Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

I read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowlings as part of my book club.

As I was reading the book, I was reminded of the TV series, "Days of Our Lives" – a lot of self focused people making bad decisions about relationships, careers and life in general, plus covering a smorgasbord of social issues: neglect, abuse, theft, sabotage, self-harm, rape, suicide, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorders, alcoholism, greed, envy, class distinctions etc.

It was unfortunate that the story was populated with such unlikeable characters. I sensed that Rowlings may have felt she was portraying people realistically, that beneath our pleasant veneers we are all self absorbed. However in the course of reading this book, I happened to attend a local Rotary meeting and I thought to myself none of the people here are in Rowlings' book! Rowlings has taken the unpleasant side of human nature and described it as if it were normal.

As the book progressed and began to focus on five teenagers who were growing up in these dysfunctional families the story became more engrossing. At least, these teenagers had reason for their unpleasant behaviours. Despite the bad language and the way-too-much-detail sex scenes which were off putting, I'm glad that I persisted and finished the book. The concluding tragedy shocked many, but not all, into re-evaluating their priorities so that in the end the book finished with a sense of hope.

Rowlings' skill as a writer is obvious as she weaves together a cast of many and reveals thought-provoking insights into human nature along the way. However the obscenities in the book prevent me from recommending what is otherwise an interesting read.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Devotional Thought : 1 Kings 19:8

So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:8

Horeb is also referred to as Mt. Sinai. The place where God hid Moses in a cave while he passed by. The cave where Elijah spent the night may have been the same cave (v.9). Certainly it was in a similar area. Elijah in his discouragement went back to the foundation of his faith.

Likewise when we are discouraged remembering the past and getting back to basics is a good idea. We can call to mind how we came to a place of faith, the difference God has made in our lives since we started following him and the answers to prayer we have had on our faith journey.

Furthermore we can remind ourselves of the basics of our faith – that God loves us, that he sent his Son to die for us and he has promised us a future inheritance.

We can also remind ourselves that during times of discouragement our perspective becomes distorted. Elijah felt like he was the only one who was still being faithful to God. Yet God tells him there are 7,000 who have not bowed down to Baal (v.18). Since discouragement is not God's intention for us the thoughts we have during these times are usually not accurate. There are times I have to tell myself, "I would not be having these thoughts if I were not so tired and worn out." Sometimes a good sleep is the answer to discouragement.

Other sources of reassurance are worship, meeting with God's people and reading his Word. Worship takes the attention of ourselves and reminds us that God is all we need.

So remember Elijah and be encouraged.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blog Tour : Better Than A Superhero

This blog tour is for the children’s book: Better Than A Superhero by Belinda Francis, illustrated by Kayleen West. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review is here .

21st -25th July 2014

is introducing

(Wombat Books 1 May 2014)


Belinda Francis, illustrated by Kayleen West

About the Book:
Who is better than a superhero? Find out about Jesus as you explore what he did and who he was. And most importantly how Jesus really can be your best friend!

About the Author: Belinda Francis
Award winning journalist turned children's author Belinda Francis worked in newspapers, magazines and electronic media for ten years in South Africa before she and her family immigrated to Queensland.

Shortly after arriving in Australia, her elder son was diagnosed with ASD and she devoted the next few years to his early intervention, which with God's guidance, has paid off miraculously. Her second son, who had been born ten weeks prematurely, is now healthy and strong – evidence of yet another miracle. She and her family recently celebrated the arrival of their third child, a much-prayed for daughter.

While raising her children, Belinda wrote Better than a Superhero, her first published book, and threw herself into the local church and community. She runs the Sunday school program at her church campus.

Belinda is passionate about raising children up in God's kingdom and excited about the ministry opportunities the book will undoubtedly open up.

About the Illustrator: Kayleen West
An award winning artist, her work hangs in private and corporate collections in France, United States, Italy, and the Australian Embassy in Ireland and in government collections in Australia.

Although an initial childhood dream was to write and illustrate for children, Kayleen was encouraged to venture into a career of an exhibiting fine artist and later a graphic designer. Returning to her original passion in 2009, Kayleen is now a published children's Author and Illustrator working on her third children's book and writes Christian content for magazines and blogs.

Kayleen is the author and illustrator of Without Me? (Wombat Books, 2013) and the illustrator of Better than a Superhero (Even Before Publishing, 2014).

For more information: www.kayleenwest.com.au

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review : Better Than A Superhero

This book is being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance this week. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

Better than a superhero by Belinda Francis is a great way of teaching children about Jesus. It covers many aspects of Jesus' character and his mission. It touches on stories from the gospel accounts and gives children a great overview of Jesus' life as well as explaining his kingship. Furthermore the book encourages children to talk to Jesus and have a relationship with him.

I especially like Kayleen West's illustrations of Jesus, as well as coming across as caring, he also looks happy which I think is an important concept in itself. The rest of the illustrations are great too – attractive and appropriate to the text.

An instructive and fun book for young children.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Devotional Thought : 1 Kings 18:21

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 1 Kings 18:21

Was it fear that kept the people quiet? Or was it that they wanted to keep their options open? When Elijah suggested a contest the people said, “What you say is good” (v.24). Perhaps they were wondering if God had forsaken them, or abandon them, and they wanted evidence. Despite their history through Abraham and Moses they wanted their own experience of God's intervention. Whatever their thinking they were reluctant to make a public stand.

This would have been extremely discouraging for Elijah and later he would complain to God that he was the only one still following the Lord. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (19:10, 14).

It is no wonder Elijah felt this way when no one would verbally declare their allegiance to the Lord. And no doubt, Elijah felt lonely in the face of such stiff opposition – "four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah" (v.19).

God responded to Elijah by saying, "I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him" (19:18).

But where were these seven thousand when Elijah needed them?

Where are we when our leaders need us? When they make a stand for righteousness do we support and encourage them? Do we stand with them? Or do we say nothing?

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quote from Lauren Winner's Memoir

I have been reading Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God and I'll write a book review in due course. In the meantime I'd like to share this paragraph which Lauren wrote about the Mitford series of books by Jan Karon. These books were instrumental in her coming to faith:
"They were no great works of literature, just vignettes about the people in Father Tim's parish, stories about ordinary Christians working out ordinary faith in their ordinary lives… They sang hymns I didn't know and prayed from a prayer book I had never opened. And I thought, I want what they have."
Christian Fiction can be subtly powerful because it describes what Christianity looks like, rather than explaining it.

So Christian Fiction Writers be encouraged!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review : Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage with the subtitle, My journey to a deeper faith in the land where Jesus walked, is an autobiographic account of Lynn Austin's trip to Israel. It provides an interesting look at many of the historical sites in this country with Lynn's personal and Biblical comments.

While this was an interesting read, I'd have to say I prefer Lynn's fictional writing. I kept getting the feeling throughout the book that Lynn was keeping something from me. Lynn admits to being an introvert and I suspect she is essentially a private person so I imagine writing the book was particularly challenging for her, though she does not express this.

Early in the book she comments that her three adult children left home within a five month period and she struggled to cope with the change that this brought. Then at regular intervals she mentions her difficulties with the changes that were happening in her life, but I was never sure if she meant her children leaving home or something else. This issue does resolve a little towards the end when she is a little clearer about the effect her children leaving home has had on her but even so, this was not entirely satisfying.

However in spite of this it was a pleasant read and very informative. I am doing a study tour of Israel later this year so the book was helpful in this regard. I also liked the way Lynn included the Biblical accounts and insights which connected to the topography of the area she was visiting.

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