Friday, February 26, 2016

Lord of the World

Lord of the World

By Robert Hugh Benson

Published by Ave Maria Press, Feb 26th 2016

This is a re-publication of a book which was originally written in 1907 and it is set in a dystopian future, close to our own chronological time.

Christianity has all but been abandoned in favour of a secular humanism which embraces euthanasia as a kindness to those suffering from severe injuries, mental or physical illness, or for those who simply wish to end their existence. Religious faith is barely tolerated and most Protestant denominations in England have gone the way of the  established church and adopted humanism  as the guiding star of belief and praxis. Only the Roman Catholic Church has held steadfast, although people and priests are leaving even that church in droves as faith becomes less and less socially acceptable amongst all classes of society.

The story was a little slow to start, but I quickly found that I simply had to keep reading. The age of the book is shown in its mention of the use of asbestos in construction and the use of airships (volors) for rapid transcontinental transportation, for instance. This did not detract from the story and the book generally has a remarkably contemporary feel, with the loss of sovereignty of nation states in favour of a European, then world, confederation of states, which ultimately becomes the fiefdom of the mysterious yet all-powerful and mesmerising Julian Felsenburgh,

Everyone dreams of world peace and when Felsenburgh  promises he can actually deliver this, he is hailed as a hero, the Saviour of the world, and the world rushes to pledge allegiance to him and his ideas, with horrifying results. Soon, he becomes one before whom all must bow, pledge allegiance and even worship, or face severe punishment.

One British priest, Fr Percy Franklin has held firm to his Christian beliefs, despite all the difficulties, dangers and trials which beset him, and it falls to him to be eventually elected Pope and to keep the tiny remnant of faithful Christians worldwide trusting in God as the world edges ever closer to the Apocalypse.....

Remarkably prescient and almost prophetic, I found it well worth reading. In this edition, there is an introduction by Mark Bosco, S.J. and a particularly interesting  "Theological Reflection" by Michael Murphy.  The story behind the author's conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism and why he wrote this book is covered by Martyn Sampson, so there is plenty of food for thought in these chapters as well as in the "Lord of the World" itself.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

High Hats And Harps

High Hats And Harps: The Life And Times Of Lord And Lady Llanover

By Helen Forder

Published by TallyBerry, 2012

I was made aware of this privately-published book by chance, via a friend who knows the authoress, Helen Forder, and I was able to purchase a signed copy via the book's Facebook page.

Helen Forder was tracing her family tree and investigating her own family's connections to the Llanover estate when she became intrigued by the life, times and work of Augusta, Lady Llanover, and this book is the happy result.

 Lady Llanover  was a passionate and devoted fan of all things Welsh and made it her long life's  work to preserve and propagate the Welsh culture and language in any way she could.  She adopted the Welsh language name of "Gwenynen Gwent" - "Bee of Gwent" when she entered the Cardiff Eisteddfod of 1834 and it was an appropriate name indeed for her industrious nature and care for her tenants, neighbours, friends and countrymen during her very long life.

The book has many lovely photographs, including one of a magnificent triple harp, and has been written with a beautifully fluid style and plentiful footnotes for those wanting to delve further into specific topics or events. It really has been a reading delight and anyone with an interest in Welsh culture or history will certainly want to read this.

The book can be purchased by visiting:

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

52 Original Wisdom Stories

52 Original Wisdom Stories: Short Lively Pieces for The Christian Year

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Monarch Books, 2015

If I was considering buying this book "sight unseen", I really would not know what to expect based on the title alone. It's surprisingly difficult to classify this book as a purely devotional one when so much of it centres around the relationship of Sid and Rosie (a fictional late middle-aged couple for both of whom this is their second marriage)  rather than solely on religious themes. 

Both Sid and Rosie have chequered religious backgrounds. Sid was originally a Roman Catholic who grew away from that church and now finds the silence of Quaker meetings more to his taste. Rosie is something of a church tourist, visiting various churches as and when she feels inclined to go to services, and also has an interest in other cultures.  Although they both firmly believe in God, their past experiences have rather put them off organised religion and they fall into the large number of people in the UK who profess belief but do not feel that they need to go to church particularly regularly or that churchgoing is particularly fulfilling for them. 

I am not entirely sure whether this book will be useful primarily to those who are respectful agnostics who wish they knew more, believers who have doubts and concerns, believers who have more firmly held beliefs but no longer attend church for one reason or another but wish to read about such things, or for those who are churchgoers who are struggling to understand what non-churchgoers may think or believe and why they do so. At different points in the book, all of the above seem to apply, which makes it a very interesting and thought-provoking read.

However, I don't always agree with the points of view pondered by Sid or deeply held by Rosie. I believe that the development of Church Tradition is rooted in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and I feel somewhat uncomfortable with aspects of it being dismissed and others selected.  I am mindful of the fact that there are many unchurched folk who struggle with religious doctrines and traditions and that Sid and Rosie will undoubtedly speak for many of their views, however surprising these may be to those from rather more traditional denominations, for whom the right understanding of  the totality of Christian doctrine underpins both their worship and belief systems.

Do I like the characters of Sid and Rosie, and find them engaging, humorous, thoughtful people doing their level best to make sense of the world and of Christianity, and to live their lives in accordance with Christian beliefs, as they understand them? Yes, I most certainly do, and hope they will re-appear in a future book. Would I enjoy having Sid and Rosie as friends and neighbours? Most certainly - we would have some lively discussions indeed :-)

Did I enjoy the basic theme of each chapter? Yes.  I may not have fully agreed with the expositions given, but they certainly made me think hard about what - and why - I personally believe as a member of the Orthodox Church. Being challenged to think about these things is important.

I love the fact that we see Sid and Rosie go about their everyday lives, cooking, cleaning, reminiscing about their respective individual pasts, having visits from family members - weaving in their Christianity into their everyday lives, as it should be, and not just reserved for an outing to Church on a Sunday and then put back in a box for the rest of the week. I also love the fact that the book is centred around the themes and festivals of the traditional liturgical year and agricultural calendar, rooting and grounding us firmly in our historical and cultural heritage. People may be being exposed to the lives and teachings of St Francis, St Clare, St Benedict, St Martin of Tours and St Teresa of Avila for the first time.

There are so many people who believe - or want to believe - for whom the standard Christian churches are a bit of a mystery. Even the church buildings are rather intimidating places to venture into if you are not already familiar with what goes on inside. Those of us who are churchgoers, familiar with the services, ritual and the cycle of the liturgical year, would do well to bear all this in mind, and it can be a surprising salutary experience to see ourselves as "outsiders" see us.

Thank you to Monarch Books for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for a full and frank review.

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What Goes Around

What Goes Around

By Emily Chappell

Published by Faber & Faber, January 2016

If someone said to me that I would find a book about the life of a London bicycle courier an absorbing read, I might have raised a quizzical eyebrow, but I found this book interesting indeed.

Emily Chappell worked at Reception and often saw bicycle couriers arrive to collect or deliver documents, and wondered what their working life was actually like. A keen cyclist herself, she decided to give the work a try and found that she enjoyed it - apart from the sometimes viciously inclement weather, traffic hazards and absolute exhaustion, that is......yet she found new friends, an exhaustive knowledge of London geography, surprisingly exquisite parts of London, hidden gems of history and culture, including a bronze statue of Doctor Johnson's cat and an appreciation of the sights, sounds and smells of the city which she might not have gained without the time she spent as a courier.

Much of the book was fascinating reading but the author divulged rather more of her relationship with her female partner than I wished to read.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

An Amish Market

An Amish Market

Four novellas:
Love Birds by Amy Clipston
A Bid for Love by Kathleen Fuller
Sweeter than Honey by Kelly Irvin
Love in Store by Vannetta Chapman

Published by Thomas Nelson on Feb 2nd 2016

I have every one of these Amish novella collections in paperback and for my e-reader, and this volume uses the setting of either an Amish store or an Amish market as the focus for each individual story. 

Being Amish certainly does not mean being perfect and the characters exhibit their flaws and foibles as well as their faith. It is an enjoyable and pleasant read for anyone who enjoys Amish-themed stories, with intrigue, mystery and a few surprises mixed up with the challenges of Christian living.

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