23 Apr 2014

For England, Shakespeare and St George!

It's 23rd April, a doubly significant date England today. St George's day and the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's Birthday. An excuse for the the English and proud like me to stand up and feel jolly good about our national identity and our heritage. 
Now were not perfect (what country is?), and reading an article today that the historical George of Cappadocia may have been an a corrupt Bishop belonging to an early heretical sect which persecuted Orthodox Christians in 4th century Asia Minor was something of a disappointing blow. 
Yet I think there is still much to celebrate, so here's a list some of the good, useful, monumental or downright spiffing things which came from England, or English people invented and bequeathed to the world. 

  • Alfred the Great and family:  The King remembered for burning the cakes actually did so much more. His laws, educational and defense reforms deservedly accord him the title of 'The Great'. His daughter was the first woman in Medieval English history to rule a Kingdom in her own right - 700 years before Elizabeth I, and his grandson Athelstan the first King of England was known as 'The English Charlemagne.
  • The Clock: Indeed, the world's first Mechanical clock (or one of the first) was invented by an Englishman Richard of Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans in the early 1300s. Richard came from relatively humble stock, a blacksmith's son from an Oxfordshire Village, and his clock was unlike those we would know today, but would go on to become a time-changer....

  • Magna Carta:  "We have also granted to all the freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be enjoyed and held by them and by their heirs, from us and from our heirs...

    "No free man shall be captured, and or imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold, and or of his liberties, or of his free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against him by force or proceed against him by arms, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, and or by the law of the land.

    To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice."

    Need anymore be said?
  • Parliament & Rule of Law: These two may have existed in some form before and elsewhere, but contrary to some portrayals the rulers of England as absolute Monarchs, it was actually one of the first nations to limit the power of the monarch. This notion of limited monarchy, government by consent, and the supremacy of the rule of law- a law which even the King was not above and was supposed to uphold is an important part of our governmental system- one which Kings defied to their cost.
  • Literary Giants: Who can forget Shakespeare- regarded as one of the greatest playwrights who ever lived? Add to his number Dickens, Austen and Chaucer and this little plot has produced some of the most famous, widely read, translated and loved works of literature on earth.
Even if St George was not all he was cracked up to be, a day for the celebration of Englishness is still an occasion worthy of marking. So in the (somewhat overblown) words of the bard: 

"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,"

21 Apr 2014

New Release- A Lady of Honor by Laurie Alice Eakes

A Cliffs of Cornwall Novel- 1
Zondervan, April 22nd 2012, 336 Pages
"Society is concerned about her honor, but Elizabeth must realize her worth doesn't lie in her inheritance. In order to avoid a forced marriage to a dangerous man, Elizabeth Trelawney flees London. An unexpected stranger arrives to help her, and as they elude her pursuers across Cornwall in the night, Elizabeth realizes her rescuer, Rouan Curnow, is familiar.
Their differences in social status kept Rouan from pursuing a courtship with the lady his heart wouldn't let him forget. Now because of dangerous smugglers and local murders, the two are plunged into a reckless alliance that rattles Rouan's fledgling faith in God.
The closer they get to Bastian Point-Elizabeth's true home-the more she realizes it is the only place she longs to be. Even the sight of its solid structure perched on the cliffs makes her feel safe. Elizabeth is the most likely to inherit Bastian Point if Grandfather never learns she spent the night, however innocently, with a near stranger.
As spring warms into summer, Elizabeth finds herself torn between wanting to be the perfect grandchild and her growing love for a man of whom no one will approve as a match for her, a man she knows she shouldn't entirely trust. Unsure whether she is being foolish or following the right path, she sets out with Rouan on a quest to find the true culprit behind the local violence.
Their quest leads them to danger, and she must choose whether to follow the man she loves or cling to the safety of her family home."

Like Laurie Alice Eakes Midwives Trilogy which I read recently, my opinions of her latest novel were rather mixed. On the one hand it did have a sound Christian and important message about not putting one’s trust in earthy treasures, and some wonderful descriptive passages-especially of the Cornish landscape by an author whom I do not think has ever been there. The story did seem was weak in places but appeared to improve towards the end. 

On the other hand it was blighted by the two things I dislike most in historical fiction. Judging the past by modern standards or imposing them upon it, and anachronistic or otherwise out-of place language. The British characters used a number of Americanisms in their speech on a fairly frequent basis like ‘someplace’ and ‘a body’ instead of ‘a person’ or ‘somebody’. 
In the case of the former the novel seemed to be imbued with a prejudice against the aristocracy, their culture, attitudes, values and way of life. It may be that as a Brit I have a different outlook on these things, and I know the central theme of the story was looking for heavenly treasures instead of earthly- but I don’t believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with being born to wealth and privilege, owning land or having servants in and of itself. Also, the arranged/forced marriage scenario is the one of the oldest cliches in the book- and perhaps was not very plausible considering how forced marriage has technically been illegal in England since the 11th century.

Then there was the heroine Elizabeth or Elys. I never really warmed to her probably because she came across a selfish, shallow, spoiled brat. I think this was how the author intended for her to be portrayed, and she acknowledged this fault in the end- but not for the reasons I found it most annoying.
Basically, she hated the lifestyle her class and upbringing expected her to lead, and shunned social expectations because she couldn’t do what she wanted, like go horse-riding or swimming on her own and was expected to do things she found boring or tedious instead such as sewing or attending parties.
Most women in her position would have been happy with the provision her grandparents were willing to make for her, giving them financial security for life. Yet even this was not good enough for Elizabeth.

Then there was Rowan: godly, heroic, and handsome, yet perhaps something of a cliche- and apparently possessed of the notion that anything which did not line up with his proletarian ideology was unchristian and oppressive. He was probably the source of some of the prejudices about the upper classes- lazy because they did no manual work, uncaring because they only cared appearances and reputation. His apparently regarding people in domestic service as little better than slaves in the Americas was simply absurd- simply because there were so many differences. Household staff were paid, and entered such occupations- which were regarded as quite respectable- willingly.

Altogether, the hint of mystery was interesting and the novel a decent as a one-time read, good to maybe pass onto friends or relatives, but I certainly won't be eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.  Too much kissing, or thinking about kissing for me, and I prefer my historical fiction more accurate and less judgemental for no other reason than that it does not fit in with modern ideals.

I received a free copy of this book free from BookLook bloggers  for review, I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

18 Apr 2014

Selah - O Sacred Head Now Wounded -Lyrics

A beautiful hymn for Good Friday, based on a Medieval Poem. 

15 Apr 2014

Heart's Safe Passage by Laurie Alice Eakes

Heart's Safe Passage- The Midwives Book 2
Revell, February 2012
384 Pages

"It's 1813 and all Phoebe Lee wants out of life is to practice midwifery in Loudon County, Virginia. When Belinda, her pregnant sister-in-law, presses Phoebe to accompany her onto a British privateer in order to cross the Atlantic and save her husband from an English prison, Phoebe tries to refuse, then finds herself kidnapped.

Captain Rafe Docherty is a man in search of revenge. His ship is no place for women, but he needs Belinda in order to obtain information about the man who destroyed his family and his life. Between Belinda's whining and Phoebe's hostility, Rafe can't help but wonder if he made the right choice.
When it becomes apparent there is an enemy among them on the ship, the stakes are raised. Will they reach the English shore in time? Can love and forgiveness overcome vengeance?

Book 2 in The Midwives series, Heart's Safe Passage is a stirring tale of love, intrigue, and adventure on the high seas. Readers will feel the salt spray and the rolling waves as they journey with Laurie Alice Eakes's vivid characters on the treacherous path toward redemption"

Heart’s Safe Passage started well and was an interesting angle on the nautical or privateer setting chosen by other Christian authors. As the story developed, there seemed to be an over-reliance on dramatic events to keep the reader’s interest. This was also the case with the sequel, and whilst a certain amount of drama makes for a good story, so many dramatic and tragic events in such a short time and small ship stretches credibility a little, which seemed to be the case here.

As with the other two books in the trilogy, the Christian theme of forgiveness and having genuine righteousness, rather than preaching at others whilst nursing hatred in one’s own heart was woven well into the story, and honestly portrayed. That said, the characterisation suffered for the cliché used so many Christian fiction novels- the handsome protagonist who has lost his faith because something terrible happened to him, and love of the godly woman that helps bring him back. A little too much on-deck public kissing and touching for a supposedly respectable and well-born lady with a man she was not married to for my liking too.

Also, whilst the details of the setting seemed well researched (most of the terms for the parts of a ship were lost on me) other parts were not so accurate or well researched. There did seem to be some stereotyping of the main Scots characters, for instance, complete with red hair and the obligatory dialectal phrases like ‘bairn’, though I don’t know of many Scots who say ‘ken’ instead of ‘know’- at least not those from Edinburgh. Also, whilst it could be understandable for American characters to confuse England and Britain, or not distinguish between the two, even Rafe and his Scottish crew used the two terms synonymously, when they ought to have known better.

Altogether, this was a good book to read once, but not a favourite I would keep to read over and over again. 3.5 stars. Nothing against the author personally, but I think I am going off some of these ‘fluffy’ romance novels, which all seem to have good looking characters, predictable endings and similar plot lines, and this one didn't have a lot to make it stand out from the crowd.
I received a copy of this book free from the publisher for a review, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

5 Apr 2014

'In My Defense' Leigh Ann Byrant

December 2013, 358 Pages

"When Leigh Ann pulled the trigger . . . her life changed forever. On a balmy night, everything changed in the stilling of a heartbeat . . . During Leigh Ann's psychiatric clinical work as a nursing student, a patient swept her off her feet with his dazzling good looks and charm. But soon after marrying Mr Right, things began to go horribly wrong. Believing the best of the man she loved, she endured the heartache and abuse until his threats turned deadly. 

On the night of September 16, 1994, Leigh Ann Bryant, fearing for her life and that of her young son, shot and killed her husband. Panicked and afraid of retaliation, she told the police an intruder had committed the crime. Indicted for murder, and subsequently jailed, Leigh Ann's journey of desperation miraculously turned to one of ultimate healing."In My Defense" is for anyone who has felt alone or hopeless at the hands of abuse - whether it is emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual. It offers tangible hope for victims - and those who love them - who are earnestly seeking the light of healing and freedom. Leigh Ann's story will grip and shake you, and never let you go."

As per the synopsis, this book tells the story of Leigh –Ann who meets the person she believes to be the man of her dreams whilst training, and after a whirlwind romance they marry. The marriage turns out to be marked with abuse and obsession, until she desperate measures to protect herself and her infant son with fatal consequences…

In My Defense was touching true life story of hope and redemption for a woman whose life had been marked by bad choices, and heartache. In some ways, some of the author’s decisions appeared illogical and almost unbelievable. Why did she not see the danger signs with Vincent earlier, why did she not tell the truth sooner? However, for those who have not faced such circumstances (thankfully many never will) it’s all too easy to pass judgement on a young lady whose deep seated need for love after a difficult family life and traumatic youth drove her into the arms of the first man who seemed to offer it.

Her intense love and fear mixed with loyalty for the man who abused, whist wanting to win him over and change him her reflect the reality of many people (both male and female) who have faced such abuse in relationships. Thus her story is genuine and recommended for everyone. People who have a background in social care or working with abuse victims might find it particularly interesting to read the testimony of a survivor. 
It would also be too easy for Leigh-Ann to have vilified her former husband, but she did not, and that it itself I found commendable. Her love was genuine, was was her remorse.

The writing style admittedly was not the best ever. The short chapters allowed for a quick read, but the style was sometimes rather matter of fact and narrative, and there did seem to be some gaps which could make the course of events seem a little inconsistent. One could however identify with the author and her plight, especially when faced with the apparent ineptitude of her legal team. Leigh Ann’s story and journey also conveyed some valuable messages about the necessity of endurance in difficult circumstances, and not viewing faith in Christ as simply an easy way out or little more than ‘fire insurance’. 

A challenging, difficult, yet necessary and ultimately encouraging read! I received a e-galley of this book from Netgalley for the purpose of review, all opinions expressed herein are my own.
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