Monday, May 28, 2018

A Column of Fire

A Column of Fire, Ken Follett

Finally to the third instalment of the Kingsbridge novels, and Follett has again created a captivating tale, with extensive character lists and details.

To draw in previous fans The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, the story starts in Kingsbridge, with the scene set between the two rival families of Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald.

Set mostly in Elizabethan England, with some side stories in France, the real story here is no longer Kingsbridge, but rather the Catholic and Protestant power struggles of the 1500s.  There are some characters who actually believe the truths that they espouse, but the majority are willing to serve whichever religion suits their purpose, be it the faith of Rome, the new Protestants, or indeed, just money and power.

The book covers the entire Elizabethan era, and the times just prior and post as well. As such, there is a huge amount of history covered through the exploits of the characters, some fictional and some historical. Somewhat surprisingly Follett makes occasional hints throughout that are giveaways for the ensuing plot lines, taking the surprise out of a couple of key developments.

I liked it, but probably not as much as the two first Kingsbridge novels. Interestingly I thought that since the entire premise is the argument between Protestantism and Catholicism, I’m not sure that the differences between the two were ever adequately explained in a way that would help the modern reader understand what the big deal was. Having said that, most of the populace at the time also probably didn’t really care that much either, and changed religion according to the monarch of the day as was appropriate.  As you would expect there are extremists on both sides, neither behaving in a way that honours their claimed faith in God. I imagine particularly Catholic readers would be offended at their portrayal, there was really only one woman Catholic that was a redeeming character.

However, it is fair to acknowledge that perhaps many of the people fighting these battles were not really fighting about religion, but their place of power, their influence on royals and whether their business prospects would be damaged by their allegiances. No one could argue that the monarchs of the time had pure motives either in their choice of religion.

The overarching message of the book is that tolerance is the way to go and should be the way that prevails.  Read through the lens of the 21st century that is no surprise, but I wonder whether the people of the time felt that way too?

As with his other two novels, there is a level of lewdness to his references to sex and violence that are unnecessary. Someone mentioned to me recently that thought Follett was very sexist in the way he portrayed women. I have tended to think he is rather accurately portraying the common views of the time. However, having read these all again, I am starting to think they have a point. There is a crassness to his depictions of male and female relationships, and a callousness to most sexual references which isn’t necessary. In fact, the story would have been stronger without them. Sometimes I wonder if authors include these types of things to engage a wider range of readers.

So, a good read, and a satisfying third instalment of the Kingsbridge books, but not outstanding in my opinion.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, Jessica Townsend

This new book by young Australian author Jessica Townsend has shot to the top of many booklists and won numerous awards*, and it’s easy to see why. She has created a fantasy world which immediately draws children (and this adult) in. Morrigan Crow is 11 years old and lives in Jackalfax, in the Republic. Born on an unlucky day, she is a cursed child and is now blamed for everything that goes wrong. At the end of each age, all cursed children die and the day for the end of the age is fast approaching.

As she awaits this depressing fate with a family who are keen to be rid of her and the burden she brings, she is whisked away by Jupiter North to the secret city of Nevermoor. Jupiter is sponsoring her to enter the Wundrous Society, an elite membership club of the most skilled and talented people in the city. She cannot possibly see why she should be included in the Wundrous Society, but the awful fate that awaits her in Jackalfax ensures she is determined to try. There are four trials that all candidates must complete in, requiring intuition, skill, courage and bravery. Over the year, she lives with Jupiter and his friends and employees at the Deucalion Hotel, a wonderful magic building that changes to match its occupants. She makes close friends along the way, including Hawthorne, another contender for membership who is a skilled dragon rider.

It’s an original, exciting and engaging book, which promises to extend to a series. It’s full of imagination, mystery, wonder, magic and creativity. Townsend has created a world very different to our own, but with enough elements of humanity and reality to make it recognisable and understandable. There are enormous cats that talk, umbrella rail transport networks, and very scary shadows and witches. Not surprisingly Nevermoor has been compared to Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins. While it’s a minor side note, I really liked that Jupiter was a single man who was competent, caring and friendly with children.

Both Miss 10 and Miss 12 loved it and keenly await #2 - Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow, which seems set for release in September. I’ll be lining up to read it too!

* Winner, Book of the Year 2018 at the Indie Book Awards. 
Winner, Children's Book of the Year at the Indie Book Awards. 
Winner, Best Children's Fiction at the Aurealis Awards.
Winner, Younger Fiction at the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (UK).
According to Hachette 

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Small Book About a Big Problem

A Small Book About a Big Problem, Edward T. Welch   

Adding to the books produced by CCEF faculty on anger is this offering from Edward Welch, A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace.

He describes it as a slow 50-day walk through anger, so that we can dwell in it’s reality and what it does to us.
“To be human is to get angry. Look closely at any day and we can usually find anger in either actions or attitudes. Just track those pesky inconveniences – things spilled, things misplaced, traffic problems that seem devoted to making your life more difficult, and people, so many people, who are ill-mannered and unhelpful… anger is so common, almost ordinary. To be angry is to destroy. Yet ordinary does not mean innocent. In its commonness we can overlook our anger’s volatile and destructive disposition. Everyone has both been destroyed by someone’s anger and done some destroying.” (p1-2)
Each short pithy chapter is 2-3 pages, and as such it’s a primer on anger, so it can help the person who wants to address many issues surrounding anger, but doesn’t want to read extensively. Some chapters are clearly to prompt further thought, some are explicit biblical teaching, and some are challenges to your own behaviour. There was no clear order that I could determine, it meanders through topics and seems to double back to things. Yet this will work for many. I strongly prefer a clear structure, but not everyone does. And with the format used, it need to and does have continual grace, teaching and challenge scattered throughout.

My thought with books on topics like anger is that they are excellent and needed, but do people really read them? You might if you knew you had a problem with anger and needed to deal with it, which in itself would take some humility and guiding by the Holy Spirit. Yet the reality is that all of us have anger issues. We all think things should go our way, we all can tend to grumbling, and a lack of thankfulness. We all think that everyone else should fall in line with what we want.  The is part of the universal fall of man, we all want to go our own way instead of God’s.
“Grumbling is spiritual adultery…We think we are doing fairly well because we are merely grumpy and other muttering under our breath. But our grumbling is against God. It holds him in contempt. It is a way we despise him.” (p105)
So, I am all for books like this, but I suspect they don’t get into as many hands as they should. And that’s a shame because it’s very helpful and designed to be taken in small chunks, encouraging the reader to face the realities of anger, how it affects them and the people around them. It’s peppered throughout with the refreshing news of God’s grace.

I think on reflection I preferred Powlinson’s Good & Angry, but that’s because I like a more in-depth treatment. For reflective purposes though, this one may be just right for many. It could easily be incorporated into daily reading. Each chapter takes less than 5 minutes to read, but could provide food for thought and prayer for the whole day. Therefore, it’s not so much a book about anger, but a book about personally dealing with your own anger.

It’s obviously not meant to be a full extensive treatment but I did think a little more time could have been given to victims of anger. While it was addressed in Day 22, I wondered if more was needed than this. In addition, I didn’t notice the acknowledgement that some anger hides real pain, such as grief, loss, sadness, or loneliness.

There was usually a question at the end of each chapter to prompt further thought, which was a helpful place to leave people - in reflection. I would have loved to see some suggestions for prayer as well for many chapters would have naturally led to thanksgiving or confession, and actively encouraging that response would have been beneficial.

I found there were something every few days that makes me stop and really think, something that challenged me. So, it’s worth going slowly though it each day, even if some days feel less relevant or pointed than others. Sometimes the challenge might be to your marriage, many for me were about parenting, and others may find their workplace relationships to be the area where application kicks in.

This is not a book to read on how to manage the anger of others, particularly your children. Rather, this is a book that will make you deal with your own anger – be it rage, giving the cold shoulder, grumbling or complaining. Time spend in addressing the range of anger that permeates our lives is well worth it, and this book is a recommended addition to resources on the topic.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Clementine Rose

Clementine Rose, Jacqueline Harvey

Clementine Rose was discovered as a baby in a basket of dinner rolls on delivery to Penberthy House with a note attached giving her to Lady Clarissa. Lady Clarissa is delighted and so becomes her mother, and Digby Pertwhistle, the long-serving butler of the home become an older father figure. Lady Clarissa owns the large, rambling old house, which constantly needs repairs, but she manages to stay afloat by using it as a hotel, and by her incredible luck in winning competitions.

Clementine Rose has a lovely sense of style and fashion, and a dear little pet teacup pig, Lavender. She seems prone to accidents and ‘things happening’, and is aged ~ 5, as she starts school for the first time in Book 2.

As the books progress the same characters appear and the storylines develop, as Clementine goes to school, makes friends, and goes on trips. There is also the excitement much later in the series of discovering who Clementine’s real parents are.

This cute little series will probably appeal to numerous girls aged between 6-10, and because there are already 13 books, it will keep keen readers busy for a while. Each book is about 100-150 pages making it a good solid read for younger readers, and a fun yet quick option for the slightly older, more confident reader. I only read Book 1, but Miss 10 has enjoyed them all. She assures me the series stays just as good throughout.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Flying Optometrist

The Flying Optometrist, Joanne Anderton

This charming little book for preschoolers tells the story of the Flying Optometrist, who brings eye care to the people of outback Australia.

Poor Stephanie has broken her glasses and can no longer see properly. Other people nearby are struggling too, Reg can’t see far away anymore and other people need their regular check-ups to ensure their eyes are OK.

Unlike those of us who live in a city or town, Stephanie lives in a remote area and there is no optometrist. What are they to do? Thankfully, the Flying Optometrist is on the way in his little red plane. He only comes twice a year and if the weather is bad, he might get delayed, but when he arrives he spends all day checking people’s eyes and fitting glasses as needed.

He heads back to the city and gets the orders all ready, and Stephanie waits... until her new glasses arrive in the mail a few weeks later. Now she can see and play cricket with her friends again!

It’s accompanied with soft, clear, engaging illustrations by Karen Erasmus. The faces of the people waiting for the optometrist and Stephanie’s broken glasses are clearly portrayed for little ones to grasp, as is the vast remote feel of where Stephanie lives.

It’s a lovely little story made all the more vivid because it’s real. The author’s father is the Flying Optometrist, Phil Anderton, who has built his own little red plane and does travel to remote Australia bringing eye care and optometry services. In fact, the extra sections at the back explaining his work, the work of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service are great extra information for parents to help explain the story to the little ones they read it with. I have a family history with the RFDS and so having a book explain simply to young children both the need for rural healthcare and the way one problem has been creatively solved is fantastic.

While it’s clearly appropriate for every little reader, I’d particularly suggest it for any child that wears glasses (or with family members that do), whether urban or rural. If they live in a city, they’ll be amazed how hard it can be for other kids to get glasses since they walk past a Specsavers or equivalent every time they go grocery shopping. For those who are more rural, they’ll understand there are other kids like them, or some who may have to wait even longer for healthcare than they do!

I’m sure this book will make its way into many libraries, especially in schools and pre-schools, and so it should.  All of us need to be aware of the costs for those who live remotely, and appreciate those who try to bring them the variety of services we so easily take for granted.

I was given a copy of this book by Quikmark Media and asked to write an honest review.