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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Overwatching Fallout

I promised, as part of running this blog that I would include reviews of all manner of things. I have continued my Goodreads reviewing and as a result have a handful of book reviews available to read now. I also have a review of Doctor Strange and now I am going to review the best video games I have played in 2016. 

As a disclaimer, these are games are the Xbox One versions (my gamertag if you care is Mistborn22) while the two games at number 10 exist as placeholders owing to the fact that I have yet to play them. I also did not include NBA 2K16 or Just Dance 2016 among this list despite playing them. 



1. Overwatch (10/10) - Overwatch is one of those games I go back to again and again just to play another ten minutes. The original product was excellent fun, but then Blizzard included free DLC, events, specific themed skins, external comics and lore, and a competitive mode. Easily one of the most polished and fun games out there to play. Just watch the following video for an idea of the entire world surrounding this game!

2. Diablo 3 (9/10) - Diablo III is one of those games I had always meant to try until this year. When my friend Adam went home to the Philippines he briefly let me play this game. I was hooked (and to this point it is my second most played) because I am an absolute sucker for fantasy rpgs. Particularly if the lore and story are interesting. A world of soulstones, angels, demons and racial conflict? Diablo III has that and more!

3. Fallout 4 (9/10) - I'm not as far into the game as with some of the others, but the sheer level of worldbuilding and detail is incredible. The fantastic side-quests, character choices and overall game is highly polished. In fact I spent most of my time so far performing side-quests and winning favour with fellow vault-dwellers in order to build up a variety of settlements. It is a game that reminds me of Simcity mixed with COD-style shooting and general RPG fun.

4. Arkham Knight (9/10) - All of the Arkham Asylum games are excellent and Arkham Knight I felt, really put a full stop on a magnificent series. The sense of playing as Batman in an increasingly larger world, solving crimes and puzzles and stealthily making your way around was incredible. Critics complained that the Batmobile was used too often in this game, however I felt the balance between the story and the use of the devices was wonderful. In all the best Batman game I have ever played.

5. The Witcher 3 (9/10) - This is a game that would be much higher. Except, I have only played 6 hours of its incredibly long story for one accomplishment. The world (based on the books by Andrei Sapkowski - also excellent reading I might add) is one of monsters. Monsters who are men and monsters who are the ghouls and vampires of myth and legend. Playing as a monster-hunter you have the opportunity to take on these contracts and follow a sweeping storyline. And even after just 6 hours I have a sense at just how grand that storyline is.

6. Dishonored (9/10) - Want to be a silent assassin with incredible magic abilities? Yeah, me neither - but that's exactly what Dishonored is all about. You start the story as Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress, who is framed for her murder and imprisoned. Fortunately, you are freed by a group of loyalists who explain the situation and set you on a path of vengeance and redemption. Plus you get incredible abilities such as possession of rats, blink teleportation and windblasts. Play how you want: stealthy and bloody, stealthy and innocent, or with a hail of gunfire. High-chaos, low-chaos, the choice is all yours!

7. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (9/10) - The Lord of the Rings is my favourite book series and the films are among my favourites also. I was worried that Shadow of Mordor would depart far too much from the established lore, however it is a wonderful addition to the lore and the game physics are unique. The concept of bosses who remember past-encounters with you thanks to the wonderful Nemesis system is terrific, as is the Assassin's Creed-style combat and wall-climbing.

8. Sunset Overdrive (7.5/10) - It turns out that the makers of such games as Ratchet and Clank (and reportedly Spyro) had further unique ideas up their sleeves. I downloaded this as a free Games-With-Gold offering and boy is it fun chaos. For those who prefer there is a profanity and gore filter, and countless other options for editing your game character and play style. Yet the sheer idea of grinding around a city, defeating hordes of mutated fizzy monsters is pure fun and colourful (self-mocking) delight. 

9. Star Wars Battlefront (7.5/10) - I suspect that I, like many other 'super-fans' of Star Wars was expecting something a little more fine-tuned. Of course, it appears that spending the extra 30 dollars (per pack) for the DLC may bring the experience that was hoped for and in and of itself Battlefront is not a terrible game. It's merely that it could have been a better Star Wars experience with a campaign, greater choice of troop types (which was what made the originals fun) and more maps (again with better choice). Hopefully the sequel will improve these elements!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Magic of Writing

Recently, I started watching Penn and Teller: Fool Us on Netflix. Only the first season was available but it was fascinating watching magicians, mentalists and other illusionists attempt to fool two high-profile magicians in a television show format. Below I have linked videos of some of the more impressive tricks I saw performed.

On Saturday 12, I also watched Dynamo perform his magic in Rod Laver. Despite having seen his tricks on tv before it was incredible to witness him put a phone into a bottle live in one quick motion. Admittedly his tricks with levitation are less impressive in a darkened theatre, yet some of his vanishing and transformation tricks were seamless and captivating.

Magic tricks have always fascinated me. Currently the swiftness and skill of how magicians out-think their audience with misdirection, forcing and sleight of hand fascinates me. The following article focuses on psychological studies into the concept of how such tricks work on the mind of the audience:

Magic, in my eyes, is all around us. The writer, regardless of genre, must capture that magic. They must misdirect their reader with clever red herrings or breadcrumb trails in their plots. They must force the reader to reach a conclusion that is satisfying. A simple plot becomes a marvelous plot (or magic trick) when you stay ahead of the audience. Hence essentially the real secret of magical writing is through clever planning to ensure that you are always one step ahead of your readers.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

An Indefinite Past, A Certain Future

Last Sunday at our Swan Hill church, our pastor shared a fantastic message about the concept of the 'family of origin.' His particular focus was on the idea that when two people enter a marriage they bring ideas and experiences that clash because of their different families of origin. In some ways Jeanille and I do and have experienced this, in the different ways we consider money, work, leisure time or simple household arrangements.

Yet differences even extend beyond origins. Not simply because Jeanille is Filipino and I am Aussie. Differences extend to the simple fact that as a man there are ways that my brain is wired that hers is not. There are things that I enjoy more than she does. I doubt she will ever truly love Star Wars or Marvel no matter how many times I drag her along to these films. Yet that is okay.

It is okay because I do not want Jeanille to be anything other than who she is. I don't want her to be someone with a different past, because I want to look at her the way that God sees her. Knowing that the past fuels the future. I hope and believe she looks at me the same way.

Because, really, all pasts are indefinite. They do not define us truly - except to provide a launching pad for our future. Yes indeed, in the wake of the US election the old idea that the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour may run true. However, I prefer to remember that the future is controlled not by the past but by God Himself.

And that to me makes all the difference. My past does not control my future. The past few days do not control the future of the world. We need to take responsibility for the future which God has in His hands and bring His Kingdom to the world.

So in short, no matter your past (years, months, week, days) trust in the Lord, remember that He is in control. And like I, myself have been learning, it's not about you!

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

It's Not MY Fault

It's not my fault Donald Trump was elected. It's not my fault that Tony Abbott was elected. It's not my fault that other people are entirely ridiculous! Sound familiar?

Essentially this is what many, many people around the world have now been arguing: It's not my fault. And they're right. Not one single person as a citizen of Australia voted for the Presidency of the United States of America. News flash: no one from Canada, New Zealand, England, India, China, Russia and so on voted for Donald Trump. In fact, if we have to blame someone then we have to blame those clearly ignorant members of the United States of America who voted. At least it's not MY fault.

But you see, that is where it becomes entirely your fault. Your fault that you choose to look at other people and blame them as the cause of problems going on in the world. It is time that we as humanity actively took responsibility for our own actions and what we can control. But instead all too often the response to something we don't like is: tears, denial and a lack of responsibility.

I am not saying that I agree that Donald Trump is a great option. I have had a great laugh at the idea of walls being built between the United States and Mexico for instance. Bullying, sexism and racism on the other hands are not laughing matters. However, for those who did not vote Donald Trump to turn around and say 'he's not my president' (by implication an 'it's not my fault' statement) is to ignore the way their democracy works. To become selfishly obsessed with the fact that an outcome is 'not my outcome' is immature. More than that suggesting that 'America is doomed' or 'I'm leaving the country' if truly meant in a heartfelt manner, is to surrender to the very fear and hatred that many people worry about in Donald Trump.

Responsibility often appears to be made up of two words: Response and Ability. My parents often taught me that part of maturing in life is being willing to take responsibility for my own actions. For what I can control, and for what I do. These two words, Response and Ability, mean so very much when placed together. They mean the need to have an appropriate Response to any situation to the best Ability. 

This post discusses the importance of being a real leader who never says 'It's not my fault.' Part of the responsibility of the Christian is to recognise where they must take responsibility. In 2 Timothy 1:6-7 Paul reminded Timothy of the responsibility Timothy had to look after the gifts God had given him. "6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-control."

Importantly, you see the reminder that Paul made here is not simply to take responsibility for the gift of God in Timothy's life. He also reminds Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound-mind (as other translations suggest). It is the power of God that allows us to be able to take true responsibility for the issues that concern us, that we are responsible for.

My encouragement is that the Christian and the non-Christian can become capable of stopping and taking responsibility. That as people we clamp down on stating that it is not our fault. That perhaps, just maybe, we instead say - but I may have a solution and the response and ability to see that solution through.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Why the US Election Result Does Not Matter

Today the world watches as the USA go to the polls to elect their new President. Or rather, due to the convoluted system - 270 electoral votes (all very confusing for Australians). All along this has been a long, bitter and ugly campaign. Many people have commented that either way the American people lose. Other people have talked about how one candidate is a 'lesser evil' or 'better choice than the other.' So many other sources have held great fears about the election results. Others yet again feel this is an election of so many lies, fears and grievances that ultimately the result becomes problematic either way.

I wanted to write a blog post however, from my perspective about why the end result - Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump - does not matter. This is not a statement to say that people should not take responsibility for their vote. More that it is a statement to say in the overall scheme of things we as individuals need to remember who is really in control of everything.

Jeanille and I have recently purchased a house (or begun the process). It is a continuation of God's blessing and favour as we followed His plans and guidance for our new lives as a married couple. I know that some people looked at the situation - Jeanille leaving behind a comfortable city job to move to the uncertain country, myself moving away from family - as unusual and a negative. However, throughout our moves we trusted in God above all else. It is for this reason that training and career broadening opportunities have opened up for us here along with a lifestyle that many people struggle to achieve in the city (first home ownership in Melbourne is almost impossible for a young couple).

Romans 8:28 states "And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose." I often am reminded that the second part of the verse is particularly important: 'called according to His purpose.'  Proverbs 19:21 says that "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand."

When you follow God's plans - his purposes that stand forever and despite any obstacle - you might find that some of your goals end up failing. However, often your own dreams and desires will be met in far greater ways. A dream of mine as a teacher has been to be able to become a writer, I may not yet be fulfilling that dream but the process of chasing it has taken some interesting turns as I trust in God. Jeanille's dream has lain in medicine education, and has now shifted to business aspirations, yet at the same time she is still studying and educating herself in this new season of our lives. God is fulfilling the depths of our dreams, while also leading us to pursue him deeper and in different new ways!

So if you are a Christian, the US election result should not matter. Obviously it may matter for a short time, and it may matter for a longer time. But the US election result does not affect who you are as a person and what you believe. The US election result does not change how the universe, which is so much more infinitely bigger than our own problems, runs. The US election result in the entire history of the world is a small blip, as is everything else connected to it.

If we say that we trust God then it should not matter who is in power - God's authority will always be greater. Look at China where Christianity has been under extreme attack for decades because of Communist belief. Christians who live in countries where they are persecuted still continue to worship God and follow Him. Ultimately, regardless of circumstances, for the believer He must be in control of everything.

The election result should not even matter if you don't believe in God. For the non-Christian the US election result should still be a small blip on the radar of history. Our entire existence in this universe is questionable, is tenable, and we live everyday in the hope that some great catastrophe will not suddenly end it all. That is, without the thought of something greater in true control of the situation.

Ultimately it comes down to a matter of faith. America's has long said 'in God we trust,' now with the possibility of a 'disaster' depending upon who becomes President who does America (and the world in my case) really trust in?

I have long been concerned about the path that society is taking - its morals and laws differing from God's plan slowly, gently phasing Him out of the picture where it can. Yet even that doesn't matter. What should it matter if human beings pass a law to outlaw Christianity? God is still God and He is still in control of my future.

Now to clarify, I am not referencing laziness or apathy. Indeed, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” Instead I am advocating for the Christian (and everyone else) to follow their faith, to vote in good conscience, and to abstain in the same way, as they feel lead to. I am advocating that even when results in life do not go our way that we should not proclaim doom-and-gloom, hellfire-and-brimstone. Instead we should look to the one who created the Heaven and the Earth and say - my faith is not dependent on who runs the United States of America. My faith is not dependent upon the fears of the world. My faith is dependent upon my God.

1I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
3He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Review: Academ's Fury

Academ's Fury Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim Butcher's first two books in his Codex Alera are fascinating - weighted with capable, yet flawed female and male characters, and full of political intrigue and adventure. The very concept: an alien world populated by future descendants of the Roman people is intriguing. However, at times the writing itself feels 'too neat' and the suspension of disbelief falters.

The book follows Tavi, a young man in a world of furycrafters, who cannot furycraft. Furycrafting is the magic system of this world, whereby each citizen has possession of one or more elemental spirits called furies. This concept is of course, based upon the Roman mythologies and the concept of the one 'freak hero' in a world of magic who has none himself. In this book in particular, however, the reader witnesses the development of Tavi as a man - whereas in the first book he was a young adolescent. This develops Tavi as an interesting character and leads the reader to want to follow his journey onwards across the continuing novels.

As far as fantasy works travel this is a 'nice' book. It is a neat distraction that allows the reader to pass away the time without every being anything grander. Yet it is for this reason that the novel works entirely. It is polished escapism.

At times Jim Butcher weighs his story and world down with various political machinations which add a depth of realism to his characters and story but which drag down the entertainment value. Which leads me to consider that I must complete the entire series before making an appropriate judgement of where the entire narrative is leading towards.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 6 November 2016

My Warrior and The Philippines

Follow my friend, Keira, as she blogs about her life. Currently she, her husband and family are in the Philippines for ministry purposes. The insights from her about the differences between life there and life in a western country are incredible!

I highly recommend you follow her thoughts and summaries. Her last post focused on contentment, and the previous post was about celebrities and their self-destructive tendencies. All fascinating things to hear about and to realise at times that life here in a Western Country is fantastic in comparison.

Keira and I worked on a song together called You're My Warrior, which you can see below. I provided the lyrics and Keira made all the effort to transform it into this beautiful music video. 
Keira also has some fantastic other music videos on her youtube channel so please go and subscribe if you like this song! 

Also, if you are enjoying my blog posts do not forget to click the follow link at the top right-hand corner of the page!

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had an interesting discussion recently about what is more crucial to a text: characters or setting. as in the case of this reviewer of Doctor Strange, they believe it to be a series full of links to the occult. I personally however found the last book of the series to be full of themes that pointed to Christ (as seen in my review here of The Deathly Hallows) and have reached the decision that Christians should embrace, rather than purely reject, pop culture movements that do touch on such themes.

This all leads us regardless to a cauldron of social-expectations: those who hyped up this book, believing it would be another fantastic novel; those who downplayed the book because "Harry Potter is not that good"; those who avoided the book like the plague for its "dangerous material" or because they did not care; and those like myself who recognised that this was the script for a stageplay. As someone accustomed to reading plays (it is common practice in English education to need to read plays) I was ready for this and therefore enjoyed the book. However, it appears the reaction was not the same for many other readers.

The criticism of the play, therefore can read as very immature or uneducated on some accounts. However, should we simply ignore criticisms if the audience who bought a book on a particular premise feel betrayed by the contents of a novel? On one hand, if the reader fails to make themselves aware of the true nature of the book they have no one to blame save themselves. On the other, it is clear that the very existence of a script such as this is the product of rampant consumerism.

Yet despite the commercial reasoning which pushed this script into bound and printed form, the play itself provides an intriguing story. Some critics have complained that the characters of Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione feel different in this novel - that they are not the same characters. At moments I felt that this was certainly true. However, I also felt that given that Harry was a very passive character to begin with, that it was true to his character to become the father-figure that this play presents him as.

I will say little more, if you are contemplating reading this play it is likely that you are a fan of the series or simply want to see what the fuss is about. I will state that I enjoyed the overall story, although seeing a familiar set of characters shown in a play was oddly different. It is not a work for everyone (unless you share my fondness for reading play scripts), but it does possess a poetry which, at times, out performs the wonders of the original times. Yet this in and of itself is a short-lasting magic.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Characterised Setting

I promised in a previous post (Opening a Story) that I would post a discussion about the necessity and importance of characters and setting in writing. Therefore, I present to you a post on the interaction between characters and setting. Or as I call it, characterised setting.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about what it is that truly drives the best novels. Or for that matter the best television shows or films. In short, the question was 'what element or ingredient are readers and viewers truly looking for?' He argued that it is characters that drive the core of the story - that readers want to meet the main character in the opening chapter (hence my removal of the prologue from my novel) and form that emotional attachment. I argued that the setting of the novel - the world and its rules were equally as important.

The argument for the importance of Character

Popular works of fiction all feature fantastic character dynamics. Think about the last time you watched a film, or read a book that lacked any kind of important relationship between characters. The Lord of the Rings becomes less interesting without the members of the fellowship. Sherlock is nothing without a relationship with Watson. Iron Man is merely Tony Stark without Jarvis or the Avengers to bounce-off. Batman again is simply Bruce Wayne, and a boring incarnation of the character without Alfred or Robin and so on and so forth.

The following image, from details five important character archetypes in stories. A later post trims this to three necessary characters - the protagonist, antagonist and relationship character. I would argue therefore that a strong story opening would introduce one of these three key characters - either the antagonist or protagonist preferably. Or even both. Another post over at argues that the clown archetype is also crucial for comic relief and humour.

The argument for setting

Without characters there is nothing propelling the story. The story I would argue is the most essential aspect of any novel. Without characters to propel a story, there is no point to running a storyline. So lacking characters, or worse: writing weak or boring characters is a cardinal sin for writers. However, I would argue it is not enough to simply have characters. They need a setting to frame them and provide dilemmas. They need a world in which they can develop and thrive.

Well-written characters in a dull, poorly-written setting would be akin to buying tropical fish and placing them on display in a simple fish tank. In other situations it could be more similar to putting beautiful fish into a dirty tank where no one can see them. So ideally you want to create an atmospheric setting in which your characters thrive.

Therefore, picking the right setting is crucial for your story. If you are trying to create a futuristic science fiction novel then picking a 1920s setting is not necessarily the best choice. Unless of course you are trying to create a futuristic novel set in a 1920s-esque world. However, my point is that the setting you choose needs to fit with your novel's aim. 

To state it firmer: your setting is purposeless unless it is contributing to the story. If you are intending to write a sappy, romantic fairytale then creating a dark, gothic castle setting will not provide your audience emotions which are light, airy and delightful. The tone that a writer designates for their setting will contribute directly to the mood in which the audience receives that world.

Characterised Setting

My argument is not that character or setting are by themselves more important. I argue that they are crucial together. My favourite fictional worlds are littered with characters that I have emotionally invested in. My favourite characters adorn fascinating worlds. The two, I believe, must rest hand in hand.

Some authors choose to begin a story focusing on their setting and elaborately crafting it in order to drive their characters. Others focus on their characters to drive the setting. In and of themselves either method may work. 

Either option, I believe, is only a mistake if in the process the novelist loses sight of the story they are telling and by extension lose their audience. The number one purpose of any writer must be to maintain the focus on their central ideas that they are communicating and to remember who their audience are. Once an author loses sight of that purpose and audience, they lose sight of the reason to write in the beginning.

Hence why I am attempting to wrap my ideas into one concept I consider 'characterised setting.' Whereby the novelist creates a setting which is as defined by its characters as the characters are defined by their setting. It is a concept in which writing must become more organic and flow - rather than purely remaining a stagnant art. 

I have drawn this conclusion from personal experience. I considered the notion that there are some elements which are unique to every individual - were I born in Southern Africa it is likely I would still have a passion for storytelling for example. However, would I necessarily have the same love for English novels, for films and for sports unique to my area of the world? I doubt it. There are some aspects of my character - particular, peculiar passions and desires - that have been honed by my location and the worldview formed by that location.

The writer must, therefore, strive to balance how their setting is defined by the characters they have created. They must also balance how the characters are defined by the setting. A failure to do this is a failure to create honestly written work. Instead, readers will sense that the characters do not fit into their surroundings or that the surroundings do not match the characters and the suppression of disbelief will fade.

The process of characterising setting

How does the author do this however? It is a process I am still practising myself. However, I believe strongly that as all writing stems from ideas (from thinking, and editing those thoughts) that the creation of appropriate characters and settings must likewise stem from a process of careful editing. The writer must choose particular key adjectives and adverbs (where appropriate) to convey strong emotions about their character and then link the cause of those emotions to the world around the character. And conversely, to be able to choose whether to describe a castle as merely 'haunting', 'gloomy' or 'shadowed with the souls of its former masters' to appropriately create an image of how the setting will appear.

There is an art to writing that can only be met once the writer has achieved their goal. There is a fine balance between seeking to be descriptive and creating vivid images, or merely being prescriptive in the use of exposition. There is also a balance between attempting to create characters who readers emotionally envision as real and trying to write in a manner which follows realistic patterns. How many dialogues in novels follow the same halting, awkward patterns as everyday human speech?

In essence, the true skill of writing is in being able to mentally work out methods of tying words together to express varying emotions in the reader. The article From Fables to Facebook discusses that, "It seems, therefore, that narrative language and literary techniques can stimulate the entire brain, which is why storytelling can make us feel alive, as if we’re really in the action. This thorough mental immersion shows that our brain, at least, doesn’t make much distinction between reading about something and actually experiencing it." Words have power, the skill of being a writer is in being able to use that power effectively.

Relevant Magazine Review of Hacksaw Ridge

“As we know if we don’t worship something healthy we’ll end up worshipping, more often than not, something rather unhealthy,” he says. “Look at our consumer culture. Look at our celebrity culture. You name it. We worship the wrong thing; or if not the wrong thing, something that doesn’t actually feed us in a deep way.”

Friday, 4 November 2016

Dr Strange The Most Theological Marvel Movie So Far

Review: Brooklyn

Brooklyn Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Context is a crucial element to understand for reading any text. Whether this is the context in which a text was created, the context of the author's own biases or judgements, and the context in which you personally are reading the text. Or in the case of this review, the context in which I read Brooklyn.

This is important, because for the last six months I have been inactive on Goodreads due to five major reasons. The first is that I moved to the country at the start of the year. The second is that I became a provisionally-registered English teacher. The third is that on June 25th I married my beautiful wife. The fourth is that I have been busy as a result of the previous three. The fifth however, is that I have during my few moments of free time begun writing consistently on the concept for a novel, and also have taken to blogging over at (which is also where my Goodreads reviews will simultaneously be published along with other thoughts, opinions and reviews of other things such as films or video games etc.)

It is in this context that I found myself picking up Brooklyn as a Year Twelve VCE English text. Upon reading through it I found myself impressed by the manner of its construction and the variety of themes it tackles. It is in many ways a highly feminist text (in other words it positively tackles issues that do and have affected women), a beautiful literary historical novel, and an interesting look into one young Irish girl's transitioning life from girlhood to womanhood.

Eilis Lacey is an intriguingly passive character, a young girl offered the opportunity of a lifetime - to travel to Brooklyn where a steady job and better lifestyle awaits her than offered in Ireland. The one issue is that Eilis never wanted to travel to America. She is, at the novel's opening, presented as perfectly content to remain in a state of simplicity in Ireland. However, because her family (her mother and her elder sister Rose) insist, Eilis never complains and obeys their desires. The question hovering over the story from the beginning revolves around whether Eilis can ever become an active agent in her own lifestory. And it is this question which Colm Tóibín seeks to answer as Eilis transformatively finds herself captivated by her own spontaneous love story.

While hardly the most elaborately written novel, there is a beauty in the simplicity that Tóibín constructs his tale with. The entirety of the plot is presented as if the reader is directly hovering above Eilis' shoulder, viewing her every decision and occasionally deriding her naivete. It is this which allows the author the authority to channel secrets and hidden character motives across the plot. (Why did Eilis' sister want Eilis to be the one to travel to America? (view spoiler))

The novel rotates through a myriad of thematic content: racism, feminism, family, migration. All themes entirely relevant for today's audiences, given the lack of stability in the modern world due to these themes. It is the ways in which the novel presents these themes however, that is truly excellent: African American women shopping amongst 1950s white-Americans, Eilis gradually developing the ability to choose what she wants, Eilis leaving her family behind.

For all of these reasons, I classify Brooklyn as a satisfying and entirely 'neat' novel. It is a novel that displays technique, editing polish and clever thought without the 'purple prose' that some authors lavish upon their work. It is a novel which some readers may find lacks in terms of its emotional pull, with such a passive protagonist. However, it is the way in which Colm Tóibín presents Eilis as passive which provides a wonderful frame for him to display the potent and important thematic elements.

View all my reviews

"It's not about you!"

Psalm 19:1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

God spoke to David through the very universe around him. In the same way, God often speaks to me. It might be someone directly addressing me with a specific word, it may be some fact of nature that reminds me of God, or it may be a repeated word or idea. In the past week God has been speaking to me through the repetition of this one phrase: "it's not about you."

I first encountered this phrase while watching Dr Strange and something about the line resonated with me. Then the same phrase or one similar was stated in church the following morning. Then yet again, I read an article about a doctor giving advice to other medical practitioners. He wrote the following:
One attendee lamented about caring for a patient who was recovering from a procedure that went against her own personal values. She said she was distressed and angered by this; I believe what she hoped for was for me to embrace her distress, validate it, provide words of comfort and support and give advice on how to change. Even though, mind you, she said the patient was happy and very comforted by her care. I looked at her and responded.
“So what? That’s your job. You are supposed to provide care regardless of your values.”
She snapped at me. “Yeah, but what about me?”
“What about you?” I replied. “It’s not about you. It’s about your patient. It’s about caring for your patient. That’s what you signed up for.”
You see, this very phrase has been a constant reminder to me this week about what I signed up for in two cases. The first and most recent case is in my marriage to Jeanille. I signed up to a life which is not about me: it's about my spouse. The challenge for husbands from a Biblical perspective is to love your wife like Christ loved the church and laid down his life (Ephesians 5:25 paraphrasing) and that means recognising that my life is one which requires daily sacrifice. Te second, but more important case, is in my relationship with Christ.

Paul recognised that his life was no longer his own (Galatians 2:20). For the Christian, the life that we live is truly no longer about us. Hearing this phrase repeated by people, films and situations around me was a fantastic reminder about the true purpose of my life. Engaging in every activity that I undertake may be fantastic, however I am wanting more and more for everything that I do to point directly back to the cross.

A key root of sin I believe lies in self-centeredness, in taking God's own position in our lives and becoming the God of ourselves. Jesus was sinless and perfect because as both God and man he was fully dedicated to sacrificing himself and ushering in the Kingdom of God. The question remains: how can we live lives where 'it is not about you' and become people moving ever closer to God's great plans for our lives!

Review: Empire of Storms

Empire of Storms Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Empire of Storms is the penultimate novel of the Throne of Glass series. Like many popular novels it has its flaws, but it is a novel which continues to develop the characters and the relationships between characters. Some readers may harbour a belief that Sarah J. Maas is balancing too many characters and that she does not handle this dynamic element well. Others may argue that this novel does not progress the overall plot particularly well, that they feel that Maas is simply 'making things up as she writes.' I for one find the positives of this novel contribute immensely to the running plot, and thoroughly enjoyed reading this work.

At the end of the day a review should serve a purpose. It should be the same as how teaching English should serve a purpose, or how a house should serve a purpose. If I cannot convince my students that English lessons teach them life skills then I become a poor teacher. A house without the ability to be a shelter to its owners merely becomes four walls and a roof. An excellent review, should therefore seek to convince the reader of the reason why they should or should not continue to participate in using the product. It becomes difficult then to write a review of a series of books, five books into a running series.

Why is this? It is because by this stage most people likely to read this review will be A) readers thoroughly enchanted by the series or B) disenchanted readers seeking to find any reason to continue. I propose therefore, that a review of any book in a series should aim to convince existing readers as to whether it is worthwhile for them to continue reading and to convince readers who have not read the first books in the series to begin reading. With that in mind I will suggest why you should or should not read this series.

1. Why you should read the A Throne of Glass Series:
a) Because it is popular: While this is hardly the most compelling reason to read any novel, often popularity stems from a reason. In this case, there are characters and a story world that characters have bought into and loved.
b) Hulu are making a tv series: Again, while hardly the most compelling reason to read a series, it is a reason. Who wants to be behind with a book series when the television series is releasing?
c) Because of the magic and world: A world of Faery, witches with iron teeth, assassins and evil kings is one of those fractured fairytale settings that is difficult to ignore.
d) Adventure, character development and cliffhangers: You have a group of interesting
e) The moral themes of good versus evil: Given that the main character is an inhuman assassin, yet somewhat relateable, the novels do explore a series of intriguing moral dilemmas that are worth considering in YA fiction.

2. Why you should not read the A Throne of Glass Series:
a) If YA fiction with all its tropes and archetypes is not your cup of tea: They feature in this series somewhat prominently.
b) If you cannot stand wish fulfilment: I skipped a few chapters in this particular book because they were hopelessly sappy wish-fulfilment love scenes. My personal rule of thumb when it comes to romance scenes in books is that you do not have to describe everything as it would be in life and that you should also avoid including information which takes your audience away from your characters and plot. The love scenes in this book in particular break all of those rules.
c) If the idea of a fantasy world of witches, assassins, evil kings etc. does not fascinate you then avoid this series at all costs. They are the focus of this series.

In short I believe the positives for reading this series outnumber the negatives. However, it is up to the individual to choose between whether they want to spend their time (or money) reading this, or investing elsewhere. In terms of popular YA fantasy fiction I rank it amongst the finest series I have read, but as stated it is not without its flaws.

4.5 stars

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