New Read: The Servant Queen

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Last year, I went to a special service and tea party at a local church to celebrate the 90th birthday of our Queen Elizabeth II, where I received a free copy of The Servant Queen by Mark Greene & Catherine Butcher; a unique tribute published by Bible Society, HOPE and The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).

The Servant Queen – and the King She Serves is a short and interesting look into the life and reign of Elizabeth II and her strong Christian faith that has helped her to serve her people all her adult life, with an amazing consistency of character; a touching concern for others and a honest dependence on Christ. Which means this book had a double appeal for me as I am a Royalist, with a strong affection for our queen, and I am also a practicing Christian.

There are chapters on: the secret of her long successful reign; her piece in ‘The King’s Speech’; her coronation and the vows she made; her working service; the celebrities and leaders she has met; her Christmas speeches, where she finds strength against adversity and the more fun side to her personality. All of which contain beautiful photographs; inspiring quotes about the queen and from herself; and examples of poetry, art and parables that have inspired her.

As soon as I received this I placed it on my bedside table ready to start immediately, but sadly it sat there for a long time because for one reason or another longer Christian and other non-fiction works took up my time. When I did finally start reading it though, in early February, I was instantly hooked and read it in just two short sittings! I found it to be an utterly charming read for a Royalist and an inspiring read for a practicing Christian.

Overall, The Servant Queen was a quick, interesting and inspiring read – my only niggle would be that I wanted more! Good read.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books about the Queen?

New Read: The Early Life of Anne Boleyn

early-life-of-anne-boleyn

Through out my life, I have had a fascination with the Tudors and as an adult I have been particularly interested in the figures of Elizabeth I and her mother Anne Boleyn. So when I saw Endeavour Press had reprinted J. H. Round’s The Early Life of Anne Boleyn: A Critical Essay (originally published in 1886) I hit request immediately!

Like many people, I knew the infamous rise of Anne Boleyn in the Tudor court where she soon caught the eye of Henry VIII, who went on to break with the Holy Roman church to make her his new wife and queen. Unfortunately for Anne her fall from grace and death came just as fast as her rise! What interested me so much in this book was the chance to find out more about her childhood and early life; the time before the well known events. In his essay Round discusses and compares thoughts on: her possible dates of birth; whether she was the younger or older sister; her previous marriage interests and whether she was the Boleyn girl who went to the French court.

While I found this all very interesting, I was disappointed that this really is ‘a critical essay’ rather than a history of Anne Boleyn. Instead of laying the events and facts out to the reader as they happened, Round introduces other historians beliefs on these events and facts then argues for and against them using letters from the time and other historians discoveries. At first I found this all rather confusing especially as I have little to no previous knowledge of this period or the historians he was talking about. I’m afraid I had always took it as fact that Anne was the younger sister and that she was the daughter that was sent to the French court!

So in one respect I did learn a fair bit from this book but it was hard going at the beginning and in hindsight I really would have benefited from having more existing knowledge. I also think Round’s writing style really shows it’s age (to be fair it was written in the late 1800’s) and I found it very matter of fact, with no personal or emotional additions to bring the history alive. Plus there are copious amounts of footnotes – which if you’re a student or an avid history reader you may find very helpful and interesting – but for me, just an interested regular reader, it was all a bit too much. However most of these are more my problems than the author’s, who clearly wrote this for other scholars and educated amateurs of the time.

Overall, I found The Early Life of Anne Boleyn: A Critical Essay to be an interesting and quick read. But it was not the book I was looking for and I would say I was not the intending audience either. Okay read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any histories of Anne Boleyn?

New Read: Faith and Moonlight

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Last year, I read and enjoyed four of Mark Gelineau’s & Joe King’s novellas from two threads of their fantasy series, Echo of the Ascended. So much so I didn’t wait long into this year to continue my reading with Faith and Moonlight; the first novella in a third thread of their epic series.

Previously I have read about Elinor a brave orphan girl who rose to be the King’s Reaper; in the A Reaper of Stone thread. Also, I have read about another orphan Alys, who is a hardened survivor of the dangerous, poverty-stricken underworld of the capital city; in the Best Left in the Shadows thread. Turns out these orphans all originally knew each other and this novella takes the reader back in time to the tragic fire at their orphanage which saw them separated and scattered across the kingdom.

In Faith and Moonlight, we are introduced to teenage orphans Roan and Kay. Who have been torn from the only home and family they’ve ever known, after a terrible fire destroyed their orphanage and killed most of it’s inhabitants. Now, Roan and Kay are journeying together to the city with hopes and dreams of entering the prestige School of Faith to train to become a legendary Razor. However, on arrival they are given just one month to prove their worth by passing the entry trial of pushing past the veil and touching the magical power within. Failure will mean an end to all their dreams and the prospect of life out in the cold, dark and dangerous world alone.

Unlike the previous novellas I have read, Roan and Kay are not grown up orphans but instead they are still young, naïve and vulnerable. This gives the reader the opportunity to watch them grow and, hopefully, follow their path to success like their fellow orphans Elinor and Alys. It also cleverly gives Gelineau’s and King’s series a young adult thread. Ronan and Kay are very close to each other and have promised to face everything together. Yet on arrival they find themselves divided, as Roan excels in his training Kay desperately struggles to keep up. I really liked them both and found myself willing them on, particularly poor Kay.

Like previous threads this new one gave me a view of another area/side to the kingdom of Aedaron. First, I was taken out onto the wild Marshlands; then I was taken to the dark, seedy Lowside; while this took me to the beautiful and serene School of Faith – a place of peace, education, power and history, with its marble buildings and lush green grass, where there is the opportunity for fame and glory if Roan and Kay are allowed to stay! I enjoyed having this pleasant and safe setting however don’t get thinking this means there is nothing scary. Just outside the gates the bustling, dangerous world threatens and Kay is terrified of going back there.

Overall, I thought Faith and Moonlight was another highly enjoyable young adult thread to this epic fantasy series and I look forward to reading Faith and Moonlight 2 soon! Good read.

Thank you to the authors for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of the other Echo of the Ascended novellas?

New Read: The Shack

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As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and now I am a member of my church’s book club. After finishing If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg in January, I started reading our February book, The Shack by William Paul Young straight away!

If you hadn’t already figured it out I was super excited to read this international bestseller which I have heard been described as both inspirational and controversial. It all starts with Mack Philips and the abduction of his youngest daughter, Missy, during a family vacation. The hunt for Missy leads investigators to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness, where they discover evidence that she may have been brutally murdered. Four years later, in the midst of his “Great Sadness”, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he goes back fearing he is walking back into his darkest nightmares instead what he finds there will change his world forever.

From page one the reader knows that Missy has been abducted and murdered, what follows is a dark, mysterious and agonising look back at the events that lead to this terrible conclusion. We follow Mack – a loving father with a simple, strong faith in God – as he takes his three children on a wonderful camping holiday, yet all the while it is tinged by the horror we know is to come but the characters are heartbreakingly unaware of. I found myself barely able to tear myself away from it all. After these terrible events have unfolded we then witness the dark shadow that falls over Mack and his family, shaking his faith right to the very foundations.

That culminates with Mack returning to the shack, however as he stepped through the door for the big reveal I must confess to being disappointed… and most frustrating of all is I can’t tell you why I was disappointed because that would ruin the surprise for you! What I can say is there was no dramatic booming voice; hosts of angelic beings or blinding white light – I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. However, I persisted and I am pleased I did because there is a method to Young’s surprising U-turn in style and pace which does lead to some beautifully touching moments and some nice surprises too. Plus there are still many twists and turns to be revealed all the way up to the end.

After finishing this book, I can more clearly understand how it has been described as both inspirational and controversial. Through Mack’s experiences, questions and anger with God, Young reveals his vision of God’s personality, nature and vision for us and the world. While I personally found many of Young’s vision beautiful, comforting and inspirational, I can also totally see how many might deem some of them highly controversial. Funnily enough while I found it quite easy to imagine and believe even some of Young’s more out there ideas, it was in fact some of Mack’s reactions to them that I didn’t find natural or comfortable – this could just be the reserved Brit in me though and fortunately there were only a few instances of this.

Overall, The Shack is not perfect but I did find it to be a gripping mystery and an interesting look into where God is in our hardest moments. I must stress the ‘I’ in that though because this is definitely a book that could divide opinion strongly, therefore it should hopefully make for an interesting discussion in our next book club meeting. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any of William Paul Young’s other books?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 2/6 (a title with a building)

New Read: If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

if-you-want-to-walk-on-water

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and now I am a member of my church’s book club. In November we read Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen followed by The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis (a re-read for me) in December. Our first read for the new year was this; If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg.

In this book Ortberg uses the New Testament story of the disciple Peter, who bravely stepped out of the boat (on the Sea of Galilee) to walk on water with his teacher Jesus. An act that must have taken such great faith and courage, while Peter did flounder before that he managed, for a few brief moments, to forget his fear; aligned his path with God and performed the miracle of water-walking like the Son of God. Ortberg invites the reader to consider what incredible potential we may have if we align our own purposes with God; put our full faith in Him and step out of our comfort zone to brave the risky waters. Like Peter, we too can be water-walkers but there is one requirement: If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat!

This book is broken down into ten chapters which aim to help us consider what our comfort zones, fears, purpose and potential could be. Unlike previous Christian literature I have read, I found these chapters pretty long, therefore I found it very hard to read one chapter a night as I would have wished. However helpfully each chapter is also broken down into sub-headed sections which I was able to read easily in one night. This may have broken the flow up a little but the more I read the more I wanted to read, because I got into Ortberg’s ideas and started seeing how relevant they could be in my own life.

As well as being a bestselling author of several books on spiritual formation, John Ortberg is a professional speaker; a senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I believe Ortberg has brought well all his experience, beliefs and education to bear on this book, as I thought it was very well-written with a good use of Scripture, research and personal analogies. Also, I thought he managed to balance using a strong, authoritative tone with a friendly, caring side – I often felt like a was sitting down with him, as my pastor, for advice over a nice cup of tea.

Overall, I thought If You Want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat was a good, thought provoking read. Sadly I wasn’t able to attend the club’s discussion of this book, as they changed the night, but it was still well worth reading as an individual. This month we are reading and discussing The Shack by William Paul Young. Great read.

Have you read this? Or any of John Ortberg’s other books?

New Read: Flower Fables

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Back in 2012, I read Louisa May Alcott’s most famous work Little Women, which I found to be an utterly charming and inspiring read – in fact it is still one of my favourite reads for The Classics Club. So I was thrilled when last year (2016) I got my hands on a copy of Flower Fables. Originally this collection of Alcott’s lesser known works was published in 1898 and they were brought back together, with thirty-four beautiful illustrations, in this 2015 edition.

I actually picked up this collection of nine magical tales during the Christmas holidays – hoping they would fit into those short moments of quietness between the general craziness of the festive period, which they did perfectly! Each tale takes the reader into a wild and imaginative world full of adventure, magic, nature, fairies, elves, and talking flowers and animals. Where kind fairies tend the flowers and animals; wayward children and naughty fairies learn important lessons; and great adventures are had by all.

There is an innocent and whimsical feel to these tales, but also a strong element of moralising that I realise will not to be everyone’s taste. Apparently this collection grew out of Alcott’s experience of telling stories to the children of her neighbours in Concord, Connecticut. In hindsight, knowing this I can understand and accept the moralising which is on the commendable themes of love, kindness, and responsibility; plus it was much milder than the heavy moralising in The Water Babies which was even a bit too much for me.

Overall I found Flower Fables to be a quick, easy escapist read. Sadly I didn’t love it anywhere near as much as Little Women – I think a big part of that was the lack of main characters to follow – however this was still an enjoyable read. Now I really must try Alcott’s more well known sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys. Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of Alcott’s other works?

New Read: 90 Days Through the New Testament

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As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and last year, when I spotted 90 Days Through the New Testament by Ron Rhodes I thought it might help me to read and understand the Bible better.

Through this daily devotional tour Rhodes wants to help the reader experience the life of Jesus and the early church by chronicling the New Testament in chronological order, thus making it clearer how the Gospels, Acts and letters all fit together. Where as currently the New Testament would be read in order of author and the time it was written, which can mean the time line isn’t always clear. I found this a refreshing and helpful way to view, in particular, the life of Jesus and his teachings. Especially when different Gospel writers’ telling of the same event were placed together – meaning I was able to compare and reflect on the similarities and differences.

Each daily reading includes: a piece of scripture, with the author’s insights on it, a discussion of the major themes within it and the life lessons the reader can take from it. These are usefully kept short and concise so that it is easy to read and reflect on a piece of scripture a day – regardless of how busy my day was I pretty much always fitted in one of these. I also found Rhodes’ insights and discussions helpful, interesting and inspiring, and I highlighted many key points for me to be able to go back too. Within each daily reading there is also included: cross-references and questions for reflection and discussion. Unfortunately, I found these less useful as the cross-references could take a long time to find and read. While the questions seemed more appropriate if you were reading this in a book club or house group.

However in conclusion, I found 90 Days Through the New Testament to be an interesting and useful guide to help me to read and reflect on the Bible on a daily basis, which is exactly what I hoped it would do. Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any other guides to help you read the Bible?