Monday, November 27, 2017

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, Diana Gabaldon

No, this is not the long awaited ninth Outlander book, but rather a series of novellas which fit into the Outlander universe. There are seven in all, five of which have been published previously in other anthologies. So, if you are a fan and have followed up all of Gabaldon’s writing over the years, you will already have read many of these. As I worked through them, I recalled I had read several before, but couldn’t remember the details. However, it’s always nice to return to this series for I do enjoy Gabaldon’s writing and the world she has created.

She claims they are all standalone novellas which anyone could pick up, but you would want to have read at least the first three Outlander novels to have a sense of what is going on. Particularly when they focus on Lord John, there are so many characters that I still struggle to connect them all.

This is an enjoyable collection. Three of the novellas cover Lord John and where he is based at the time, including Havana, Quebec and Jamaica. They are close to the timeline of Voyager. “Virgins” is a prequel to the whole series, with some of Ian and Jamie’s adventures in their late teens. I particularly enjoyed “A Fugitive Green” covering how Minnie and Hal (Lord John’s older brother) end up together. There is the account of Roger’s father and what really happened to him, and also a side story including Jamie’s nephew Michael, Marsali’s sister Joan and the Comte St. Germain in Paris.

For those already existing fans, this is another addition to the collection which adds depth to the story as a whole.

For those who do not know the series yet, this is the brief summary I wrote ten years ago, in the first month of starting this blog:
Diana Gabaldon, Outlander Series. There are 6 books so far in this historical fiction series. I discovered them when I was pregnant with #3 and bedridden for about 7 weeks with morning sickness. They are huge and completely draw you in to the story. The premise is that an English woman in 1945 manages to travel back in time 200 years in Scotland and gets caught there (don't worry about the physics of it!). However, she knows what is to come in the future (eg. Culloden). There is (as to be expected) a love story wound through it all. They are very detailed, enjoyable and interesting. If you don't like overly descriptive love-making scenes, you may be put off, but even then I think they are worth the read. I have just downloaded all her podcasts off her website to listen to how she writes, for some listening while I exercise. I am eagerly waiting for books 7 & 8 to be released.

Other posts on this blog include this one about An Echo in the Bone (book 7), and after reading the Lord John novels.

I am eagerly awaiting the publishing of #9, but her blog suggests it won’t be for a while yet!

Monday, November 20, 2017


Emperor series, Conn Iggulden

This five-book series by Conn Iggulden charts the life of Julius Caesar. Iggulden’s undertaken a massive job: to collate the data on Caesar and present it in a coherent and interesting form, and has succeeded. It’s still historical fiction; Iggulden reveals at the end of each book where he changed and adapted things, and he has written a gripping account.

The Gates of Rome covers Caesar’s childhood, through the eyes of best friends Gaius and Marcus. I have always enjoyed reading of Ancient Rome and Iggulden brings it to life: the senate and their intrigues, the lifestyle supported on the backs of slaves, the massive difference in wealth and influence in the city, and the extent of power exerted by Rome on the ancient world.

The Death of Kings show Caesar’s exploits around the Mediterranean, first with the Roman army and then after capture by pirates. He starts his rise to power with his charisma bringing men to his side in Greece and then later in Italy. At the same time, Brutus is gathering a legion of men to be loyal to Caesar, and to deal with ongoing enemies in Rome.

The Field of Swords charts the years of Caesar’s invasions of Gaul and England; I had no idea how long he spent away from Rome on campaign for the Empire.

Gods of War is his campaign to beat Pompey and claim Rome for himself, with increasing opposition from previously loyal friends. For those that know the line from Shakespeare “Et tu Brute?” and the significance of the Ides of March, there is an inexorable waiting to see how that plays out.

I had very little knowledge of this time, barring the main facts. But the extent of this man’s achievements provably cannot be overlooked. He conquered much of the world for Rome and eventually made his own name synonymous with King or ruler; the word Kaiser and Tsar both derived from Caesar.

The fifth book, The Blood of Gods, covers the years after Caesar as Augustus rises to power. Notably, not one of those involved in Caesar’s assassination died of natural causes.

It’s a time of bloody violence and horrible warfare. The few brief descriptions of crucifixions remind you of why it was such a feared and hated method of death. The extent of the military campaigns by Rome are astonishing, considering the distances covered and the numbers of men involved. 

I have enjoyed numerous books that tackle this period of time. Iggulden’s writing probably appeals to me the most. Many others dwell in the debauchery of the times. It’s present here too, but it isn’t a focus.  I finished the series with much more understanding of these years of the Roman Empire, and a begrudging appreciation of what was achieved by the sheer charismatic force and willpower of a few men, despite the methods often employed.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Move Fast and Break Things

Move Fast and Break Things, Jonathan Taplin

As I continue reading and thinking about digital technology, this book came across my radar. The title is coined from a comment by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you aren’t moving fast enough”. With the subtitle “How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy” this book is clearly designed to grab your attention.

Jonathan Taplin worked in the music industry as tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band, and was also a film producer for Martin Scorsese and others. He saw first-hand what free streaming and piracy did to destroy a music artist’s ability to earn money from their craft; and what the digitisation of the film industry has done for creativity and originality.

He notes the five largest firms in the firms in the world are now: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. He traces the beginnings of the Internet which was founded on much more co-operative and creative principles that we see at work today. He looks at the libertarian value and belief systems of the men who founded Amazon, Google and Facebook and how their views shaped their company model and practice. Much of it seems to be based around the principles of “I can do it, so I will” and “Who will stop me?”

He spends time on the power of the digital monopolies, the lack of any real regulation to guide or limit their power, and the how the quality of accurate news had been eroded. He highlights the ongoing danger of non-stop data mining, where the only real benefit is for advertisers whose targets become more and more specified.

There is an element of conspiracy theory to it, but much of it also rings true; and really, it certainly feels like these digital tech companies are working in conspiracy. Amazon corners the market on book sales, pushing actual stores out of business and threatening publishers who won’t fall into line. Facebook algorithms are changing the way we view news, and ensuring we are surrounded by a group of similarly minded, homogenous ‘friends’ in our feeds. Google knows where you are almost at any time of the day, can read all your mail, tracks the places you go and what you search for and buy online. These companies have massive power in terms of market share, income, and data; and there are very little checks and balances to ensure this power is used carefully and wisely. Google’s motto “Don’t Be Evil” is a nice marketing ploy, but really, are Google the ones to judge what is evil? And at what point does the end product justify the means to how you got there?

As I read this book the phrase kept coming to mind (partially attributed to Lord Acton) “Power corrupts, but absolutely power corrupts absolutely”.

Taplin doesn’t leave you hanging at the end, he has the beginnings of a proposal for a way forward. He considers what it means to be human, and that part of that includes the sense of community. He comments on the starkness of the contrast between a shooter who killed nine parishioners of a church: “When you think that the families of the slain churchgoers were able to forgive the shooter, you can only marvel at the power of their faith. Never was the difference between between community cooperation and individual separation more starkly outlined. I’m not sure my faith would afford me that amount of grace in the face of such evil, but I am awed to see it exist in the hateful political climate we inhabit.”

After being on a Benedictine monk retreat, he was challenged that “I am not Catholic, yet I find the monks’ prescriptions to be helpful [these include prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal], a model of how I want to live in the world. The idea of an examined life is missing in our current digital rush.” These are the only comments that Taplin makes in the whole book that have any hint at faith or belief yet he has identified something. We know our lives will be examined, and we should be examining them before the Creator of the world. What will He conclude regarding our digital lives?

He concludes that part of being human is “we need a life narrative in which we take pride in being good at a specific task, and we value the experiences we have lived through”. He thinks art is one of the ways that lays the ground for the internal condition, for moral behaviour. I agree in part. There will have been artworks, pieces of music, books and other creative expressions that have moved and challenged each of us. For those of us who are believers, the creative expressions of others can drive us closer to God. I think of certain hymns, books, and artworks that make me realise anew the mercy and grace of God and the creative power he has given his people.

Taplin finishes by proposing ways the internet could change (with legislation and regulation) to allow for proper use of artists’ work where they are paid fairly. He notes that there are many things that the digital world cannot do: “When I ask myself what it means to be human, I think that having empathy and the ability to tell stories rank high, and I am not worried that these skills will be replaced by A.I. A great artist’s ability to inspire people – especially to compel them to think and act – lies at the heart of political and cultural change. It really is the reason we tell ourselves stories”.

Taplin has included a lot of information, background and explanation throughout, and those with knowledge of economics may get a lot more out of it than I did; but it is certainly is an interesting and thought-provoking read.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Our Mob, God's Story

Our Mob, God’s Story, Sherman and Mattingley

This wonderful art collection book was produced by the Bible Society to commemorate 200 years of work in Australia.

I should say upfront that I am not a connoisseur of fine art. We do not buy art, and I have struggled to appreciate much art except the older fashioned Renaissance style, especially those with biblical themes. I loved Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and like the various works of Monet, Hans Heysen and others, but my knowledge and therefore understanding of the skill involved is very limited.

Combined with that is the increasing realization that I have almost no knowledge of Aboriginal culture and tradition. Part of that could be attributed to a childhood spent mostly overseas, and an Australian education system that didn’t include such things until after I left. Having been raised in a part of the country that included almost no Indigenous people, my exposure to Indigenous people and culture is very limited.

That all goes to show that in coming to this book I was a complete and utter ignoramus.

From page one I was entranced. There was an explanation of a worthy cause – the gathering of a vast variety of Indigenous artworks that reflected stories of personal faith and understanding of the Scriptures. In using the artworks of different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, each artist with their own unique style; the truths of the gospel have been clearly, colourfully and winsomely explained.

Each double page spread contains the artwork, an explanation of the work, and some information about the artist and the area they are from, and a bible verse relevant to the art. With a helpful explanation at the beginning of what some symbols used in the works represent, suddenly there is a key to see the meaning – you can see the Trinity,  men and women bowing down, the Holy Spirit, people travelling to God and away from him on narrow and wide paths.

It covers the chronology of the bible, starting with creation and through the Old Testament.

Seven Days of Creation, Safina Stewart (sourced from:

Noah's Flood, Kristy Naden (sourced from:
This was one of my personal favourites
How that double page spread looks

Most of the art is based in the New Testament, particularly the gospels.

Bright Star, Grace Kumbi (sourced from:

I read a few pages a day as part of my own personal devotion and each time I came away refreshed by the art, the bible verses and the explanations. There is a wide variety of art, many contains elements of dot painting (like the ones I have included here), but others have very different styles.

This book is a treasure. I first found it at our local library (which in itself was amazing), but quickly realised we wanted to own a copy. Not only for our own encouragement and edification, but also because the proceeds go to publishing of Aboriginal Scriptures.

If you already appreciate art and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, make sure you get this book. If you are more like me and own no books of art at all, make this one the exception - get a copy. You will be so encouraged by the faith displayed by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

So Loved, Glendora (Glenny) Naden (sourced from