Monday, October 30, 2017

The Land of Stories

This review was written by Miss 12:

The Land of Stories is an engaging, adventurous 6-book series. Written by Chris Colfer, it’s based on the travels of Alex and Conner Bailey, twin sister and brother. Their father, John dies when they are nearly eleven and they are raised by their caring mother, Charlotte. However, Charlotte’s pay is little and they just get by with what they need. On their 12th birthday, their fun grandma shows up, cooking a feast and giving them her fairytale book, The Land of Stories. At night, Alex notices a strange thing happening with the book and barely sleeps investigating it.

At school, Alex is a genius while Conner is a sleeper in class. Their teacher Mrs. Peters gives Conner detention several times for dozing while she’s teaching the morals of fairy-tales. When a mistake Conner makes goes horribly wrong, he and his sister become lost in the Land of Stories, where fairytales come to life. Alex is thrilled but all Conner wants is to go home.

Find out the amazing characters they meet, their quest, and their encounter with one of the most feared enemies ever! I enjoyed this book and the rest of the series. The first one is The Wishing Spell, and it continues; The Enchantress Returns, A Grimm Warning, Beyond the Kingdoms, An Author’s Odyssey and Worlds Collide. I have not yet read Worlds Collide, as it is not yet out in paperback.

The rest of the books in the series are about Alex and Conner helping when there is a crisis in the Land of Stories and attempting to restore peace. They make many lasting friends, such as Jack, Goldilocks and Queen Red Riding Hood of the Red Riding Hood Kingdom. They meet the wonderful monarchs of the Land of Stories Kingdoms, and travel to spectacular places. Alex also makes a tough, heart-breaking decision at the end of book 2, and at one point in the series, she and Conner find out something Charlotte had hidden from them that will change their life!

I loved reading this series after a friend suggested it to me. They are funny and sarcastic, scary and fun and very interesting. They give a new, exciting perspective to the fairytales and I would recommend it to ages over 10 as there are a few hard things to grasp but overall, I think most would enjoy it. You should read this series! (if you haven’t already)

Monday, October 23, 2017

It Takes One To Tango

It Takes One to Tango, Winifred M. Reilly

As many of you know we’re involved in marriage ministry and so I try to keep up with reading. Sometimes this means I grab books off the library shelves to see what secular titles are on offer. It’s good to have a wide range of recommendations.

This one caught my eye with its subtitle “How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse – and How You Can, Too”.

Reilly takes the reader on a journey, explaining both her own marriage and its near demise; and also draws on her experience as a marriage therapist. She starts by debunking the myth that marriage should be easier:
Most people believe that marriage should be easier than it is. It’s one of the great myths … No one told me the one thing that would have helped me the most: “It isn’t just you. Marriage is hard.”
She also challenges a widely-held view that you both must be willing to change for any progress to occur. The core of her message is that change has to start with you, not your spouse. Stop focusing on what they do that is wrong, annoying, irritating, etc, and work on yourself instead. Figure out what you add to conflict, why you fight the way you do, what pushes your buttons. You are responsible for yourself alone, so take charge.

She draws strongly on Bowen family theory so there were strong echoes to things I had read in Jenny Brown’s Growing Yourself Up. I also appreciated her analysis of the stages of a relationship (from Ellyn Bader) which move through four stages:

  • Symbiosis - high interconnectedness (in those early heady stages of in-love),
  • Differentiation - seeing the differences and struggling to resolve them
  • Exploration – developing separate selves, own interests and needs, and having more independence
  • Rapprochement – turning back towards each other with more connectedness

A lot in this analysis made sense, especially how it is at differentiation where most problems lie and where many couples become stuck.

She moves through three sections – how to identify the real problem, how to implement change by yourself, and how this will develop into a stronger relationship.

She identifies the cause of many problems: “Anxiety is at the root of most of the craziness that goes on in our relationships”. The time she takes to consider this is well worthwhile. One comment really struck me, quoting trauma expert Dr Noel Larson: “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical” – if some issue really sets either of you off, there’s a reason why.

A lot of what she says makes perfect sense: you have to be in control of yourself and manage your own reactions; take a break from conflict and find ways to dampen it rather than escalate it; and you have to develop your own self-soothing and self-management and not expect your partner to meet those needs. None of this is new, and for those of us who are Christian, there are similar elements of what we would expect a marriage to look like: seek to serve each other, not yourself; manage your anger; be self-controlled; exhibit the fruits of the spirit in your marriage as well as the rest of your life. While she doesn’t label it as such; there are also ideas of giving forgiveness, extending grace and not bearing a grudge.

I would recommend this book particularly to:

  • Non-Christians. Most of the books I read are Christian and that doesn’t sit well with everyone. But there is good general wisdom out there, and this book has it. She doesn’t assume couples are married, and includes same-sex couples in her stories, thus widening the audience appeal.
  • Couples who are mired in conflict. Some marriage books assume that goodwill, grace and forgiveness is occurring between couples. Some don’t get to the nitty-gritty of what to do when you are mired in bad patterns of relating. The stories she tells of her own and her client’s marriages are real and raw, they are honest yet give hope of ways forward.

I’m glad I picked it up!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Star Wars

Does this really deserve a review 40 years after its release? In our family, yes. Not only is it a major favourite here, but Miss 10 finally watched A New Hope (the original #1) in the last week. As I mentioned in the Rogue One review - like her siblings, there was no surprise or suspense for her, having read numerous books about the episodes and played all the Lego Star Wars xBox games. This time the main difference was that when characters died, they really died, rather than breaking into re-connectable Lego pieces!

She loved it, and we quickly moved onto Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi (she watched all of them twice) I enjoyed seeing them with the fresh eyes you have when observing someone else’s first-time reaction. It’s the humour that strikes me in those movies, it remains clever, quirky and fun, and mostly driven by Harrison Ford.

She may have to wait a bit to venture into the rest of the Star Wars universe – the ratings get a bit more mature, and the graphics have caught up to look much more realistic. Although every time I watch it I am impressed by the originals from 40 years ago. With the major exceptions of all the stupid extra stuff they shoved into them in the 1990s! I keep calling out (to the annoyance of the rest of the family) – “that wasn’t in the original” when some extra bit appears. And I still cannot believe they changed the song at the end of Return of the Jedi, ‘yub nub’ was a treasure and a classic, at least in my view!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Anti-Princess Club

The Anti-Princess Club book series, Samantha Turnbull

From Miss 12:

In the HQ of Emily, Bella, Grace and Chloe, princess is the P word, tiaras are NOT allowed, and fairytales become unfairytales. These four girls, age 10, are all tired of being called princess and being treated like one. All Emily wants is to be a mathematician, while Bella wishes to design amazing architecture. Grace wants to be an athletic superstar and Chloe dreams of becoming a scientist. All four of them couldn’t be more different, but are all best friends. Together, they form the Anti-Princess Club, where Emily, the president, leads the group on missions to prove to the world that girls can do more than wear a tiara.

Each of the five books is from the perspective of a different Anti-Princess, with the last one narrated by them all. Emily, a computer genius, codes the Anti-Princess Club website, where girls all over the world can join up to chat and get help from her with maths homework. At first, some of their parents don’t understand, know, or accept that they don’t want to learn ballet or go into beauty pageants. Emily’s mum runs a beauty salon and her dad’s in the army. Bella’s parents are doctors, and they live in a mansion, and the HQ of the Anti-Princess Club meets in her backyard. Grace’s mum and dad are soccer nuts, just like her and her three brothers but they don’t think she should play sport. Chloe lives with her yiayia (grandma), her parents and brother, however she believes they only want her to run their restaurant because she’s an amazing cook.

These books, written by Samantha Turnbull and set in Australia, are great. Girls ages 6-12 could enjoy them.

Miss 10’s extra comment:
“I like them because they are interesting, the girls have adventures, there is a bit of tension and they are like me and my friends.”

I've now read two of these myself and I quite like them too. They are definitely aimed at girls around age 10 and contain the type of messages I want mine to receive:
[From Emily's mum as she tries to fit her into a pageant dress] "Don't be sooky, Emily, she says. "Beauty is painful."
That, I think to myself is exactly what the anti-princesses are fighting against and why I have to pull off this mission. There are so many more important things in life than prettiness. And girls definitely shouldn't have to hurt themselves to look good.
The second book covers some bullying that results from their antics in the first book, which is a good reminder to kids that all actions have consequences. And while acknowledging the tensions which can exist between boys and girls at this age; thankfully they discover in the end that they are more alike than they realise.  

It's a good series if you have an anti-princess yourself who is sick of some of the other princess books out there; or if you want to reinforce the message that it's OK to be sporty, academic or just a bit different.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Going in Style

If you’re in the mood for a light-hearted heist movie, with some favourite old actors, this one might be for you.

Long-term friends Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman), and Albert (Alan Arkin) are struggling to make ends meet in retirement. Their pension has been cut off by their employer, the bank is threatening to take Joe’s house and Willie’s health is failing. When Joe is caught up in a bank robbery where the thieves make off with millions in cash, he realises perhaps there’s a way to make ends meet.

It’s fun. Watching these three actors, as well as Christopher Lloyd, is entertaining and they play up the age-jokes well. At the same time, it highlights the reality of poverty and isolation in old age. It’s set up to convince you that the banks and the big companies are the bad guys. These men did their time, served their jobs and have little to show for it in the end. It’s not highly realistic, one assumes that in the real world they would be caught quite easily, but that’s the fun of the movies. While of course we don’t condone robbery, it’s easy to be caught up in the justifiability of the premise and the underlying message sticks - we should look after the aged better.

There is little violence, only a few swear words, mild drug usage and a little romance along the way. Directed by Zach Braff, it's an entertaining spin on the heist genre.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Books by Lucy Dillon

I’ve discovered a new author that I’m really enjoying. Lucy Dillon writes modern fiction, somewhat lighter than some of my usual choices, so I’d personally classify it as more holiday reading – that enjoyable type of book that takes a few days to read, you get drawn into the character’s lives and relish the satisfying ending.

All I Ever Wanted is from the perspective of two sisters-in-law. Caitlin and Patrick are separating, for the personality traits that once so attracted them to each other are now driving them apart. Their four-year-old Nancy is changing from a gregarious, outspoken, chatty little thing to becoming increasingly quiet and withdrawn. Her older brother Joel can draw her out at times, but her absolute silence is becoming an increasing problem.

Meanwhile Eva, Patrick’s sister, two years widowed to an older rock star, is trying to figure out what the rest of her life will look like. As Patrick searches for a suitable ‘weekend visit’ location, it seems ideal to stay at Eva’s with the kids. But Eva has never had kids, will she want them around?

Over a few months Caitlin and Eva are both forced to face different realities about their marriages, and decide how they will respond. I liked it, they are engaging, realistic characters, with a depth to their story.

A Hundred Pieces of Me narrates Gina’s life through various objects of meaning. Reeling from her recent divorce and astounded by how many things she has, Gina is forced to finally sort through all her possessions. Deciding to only keep 100 things that really matter, we see how her life has unfolded to date through the lens of various objects. The story flicks between present day and her job of managing the restoration of an old manor house; to her relationship with her ex-husband Stuart and its development; her battle with cancer; her childhood and twice-widowed mother, and her first real love and relationship with Kit. I found it had similar style echoes to The Time Traveller’s Wife, with moves in the chronology filling the gaps as the novel unfolded. I wondered too if it was going to be a fiction version of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and there are elements of that philosophy as well: that organising your life will make you happy. I didn’t find the ending to be quite what I was after, but it was a good read and made you think again about the things that you really value, and why.

One Small Act of Kindness starts with Libby and Jason who have moved to Longhampton to take over their parents B&B, a decision sparked by the death of Jason’s dad and their need for a fresh start from London. One day a young woman is hit by a car outside the hotel, and wakes up in hospital with no memory of her past and apparently no one is searching for her. A friendship sparks between Libby and Pippa (the name she chooses for the moment), with Libby keen to aid Pippa find out who she is, and Pippa assisting as the hotel renovation plans turn to dust.

With Libby’s tricky extended family relationships to manage, the slow revealing of Pippa’s life story, and the surprise to both of them that there are good people around who want to help other; both Libby and Pippa come to discover they have more strength, resilience and purpose than they thought.

The Ballroom Class charts the lives of a disparate group of people through their ballroom dancing class. Ross and Katie are making one last ditch effort to save their marriage. Lauren and Chris are trying to perfect their wedding dance, all the while uncertain they are really on the right track. Lauren’s parents are there as support, seemingly perfect in their relationship, but is Bridget hiding something from Frank? At the same time, teacher Angelica is sorting through her past as she watches each of her students and reflects on he own life

Dillon is clearly a dog lover and some of her novels have dogs strongly featuring, so if that appeals to you, there’s another level of interest.

I’ll keep an eye out for new releases from Dillon. I enjoyed her writing style and the characters she develops.