Guest Review @ Evangelical Times

Guest Review @ Evangelical Times

Hi there!

I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am a Christian, and I’ve read some Christian books. One of my recent reads was Be Still My Soul by Nancy Guthrie. It’s a helpful book on the problem of pain: how to deal with and understand sadness from a Christian perspective.

I wrote a little book review about it, which was published in the June edition of the Christian newspaper Evangelical Times; if this is something you’d be interesting reading about, you can find it if you click here:

Thanks!

– Judith

#RBRT Read and Review: DEVIL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE by CORY BARCLAY @CoryBarclay #BookReview #Thriller

#RBRT Read and Review: DEVIL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE by CORY BARCLAY @CoryBarclay #BookReview #Thriller
  • Title: Devil In The Countryside
  • Author: Cory Barclay
  • Published: 2017
  • Started: 23rd April 2017
  • Finished: 19th May 2017

Devil In The Countryside is a historically inspired thriller set in 1588 at the time of the Reformation. The plot follows investigator Heinrich Franz, who is looking for answers after numerous mysterious killings in the German countryside, attributed to the Werewolf of Bedburg.

The concept for the book reminds me of stories like Van Helsing, which is just the sort of thing I enjoy.

I think Barclay’s decision to mix fact and fiction was a bold one, but it made the political and historical context in which the book is set interesting.

Conventions of the genre, such as mysterious characters and gruesome murders were used well, and the writing was mostly easy to follow.

However, I struggled to imagine the settings and characters as authentically German. It felt more like a story about American characters that happened to have Germanic names. For me, this was particularly obvious when reading the amount of American slang used within dialogue – slang I’m quite sure wasn’t around in 16th century Germany!

This was a shame, because I think it prevented me from reading Devil In The Countryside as a historical fiction, and I read it more as a modern thriller.

Similarly, the dialogue also contained a surprising amount of crude swearing.

Normally, this is isn’t enough to discourage me, but in an era of strong religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, I doubt casual phrases such as ‘God dammit’ would be used in dialogue between priests and religious citizens.

Devil In The Countryside is a reasonable thriller inspired by historical events, and if you enjoy violence or the supernatural, I’m sure it would be a good read for you.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Devil In The Countryside is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

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Thanks for reading! This is another #RBRT review.  Thanks to Cory Barclay for sending me a free e-book copy to read. You can find his website here: www.corybarclay.com

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Read and Review: Perfect People

Read and Review: Perfect People
  • Title: Perfect People
  • Author: Peter James
  • Published: 2011

Perfect People is a thriller novel from the acclaimed crime and thriller writer, Peter James.

After losing their four-year-old son to a rare genetic disorder, John and Naomi Klaesson are grieving, yet want another child – one who will be free from genetic diseases and as healthy as possible. Geneticist Leo Dettore offers them a lifeline: the chance to choose the perfect genetic makeup of their new baby – their sex, their hair colour, abilities, and so much more. However, the couple notice something is wrong too late, and they can’t turn back, because Naomi is already pregnant…

I read Perfect People in abut 2-3 days, because it really had me hooked. In an era where genetically modifying embryos is already a possibility, the notion of “designer babies” does not seem that much more of a stretch, and James capitalises on this.

‘There are certain things in life that happen that shouldn’t happen – which don’t need to happen – and which science can now prevent from happening.’ 

(Perfect People, p.15)

It’s difficult to speak openly about my response to Perfect People without giving away spoilers, but I’ll try my best.

It’s a good thriller, and whilst some of the plot twists I saw quite clearly, others caught me completely off-guard.

I liked James’ style of writing, although the description was too poetic in places for me: elaborate imagery doesn’t’ gel with the book’s attempted realism and authenticity. Also, at one point, he used the phrase ‘quite unique’ – a grammatically incorrect phrase that bothers me immensely.

The scientist Dettore was suitably creepy, along with the psychopathic, genetically modified children he breeds.

However, I felt that the inclusion of religious extremism as an antagonistic force didn’t work well. Whilst sects, cults and religious extremism can be incredibly scary (and is thus often used in paranormal horror), it just didn’t feel authentic in Perfect People. I’ve no doubt that there are real people in the world prepared to use extreme measures to campaign against issues like genetic testing, but James’ fictional cult, The Disciples of the Third Millennium, felt like it was purely inspired by imagination rather than inspired by research. This mean that for me, the mentions of gods, prophecies and Biblical passages just fell flat.

I would have preferred to see Dettore’s psychopathic children rise as an antagonistic force – perhaps against parents, adults or other figures of authority, and it’s a shame this wasn’t explored.

Despite my criticisms, I still thoroughly enjoyed Perfect People, and would strongly recommend it.

Another blogger I came across, wrote that Perfect People is:

‘A true morality tale [that makes] readers ponder their lot, to be grateful for what they have and to fear taking risks with scientific advances that might change things for the better or for the worst.’

(Keith Walters, BooksandWriters)

Thank you for reading!

– Judith

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Goblin Market is a Victorian poem about two women, Lizzie and Laura, one of whom is tempted by the goblins that frequent their village to sell exotic fruits all year around. Laura becomes grievously ill after eating some of this fruit, and is saved by her sister’s bravery and heroism against the goblins.

To me, the most striking element in Goblin Market is its use of symbolism – of religion, of the patriarchy and, as an offshoot of this, the sexual oppression of women.

Religion

Firstly, Goblin Market’s religious imagery is overwhelmingly clear. The premise of the poem is that deceptive, supernatural creatures tempt a pure woman into eating a mysterious and forbidden fruit, which then has negative consequences. This is a direct parallel to the events in Genesis 3; the goblins symbolise Satan and Laura symbolises Eve.

However, there is a second layer to this religious imagery. Lizzie saves her sister by standing resolute in the face of the goblins’ horrid behaviour towards her, enduring suffering for the sake of Laura. She is described as ‘fruit-crown’d’ – an irony – because a crown is meant for royalty, highlighting Laura’s virtuous and honourable nature, yet it is made from fruit, the goblins’ “weapon” of attack. This may be a parallel to the ‘crown of thorns’ (Matthew 27:29) worn by Christ during the crucifixion, to mock him. Furthermore, during Lizzie’s attack from the goblins, she ‘utter’d not a word’, again imitating Christ’s behaviour when he was trialled by Herod:

  • ‘He [Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7)
  • ‘He [Herod] plied him [Jesus] with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.’ (Luke 23:9)

Patriarchy

Secondly, although the goblins are in some ways supernatural, they are also described as ‘goblin merchant men’. The significance of calling them ‘men’ suggests the poem can also be read as a poem about the male oppression of women within a patriarchal Victorian society. It is important that while the goblins are running their market and earning money, both Lizzie and Laura are confined to the home, undertaking stereotypically female tasks, such as sewing, baking cakes and talking like ‘modest maidens’. This highlights the separate spheres ideology which was rife in Victorian society, that encouraged men to leave the house and work to provide for the family (in the “public” sphere)  whilst women were to stay at home as housekeepers and mothers (in the “private” sphere).

Yet there is more. Rossetti also highlights that within a patriarchal society, not only were women confined to their domesticated “sphere” of life, but they were also victims of sexual abuse. This is evidenced by the goblins’ attack on Lizzie. The goblins, whilst ‘grunting and snarling’, ‘tore her gown’, ‘held her hands’, ‘kick’d’ and ‘maul’d’ her in order to force her to eat their fruits. The goblins’ fruit is a metaphor for sex, and thus this distressing scene symbolises one of rape and domestic abuse, a scenario sadly commonplace within Victorian relationships.*

*A harrowing statistic: marital rape wasn’t criminalised in the UK until 1991.

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Of course, there’s so much more that could be said about the poem. I enjoyed reading Goblin Market; it’s beautifully written narrative poem with vivid imagery and multiple interpretations. There are many other offered readings of the poem, but I think Goblin Market’s parallels with the Christian faith, and the message of female oppression are its most significant undertones.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

Please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

Read and Review: The Wife’s Lament

Read and Review: The Wife’s Lament

This is a slightly more unconventional book review, or should I say, manuscript review.

As a university student, I recently went exam season, which meant it was really hard to read (and finish) any new books, so I thought I’d talk about some literature we studied on the course instead.

The Wife’s Lament is an anonymous poem, in the form of a lament, written in Old English. The edition I read was published in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

The Wife’s Lament is quite a short poem, which was refreshing for me – poetry isn’t my favourite form anyway, and I already worked my way through the entirety of Milton’s Paradise Lost earlier in 2016.

This poem is primarily about love and loss, but what I find so fascinating is the variety of interpretations that can be drawn from the poem.

Some like to read the poem as a message from a retainer to their lord. Anglo-Saxon England, loyalty to leaders was hugely important and lords and retainers had a special relationship. This interpretation also works well when considering the poem uses terms such as ‘lord’ and ‘master’ frequently.

However, translators have assigned this poem The Wife’s Lament – suggesting a female author, and thus not a retainer, but a wife longing for her husband. Again, this could be evidenced in the text as it uses words such as ‘family’, ‘lovers’ and the phrase ‘dearest loved one’.

It has even been suggested that The Wife’s Lament symbolises the relationship between Christ and his people, longing for them to turn from their pagan ways and embrace Christianity. I’m not sure how convincing I find this argument.

Instead, I prefer the interpretation that the narrator in question is actually… dead!

What I find so favourable about this idea is how it fits with the elusive word ‘earth-cave’ in the poem – nobody really seems to know what it means. Of course, with a Gothic head on my shoulders, I’d love to think that her ‘earth-cave’ means her grave. This seems particularly convincing, when she goes on to refer to the those who are still alive and present on Earth, and can enjoy love and happiness.

All in all, it doesn’t matter which interpretation you pick, or whether you come up with another idea of your own.

The Wife’s Lament is a short poem packed with emotions, and it is my favourite Old English text I’ve read so far. It really doesn’t take long to read (a whopping 2 pages) so if you can get access to it, I strongly recommend you read it.

Thank you for reading this slightly unconventional book review! Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, or click ‘Follow’ to read slightly more conventional book-related blog posts in future.

That’s all for now!

– Judith

Film Review: 12 Days of Blogmas Day #9: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Film Review: 12 Days of Blogmas Day #9: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

We’re creeping ever closer towards Christmas, but unfortunately this blog post isn’t Christmas-themed (sorry)!

As I’ve already mentioned before, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a classic children’s story and film people enjoy watching at Christmas. However, I already wrote a film review of it here back in March, so instead I thought I’d watch and review its sequel instead.

  • Title:The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • Director:Andrew Adamson
  • Released:2008

I remember seeing Prince Caspian in the cinema when it came out. It is about the four Pevensie children, who return to Narnia to help Prince Caspian (played by Ben Barnes) in his struggle with for the throne against his corrupt uncle, King Miraz (played by Sergio Castellitto).

I think Prince Caspian is a good sequel; I liked the fact the actors were older because it gives the characters more maturity and allows the director to explore darker themes, in a similar way to the Harry Potter films. Of course, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets were good films, but by The Prisoner of Azkaban, there was more development, a higher sense of threat and you knew the characters could be tested more – which makes for a more interesting experience as an older viewer.

In addition, I found it easier to engage with all four main characters: Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley), Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) and Peter Pevensie (William Moseley) because they’ve all grown up, whereas in the first film, I always preferred Peter and Susan, as opposed to the more childish Edmund and Lucy.

I particularly appreciated the growth of Edmund’s character; he steps up and makes careful decisions, learning from his previous mistakes in Narnia, highlighting the change from his weedy and foolish character from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

However, I’m not sure how I feel about the eponymous Prince Caspian – despite the film being titled after him, it still felt like Prince Caspian was still more about the Pevensies, and Prince Caspian was just a “tag along”. Although, I did like the suggestion that he and Susan liked each other, and the competitive rivalry created between Peter and Caspian – this added for comic relief in more serious moments of battles and politics. Eddie Izzard’s Reepicheep also added humour.

Of course, it wouldn’t be The Chronicles of Narnia without Aslan, and Liam Neeson reprises the role to bestow more wisdom on the children. I also love the theme music – you know something great is going to happen when the score begins to play.

When I talked about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I discussed some Christian themes from the first film, so it seems only fitting to do that here too. What struck me was Lucy’s fervent faith in Aslan (symbolising a Christian’s belief in God), even when some of her siblings begin to doubt and follow their own ways. This is developed further by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), as it is just Edmund and Lucy who travel to Narnia because Susan and Peter have become “too old” for the world of Narnia. Maybe I’ll write a review of Dawn Treader one day…

I recommend both The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian as good family-friendly films, great for watching at Christmas time. This is a lengthier review than my first Narnia blog post, but I really enjoyed writing it.

If you liked reading this post, please click ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ my blog for more posts. Stay tuned for Blogmas Day 10 tomorrow!

– Judith

12 Days of Blogmas Day #8: The Christmas Tag

12 Days of Blogmas Day #8: The Christmas Tag

Welcome back to Blogmas! As it’s a Tuesday, I thought: why not do another Tag Tuesday Christmas Special? The questions aren’t book-themed – but that’s fine, we can allow for a little variety.

1. What is your favourite Christmas movie?

Aha! I’ve actually already answered this question in another Blogmas post. In short, I would say The Nightmare Before Christmas by Henry Selick and Tim Burton, but you can read a full break-down of my different responses here:

I’m off to a flying start!

2. Do you open your presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

Usually, I open my Christmas presents with my close family on Christmas Day – morning or afternoon, depending on how the mood takes us. In some circumstances I open a few presents before Christmas Day (for example, with friends who live far away, or grandparents who want to see my reactions). I’ve actually been in this situation this year already (oops) and you can find out more about my mini Christmas haul already here:

3. Do you have a favourite Christmas memory?

I don’t have one particular memory that jumps out at me; a lot of my memories of toys, family time, and cheesy films blend together when you’re little, I think.

4. Do you have a favourite festive food?

For me, the highlight of “festive foods” has to be a traditional Christmas dinner with Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. Plenty of chocolate too!

5. Do you have a favourite Christmas gift?

Absolutely! When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved dolls, Barbies, Polly Pockets, anything of that ilk and one Christmas, I walked into the living room to see an enormous wrapped parcel just for me. When I opened it, I discovered a wonderful dollhouse that my Granddad had handmade for me, complete with some handcrafted furniture and peg dolls. I played with it so often (I still have it) and I’m still very impressed that my Granddad made it for me.

6. Do you have a favourite Christmas scent?

I don’t think so; I really like the smell of gingerbread – if that counts. Some people see gingerbread as a traditional Christmas treat, whereas I can make, buy or eat it all year round.

7. Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?

I’m sad to say I don’t. My friends have told me stories of their parents putting on treasure hunts, or gathering round to play a board game, but in my household, we don’t do anything special. It’s just a usual evening – this may involve family time, but then again it may not, depending on what everyone feels like doing.

8. What goes at the top of your Christmas tree?

From growing up in a Christian household, my brother and I would attend Sunday School and as part of the Sunday School activities at Christmas time, we would make Christmas-themed crafts, so our Christmas tree is still adorned with paper baubles and cut out stars daubed in crayon and glitter that have definitely seen better days. One of these paper stars sits at the top of our tree.

9. As a child, what was one really extravagant or crazy gift you asked for and never received?

I was always aware that my parents wouldn’t buy me everything I asked for (no, I didn’t believe in Santa Claus) because I knew they had a budget. I never really asked for anything too “out there” and always stuck to some toys, books or perhaps some CDs or DVDs.

10. What’s the best part about Christmas for you?

For me, the best part of Christmas is the Biblical meaning behind Christmas. This means attending the Christmas Day church services, along with singing carols. At Christmas time, you can really sense an atmosphere of joy and love which is such a nice feeling. Then, on a secondary note, there’s the fun, food, family time and present-swopping (I couldn’t get them all to start with F, sadly) that make Christmas time a really enjoyable holiday season.


Those are my responses! Thanks for reading. If you want to write a Christmas blog post but are struggling for ideas, I encourage you to do the Christmas Tag.

Happy Blogmas!

– Judith