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Book reviews: He Taught in Parables, and A Rabbit for Half a Rupee

I am catching up with writing reviews of books I read during March and April. The two books in this post are ones I heard about through the local writers’ group, which meets in Carlisle. I recommend them both.

He Taught in Parables

He Taught in Parables
Musing and Reflections for Lent
Julian Frost and Margaret Ives 
Picture of an open Bible with Gothic script, 'He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching'. Mark 4:2
My photo of the book

He taught in parables: Musing and Reflections for Lent by Julian Frost and Margaret Ives contains an introduction and seven studies suitable for individual or group use. I used this booklet on Wednesdays during Lent 2023. The late Reverend Canon Julian Frost wrote the musings, which are described as poems, although some of them seem more poetical than others to me. They all paint a picture in words. Margaret Ives has edited the poems, which he was still working on, and added the reflections, based on Julian Frost’s notes and conversations with him. Bible references are given so that the passage may be read ahead of the musings and reflections.

I found He taught in Parables thought-provoking. There is some information about words and possible translations, clarifying what Jesus’ hearers might have understood, which were new to me. Mark 4:2 appears on the cover, which is printed on white card. It is really intended for group study and would provide very good discussion points.

The booklet is well-produced. It is available from Margaret Ives at £3.50 per copy plus postage. If you’d like to order any copies, please contact me so that I can pass your email address and details to Margaret. Any proceeds from the sale of the book will go to support Christ Church, Over Wyresdale and St Paul’s Church, Scotforth.

I am hoping that a small collection of my own poems will be available in a few months’ time in a similar booklet to He Taught in Parables and Margaret Ives’ more recent publication: The Orchard of God’s Garden, which I have not yet read. The Orchard of God’s Garden is about the Fruit of the Spirit.

A Rabbit for Half a Rupee

Cover picture of A Rabbit for Half a Rupee
Barbara Collier's name appears above the title.
The picture is a view of a snow-capped mountain with a small girl in the foreground

A Rabbit for Half a Rupee by Barbara Collier was compiled from letters written in the early 1970s. Barbara, Philip and their young family were living in Nepal, where Philip worked as an accountant for the Leprosy Mission. Both Barbara’s and Philip’s letters were well-written and informative, debunking myths about leprosy and giving details about their daily lives, surroundings and people they met. Philip’s work took him on a long journey, which is also described. Barbara has provided background information to the letters, making this a seamless story. The layout is good, with the extracts from letters easily distinguishable from the rest of the text. There are black and white photographs of some of the scenery and people mentioned in the book.

This book transported me to an earlier time in another continent. The ‘Look inside’ on Amazon and this quote from a letter in the introduction give a flavour of what follows:

In reality, of course, missionary life is no more romantic than any other kind of existence, even if it is full of unexpected things (not always pleasant.) I have not changed a lot of lives, but simply carried on being a housewife and mother in different circumstances, learning a lot in the process.

A Rabbit for Half a Rupee was published in 2013 and is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition. A paperback copy is also available at a high price on the UK Amazon site! By buying a copy from the author, I was able to support The Leprosy Mission. In the US it is available for Kindle and as a hardback or paperback.

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Book review: The Company of Heaven by Catherine Fox

The fifth book in the Lindchester ChroniclesThe Company of Heaven is published today (18th May 2023) by Marylebone House an imprint of SPCK. I was privileged to receive an advance review copy (ARC) in both digital and paperback editions. I have read both!

My regular readers will know that reading digital copies is not my favourite. I received the book in the middle of March, glanced at the list of characters, thought, ‘I’m going to enjoy this,’ and left it until sometime in April.

By a happy coincidence the story begins in April 2021, the week before ‘non-essential’ shops would open after a Corona virus lockdown. I was in the zone with the descriptions of the countryside bursting into new life.

Reading on I looked forward to the other months of the year, while looking back on the shared experience of living through a pandemic.

I have not yet read the first four books in the series by Catherine Fox.

1.        Acts and omissions

2.        Unseen things above

3.        Realms of Glory

4.        Tales from Lindford

As soon as Acts and omissions becomes available in Cumberland and Westmorland libraries, I’ll request it. I’d hate to cause someone to have to return it unfinished instead of being able to renew it.

The Company of Heaven is dedicated to the choristers of the steel city (Sheffield). As a chorister myself for more years than I care to mention, I am sure they’ll enjoy spotting the allusions to hymns, carols and other music. At one point, reading the book gave me an earworm. The choice of words evokes music, without using titles of songs and hymns.

Each chapter has a flower and a gemstone (birthstone) in the title as we are taken through the year from April 2021 to the end of March 2022. There is a wealth of information about gemstones and flowers, including alternative names I had not previously known. Three bonus stories at the end were written for Christmases 2018 and 2019, and Easter 2019.

I have been struggling for years to understand the writing advice, ‘Show, don’t tell’. Reading about the ‘ice cream’ van showed me how this works. In a couple of sentences I knew not only that the van was playing a jingle, but also what the tune was.

There are many threads woven together to make this a truly wonderful novel. Along with music, there is literature, current affairs, the preoccupations of the Anglican church, and the ongoing projects and lives of the various well-drawn characters.

There are also themes. One is both/and. The Company of Heaven is both sacred and profane. Anyone who avoids this book because they are too sensitive to read certain words will be missing a treat! There are also quotations from the Bible.

It is both fictional and based in the recent past, which readers will recognise.

Reading the paperback edition, I picked up more details and understood the book better than when I read it on my phone sideways, scrolling endlessly.

The characters all have struggles to face. Some are dealing with grief and other past events, but that doesn’t make this a miserable book. There is suspense as issues take a few months to be resolved. Modern-day obsessions and problems of family life and relationships are woven in. All the characters are flawed human beings ‘doing their best’. They span all age groups.

I particularly enjoyed the passage where a neurodiverse character was trying to anticipate the reactions of neurotypical children.

Catherine Fox sometimes addresses her readers to draw us into the story. Flapping my heron’s wings I moved with her from place to place.

Prolepsis, anticipating something before it exists, was a new word to me and a literary device used to good effect.

How the world and the Church of England have changed since Susan Howatch wrote her Starbridge Cathedral series of novels in the 1980s and 90s! English usage has changed as well. Catherine Fox uses many words and abbreviations which would not have been recognised a few decades ago.

The characters and events in The Company of Heaven are likely to remain with me for a long time. Last year the novel I enjoyed most was Brisbane by Eugene Vodolazkin. We are not halfway through the year yet, but The Company of Heaven is a strong contender!

Other reviews of The Company of Heaven

Christian Bookaholic

Quite Irregular

Patrick Comerford

Compulsive Overreader

Clementine Rose

Short Book and Scribes

Staircase Wit

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Book review: A History of the Island by Eugene Vodolazkin

Cover of A History of the Island. Stylised letters for the title. An Island, part of the mainland, a steam locomotive, a tram and a dragon appear on a blue background. additional text: From the best-selling author of Laurus Eugene Vodolazkin translated by Lisa C. Hayden, and an endorsement from Rowan Williams.

A History of the Island: A Novel by Eugene Vodolozkin is being published by Plough Publishing House this month (May 2023). I was privileged to be offered a prepublication copy to read and review.

The story of a fictitious island’s history is told by various chroniclers over a period of more than 300 years during which the royal couple are the only people to remain alive. Everyone else had a more usual lifespan. Their comments on the history are interspersed with the text.

Before Christianization the Island had no books and no history. Most of the chroniclers are monks. In his satirical tale, Vodolazkin explores the nature of history, prophecy and progress. Various rulers rise and fall; the island is split into North and South with uprising and war. Relations with the mainland bring progress and an episode so shameful it was removed from the chronicle.

The beliefs and priorities of people and governors are explored. They change over time as does the relationship between the Church and the state.

A History of the Island is based on European and Russian history. Readers with a better grasp of history than I have may be able to spot any direct parallels. A reading group/book club would find plenty to discuss.

There are mysteries to be solved and a film of the Island’s history is made in France with the royal couple as consultants.

Why they have lived so long becomes apparent in the grand finale of the story.

The publisher’s website compares A History of the Island with three other books. I was surprised to realise I have read two of these books – The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco and The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. Perhaps I should add Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters to my list of books to look out for.

A History of the Island was translated by Lisa C. Hayden into American English. There were one or two words I was unfamiliar with, such as kasha, which has a UK equivalent of porridge.

This is a book worth reading more than once in order to take in all the details.

I previously read and enjoyed Brisbane by Eugene Vodolozkin.