Book Review: The Beantown Girls ***(and a half)

Yes!Another one!! But after this I will have done my duty and reviewed the books sent by Net Galley. Like most of the books I review on my blog I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

 

The blurb says:

It began slowly, and I wasn’t engaged by the characters. At all. They didn’t seem very believable and I found them rather annoying. But, I continued, as I felt obliged to do, and finally found the story drew me in. I wasn’t totally convinced by the descriptions of the English countryside, and although this is based on real life characters and true events, I find the idea of unlimited doughnuts and coffee during rationing to be a bit odd. I know the US troops had access to food and other supplies that the British were denied but all the same…However, a quick google tells me how wrong I am, as the picture below shows.

Generally I ended up enjoying the book more than I had expected at the beginning, and while I wouldn’t rave about it, as many reviewers have, I think it deserves a three-and-a-half stars. Which is down graded to three stars for NetGalley, as they don’t do half stars.

There’ll be no more book reviews for a while. Sorry there was such a sudden glut of them now!! I’ve just started to read Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series again. I didn’t enjoy the last few but thought I’d start the series over again and see how I get on!

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Book Review: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes *****

I’m sorry if you’re not interested in book reviews – I need to catch up on my reviewing commitments. I received an e-copy of this book free from Net Galley in return for an honest review. And so, here it is!

The Net Galley description reads: Ruth Hogan, the international bestselling author behind the The Keeper of Lost Things returns with an irresistible novel of unexpected friendships, second chances—and dark secrets…

They say friends make life worth living…

Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, Masha’s life was forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds comfort in her faithful canine companion Haizum, and peace in the quiet lanes of her town’s swimming pool. Almost without her realizing it, her life has shuddered to a halt.

It’s only when Masha begins an unlikely friendship with the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice and a penchant for saying just what she means, that a new world of possibilities opens up: new friendships, new opportunities, and even a chance for new love. For the first time in years, Masha has the chance to start living again.

But just as Masha dares to imagine the future, her past comes roaring back…

Like her beloved debut, The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan’s second novel introduces a cast of wonderful characters, both ordinary and charmingly eccentric, who lead us through a moving exploration of the simple human connections that unite us all.  

I enjoyed “The Keeper of Lost Things” very much, and so was looking forward to reading this. It was highly enjoyable and I would happily recommend this. However, I need to admit that I read it at least two months ago, so can’t remember that much about it!! This is what I do recall:

Even though there was a slight sense of trying a bit too hard to have whimsical characters, all of the people delineated were believable and likeable. It gives a moving portrayal of how grief and guilt can stall a person’s life, and how friendship can help to finally bring a person out of the darkness. The themes of death and grieving are well handled, as is the idea of the importance of friendship.

The ending was satisfying. Not what was expected, a bit hard to read, but yes, satisfying.

I’m sorry this isn’t a better review, but I know that this was a five star book. That doesn’t happen very often.

Book Review: The Good Priest

Oh, oh – I’m sorry, NetGalley!! I have been neglecting my duties! I have read books but completely forgotten to review them, as I’ve been busy with 40 Acts. So here is a catch up review on one of the books:

The Net Galley description reads:

What do I write about now?!

I’ve been so focussed on my 40 Acts journey every blog post, practically, has been about that.

What now?

Back to the mundanities of life in a small French village.

But things to look forward to this week:

  • not quite so much work – not quite an Easter break, but less to do. (though the less I do, the less I get paid!)
  • meal out on Friday with Louis and Odette
  • Friend Cathy arrives on Sunday or Monday – huzzah!
  • I should get my new bank card soon too.

I didn’t tell you I’d lost my bank card, did I? I used it on Saturday in the bank, and discovered on Sunday that it was missing. Not sure if I’d shoved it in my pocket and then pulled it out with my gloves somewhere outside, or whether I’d left it in the bank, I decided (after a panic attack and tears – this bloody hormonetherapy!) to cancel the card. Of course, on Tuesday evening (bank closed on Monday) I got a phone call saying I’d left my card in the bank!! But it’s too late, of course, as I’d cancelled it. So I’ve been without it for a week, and I’m not likely to get it for another few days. It’s been a pain as many shops in France don’t take cheques – luckily supermarkets do, so I’ve been able to get the food shopping, but I’ve had to plan my petrol buying more carefully, as the kiosks are only open at certain times. It has meant I haven’t impulse bought…but there’s a handbag I’m definitely considering!!

For those who might be interested I’ve created a new blog for our Church sermons. We’re hoping to post most of the weekly sermons on this site. Do go over if you’d like to read them. Oh Taste & See

This is Christ Church, Clermont Ferrand

The Easter procession: Lift High the Cross

Summing up 40 Acts

While I don’t want to say “Hey! Aren’t I great?!” I thought I wanted to do a summing up of 40 Acts and what I did. It’s more to encourage myself, I think AND to remind myself that there are things I still need to do, as well as to see that there were lots of small actions which made a difference. There are one or two other actions I diid which haven’t really fitted in to the chart, and there are two blank days when I didn’t do anything…

Some of the remaining actions are on-going things, and others are one-offs which need to be fulfilled…

 

  ACT WHAT I DID

 

WHAT I STILL HAVE TO DO
1 PLEDGE Continued to blog about 40 Acts & to encourage others as they blogged  
2 PEOPLE WATCH   Purposely look for opportunities to be generous
3 PERIOD POVERTY Gave sanitary protection to the Food Bank collection at church  
4 CASH STASH   Keep an extra 5€ back a month to give to charity
5 BLESS THE BOSS  Gave a card to Melissa & Thomas, and flowers & card to Claire.  
6 CHOCOLATE TUESDAY Bought chocolates for students at Bonjour World  
7 JOYFUL, JOYFUL!   The joy of the Lord is my strength… to remind me not to get grumpy!
8 BRING LIFE Encouraged others to give blood by posting on FB.  
9 BE PRESENT Went to see Charlotte & made time to go to Monique’s too.  
10 DROP EVERYTHING Gave shawl to Charlotte and (later) cross to Angel  
11 HIDDEN HEROES  A couple of boxes of biscuits to the PO people. A chance to talk about 40 Acts  
12 PRAYER CIRCLE  Helped a young Serbian woman by buying nappies etc for her.  
13 NEEDS MUST Washed up for Bonjour World and have continued to do so.  
14 GREEN   Buy – and use – beeswax covers rather than clingfilm.
15 LEG UP Gave my pay for 1 lesson to PC4R and offered to do a zentangle Highland Cow zentangle
16 DIRTY HANDS   Not look the other way when the cat trays need changing!!
17 MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Cards & gifts for Lunch Bunch helpers  
18 BROTHERS & SISTERS Cards and letters sent to persecuted Christians in Cuba  
19 NEXT DOOR Cup cakes made for Roland & Marion & the children.  
20 CLOSE TO HOME    
21 FROM YOUR SEAT Some encouraging/ Thankful messages sent  
22 OPEN INVITE e-card sent to friends to say I was thinking about them.  
23 GRIN Bought croissants etc for students/staff at Bonjour World  
24 LOST SIGNAL   Write letters!!!

 

25 ROADWORK AHEAD Prayed for my Wednesday students

 

 
26 WITHOUT BORDERS Told people about PC4R and set weekly reminder for the Friday Conga  
27 DISAPPEARING ACT Placed some Ninja notes around Paris. Ninja Parking meter!

 

28 CLEAR THE DIARY Gave time to prepare canapés; gave extra time at our table in the Cathedral.  
29 ANYTHING ELSE?   Write to hospital to offer services/ cards for English speaking chemo patients.
30 YIKES!    
31 HOPE FOR THE HOMELESS Nothing too overwhelming – gave a bit more than usual to a beggar.  
32 BETTER THREADS   Try to be a bit more thoughtful about my clothes buying. Do I NEED it?
33 BIG DEAL Giving time – made cookies for Raphaelle’s family  
34 ADOPT Plan to give cross to Angel and to have coffee with Rabab  
35 I-SPY   Have a conversation with people you don’t know – engage more!
36 COMPASSION Continue to pray for those close to me who are suffering – COMMITMENT! Continue to pray for those close to me who are suffering – COMMITMENT!
37 SEEK OUT   I know & God knows. Enough said.

 

38 BEHIND BARS Wrote cards & letters to three Christians imprisoned for their faith.  
39 70 x 7   Living with constant forgiveness of others. Bonhoeffer quotation.
40 THE NOW & NOT YET Coffee and talk with Rabab.  

All in all, I found this year’s 40 Acts to be encouraging and inspiring. It was a honour to have been asked to write a reflection for them, which seemed to be well-received. I enjoyed “meeting” other bloggers, and also catching up with others from past 40 Acts blogging. I felt that perhaps there were a few too many monetary based challenges, but – of course! – there is nothing stopping us 40 Act-ers going “off piste” and finding another time/talent based act to do!

There is something written by Baptist minister and Civil Rights campaigner Howard Thurman which speaks about after Christmas:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Equally I think we could say:

When the chocolate has been eaten,

when we have gone back to work,

when the wonder of the stone rolled away has faded,

the work of Easter begins:

To proclaim resurrection life,

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

And so, let us begin.

 

40ACTS2019 :: 39, 40 :: 70×7 & The Now & Not Yet

Ah, so here we are…It’s actually Easter Day, and 40 Acts is over for another year… Here are my thoughts on the last two Acts:

ACT 39

70 x 7

PROMPT: If generosity means giving more than we have to give, then forgiveness can be a deeply generous act. We forgive in the same ways that we’re generous: sacrificially, unconditionally, freely. Take a dive into some (maybe) uncomfortable memories: Who might you need to forgive today? What would it take for you to forgive from a generous place? How can God help you with that?

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Read the Easter story in the Bible (Luke 23) and focus on Jesus’ words of forgiveness. Ask God to help you forgive.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21–22 NIV)

I actually struggled with this Act today: not because I found it hard to forgive, but because I don’t think that there is anyone I need to forgive… I certainly cannot think of anyone who has wronged me who I need to forgive. There was, in the past, someone, but I managed to come to terms with their actions a while back (through the first 40 Acts I think) and have forgiven them for what they did.

But it was today that I read on Bishop Mark Edington’s FB page, this quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship…can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, d. 9 April 1945

Mark says this: Bonhoeffer is here speaking specifically of the fellowship of marriage — but his wisdom applies to any Christian community, or at least to any community that claims itself to be centered on faith in Christ. And it is wisdom exactly because, despite how we may regard ourselves, forgiveness is not something we are naturally disposed to do; it takes discipline, as all discipleship does.

I will try to live by this – both in my marriage, but in my life outside my marriage. They seem good words to live by.

ACT 40

THE NOW AND NOT YET

PROMPT: The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a strange place. But it’s where lots of us live our lives – caught between mourning and moving on, between pain and joy, grieving different losses than death alone. If you look, you’ll find many around you in a place like that. Offer more than a half-hearted hug today. Help people encounter generosity in places of deep pain.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Think of someone in your world that has experienced grief in the past 12 months. Give them a random call, tell them they’re on your mind, and ask them how they’re doing.

Amber: Are you struggling with anything that you haven’t told anyone? Confide in someone you trust. Giving others the opportunity to help and support you is generous because helping people makes us feel good.

Red: Think back to a difficult time in your life where someone was really there for you. Send them a text or buy them a small gift and let them know that you’ll be forever grateful.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I love the title to this Act – The Now and Not Yet – it’s a really intriguing, exciting title that makes me yearn to know more. I feel like it’s reaching out to something beyond us now. I love the reflection too, that reminds us that God uses our bad times and our good times.

I think I fulfilled this Act by accident on Good Friday, as I met up with someone for coffee. She poured out her heart to me, confiding things she says she has never told anyone. I hold her in my heart.

It was on the same day that this Act arrived in my inbox that I also got a message from Rend Collective. It sums up what this is all about. I hope it’s okay to share it here:

This Is My Resurrection Day

Romans 8:11

The resurrection of Jesus means that we have full assurance of life BEFORE death.

Of course we also can count on life after death – that is definitely one of the most amazing promises of scripture and not something I would in any way diminish.
But what if the resurrection is even better than that?

You see, when my alarm clock blares at me on a Monday morning and I drag myself “Walking Dead” style to the coffee maker, I don’t really find myself energized to wake up and live for the kingdom by acknowledging the fact that when I die, I will rise again.

If anything, when I see the resurrection as only applying to me post-mortem, I might as well just go back to bed and seek shelter under the sheets and just try to stay comfy until the trumpet sounds.

No, what I need to set a fire in my weary bones is not the thought of a life after death but the reality that I can have abundant, meaningful life BEFORE death – and we find that in scripture.

Romans boldly proclaims that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is burning inside of us: begging for resurrection not to be about the afterlife but to be our way of life.

Wendell Berry, one of my favorite poets ( yes – I may just be the last person alive who reads poetry for fun!), puts it like this: “Practice resurrection.”

You may be saying to yourself right now that this seems like a really uplifting thought for a poem…but how do I actually do that in real life?

Every time you take something lifeless and broken and revive it, you are practicing resurrection.

Something as simple and ordinary as recycling your cardboard.

Coming alongside a couple whose marriage is on life support and speaking words of hope.

Sharing Jesus with a friend who doesn’t understand why, even though everything is fine on the surface, she just doesn’t feel alive.

We live out the message of resurrection: that dead things don’t have to stay that way and that even the bleakest of circumstances imaginable can be restored.

But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Before we start practicing resurrection out in the world, maybe we need to look inside and see those areas inside our own souls that need CPR.

Maybe right now you feel like you’ve fallen and you’ll never be able to get back up again.

Maybe you’ve failed so catastrophically, the weight of shame is just keeping you pinned to the floor, unsure if you’ll ever get up again.

In these seasons we need to remember that the risen Jesus – “the resurrection and the life” – is the lifeblood pounding through our veins.

With the fierceness that comes with knowing that we are invincible in Christ, we need to join Micah’s battle cry:

“Do not gloat over me my enemy, for though I have fallen I will rise.”

The fact is, if Jesus can rise up out of the grave, you can definitely get up off the floor.

Because by now we’ve realized the resurrection is not just our future hope – it’s the hope alive in us right here, in this very moment.

So let’s breathe resurrection into our own lives and into the world around us – starting right now.

– Rend Collective

40ACTS2019 :: 38 :: Behind bars

PROMPT: Behind bars for good reason or not, people in prison are often locked out of experiencing basic human kindnesses – the simple joys of community life. Today, offer generosity to people who might feel locked out from ever receiving it, and who might never be able to pay it back: prisoners, young offenders, young people in pupil referral units, and so on.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Write a letter to a prisoner. Tell them you wanted to get in touch just to say that someone was thinking of them.

Amber: Send a gift to a prisoner, or help prisoners send a gift to their children.

Red: Visit a prisoner.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.’  (Hebrews 13:3 NIV)

I am not “dissing” the good people at 40 Acts here. I admire what they do, and really appreciate their commitment and their hard work. It cannot be easy to come up with 120 different acts, which have varying degrees of difficulty and commitment, and cost.

BUT…

I followed the link given on the email (but not the “blog” post on the 40 Acts page) to the Prison Fellowship website, thinking that I would be able to fulfil the Green option, by writing a letter to a prisoner. Just add it to the long list of other letters waiting to be written!!

But there isn’t an option there to write a letter: instead the organisation wants letter writers to commit to sending a monthly letter to a prisoner. I already know, from my aforementioned list, that I can’t commit to this; it’s a lot more than a “green” option! I could donate money – but we’ve already discussed this, haven’t we?! – so I’m left with a feeling of not-sure-what-I-can-do.

I’ve emailed Prison Fellowship with the following message:

I’m following 40 Acts, who have provided a link to your page. One of the “acts” is to write a letter to a prisoner. I see from the information here that you require (in my opinion quite rightly) a commitment to writing regularly. I can’t give this commitment; I know I would be unable to keep it up. Is there the option of writing a “one-off” letter, or is this not part of your work?

and I await a response. If the “one-off” option exists I will gladly take it. If it doesn’t, well…I’m less sure what I can do.

 

….PAWS FOR THOUGHT….

 

Aha! I know we have already had an Act focussing on writing to support persecuted Christians around the world, which I did, writing cards and short letters to several people in Cuba, but there are also Christians imprisoned for their faith. Inaddition, there are Prisoners of Conscience too. I explored the Amnesty International site, and they have a targeted letter writing campaign in November, but there may well be the option of writing to prisoners on a one-off basis there. More thought needed there.

I have also found a site called “Prisoner Alert – this site has details of many Christians who are imprisoned for their faith, and gives the opportunity to send letters.The letters all appear to be created using provided formulae (“Choose up to 12 phrases from the following list”) which means that the prisoner will receive the letter in his/her mother tongue.  Having constructed the letter, you then print it out with the address, so that you can then send it to the correct place. This makes it an easy “green”option, requiring only a little time commitment – and, of course, the postage costs!

Maybe it’s not quite what 40 Acts were thinking of, but it certainly fulfills the brief! I have no lessons this morning, so I’m going to print off three or four letters, add them to a card, and take them to the Post Office before I go to work this afternoon. If I get a positive reply from Prison Fellowship I will also write a letter to a prisoner in the UK.