go through until Easter Sunday.
  • If you want to use my inserts which include the titles of the days, the bible verses and some suggestion for pictures, they are also available on the resources page.

For other ideas of how to celebrate Easter, books to read, and things to try – read through the Easter posts of the past. There is a lot in there!

We still have a simplified Passover meal and watch the Prince of Egypt on Thursday night.   We still have hot cross buns on Friday morning and a little egg hunt on Sunday morning.   These have now become firm traditions, which makes them all the more special.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centred World

How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centred World, Dave Stone

With a title like this, who isn’t interested?  We know our world is increasingly self-absorbed and also that with our own sinful nature we always want to be first above all others. 

As parents, we long for our children to learn selflessness: how to care about others first, how to help, how to be generous, how to include others and how to love people who are different to us.

This little book deals with topics including greed, hospitality, grace, serving others, and seeing people without prejudice.  It’s full of tips and anecdotes to encourage you to teach your children how to love and serve others in various creative ways.

With 150 small pages, it’s only a primer for this topic.   All the examples and teaching points were delivered through examples and stories.   Some people find this a great way to learn and if that’s you, you’ll probably find it very helpful. I tend to prefer a more logical, structured format that goes into more depth, and I found it a bit light.

This is recommended for those who don’t like a lot of reading or don’t have time for it, but would still like some good ideas for ways to encourage your kids towards becoming ‘godly, generous, giving people’ (p14) who are other-person oriented.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This movie, filmed and produced in New Zealand, is a funny, offbeat yet poignant story about city dwelling, foster boy Ricky Baker and the rural couple who care for him, Bella and Hec (Sam Neill). 

Ricky has reached the end of the line of foster carers, and is known by authorities as a “bad egg”.   Bella, with her patient, loving, no-nonsense care slowly develops a loving relationship with Ricky, while Hec watches from the sideline.  Tragedy strikes, leaving Hec and Ricky to fend for themselves. 
Ricky decides he’s not going back to the foster care system and runs away.   Hec finds him but a broken ankle forces them to camp in the bush for six weeks.  Upon their return, they realise they are the object of a major manhunt, with Hec assumed to have kidnapped Ricky. 

We watched it as a family, and reflected that Miss 9.5 was probably too young for it, she didn’t grasp the story, didn’t really get the humour and found some of the subject matter a bit confronting.   Miss (almost) 12 enjoyed it and Mr (almost) 14, like us, thought some parts were hysterical, and they also grasped the depth of what was happening. 

There was a fair bit of low-level language (bastard, sh*t, etc), several references to the (mistaken) assumption that Hec has molested Ricky, and some violent animal death scenes (hunting wild pig). Unfortunately, the only reflection on Christianity was a very incompetent minister at a funeral.   The characterisation of the foster care worker is very funny, although not particularly complementary to those who work in the system.  So, discretion is clearly needed with this one and which children you would show it to.

For families with young teens this could be a good, quirky choice about real people with real issues, from a mostly light-hearted point of view.