Tag Archives: reviews

Disney Readalong Wrap Up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about taking part in the Disney Readalong from 6th-12thMay. There were five challenges:

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I allowed myself to extend the challenge into Sunday 13thMay, as most of the Saturday evening was taken up with the Eurovision Song Contest. Work was really busy that week as well, meaning I didn’t get as much time for reading as I would have liked due to being super tired when I got home each evening. But I did complete three of the prompts!

 

1) Frozen – a book set in winter: I read Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf. This book was brilliant if a little hard to follow when reading in a tired state of mind. It felt like it was semi-autobiographical, I’m not sure if it was or not. The book follows Alicia as she navigates adulthood with divorced parents and an autistic sibling – the eponymous brother, whom she feels is trapped as if in an ice block – and tries to make her way both in work and relationships. This narrative is interspersed with research into polar exploration, anecdotes about successful and unsuccessful attempts to reach the North and South poles and related scientific discoveries. These are woven into the storyline so Alicia’s story as she applies her research to her own life. I really enjoyed this book, I’ve never read anything else like it. I will definitely be rereading it when I am more awake so I can take more in and appreciate the writing more.

 

3) Aurora’s Dress – a book with pink and blue on the cover: I read The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley. I am a big fan of the webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, the accompanying novel, last year. I loved this spin-off/sequel which follows Lydia as she tries to recover from the fallout of the scandal that occurred during Lizzie’s vlog series (it is a bit different from the Pride and Prejudice storyline as it is modernised so I won’t give away any spoilers). One of my favourite things about the series is the exploration of the relationship between the sisters. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, Lydia in the book feels like a plot device used to bring Lizzy and Darcy together, and is quite caricatured. In the webseries and accompanying novels, Lydia is very much her own character, with agency and real, deep emotions. It was great to catch up with these characters again and get a glimpse of what comes next in their stories.

 

5) Cinderella – read the Grimm fairytale and watch the Disney movie. I used to watch this film in French all the time so it felt weird that I opted to watch it in English this time. I had forgotten how sappy and instalove-y the film is, but it has good music and I love the little animal creatures (especially Lucifer the cat who is one of the better Disney villains). I was surprised how different the fairytale is, there are three balls for one thing. I’m looking forward to reading more of the Grimm fairytales as I only recognise a few of the titles.

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So that was my first prompted readathon! I enjoyed the experience but will maybe check out my work schedule before taking part in another one.

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Film Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Way back in May last year my church hosted the excellent Dr Elaine Storkey, who gave a talk about Film and Theology (one of my favourite topics). There were several films she talked about during the course of the evening that I have been meaning to check out, and I finally got around to getting a copy of one of them…!

Lars and the Real Girl is a quirky romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling. To be fair, the concept is quite odd, but please don’t let that put you off as it is executed BEAUTIFULLY.

Lars (Gosling) is a socially awkward 20-something from a small town. His brother and sister-in-law try to encourage him to be more outgoing but he has some quite deep-seated issues to work through. One day, to their delight, he announces that his new girlfriend, Bianca, whom he met online, has come to visit. They soon discover that Bianca is actually a lifesize doll. Lars, however, is convinced she is a real person, and his doctor requests that his family play along with his delusion to help him work through his mental illness and social anxiety. Gradually, as Lars’ family, friends and colleagues come to accept Bianca, she takes on a life of her own, and Lars learns what it means to be part of a truly caring community.

I don’t know if I would have watched this film if I hadn’t already seen a few clips from it, because the central idea of a man treating a lifesize doll as his girlfriend to me sounds a bit creepy… But it works, and that is down to the quality of the writing and acting, especially Ryan Gosling as Lars. I entirely believed in Lars’ innocence and naiveté. To him, Bianca is a real person whom he truly loves. Moreover, it is the acceptance of the community in which he lives of Bianca and his love for her that makes the film so beautiful. To me, the film is a powerful lesson in how we should treat people with mental illness – with compassion and understanding. There are some very funny moments and some truly heartbreaking ones, as Lars works through his problems with the help of those around him.

One of the criticisms I’ve read of this film is that it is unrealistic – that no community would be as utterly supportive of someone with such a visible delusion as Lars has. But maybe that’s the point of the film. Maybe we should all be aspiring to be as compassionate as Lars’ community, so that people who are different (for whatever reason) feel accepted as they are, and feel safe enough to work through their issues.

All in all, I really loved this film. It is definitely one I will rewatch and I think it will be counted among my favourites. I know it’s not for everyone as it is a bit odd, but if you like quirky and beautifully made films that make you feel better about humanity, this is one for you.

Book Review: Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow

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I picked up this book based on the review of another blogger. When I ordered the book I was impatiently and anxiously awaiting my dissertation results – waiting isn’t something I’m very good at. Although by the time I started the book I had received my results, I still found myself in a sort of limbo. I had spent the last three years of my life working towards this big goal of getting my Masters, and when it was all over I felt a little bit lost. I’m still figuring out what I want to do next – I kind of have an idea but I’m not really sure how to get there – so I am still waiting on God, His timing and his answers to my questions. All of which to say, this book came at exactly the right time for me.

I started reading in the middle of November, and was soon overtaken by the season of Advent, which was perfect as Advent is all about waiting. Although you can read this book at any time of year, it is set out for daily reading through the Advent season, and has an appendix at the end for group study.

The book retells the stories of four Bible characters from their own perspective. These are based around the four Advent candles (one version of this) – the first section is Sarah (wife of Abraham) representing the Patriarchs; the second is Isaiah, for the prophets; the third is John the Baptist and the fourth Mary. Each section is broken down into five chapters, and at the end of each the biblical reference is given to provide the context for the story. There are also questions for reflection. The final (sixth) chapter of each section gives more questions and also a couple of creative reflection activities. There are also prayers and Benedictions, and suggestions for music to listen to, to help you reflect further on the story. Some of these activities are included in the Group Study guide in the final appendix. The first appendix also gives theological and historical context in which Marlow explains some of the narrative choices she has made.

I really needed and loved this book. Marlow’s prose is beautiful, and really brought the characters to life in a new way for me. I loved Sarah’s story, mainly because I spent a good part of the summer reflecting on her story from Hagar’s perspective and it was helpful for me to be reminded of how much of a victim Sarah is as well (Abraham was not a great husband, really. It’s also good to be reminded of just how flawed our biblical heroes really were, and how greatly God used them in spite of their serious flaws. Gives me hope!) But I think my favourite section was Isaiah’s story, as I have rarely thought of Isaiah the person. There are so many memorable and powerful prophecies in the book of Isaiah that I have never really thought about how it would have felt for Isaiah as an ordinary man, to speak these amazing words from God but yet not see their fulfilment. I found the prayers and creative reflections to be useful tools for working through some of my own issues. I only flicked through the group study section, but will be recommending the book to my homegroup for next Advent.

I said at the start that I am not very good at waiting. This book highlights that waiting is not easy and it is often painful, but that it is worth it and that God is in it – He is working even when we can’t see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is waiting on God to fulfil His promises, whether large or small. I certainly will reread it many times as I think it is a lesson I will need to keep learning.

One song was going through my head much of the time I was reading this book, as it ties in so closely with the theme. It has become one of my favourites of the last year. I hope it speaks to you too.

#30by30 number 30.2 – join a book club

This item didn’t make it onto my original list because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make time to fit it in. But with the wonders of modern technology I have found a lovely online bookish community (which counts, as far as I’m concerned). And I fear that a couple of my other tasks may not be quite achievable so adding extras will hopefully cover the ones that get missed…

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I came across a blog talking about ninjabookbox late last autumn – it originated in a Kickstarter campaign which I was immediately gutted I had missed out on. Ninjabookbox is a book subscription service – every quarter subscribers receive an independently published book and a number of related gifts – the amount of gifts vary depending on your level of subscription. I was intrigued by the idea and so I signed up for the mailing list. Shortly before each box goes on sale its theme is announced, so as soon as I heard that the next box was ‘A Shakespearean mystery’ I couldn’t resist ordering the mini box (the book and one gift), you know, just to see. I was so enamoured when I received it that it wasn’t long before I signed up for a recurring mini box subscription. I also found out that there were a few of the original box left, so I quickly got myself one of those too…

So I have now received three of the quarterly boxes and have loved all three books – my first was The Bookman’s Tale, the Shakespearean mystery in which an antiquarian bookseller is launched into a complex tale of bribery, forgery, and danger when he comes a cross a Victorian watercolour which looks exactly like his late wife. The first book (and the second one I received) was Star Shot – an instant winner with me because it is set in my favourite city of them all, Cardiff. The story is a bit surreal, and follows various characters who stories beautifully overlap as they try to make sense of a web of silence that slowly seems to be seeping across the city. The third box came in May and I just finished the book this weekend – Dragon’s Green – a fantasy novel for children in which the main characters find their hidden strengths and learn the power of friendship, bravery and books. I also gave into temptation and bought the summer special box – A Grand Adventure – which contained three books, and I have just started the first of these.

 

Part of the idea of the boxes is that there will be a chance to discuss the books with other subscribers, this has yet to find its best format, but I’m already enjoying the engagement with other readers I have found through the forum on the website and on twitter. And its not just about the books in the boxes, for our Summer Reading Challenge we have each picked our own books to read over the summer and encouragements and recommendations have abounded.

My two favourite things about the ninjabookbox are:

  • The books – I have loved each of them so far and they are not books I would have found on my own.
  • The charms – each book comes with a small charm (like for a bracelet) which is linked in some way to the book. For some the link is obvious (the Shakespeare book was a quill) but for others it is only in reading the book that the link becomes clear.

 

So, hopefully I’ve succeeded in recommending the ninjabookbox to you. If you would like to find out more, head over to their website at www.ninjabookbox.com where you can sign up to their mailing list or buy lots of lovely bookish things in their shop. The August boxes go on sale soon too! (I think there may even be a few summer special boxes left). If you do want to buy anything, you can get a 15% discount by using the code CERI15 – this can be applied to anything except the quarterly recurring subscriptions.

 

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Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne

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I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

#30by30 number 21 – Become a Patreon

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One of my aims with #30by30 is to support and promote things that I care about, in an effort to be less self-centred, I guess.

Anyway, not too long ago I heard of a website called Patreon which allows creative types to fundraise from supporters to help them to continue to create in fields that are often difficult to progress in when you are starting out. It’s a bit like Kickstarter or Indigogo, but instead of helping to get a specific project off the ground, patrons fund the ongoing work of a writer, actor, artist, singer etc.

I currently can only afford to support two people at $1 per month each, which, with the associated fees and currency conversion rates should be a little less than £2 per month, but I’m hoping to be able to increase that in the future as most of the artists offer extra content to the higher level supporters.

But for now, it gives me the opportunity on this blog to tell you about the people I support and to promote their work to you 🙂 I also recommend you head over to www.patreon.com to check out some of the other creative people that use that site to see if there are any you would like to support!

 

So the first person I chose to support is Mya Gosling of goodticklebrain.com – a mostly Shakespeare webcomic. The first time I heard of Mya was when her three panel plays were featured on some list or other of things to check out on the Internet. In those comics she condensed each Shakespeare play to three points, illustrated by stick figures. She also retells the plays act-by-act and scene-by-scene, which really helps to bring the stories to life. She does other one-off or occasional comics – the recent Shakespeare’s missing mothers series had me crying with laughter, as did the Hamlet/Sound of Music crossover comics. For a Shakespeare geek like myself, there are very few more enjoyable things on the Internet. Also, the complete works t-shirt she created is one of my favourite items of clothing and a great conversation starter…

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My second patronee (not convinced that’s the correct term but never mind!) is Mary Kate Wiles, an actress and vlogger. A couple of years ago some friends recommended I watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube – a modern adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Lizzie has a video diary. I LOVE Jane Austen so I am always a little reluctant to watch spin-offs and non-period adaptations, but with much Persuasion (!) I gave it a try and I did not regret it.

Mary Kate was cast as Lizzie’s irrepressible younger sister Lydia. One of my favourite things about the show was that Lydia really came to life as a rounded character rather than just a plot device (sorry Miss Austen!) – showing the quality of the writing but also MK’s brilliant acting. Last year I re-watched the series and mentioned to a friend that I was doing so, and she asked if I had seen MK’s Craftversations videos, which I immediately investigated. In these videos, MK interviews a friend from the world of YouTube (actor, writer, producer, etc) while they carry out a craft activity. I love these videos because not only do they give me great ideas for craft projects to try but they have also introduced me to lots of other fun YouTube series that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

So there you have it, two of my favourite Internet people. I’d love to hear if you support anyone on Patreon and if so, who and why 🙂