Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Reader, the Reviewer and the Review

My expectations of christian fiction are extremely low. Whenever I have delved in to this area I've been disappointed. Not that it's a genre I've spent a great deal of time in, generally I'm stuck in the Veggie Tales section of the christian bookshop and have more than enough general fiction in my collection to keep me going for several years.

gratuitous pic of some of my favourite books
Many years ago I had a short-lived career as a reviewer of christian fiction for a christian magazine. I was so excited when my first free 'review copy' arrived in the post. I opened the newly published title with my pen poised, ready to critique. I envisaged copying down favourite quotes, highlighting areas of strength and weakness, outlining the development of plot and characters, stressing reasons for the reader to love this book.

It was a shock to find, with a growing sense of dismay, characters that were hideously caricatured, ridiculous plot lines and trite issues. The writing was woeful and I was reeling at the groan-out-loud badness of it all. There was a romantic liaison - it was cringe-worthy. I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or cry hysterically. I was further horrified to discover this book was only the first in a planned series. How on earth to review such a story?

I did my best. I wasn't unduly harsh of the shortcomings. I agonised over the brief positives and tried to be objectively fair about what the book seemed to be trying to achieve. I couldn't in good conscience recommend the book to anyone, but I thought I gave enough information for the reader to make their own informed decision.

"Thank you for your review. Unfortunately it does not meet our criteria for publication, and we will not be in need of your services again."
The voice on the other end of the phone was measured and sure. I was a stumbling mess. "Set criteria? I tried to give an honest critique. Can you explain my shortcomings, so I can try again? (Seemed an ironic question to be asking, in the light of the obvious shortcomings of the book..pity the author hadn't asked anyone the same thing..)
"No, we found your review to be overly critical. It is not our practice to publish negative reviews."
Right. Okay then. Um, thanks.

I don't know about you, but when I read a review, I want honesty. I expect an objective opinion. I don't want a glorified press release that's been written by the author's mother (or more likely, the author). I want to know strengths and weaknesses and I expect fairness. Is this too much to ask?

If you're interested in the issue of reviews, and their role in the current literary environment - this is worth a look:

So it was with a sense of joyous surprise that I came across an example of christian fiction that ticked all my criteria for a great read (whether christian or not). The story flowed and the characters were well-rounded and believable. The social and personal issues were dealt with realistically, sensitively and well. There was pathos, warmth and humour in the writing.

The central character, Amy Gallagher, is a frustrated writer who struggles to find her place in the world. She deals with loss and love, friendship and pain. Her life currently seems characterised by rejection. Her Christianity is not a fix-it for her problems. Nor does it provide her with trite answers to the complexities of life. Yet she holds on to it. It is a solid base that anchors her. Her journey is not world-beating stuff, but it feels real. I know this description sounds NOTHING like my own life (hahahahahahahaha), but these characters, funnily enough, felt like people I knew.

The cover is gorgeous. Ill state the obvious, that covers don't reflect the quality of the writing. But this cover is so lovely I want to frame it and hang it on my wall. Maybe it's not a coincidence then that the author, Bethany Pierce is also an artist as well as a writer. (sigh, I'm trying to be happy for her, really I am...)

If you're looking for a good read this holiday, give it a try. I'd love to know what you think..
I went back to Koorong to buy another copy and was told the book is now out of print. It was only published in 2010! The ebook version is on their website $5.50! But you won't be able to frame the cover.
If you'd like a copy for FREE from me, make a comment - I'll let you know if it meets my criteria :-)

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Holidays Hooray!

Yes school holidays have come around again. I don't know if time feels like it's flying so fast for the kids at school, but from a parent's perspective? Haven't we just had holidays? Is this year really almost gone?

We've taken off for the holidays - literally in a plane (thanks to soon-to-expire frequent flier points) to a (hopefully) warmer climate.
I've packed in optimistic mode and only put one zip up jumper top in the bag (for each child) and am hoping that it's all we'll need if the nights get a tad chilly. Other than that we're counting on fun in the sun and lots of lazing around in tee-shirts and shorts.

Got a bit of a shock when I pulled out all the kids summer gear, in preparation for packing, and realised that half the stuff was too small. Why has everyone grown in the last six months? Why? Why?
Fortunately I had bought a few new things in the end-of-season sales last summer (when there wasn't really a summer, remember?) so that should see us through.

Fave outfits:
See the sale section at

and I'd love these for Arch - he's not quite two yet - and I think I could get away with it!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Wa-Wa Song

Today I watched Ellie join in with her infants classmates at school assembly and sing the Wa-Wa Song - know it? It's from a Kid's Praise Musical - which I performed with my whole school (only about 30 kids) way back when... I've bought most of the old school musicals I did as a kid on CD for my kids. I figure if I can still recite every word from every song (which I can) then that is worth passing on to the next generation..

Love the way with your kids you can get a glimpse of the full circle - of them enjoying what you once enjoyed and are now enjoying again...

Meanwhile, Jesse had his final day of a soccer skills workshop he's been doing after school this term. It's our first foray into organised sport. Unsurprisingly he loved it (doh).

Enjoying the game from close up. Where is that child's Mum?

I enjoyed watching the others watch the game as much (maybe more, ahem) than I enjoyed actually watching the game. And yes, Arch did fall over the inflatable side line a number of times..

so relaxing to just lie back there..
Speaking of enjoying things from long ago (the Wa-Wa Song, not soccer so much) - I embraced my 80's tragic side and went to a Howard Jones concert last week. One of my best friends from high school and beyond, Miriam, came with me to celebrate her birthday.

We had a fantastic time. Must admit the audience (approaching middle-aged) and the venue (a suburban RSL Club) was pretty staid - felt a bit sorry for Howard as he's played Wembley Stadium in the past (he sang at Live Aid!), and this was not quite in the same league. We did our best at dancing the night away, and feelings of exhaustion in the second half were understandable, it being a school night and all.

Hardly what you'd describe as a mosh pit, I know. My dancing moves are limited, but I told myself that I would try to be uninhibited (not easy for a Baptist girl I'm telling you) as at least I would never see the audience (who were sitting right behind me) again. So of course a Mum comes up to me in assembly this morning and says, was that you I saw bopping last Thursday night? Sigh.

Am hoping Howard found enough good things about Sydney (our weather for one) to keep him coming back to tour from the UK. And please don't send me any comments saying "Who is Howard Jones?". Google him people. His songs were many and fabulous. He is a musical genius and sounds as good today as he ever did.

The day after the concert Mim and I went shopping and downed coffee and cakes like there was no tomorrow. Arch had fun, especially on these lovely steps (which had a sign above them saying "Please Stay Off the Steps").

N o s t a l g i a   R u l e s !

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Blooming Surprise

In a recent post entitled Blossom Envy, I bemoaned our crab apple blossom tree that had done nothing all year. No growth had been evident in the twelve months since we'd planted it, and my high hopes towards the end of winter and the stirrings of spring for glorious multi-coloured blossoms had been sadly dashed. I'd resigned myself to taking pleasure in the blossoms of other people's trees... Until:

It's a late bloomer! The kids discovered it first, and once we got over our initial shock we were thrilled to see so many blooms on what had appeared to be gnarled and dormant sticks.

Without trying to be too profound, I think I'll just say that there is obviously a lesson in this for all of us (or namely, for me).

I've started a pin board on PINTEREST that I'm rather enjoying. It's called: Craft Even I Could Do. I'm not a crafter - I can't even sew and I'm too scared to use a glue gun. But if I was to do something crafty..

..these tissue pom poms would be it. I've noticed them around, in some lovely home ware stores and at some afternoon tea fairy parties. Apparently they're quite easy to make. Ha! Did I tell you about the time I tried to learn off YouTube how to start french knitting? Eleanore, my seven-year-old, eventually gave up in disgust. "We'll just wait till Grandma can do it!" she exclaimed, to my immense relief.

Anyway, I've found that you can buy these tissue pom poms (just in case your crafting doesn't come off..). Aren't they lovely!?

And here's a picture of the newly painted green walls in my room. It sets off other lovely objects beautifully, especially if they're pink. Green and pink is one of my favourite combinations.
The vase was $20 on sale from Blue Illusion. Yet another store channelling all things french.
My hydrangea tower looks beautiful against the rich background.

Hope you are enjoying the start of spring..

Monday, 10 September 2012

La Vie En Rose

It's only a glimpse, but notice the pink wall behind the hutch in the top photo? That's la vie en rose from Porters Paints - now adorning ALL of the walls in our girls room. I'll admit when I first saw the room newly painted, I did catch my breath, and follow this by staring fixedly at the colour card to reassure myself that somehow that  small splash of colour was really the bright eye-popping colour which was now threatening to knock me out.
Our painter's having a great time. "I'm only used to doing these colours on a feature wall!" He exclaimed after the first two rooms were done. Coloured feature walls are a fairly modern invention aren't they? I personally think they've had their day. One coloured wall and three of Antique White USA or Hog's Bristle (which incidentally the painter said he was TOTALLY sick of after ten years of this duo being 'on trend') to me says you just haven't been brave enough!

Colour rules! Just ask Jesse (our nine year old) who chose RED LANTERN for his room. Whoa! It did cause us momentary panic when it was first done. And I'll admit, I did ask the painter (in a whisper so Jesse wouldn't hear) how easy it would be to paint over. The answer was, not very.  But now that we've started to put the furniture back in, the colour is a joy to behold. It's an art gallery colour - it frames everything and enhances it. Pictorial evidence will soon follow..
And I'm loving this idea for some more wall art. The challenge, obviously, would be coming up with the people/place names, favourite words you would use...
I'm going to enjoy coming up with some word combinations for the kids rooms. Over the weekend, while Jonathan was away, I think my preferred option would have been:

Which just goes to prove, you should definitely wait till you are in the right frame of mind before committing anything to permanent art status.
Wisteria is gracing our back fence, courtesy of our next door neighbours.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What do you do?

Wendy who makes great coffee at our local cafe looked at me this morning, and asked a direct question. Not rudely. I could see she genuinely wanted to know. "What do you do all day? While the kids are at school I mean, what do you do?"

I felt immediately embarrassed. I shuffled my feet a bit, and looked at the ceiling for inspiration. My mind was a blank.
"Heck I don't know!" I laughed awkwardly.
Wendy looked at me hopefully, "Do you go out a lot?"
Ouch. If you could call spending an inordinate amount of time in the supermarket, going out? I wondered what Wendy wanted to hear from me. I hoped in our brief morning encounters I hadn't come across as someone spoilt and frivolous, frittering away each day...  Yikes! This wasn't the sort of conversation I wanted to have.
"Oh well, I do some cooking (burgers last night!), cleaning (the bathroom, though not often), I blog, a bit." 
"You used to write didn't you?" she asked.
"Well, some writing, some editing, that sort of stuff." I mumbled. "I go op shopping!" I said with a bit more enthusiasm. But then worrying that now I really did sound frivoulous, I ended with, "Arch still sleeps a lot."
Then, muttering about Arch being asleep right now, in the car, I grabbed my coffee and ran.

In the car, I took a deep breath and started the engine. It wasn't really a difficult or hostile question...just one that at the moment, was kind of hard to answer..

This 'bringing up the kids' period of my life, is really a brief moment in time.
Occasionally I do fight rising panic at the thought of what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and indeed what happens next. Arch goes to school in 2016, so then what?  Here's a picture of him at school - after the Book Week Parade last week. He clamoured up into a chair in Ellie's classroom, looking like he belonged there. Maybe I should just start dropping him off with the others in the morning, and see if anyone notices?

For a while I kept an old business card of mine on the kitchen window sill. It had my name, title and place of work. The card looked impressive. And in a small (and yes, rather pathetic) way, it reminded me that I once had a clearly defined role in the world, and that in itself had its benefits.
One night, a family member (and not a distant one) picked up this card. "What's this?" they asked.
"It's my old business card."
"Really? I had no idea.."
What that comment meant, I don't know. No idea? No idea I had a good sounding job? No idea I worked for that particular organisation? No idea I was qualified for that, or anything?

If you asked me about my previous qualifications I could rattle off my degrees and work experiences, but in the end, so what?

Sometime sooner or later, I may be looking for another job on top of the one I already have. But at the moment, I'm living a life that has many facets to it. And yes, without wanting to sound too defensive, sometimes I even get to sit in the sun at home without having to be anywhere else. In my "working" days, that was a yearned for but unattainable hope!
Now, I get to spend a lot of time with my kids - and they're growing up fast. I'm trying to make the most of it, good times and bad, and I don't want to waste time panicking about future unknowns. God knows where I'm going, so I'll trust Him to work it out and show me the way, in His time.

For a book that made my heart sing, on the seasons of life, and how even the slow seasons of life turn out to have purpose.. check out this: