Monday, 30 December 2013

The End

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. 2013 has been a cracker year, and it seems the more people I ask, the more they seem only too happy to wave it goodbye and welcome the bright and shiny newness and promise of 2014.


In the Bible, the number 7 represents perfection. With the next year ending in a 14, you might think we could expect twice that perfection ;) I hope so!

Of all the things that have happened in the life of the Valleys this year, and as much as I would rather times had been easier, there is one thing I do not regret and would not wave goodbye for anything, and that is the ability to persevere in faith. Hard things make you grow, and that makes hardship worth having.

Good things have happened this year as well as some not cool things, and we have witnessed God's amazing goodness in ways we could never have expected - and that blows our socks clean off!

As we prepare to farewell this year and welcome the new one, take the time to pause and reflect not on the bad stuff you wish had never happened, or the losses you faced or the traumas to your life. Take time to select out the good things that have taken place, and write them down. These things that give you pause will also make you smile, and growth like that is worth keeping!

One thing that happened that we did not expect today was to be swimming with a Bronze Whaler shark. There's a story attached, but had the shark chopper that flies our beaches not been where he was only a few minutes before, I or the man swimming near me might have welcomed in the new year minus a limb (if Mr Shark was in a taste-test mood). Instead we had the pleasure of watching one of God's critters effortlessly swim his stretch of coast as his fins broke the surface now and then.

Good fun.

PS~ You can usually find Bronze Whaler on the menu at the fish and chip shop, but don't tell Mr Shark that...

Q: What good thing has happened to you this year that stands out above all else?? Make sure you tell someone about it, and compare notes on the GOOD, not the bad.
 
 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Craptorium

The above title is one I use when referring to the place where things of no lasting worth or value belong. It is a place where crappy things reside, or where they should reside. A category, if you will, of the crappiest sort. A dwelling of rot and rubbish and all things utterly pointless.


I can't remember now why I chose this image.
Maybe it has to do with all the crap left on the earth
that Wall-E was cleaning up all by himself :)


I used to think the Craptorium was a destination reserved for the likes of Volvo 960 wagons, wallets that won't stay shut, copies of Twilight, and hairbrushes that don't brush because the bristles can't stand up to the task. I have discovered it is also a place where books can be found, and I ain't taking about bookshops.

The Craptorium is not altogether real (though friends say there are some that do exist), but the books that can be found in said depository are... well... crappy. They are the kinds of reads that are essentially pointless, meandering, confounding, time-wasting and often (but not always) very badly written. You'll know you're reading a Craptorium book because you'll either give up reading it, throw it across the room, wish you never bought it, or you'll know your nearest three year old can write something better. I knew a dog with a brain the size of a pea, and it could've done a better job.

There is no point in counting the amount of books we've read or started to read, only to find they're disappointing to the max.

My point is that there's a lot of rubbish out there, and it's been published. By real actual publishers. Big name publishers who know what they're dealing with. There is no middle ground: these books bomb, or they succeed. The bottom line is that if you are a writer you should take comfort from this BECAUSE it's a black and white reminder that someone IS doing worse than you, and yet they made it into print. Probably even did some signings. They may not get a second contract based on the performance of the first book, but hey, they got there.

And "there" is where every writer wants to be.

Keep writing, and do aim to stay out of the Craptorium. It'll be good for all of us as well as the forest your pages mow down. These printed offerings give us something to aspire beyond, to learn from, and to appreciate. Authors have given it a go, and for whatever reason, they won. Just remember that if someone doesn't like your work, someone somewhere will.

For every rubbish book there are dozens and dozens of winners, and this is even more encouraging. It's one of the aspects that does inspire us to keep going. No one can tell the story the way you do, so don't stop your dream. Keep going. Persevere, and take heart :)


Q: How much of what makes a book good or bad is a matter of opinion?

 

Monday, 9 December 2013

For Sale

The bookstore I work for is up for sale. I told someone yesterday that the owners made this decision before I came on staff. The person replied, "That's what they tell you". Pretty funny :)


Whether I work there or not is beside the point. What I want to shout out to all people everywhere and not just potential investors, is that books are alive and well! I am astonished at how many people will come in and place book after book on the counter until their stack is a mile high. They do not layby these books, they BUY them straight out. They want them. Desperately.

Their purchase may consist of one or two sale books, but for the most part, they see the new release they've been waiting for and simply have to have it. I get a real kick out of asking them if they've considered e-readers or kindles. Without fail (I tell no lie), they will screw up their noses and recoil at the thought. Ugh. No thank you. In fact, how could you even suggest it?! The response is priceless :)

Interestingly, we do sell e-book vouchers, but more importantly we sell actual books. I am not privy to the figures, but I do work the point of sale (and at the moment it's smokin'). Books will be around for a long while yet, so don't let anyone tell you otherwise - especially not any statistics. If you believed what you read, you'd be led into thinking we spend our days listening to the crickets instead of the eftpos machine.

Seriously.

Books are ALIVE. They do not run out of batteries, they are not cold, and if dropped will survive. So what if they cost more. Big whoopee. Try and convert a book lover to an electronic read and they will throttle you then run a mile. Book lovers are staunch, and they are loyal. They understand that to hold a book is to have an experience. The world is so digital already. Books offer something tangible and real. Something they can pick up at any time.

You want to know the best part? Our sales include the next generation. Kids and teens want actual hardcopies. I personally know kids with e-readers that are gathering dust in favour of a real book. The decision is their own, not inspired or prompted by an adult.

Sigh.

I love my job :)


 
"Books brighten your world.
Even in colour,
e-books are grey."
~a satisfied customer last week.
 
 
"Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read..." Luke 4:16

Jésus se rendit à Nazareth où il avait été élevé et, conformément à son habitude, il entra dans la synagogue le jour du sabbat. Il se leva pour faire la lecture...




Sunday, 8 December 2013

Relax...

After a full-blown intro to the annual summer wedding season I am ready for a break already! Such a relief to farewell another success yesterday, and then to attend one of the weddings I'd assisted with. Phew! Three more months to go and already I feel a day spa visit or a big box of chocolates coming on.

 

I am reminded of God's goodness and His provision at times like these. I swear sometimes it's like I wave my hands over the work that needs to be done, and He does the rest and brings it all together. I'm not kidding. His help to me is very obvious, and I am so thankful (I guess that's the definition of working inside your gift).

What would YOU do if the bride accidentally spurted blood down the front of her dress right before she was supposed to wear it?

1) Grab her hand and tell her not to flick.
2) Calm her.
3) Get her out of the dress.
4) Ignore all instructions for raw silk and plunge it straight into a bucket of cold water.
5) Pray.
6) Watch the blood disappear before your eyes and THANK THE LORD. Again.
7) Iron it, and know that no one else will ever know of this drama.

It makes for a good story, and on that note, it will be a delight to get back to the business of writing. Fact is always more legendary than fiction.

My posts over the next little while may be few and far between (and I'm going to have to file down the long nails or I'm going to have to re-type everything thanks to typos! Pooh!)... But I WILL still be reading new books as well as ones by trusted authors, and I hope to make posts for some of those.

I've read a lot of rubbish recently. I know it's not flattering to say so, and it just isn't 'done' to tell people about these things, but there is some serious rubbish out there. It should give all aspiring authors a great amount of hope. Be assured I will blog about that at some point.

Stick to your guns, and please, WRITE WELL.

Hang in there, and don't let the rush of Christmas sweep you off your feet. Celebrate the Nativity. If you ignore it, there is no Christmas.

Much Aloha.



Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Jésus lui dit: «C’est moi qui suis le chemin, la vérité et la vie. On ne vient au Père qu’en passant par moi.



 
 
 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hot Picks

In the bookshop, I can't tell you how much fun it is to watch the new titles come in, shuffle the shelves, and make room for them - all in time for Christmas. Naturally, the Publishers time it this way. Here are some of the most lovely that I was excited about today...

Ned Kelly

Someone needs to tell this guy to write smaller books. They take up A LOT of shelf space, but are ever so lovely. Think War & Peace by Tolstoy and add 10%. That's how big each of his books are - and people love him for it. This new one has been much anticipated, and in hardcover is ever so lovely to hold. It's like, a foot thick. The last word on dear Ned?

Digger Smith And Australia's Great War

Digger Smith SUCH a great book. The faces on the cover say it all. My workplace has this one on sale, and it'd make a perfect gift for someone inclined toward war history. Beautiful tribute here.

One Summer

Bill Bryson presents us with another cracker, size-wise. I haven't looked at it too deeply yet, but we have a ton of them which indicates they are in demand!! May appeal to Great Gatsby fans... same era and all that ;) Great hardcover with eye-catching presentation.

The Fishing Fleet

I saw The Fishing Fleet today for the first time, and I want one!!! It looks like such a great read and I love that it's steeped in true history :) Wish list!!! Come home with me!!

War Dog

War is in, and if you like dogs, you won't be disappointed.

In fiction, here are a handful of the covers of some top picks by the general public:

Coal Creek   Narrow Road To The Deep North

Mirage: Oregon Files   Solo

The Book Thief   OR   The Book Thief: Film Tie-In Edition

And my own top pick which is still a very hot favourite, with no paperback format anywhere in sight...

Burial Rites

So there you have it. A glimpse into the everyday world of top-pick books.



 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Return to Sender

Yes, it's a case of that old Elvis song when it comes to so many books on the shelves. As an author-come-bookseller, it's an eye-opening experience to work on the flip side of my great interest and love, books.
 


My boss says she used to have the desire to write a book. After ten years in the industry, this desire has passed. I've only been doing this a month and a half, but I can really see her point. A new release has its five seconds of fame on the top shelf or its proud spot in pole position by the door, then it is ousted in favour of even newer releases. The ones who remain are established writers, major prize-winners, and those with brilliant write-ups or word of mouth.

You get a stunning cover and a nice trade paperback to present yourself to buyers who do not know you. At best, you can expect anywhere from 2-8 weeks with a 'face out' (the cover facing outward to potential buyers), then it's spines for one and all.

Bittersweet

If you've been on the shelf for 6 months or longer, you'll vie for attention as you disappear amid the many others - if you're lucky. If you're there any longer than six months, there's a strong chance you'll be returned to the sender from whence you came in order to make room for books that ARE selling. If you go unnoticed further still, you may go on sale - and remain in the sale bin til at last you are purchased by a bargain hunter who has a budget of $15 to spend on three books (that's five bucks a piece).

Conversely, if you ARE selling, you may remain in trade paperback format for several months before moving to smaller paperback format. If your sales were great, you'll stay there for a while, provided you do keep moving off the shelves and into the bags of customers who decided they liked your story. If your sales were outstanding, you may be privileged to get another print run or even offered a special edition hard back.

Phew.

What amazes me is how big names (I mean HUGE names) can write the most crass and terrible work, and get the sales because someone who mattered said they were good. I am amazed at how winning a major prize will summon the attention of readers EVERYWHERE who religiously buy because notoriety has been won by accolade, and yet this suddenly acclaimed work will never appeal to so many purely because it's not their cup of tea.

Biggles Delivers the Goods

There are books I have read and loved only to watch them fade into obscurity, whilst others I have seen in the $5 bin, hiding out there as 'sleepers'. These books have been through the format wringer and not survived. They are sold dirt cheap, then one day resurrect into massive fame and fortune and perhaps even win movie rights. I feel sad for the sleepers - these underrated babies of literary goodness.

It's a harsh world out there, writers. Write to shine, lest you sleep forever. You simply must stand out.

No wonder publishers look for only the best of the best of the best. Get acquainted with what is out there. Find out what gets attention, and select the best qualities of these works to consider. Look at your own work. Have someone read it. If it doesn't have any hook, start again.

Richard Flanagan of The Narrow Road to the Deep North re-wrote his work 10 times before settling on the newly published version. It has paid off, and people are asking for it. We had to get more in to supply demand. Why? Read it and see for yourself... if you like the sound of it ;)



Another book that has just hit the shelves in large numbers (which I won't mention here ;) is sensationalism. It will sell because the author wrote something utterly shocking the first time round, and this walk around the park is made to be even more sensationalist that the first time. People will read it purely because the first one made such waves.

Current movers and shakers are these:
a)  Coal Creek by Alex Miller  (I will read this soon)
b)  Eyrie by Tim Winton  (I will not read this)
c)  The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton  (sounds interesting)
d)  Burial Rites by Hannah Kent  (I loved this)
e)  The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths (Bwahahaha!!!! All kids should collect these)
f)  The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks  (It'll probably be a movie)
g)  Vicious Circle by Wilbur Smith  (Guaranteed never to bomb)

Among others, there are storylines so done that I can't stand to pick up another book along the same lines, and yet people clamber to read the same twists over and over again because the author writes it so well (Linda Chaikin, there's a gap for more solid pirate stories if you're so inclined).

Are you learning anything from this? It's a big, tough, nasty, amazing publishing world out there. Have no illusions. Be ruthless and make your writing stunning to all who cast their eye upon it. If you end up in the $5 bin, you cannot rely on being a sleeper. You may just be deceased.


 "What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1v9

 
 
Ce qui a existé, c'est ce qui existera, et ce qui s'est fait, c'est ce qui se fera. Il n'y a rien de nouveau sous le soleil.
 
 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Perfect North by Jenny Bond ~ a review

This book is so unassuming it could easily slide under the radar of the entire book world. I am telling you now not to miss it. Man, I feel so privileged to be in the new position of being able to read such  good quality books! (you know I won't necessarily tell you about the bad ones)




Watch for this book, and when you see it, pick it up. You can read the back page blurb here.

Where to start? I love a well-researched book steeped in history, where the author clearly knows his or her stuff. The actual letters and journal entries that open each chapter truly add to the feelings of melancholy, excitement and bittersweetness that make this story so hard to put down. I turned each page itching to be back in the mind of certain characters, and each foray was satisfying. Just. That's what kept the pages turning.

We all have something we wish we could reverse, a situation or five we wish we could change. When faced with the same decisions these characters face, people generally don't tend to recognise how it could send their life in a different direction so powerfully. That these characters lived last century sees that their decisions are all the harder to make.

Do you do what you do to save face? Out of integrity? From concern for others? Or are all your reasons selfish? Probably they are a combination. This book has people with all of these motives and then some, and the journey taken is picturesque in all kinds of ways. Not only is the visual imagery very stunning, but the emotions can be seen just as clearly and their persuasion makes for many gripping moments.

Yes, it is heartbreaking, but in all the right ways. And it is so very heart-warming, too.

It's hard to say who my favourite character was because I associated with each of them on some level. Possibly my favourite was Erik. His level of self-control is amazing and this is something to admire and value as the story moves on. I also really like Stubbendorff and the personal revelation he receives from Anna toward the end. How stunning!

Certain lies and untruths add to the story's richness, and it is impossible to keep from wondering how much of life can be like this - the lies other people tell and the ones we tell ourselves which hold us bound and run the show during mental absence thanks to guilt or regret. Then of course there is the question of fate versus Providence versus science. Can the three be agreed in the minds of these characters?

Perfect North is beautifully told, and I picked it up after being informed it would appeal to those who liked Burial Rites. There are atmospheric similarities, particularly in the fact that some things can most certainly not be undone and must therefore be lived with and each situation made the most of.

I loved this book, and it is a privilege to read such great quality work. I'm looking forward to Jenny Bond's next book, The President's Lunch. What will it be like??? :)

Inspired by The Ice Balloon.



"Better is open rebuke, than hidden love." Proverbs 27v5

Mieux vaut reprendre ouvertement quelqu'un,
que se taire par amitié.

 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan ~ a review

Last night I finished reading one of the most amazing stories I have picked up this year, The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan. I'm a sucker for a bittersweet tale. When the world wakes up, it will realise we all are ;)

  
 
(Aussie covers above, & slightly less attractive US cover, below)


  


We do still judge a book by it's cover whether we are told to or not. I find the first two covers much closer to the heart of the story, so don't let the third one fool you. I might never have picked it up if it looked like this on the shelf I saw first last week. Sorry.

You can read the back page blurb as highlighted in the link above, or here.

Reviews for this book have been fiercely good, and no wonder when a certain yummy film studio has latched onto it. It is THAT good. I love a good time-travel sort of story, and especially the ones where separation from family and all that is held dear are things impossible to be reunited with.

From the very first pages (in fact from the back page blurb alone) I was hooked. Deep water is straight up my alley. Harvesting samples and digging for lost things almost sent me into a wholly different career path back when I was 12. Finding human remains has always fascinated me - probably because it proves our mortality and lack of control over life. In The Curiosity, this lack of control over life is made perfectly clear when the key character and POI is 'reanimated', or brought back to life after being found flash frozen in hard ice. This is how the book opens, with a crew sailing to search for samples in said ice, or more accurately, icebergs.

I cannot believe this book is a debut novel. But wait, maybe I can. The quality and flow are so good that it can only be a breakthrough novel. Kiernan tugs effortlessly at the heartstrings while pushing blatant human selfishness to its enth degree. Loneliness and loss are tangible, inescapable elements you find yourself needing to indulge in completely in order to associate with the key character (Jeremiah), who awakes courtesy of science (and the warm touch of Dr. Philo), only to find himself lost to everything he knew and lived but very prepared to make the most of his second life for the good of mankind.

Possibly the greatest penny drop moment for me is when Jeremiah is interviewed on live television by two talk-show hosts, one of whom asks what he thinks of their modern day world. Jeremiah openly replies that he finds it quite vulgar, among other things. Nothing could be more true, and I had been waiting for him to say as much.

This read is an experience. It is so full of awareness and beauty and amazing moments that I find it virtually impossible to categorise or explain with so few words. It is poignant, ugly, and unexpected. It is vivid. It is a journey.

While religious naysayers have their part in the book (as stereotypically they do seem to do in many novels), and while Jeremiah's view is obviously based in the scriptural contexts of his day, two things struck me as they will other readers from a Christian-based background. Technically these scientists are not playing God, because only God can return a soul. Man can make a human breathe; this is life support. Only God can make a spirit return. I guess fundamentalists in some places forget these things and in stories like this it makes for a more interesting read ;)

The other thing that came to mind is the verse in Genesis right before God splits the people of the globe into various nationalities at the Tower of Babel. Man was in the process of building a tower to reach the heavens, and making a very fair go of it. God saw, and knew their heart and motive. Effectively He said, "If we don't separate these guys now, nothing they imagine to do will be impossible for them." He was so right.

The insights into the characters in this book are so real. We all know people who fit their descriptions on some level, and the shift from head to head is easy to follow. It's a well-paced, masterfully thought out work of art. I also secretly love that the one thing Jeremiah decided to give into never happened. I love that his loyalty was preserved in this way because it was so much sweeter somehow. I love his thought process. I love his nature. I truly love the way his heart always returns to his wife and daughter. Love it, love it.

Yes, there is some language, part of which is used to enhance the theme of the book and the experiences of 'Subject One' during his days walking modern Boston a century after his death. The moving moments of going through reanimation, the freezing cold dive scenes, the rowing out to sea, the running from the press... it's all so real in the mind's eye (no wonder Fox wants it).

Hm.

Much food for thought, and much to be appreciated, remembered, enjoyed and pondered long after the book has closed.

Imagine the loss.

Imagine my surprise.

Imagine what it would be like, indeed.

Wow. I'm going to have to read this again someday. I'm intrigued to see what Stephen Kiernan brings forth next.


Nothing will be impossible for them...

God knew it first.


L'Eternel descendit du ciel pour voir la ville et la tour que les hommes construisaient.
Alors il dit: ---Voici qu'ils forment un seul peuple parlant tous la même langue, et c'est là ce qu'ils ont entrepris de faire! Et maintenant, quels que soient les projets qu'ils concevront, rien ne les empêchera de les réaliser.


How many covers can one book have in the same year of release?
 
   

Monday, 23 September 2013

Who???

One thing dawned on me pretty quick on my first day in the new job I have as a Bookseller, and it's only because I am so well acquainted with what I love that I realised this.


Only Christians read Christians. Inspirational Fiction authors, the world is not reading you.

I have yet to learn all about the myriad of amazing authors out there (and I already know a stack of them). However my knowledge of the Inspirational genre may yet prove helpful to my employer. As I was learning how to order a book, my colleague showed me the slip of paper with the ISBN of the book requested by our local library.

Terri Blackstock! I know that name very well!

I might as well have been an alien spouting a foreign language when I spoke of what kind of stories she writes. The book was not on their system and they had to go to another website to track down the distributor for the book. Pfft. I could have just sent them to Koorong and they'd have had it in a flash. Of course I know this. I am well-practised (and have the bulging bookshelves and pile of invoices to prove it).

But Terri Blackstock wasn't the only author they'd never heard of. Names as big as it gets rang no bells. Authors with as many as thirty books up their Inspirational sleeves meant nothing.

Are you sad?

You should be. I was. Read between the lines and tell me what this proves to you.

What's hot right now in the world we're supposed to be reaching?

Paranormals/Supernaturals

YA adventure.

YA mythology/bloodsuckers (no thanks to Twilight).

Magic.

Sex (50 shades worse).

People are searching. Maybe God is too simple, too original. They want the packaging of the world.

Or do they?

Please, make whatever you write something RELEVANT to the people of the world. Christians are officially obese. Yes, it is important to build up the body, but to what extent? I love that I was raised on such amazing and beautiful fiction, but is this where the rubber meets the road?

Somebody help me out here. I'm struggling with this.


 

My New Life

It goes like this: I am officially classed as a bookseller. In a lovely turn of events I find myself working in one of our nation's leading bookshop franchises, being taught wholeheartedly the ropes of the industry and loving it. (My feet are almost in agreement with me)...
 
 

It is a huge blessing, and adds to the new season the life of the Valleys has taken. God amazes me in the way He works behind the scenes on our behalf, and I am feeling very blessed.

Last week as I walked the aisles perusing, dusting my new babies, investigating all sorts of things between all kinds of covers, I reflected on the amount of books out there that are not going to do anyone any good. By that I mean no eternal good. I became acutely aware that while Christians require some entertaining, we do have our heads in the sand more than a little bit. We're fat on what we love, while literal rubbish is as equally as copiously available to those who do not love what we love, and never will.

As a reader/writer/critic, it challenged me about my own output and what that might look like in the future. If you fall into the writer category, for heaven's sake, make whatever you write COUNT for all eternity. Life is short, and the days will be shortened for the sake of the elect. Don't get too distracted as you enjoy yourself.

I am finding this very interesting and how this new work is shaping my opinions and beliefs. I pray it is God alone Who moulds me as I venture farther into the world and I am in it, but not of it.

What does your faith look like to you?

What does it look like to others?

Are you slipping under the radar, adding to the many available distractions, or are you effective?

 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Point of conflict

Check out these pictures. Stop and consider how they make you feel. Give each one an answer in your own mind:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"Peace"
 
 
 
 
 
What gets your goat? What makes you sit up and pay attention? What matters most to you? This is your passion, and the thing that makes life worth the pursuit.
 
Do not ignore it.
 
Make a difference for Eternal worth and value.
 
 
 
 
 

Ember Island ~ a review

This is the first Kimberly Freeman book I have read. It has set a standard that some of the subsequent books I've been given to review have failed to live up to, and the story positively captured me from beginning to end.

You can read the back page blurb here.



How I love Australian history. Our story is not in the buildings, wars or events, but in the people who made the country and provided our heritage. Ember Island portrays this truth in a touching and vivid way. Set between past and present, it is clear this story is character driven and this makes it impossible to put down.

I have to say how much I loved the sections set in the past and am glad much of the page time is spent there. The present day scenes are entertaining and hold life lessons we can learn from. The best thing about this book is that it is refreshing, and it is different. Some people aren't bothered by reading the same old stuff. Personally I latch onto anything that isn't a stereotype.

Tilly's journey becomes heart-wrenching very quickly. It is easy to feel for her, and the closeness she yearns for makes her humanity so tangible. The treatment she receives following the death of her Grandfather spurs her onward until she reaches a point where she will stop for no one. The temper she has been strenuously instructed to keep under wraps is a cauldron on the boil while she struggles against her better sense to do things 'right' in the proper ways expected of a Victorian lady. Yet her circumstances are anything but proper.

The palpable atmosphere Tilly endures and searches out creates a stunning backdrop as the plot unfolds, and makes this book a real standout amongst recent others I have read (or failed to read because of what they lacked). Her naivety is endearing as well as scary, until at last the results of her actions reach dramatic and terrifying heights and she becomes a woman entrapped by her lies.

Rocket forward most gently and seamlessly to the present day where Nina is living in a self-made tangled web. Her arrival at Starwater House is fuelled more by escape than the need to make sure all is well following a sizeable storm that has wracked her heritage home on the island. Nina's path of discovery to personal and professional truth is led with help from her handyman, Joe, and her best friend, Stacy.

In between these two women is Nell, a precocious young lady on the verge of womanhood when she meets Tilly, and the very late grandmother to Nina. Much of the story is conveyed through Nell, and she is an outright pleasure to traverse the pages with. Her father's gentleness and love are conveyed so beautifully, and their relationship really is something special.

Clergy generally cop a hammering in modern secular books, and in fairness, not all of church history is worthy of a glowing report. Here, the experiences the characters have with faith are varied, and it prevails that while not everyone is deserving of grace, those who are given it will take advantage of it for better or for worse. If the despairing soul can take hold of it with both hands and drinks deeply of its salvation, promise lies right around the corner.

Human nature can always be relied upon for so many things, not the least of which here is the need for trust, the desire for companionship, and the brutality of emotions given full vent. I will give nothing more away. Ember Island is a book that will stay with me for a long while yet. The clarity and light of the story should not be missed.

My sincere thanks also to Kimberly Freeman for such a lovely glimpse into our history, and in doing it justice with this poignant telling.





 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Burial Rites ~ Hannah Kent

After hearing an interview on the radio about this book, I needed to invest in it and find out for myself what all the fuss is about. And there is much fuss. Whether or not it is wholly true, it was said during this interview that Hannah Kent was a student when she wrote Burial Rites as part of achieving her degree, and the MS was so good she was encouraged to write further and incorporate subplots involving the family more. The Christian faith aspect of this book also raised some serious interest...

You can read the back page blurb here.



My favourite character in this book is definitely the condemned, and for all kinds of reasons. As Agnes' story unfolded I found myself at times overwhelmed with compassion, and it was impossible to keep from relating her story to similar stories today. There is little doubt that if she were to undergo the same trial by post-modern standards, her situation would be different.

To my mind, the biggest issue in this book is bias. How do we treat people? How do we accept them based on what they do, did, or have not done? Do we respond to a cry for help (however it may be voiced), or is there no cry at all? It's a very intelligent and intellectual read and I finally find myself falling prey to the 'literary-vs-entertainment' argument. This book is both.

Agnes faces deeper issues that in 1829 received far less understanding. Her situation is precarious, and as injustice begins to surface, hope for her existence dims.

The people of Iceland are steeped in Christian traditions but it seems to be ritualistic rather than relational. It provides an interesting background upon which to set the story. Superstitions and dreams play a huge part in the behaviour and beliefs of these people.
 
Tóti is the novice assistant reverend charged with redeeming Agnes' soul before her execution, and it quickly becomes apparent that clichés and platitudes are not going to cut it with her. He must approach her differently, and his feelings of inadequacy are easy to connect with. Tóti prays for wisdom with as much earnest as though he were the condemned, such is the burden upon his heart for Agnes.

Finally Tóti makes progress but this comes at a personal cost. Now that Agnes has begun to relate her story to him, he disappears from the radar without explanation. Apart from feeling abandoned, she is left with nothing else but to relate to the family with whom she will spend the remainder of her days. It is in this process that the Jónssons find it within their character to not only listen to her, but warm to her and invite her into their hearts. In disgust, fear, and embarrassment they have staunchly held her beyond arm’s length, and this opening leads to their undoing in a powerful way.

The other characters that fill this unforgiving landscape will have you tearing your hair out with frustration as well as smiling with knowing. Every aspect is powerful and scarcely a word is wasted, right up to the ending where hope is against itself. It will stay with you for a long time, and hopefully it will open your mind to grace more than anything else.

It’s a very powerful, provocative read that should be experienced rather than pontificated about, as you will need to make up your own mind. I did enjoy it and all it made me consider, and I think more than anything that is why this book came about. And for me, Tóti is a fresh example of what people of faith can do and be once they die to themselves and take up their cross to follow the call of God's grace.

It will be interesting to see if more comes from Hannah Kent, as she has made quite a standard for herself to follow. 



"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..." Ephesians 2v8

En effet, c'est par la grâce que vous êtes sauvés, par le moyen de la foi. Et cela ne vient pas de vous, c'est le don de Dieu.
 

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Outcasts - a review

Recently I have been privileged to read and review several proof copies of books before they hit the shelves and as they are released. I spin a blurb for the booksellers and usually hand the books back. If I count the ones I read worth a mention, I will do so here, and since I am a Christian reading secular works, will absolutely tell you if there is anything unedifying. It also needs to be said that late changes may sometimes be made to these copies, and therefore some reviews may not be wholly accurate...



First up, The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent. You can read the back page blurb here and you should be able to find more on this one as it is released.

The Outcasts is an intriguing read with characters that genuinely surprise with their antics. You do not need to be a die-hard fan of westerns to become engrossed in this book with its unpredictable plot and sub-plots twisting ever so carefully (the unexpected ending gives a final hefty punch). The key characters bring to life the alarming facets of the wild west, and you can put nothing past them. There is nothing kitsch about this one.






This is the first of Kathleen Kent's books I have read and what a wild ride it was. From the outset I had no idea of what to expect, other than the usual bit of gun-slinging and horse rides through dusty terrain. Such is my experience with westerns thus far. The Outcasts gave so much more than that, and I can only describe the trip as exciting. The characters are fleshed out wonderfully and with a real sincerity more authors could take the time to employ.

Nate Cannon is a newly sworn-in Texas policeman, unsullied by the perils and trials of his new line of work. He strikes me as something of an idealist who quickly comes face to face with the harsh realities of the path he has chosen. As he goes in search of a very wanted serial killer he leaves his wife and child to pursue the hunt with new acquaintances Maynard and Dr. Tom. These two have a friendship that surpasses time, and Nate becomes privy to the friendship's intimate workings as the pages turn.

The biggest question of all is why Maynard and Dr. Tom need to track down William McGill, and who is working with him. Nate slowly gleans the information he needs whilst trying to figure out the two men.

Lucinda is on a quest to find both the man she loves and a fabled pirate treasure left buried long ago somewhere in the Middle Bayou. Her escape from Mrs. Landry's bordello has you holding your breath from the start. Though no escapee ever wants to be found out, her departure is made more perilous by an uncontrollable ailment Lucinda does her utmost to hide. Her tactics quickly gain respect and it obvious pretty early on that she is one shrewd woman.

The mystery is whether or not we should feel sorry for her, or if she deserves whatever she gets. I guarantee you'll be changing your mind back and forth as you work through the pages of this gritty and involving read. The heat cranks up when all their paths cross.

It has to be said that there are a few unnecessary pages here, as toward the end there are things described that do not need to be, and could have sufficed with a few choice words. For example, Lucinda realises she has fallen much farther than she ever thought possible and the things she has done and had done to her make her feel pretty awful. I feel it could have been left at this remark (which the author does make), rather than filling paragraphs and pages with descriptions of what these things were. I had the picture well enough and skipped these portions til the story truly kicked back in again.

Seriously, we get the picture and there is no need to paint it. These sections were easy to spot and for me, I find them a removal from the story rather than something that adds to its beauty or richness. The story is already so gritty that there is no need to out-do it with an over the top climax. It was brilliant enough.

As I said, westerns are not usually my choice (because of the clichés) but I did enjoy this one and will reflect on it for some time to come. There is a reality about it that refuses to be ignored, and the characters really do make the pages turn with their relentlessness, selflessness, and greed.

Read with a grain of salt or don't read at all. I'd keep it in my collection if not for those unnecessary parts, because one day my kids will pick up these books and tv already explains quite enough.



"The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." Genesis 6v5

L'Eternel vit que les hommes commettaient beaucoup de mal sur la terre et que toutes les pensées de leur cœur se portaient constamment et uniquement vers le mal.

 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Charlies ~ a recipe

In light of the saddest weekend we've had in a while, last night I created a recipe in memory of a very cool pet. If you don't like coconut, I'm sure you could substitute that ingredient for something else. Our little companion was a two-tone softie. These biscuits turn out very crunchy yet have two colours. The recipe makes about 30-40 depending on how big you roll a ball.

Enjoy. We have been. And of course they are best eaten hot...




Charlies  <--- yes, this is a link

~ two-tone biscuits of white coconut & orange apricot bits!~

 

125g (4oz) butter

1 cup raw castor sugar

1 egg

2 cups Self-Raising flour

pinch salt

1 cup coconut

125g diced dried apricots bits (&/or diced dried pineapple bits)

extra sugar*

Method:

Cream butter and sugar, beat in egg, add sifted flour, salt, coconut and apricot bits.

Roll into balls and press flat between the hands. Dip top side in extra sugar*.

Place onto greased oven trays or on greased baking paper, sugar side up. Allow for spreading. Bake in moderately hot over (190°C) for 10-12min.

Cool on trays or slide onto rack to cool.

Makes about 40.

*optional


PS~ we are officially looking for a new fluffy friend but waiting for the right one to come along :)

                                                                               
 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Heart's in for the long haul

We were of the belief we would have her for a long while yet, but on the weekend our adorable orange butterfly lop CB left due to GI Stasis. It's a nasty condition rabbits can get that leaves them limp and lame very quickly - if you don't recognise the warning signs in time. CB was our first bunny, so we didn't know what to look for - and even if we did, the signs were actually so slight that we may not have noticed in time.



It's not nice to nurse a helpless bundle until the very end, especially when you know it could have been prevented... somehow, surely. It's not fun to embrace your grieving child or have her say, I just want her back, when you do, too. It's terrible to have the deep brown eyes of a pet in discomfort looking at you as you try to ease it, but nothing helps.

So, we have hearts to mend and two small baby bunnies to care for that CB left behind. One of them gave me a big licking session this afternoon, and if you know anything about bunnies, this is the biggest compliment and sign of affection a bunny can ever give and an enormous display of their trust. It blessed my grieving heart, and I could hardly wait to tell my eldest Valley about it, since CB technically belonged to her.

I can't get over the sudden nature of this loss, or how much CB's little presence had ingrained itself into our existence so soon. She never made a sound, except to listening ears...

Now she makes no sound at all, except in our hearts, from where she cannot be taken away.

Enjoy every experience as though it were new and fresh. Don't treat it like it will happen again. It may not.



 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay.   Psalm 70v5


 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

iPad brilliance, iHuman dominance

The technology available at our fingertips is truly an amazing feat. The development of things like touchpad tech has revolutionised, well, pretty much everything. Can you imagine what someone from one hundred years ago would think of our modern life if we were to bring them forward to experience what they could never have dreamed?
I hope not.
 
 

Take, for example, the iPad. My little Valleys especially think this invention is pretty clever, but even they can recognise Apple's greatness is limited. You heard it here first many moons ago, I am a self-confessed Luddite and anti-Apple, big-brother conspiracy theorist, so it comes as no surprise I enjoyed my oldest Valley's discovery.

The iPad has a voice-activated feature called Siri (nice name, if I may say so), which my kids employ for their own amusement as the feature (I dare not call it 'she') has some trouble understanding our words. Perhaps we should speak to it in a more southern Californian tone? Who knows. Siri gives the kids a laugh, but this one made me laugh:

Elder Valley Girl: "Are you an iPad?"

Siri: I'm sorry I don't know what that means.

EVG: Are you an iPad?

Siri: No comment. If you like, I can search the web.

EVG: You're an iPad. You should know that!

Siri: If you insist.


Yesss... I wonder what the Edwardians would think of our technology :) I wonder if they would maintain that some things are still better off done by human hands?

Q: What's the funniest glitch you've ever had? - or did your frustration at lack of cooperation win out? ;)


The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.' Genesis 11v6

et il dit: Les voici qui forment un seul peuple et ont tous une même langue, et voilà ce qu'ils ont entrepris! Maintenant, rien ne les retiendra de faire tout ce qu'ils ont projeté.