Thursday, September 27, 2012


Today is the international release date of J.K Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy!

While I haven't gotten my hands on it just yet, first reviews are in, and as we have been told repeatedly, This. Is. Not. A. Children's. Book.  According to The Herald SunEarly reviews of the book have described it as "no masterpiece", suggesting that Rowling has gone from "Potter to potty-mouth" in profanity-laden excess.  While some have praised the "emotion" in the novel and the author's ability to make her characters complex and human, others have criticised it as "dull" and drowning in misery.

Here is what the critics had to say:

The Guardian:
Theo Tait writes: "The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it's not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny. I could imagine it doing well without any association to the Rowling brand, perhaps creeping into the Richard and Judy Book Club, or being made into a three-part TV serial. The fanbase may find it a bit sour, as it lacks the Harry Potter books' warmth and charm; all the characters are fairly horrible or suicidally miserable or dead. But the worst you could say about it, really, is that it doesn't deserve the media frenzy surrounding it."

The Telegraph UK:
Allison Pearson writes: "The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s first adult novel, is sometimes funny, often startlingly well observed, and full of cruelty and despair. One teenager cuts herself to relieve her misery, another commits suicide. Online pornography is described in gynaecological detail. JK Rowling bewilders her fans with an uneven, often harrowing book. Three stars."

The New York Times:
Sherryl Connelly writes: "J .K. Rowling has gone from Potter to potty-mouth. She shows herself proficient at tossing out the F-word ... Most of the language she uses to describe the naughty surfing is so dirty that we can’t repeat it in a family newspaper. The Casual Vacancy, which one bookseller breathlessly predicted would be the biggest novel of the year, isn’t dreadful. It’s just dull. Rowling’s strength was never her prose. It was her ability to create unforgettable characters and weave stories that held us captive. The magic simply isn’t there in “The Casual Vacancy.”

The New Yorker:
Ian Parker writes: The Casual Vacancy will certainly sell, and it may also be liked. But whereas Rowling’s shepherding of readers was, in the Harry Potter series, an essential asset, in “The Casual Vacancy” her firm hand can feel constraining. She leaves little space for the peripheral or the ambiguous; hidden secrets are labelled as hidden secrets, and events are easy to predict. We seem to watch people move around Pagford as if they were on Harry’s magical parchment map of Hogwarts.

The Associated Press:
Deepti Hajela writes: ”This is not a book that’s easy to fall in love with, the way Harry Potter was with its charming, winning hero and his plucky friends, saving the world from evil with the help of a powerful spell or two. Even with its moments of humor, it’s a hard story where some people just don’t get saved, because really, they never had a chance. It’s filled with often-unlikeable people, some of whom cross the line into terrible. They’re all unhappy in one way or another, even if the only people who know that are themselves, if that. They can be judgmental, mean, petty and violent. Some are damaged beyond repair.” The Associated Press.

Fans are eager to read this new chapter of Rowling's career, and The Casual Vacancy is already in the coveted number one spot in various stores.  But be warned, do not come looking for Harry Potter magic in these pages - it is apparent that you will not find it.  So, the book does not appear to be a hit amongst critics, but the only way to discover if they have the right of it, is to read the book yourself.  I certainly will.   

Friday, September 14, 2012


It is an indisputable fact that reading makes you smarter.  Researchers at Stanford University are now observing people's brain patterns while they are reading books by our beloved Jane Austen! The MRI images suggest that literary reading provides "a truly valuable exercise of people's brains".  No kidding :) 

Researcher Natalie Phillips positions an eye-tracking device on Matt Langione.

The researchers discovered that the blood flow in the brain increases during leisurely reading, but in different areas of the brain than when reading the novel more closely.

After reviewing early scans, neuroscientist Bob Dougherty, research director of CNI, said he was impressed by "how the right patterns of ink on a page can create vivid mental imagery and instill powerful emotions." Doherty was also surprised to see how "a simple request to the participants to change their literary attention can have such a big impact on the pattern of activity during reading."

The researchers expected to see pleasure centers activating for the relaxed reading and hypothesized that close reading, as a form of heightened attention, would create more neural activity than pleasure reading. If the ongoing analysis continues to support the initial theory, Phillips said, teaching close reading (i.e., attention to literary form) "could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus."

With the field of literary neuroscience in its infancy, Phillips said this project is helping to demonstrate the potential that neuroscientific tools have to "give us a bigger, richer picture of how our minds engage with art – or, in our case, of the complex experience we know as literary reading."

See the complete article of the Stanford University News here.

Monday, September 10, 2012


The war in the Seven Kingdoms has burned itself out, but in its bitter aftermath new conflicts spark to life. The Martells of Dorne and the Starks of Winterfell seek vengeance for their dead. Euron Crow's Eye, as black a pirate as ever raised a sail, returns from the smoking ruins of Valyria to claim the Iron Isles. From the icy north, where Others threaten the Wall, apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms to the Citadel. As plots, intrigue and battle threaten to engulf Westeros, victory will go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel and the coldest hearts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


By now you must have realised I’m into fiction.  When I read, I like to completely shut out reality and get lost in imaginary worlds.  I don’t often read biographies or such, but I do, however, like to read personal accounts of extraordinary events.  To date, the most exceptional account I’ve read was I have life by Alison Botha.  Every South African knows her extraordinary tale of survival.  In Port Elizabeth in 1994 Alison was brutally attacked by two men (later dubbed the ripper rapists) who overpowered her, raped her, stabbed her 30 times and cut her throat 16 times.  They left her to die in the dirt.  By the grace of God, Alison’s aorta was not damaged!  She could still force oxygen into her lungs, and keeping her intestines inside her body with one hand, and her head on her body with the other, Alison stumbled into the road.  A medical student found her and raced her to the nearest hospital.  Alison survived this horrific event, recovered miraculously and is a motivational speaker today.

After 18 years, I have found an account to rival Alison’s in terms of an extraordinary survival and recovery.  My sister-in-law, Taryn, gave me this book to read.  It was written by a friend of hers, also a South African woman.  The title Cut in half: How God mended me with 23 miracles is pretty self-explanatory. This book is Ana Le Roux’s testimony. 

Nine years ago, in 2003, young mother Ana Le Roux was involved in a head on collision.  Just three weeks after the birth of her son, Ana was literally cut in half by the force with which her body jack-knifed around the lap seat belt she was wearing.  This book opened my eyes to the danger of lap belts – something I have never been made aware of.  I quite frequently sit in the middle back-seat because I prefer the view, and as such I often make use of the lap belt… or shall I say used to.  I am grateful that Ana’s story made me aware of the dangers surrounding the lap belt. 

Ana was not expected to survive.  Her body was literally cut in half; Her spine was broken, her aorta was severed, her colon and small intestines were ripped. When it became apparent that she was pulling through, the prognosis was that Ana’s right leg would be amputated and that she would in all probability be paralised for the rest of her life.  Ana’s internal injuries were extensive, and a very long road of recovery loomed before her. As with Alison, God meant for Ana to not only survive, but recover. 

Cut in half: How God mended me with 23 miracles tells Ana’s story of how God healed her physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Where some might have shrugged events off as unimportant, credited luck or coincidence, Ana saw the truth: miracles;  God’s personal intervention.  In this day and age people are quick to say things like “I was so lucky”, or “I was at the right place at the right time”, or “What an amazing coincidence”.  People credit luck, destiny or fate.  So many phrases every single day diminish God’s participation in our lives, and with this book Ana strives to remind readers that miracles happen every single day – we just need to recognise them.

Ana doesn’t have the writing style of an author, and she’ll tell you herself that she is not an author.  You can tell Ana wrote these words herself.  Her writing is very forthright, like she’s in an active conversation with the reader.  This approach keeps the reader rooted in reality.  If the writing had been too fussy and frilly, this story would have strayed too close to fiction.  With Ana’s direct approach the reader never forgets that this miraculous event truly occurred, and that God is active in our lives every single day.

Cut in half: How God mended me with 23 miracles by Ana Le Roux is not only an inspirational story about survival, it is a very touching testimony every Christian should read.  Even better: share it with non-believers.  God might use you and Ana’s story to bring a lost child home.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Ana le Roux was an average thirty something mother. But three weeks after giving birth to her second child tragedy struck - the unimaginable - a violent head on collision. The force of impact thrust her forward with such intensity that it literally cut her in half! Ana le Roux would tell you she was set to die that day but instead, after seemingly endless dialogue with God, she relinquished her freedom of choice to Him. “Cut In Half” tells how, in that instant, Ana opened her eyes and began to experience the most amazing gift - healing.

Survival comes down to one simple word… Miracle.

In her awe inspiring testament of God’s love, Ana proves that miracles are not just an archaic phenomenon found in scripture; they really do happen every day in a variety of ways.

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