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Kristy Cambron – The Butterfly And The Violin

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This is the first time I’ve read Christian fiction (besides C S Lewis and Tolkien) and I’ll be reviewing this book as I do any other so it may be the case that this review differs in its main focus than it ‘ought’.

Finding a painting, discovering history, and perhaps (hesitantly) falling in love.

Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 323
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-401-69059-5
First Published: 8th July 2014
Date Reviewed: 19th August 2014
Rating: 3.5/5

Gallery owner Sera has been searching for a painting, seen once as a child and instantly loved, for several years. When her assistant tells her another is looking for it and wants the gallery’s help, she jumps at the chance and flies to the other side of the country. The family looking for the painting is wealthy but that wealth is in jeopardy and the painting is the key. In 1940s Austria, the subject of the artwork and the daughter of a general of the Third Reich is branded a traitor and sent to Auschwitz after it is discovered she aided an attempt to provide safe passage to a Jewish family. Both Adele and Sera search for security and happiness, hoping that God will provide.

The Butterfly And The Violin is a Christian dual plot line historical that looks at art, the Holocaust, and the plight and faith of two young women.

It’s often the case that a reader will prefer one plot line over another when there are two of them, however The Butterfly And The Violin is a book less likely to pull you one way. This is because although very different, both stories are of equal strength, the characters somewhat similar, and the stories well balanced. Though of course nowhere near as significant as Adele’s, Sera’s life has that present-day regularity that is compelling simply because of the emotions included in it. Whilst the time periods are fairly standard for dual plot stories, the fact of the Holocaust and Adele’s ‘role’ in it make the book stand out from others. Although Adele may be in a place of privilege, even in Auschwitz, Cambron never shies from showing you what was going on.

The biggest similarity between the women is their faith. We know more about Sera’s, descriptively, than we do Adele’s, but still it is not simply that both women are Christians. In The Butterfly And The Violin the emphasis is on the way faith is playing its part at that very moment, and for both Sera and Adele, at the time we join them, falling in love and being happy in love are two of the most important aspects of their lives. Both look to God for help, Adele prays she will see Vladimir again, and Sera prays that she will trust another after having had her heart broken. Indeed Sera’s faith is a little shaky – she still believes, and would never not believe, but the disappointments and losses have taken their toll and she hasn’t made much time for her faith since.

Obviously there are quite a number of references to God, faith, and Christianity (also Judaism, but as that isn’t a ‘subject’ so to speak, Christianity is what I’ll be focusing on). More often, at least for the first two thirds or so of the book, God is present in Adele’s story. On the surface it can seem that the references are too many and placed at inappropriate times. However if you step back from your reading and put yourself in the situation of the characters, in this case Adele, it seems perfectly natural. It is really more the case that where faith happens so much more in the mind than in conversation (generally) it’s simply that it can seem odd being actually stated, the things most often thought but not said are here, being voiced. This said, there is a sudden increase in references towards the end in both stories that do not work as well for different reasons. In Adele’s case it’s inevitable that in a crisis, a group of faithful people will look to God – it’s simply that the constant references slow down the pace and pull the focus away from the tragedy of the situation at hand. In Sera’s case it’s that it becomes a bit confusing, although it’s well placed as part of her self-discovery and improvement.

The confusion is part of a larger aspect that needs discussing. There are a few sections of the story that don’t quite add up and occasions where there is too much detailing. People tap their feet a lot, for example, and we have many descriptions of hair. Some of the phrasing doesn’t work. And there are also frustrating occasions wherein questions – literal, spoken questions – are not answered for a while and it seems the case that it’s so Cambron can keep the story going longer. There is one place where answers are ignored so that the author can detail a room, and by this time the reader just wants to know what’s going on. It’s not that the characters ignore the questions, it’s that they are left out completely until detail has been included.

Where Sera and the confusion come in is in the numerous references to faith. The problem is that the issues get lost behind the references so that you realise Sera’s faith has been tested and that she wants to trust and get back to God more fully, but you’re not always sure what’s happening to cause this transition. As it’s not a transition from faithless to faithful (Sera never speaks of going to church but one can assume she does sometimes) it is a problem. Simply put, sometimes narrative is not clearly explained.

Unclear is the way the inheritance issue is concluded. That William and everyone else is happy is not believable and the grandfather’s plans come across as thoughtless, having emphasised William’s role and not really considered the rest of his family. Yes, it allows William to be able to choose the life he has always wanted, but it leaves his family in the lurch and we’re not given all that much information about it. It may work for William, but are his family going to be happy with what is effectively a loss for them? It’s also not clear exactly why the grandfather decided to change his will and leave the fortune previously left to his family to someone else.

Yet still on the whole, The Butterfly And The Violin works. There is a lot of information about the Holocaust, including much that isn’t covered by your usual school education, and Cambron has taken a path rarely if ever used, applying a specific sort of artwork and using that as the basis for one of the stories.

The romance, too, works very well. Whilst we don’t read all that much about Sera and William, appropriate time passes off stage to suggest they make a good couple and the somewhat inevitable discovery of a shared faith is included to very good effect. Adele’s relationship with Vladimir successfully details both the horrors of WWII and your everyday social prejudice. And both the painter and the owner of the painting may prove to be unexpected (but welcome).

And finally the characters are believable and people you’ll find yourself rooting for. Adele’s impulsive choices are maddening sometimes, but exactly the choices you’d expect a naïve, hopeful person in her situation to make, and whilst Sera becomes cross and can’t always see what’s staring her in the face, again, in her situation it makes perfect sense.

Definitely, obviously, this book will be appreciated most by those who share the characters’ faith, but there is enough here for a general historical romance reader or dual plot line lover to enjoy as well.

The Butterfly And The Violin isn’t perfect, but nevertheless you may find yourself racing through it.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Latest Acquisitions (July – August 2014)

I’m still accepting very few books but this does mean that those I do accept are ones I really want to read. I’ve a small back log and am allowing myself to read the ones I’m most interested in first. This in itself is very freeing as I used to read on a first in first read basis.

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Kristy Cambron: The Butterfly And The ViolinIsi read this and detailed well what she wasn’t keen on, however I’ve been wanting to give Christian fiction (or just religious fiction in general, really) a go, and overall I reckon this fits the bill. I am already reading one, Jody Hedlund’s The Preacher’s Bride, but I’m finding the language overly historical and it’s taking a while for me to get through it. I needed a different one for the time being.

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Meike Ziervogel: Clara’s Daughter – Ziervogel’s début, Magda was exceptional; there was no question whether or not I would read her next. This is my current read, I’m on chapter two, and it’s already excellent.

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Merryn Allingham: The Crystal Cage – A historical Harlequin that I accepted for a tour. You’ll see the review for this in October (I’m being careful to pick the later dates on tours at the moment).

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Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society – I hope I got all those umlauts correct! (Incidentally it seems that you can anglicise the plural to no ill effect.) This book came unsolicited and as soon as I saw that it was translated fiction I knew it was likely to be right up my street. Given the snow on the cover I may review this later on in the year depending on what the story is about (I want to go in with no knowledge).

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Taylor Stevens: The Catch – The previous book in this series, The Doll made my top six last year, the pace never let up and it was just a fantastically written book and I’d hoped Stevens would release another soon. I’ve flicked through this and the editing isn’t as good this time around – the writing isn’t as tight and so it’s not as well-paced – but the story itself I’m expecting will be fine.

Have you read/do you hope to read any of the above?

Philip Pullman – The Broken Bridge

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Who am I? Who are you? Do we care?

Publisher: Macmillan
Pages: 295
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-330-39797-1
First Published: 1990
Date Reviewed: 14th August 2014
Rating: 4.5/5

Ginny’s not really sure whether or not she fits in. At sixteen, she’s happy in Wales, has a great relationship with her devoted father, and a fair few friends. But being one of only two black people in her town, she doesn’t feel quite… right. Okay, so she’s not completely black, unlike Andy, because her father is white, but when her skin colour is added to her artistic nature the question of who she is starts to become more prevalent. Yet suddenly this isn’t so important. Her father’s about to bring an unknown brother home. If he’s never told her she has a brother, what else is he hiding, and if she was wondering where she fit in before, where does this leave her now?

The Broken Bridge is a fantastic little novel that, although a YA book, has just as much if not more to offer the adult reader. I’ve read it three times now – as a child, as a teenager, and just yesterday, and each experience has been very different, but this last time had the most impact on me.

Perhaps it’s to do with the book’s age – as in all Pullman’s books, the content is not censored and real issues are confronted, and in the 90s when subjects such as homosexually and racial diversity weren’t discussed quite so openly, and given that The Broken Bridge was written for teenagers, it was is somewhat ahead of its time, or at least it feels as though it is. This is a major reason why I say it offers a lot to adult readers.

The story revolves around the theme of identity. Racial identity, familial identity, identity in the world in the long term. Pullman effectively pits one after the other, showing that everything is just as important – Ginny feeling happy in herself is important, but here’s her brother and her identity in this new set-up is just as important, and hey, look, here are a bunch of questions about her mother and where all her memories of her childhood stem from and what impact do these have on her?

There is the furthering of the theme beyond Ginny, and it touches on her brother, father, and in a rather compelling way her mother, too, but the main focus of course remains on Ginny as she makes mistakes, makes rash but good decisions, and works out who and what she is.

Pullman asks us to consider what makes a family and what is and isn’t ‘right’ in this context. He sets some difficult challenges for the reader – reunions that do not go the way you would expect them to and for their subject are very hard to read, relationships that are full of angst. He challenges the status quo almost to excess when you consider the book as a whole. But it’s a good excess. And, anyway, what is family and what is important? Almost everyone in the book lies somewhat or keeps the truth hidden, but Pullman does let go at the end, explaining everything. It’s particularly unsavoury but a good look at how people view independence differently, and how others can view dependence and routine as important.

And, somewhat obviously, the author takes time to look at racism. He shows how it isn’t always in your face, so to speak, how it can be quiet, how it can be worse depending on the situation, and how sometimes it can be part of a bigger burst of anger.

Lastly, if you are an artist or lover of art, of any kind – not just painting or drawing – you will love the detailing in this book. Pullman doesn’t just inform you about the great artists and about good paintings, he brings to mind the utter pleasure and passion that comes with working out what another is saying through their art, and the sparks, the love, that creators and enthusiasts feel.

The Broken Bridge is one you don’t want to miss. My copy, at least, looks to be very much a children’s book, and as Pullman’s writing is at times quite literary and of that earlier decade, you would be forgiven for starting it and wondering if it’s going to be a satisfying read. But it is, so much.

Mend this bridge – read this book.

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Should Libraries Only Be Available To Those Who Can’t Afford To Buy?

A photo of Cardiff library

Over a year ago, some months before the bullies fiasco, Nathan Bransford wrote a short post about libraries in which he noted his annoyance, as an author, when people whose income was high enough for them to afford books tell him they borrowed something from the library. His statement was obviously subjective, yet even if you’re not an author I think it’d be difficult to say he is wrong to feel that way. We say that libraries are for everyone, that libraries are for the public and it is a detriment when they are closed, but no one could fault Bransford where a source of his income arises from the sale of his books.

Forgetting for the moment the thought that libraries are for everyone, should libraries not be used by those who can afford to buy books?

Looking at it from an economical perspective, libraries buy books. When a person borrows a library book they are borrowing a purchased book, however that one-off purchase and public lending rights do not make up for the number of times the book may be borrowed (the linked article includes details about payments by UK libraries). The amount of money made by library purchases would never be anywhere near the amount that would be made if more people bought a copy themselves. By this reasoning, a person with money who wants to read the book is doing the literary world a disservice (except, of course, the library – more on that later).

It is somewhat cheeky, if we consider Bransford’s view, which for obvious and understandable reasons will at least somewhat match that of other authors, for someone who can buy a book to get it for free instead. That reader is not buying a book that another person could be making money from, money that will often be the writer’s primary or only source of income. Perhaps Rowling and Meyer do not ‘need’ the extra sale, but many authors do ‘need’ it, and this is easy to forget. An author could have a good few books out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re making good money, and in addition, if books do not sell and they are traditionally published, it may be harder for the writer to sell future books to publishing houses in the first place.

Of course this begs the question what of reviewers? It begs what of libraries in general? What of book swaps and so forth? I won’t go into this long because it would take us away from the topic, but where reviewers and libraries are concerned, sometimes book swapping, too, there is a sense of paying it back. Reviewers get a free book in return for publicity (when they can, given how many books they are sent). Libraries hold events and they provide a place for members of the community to meet, use the internet, and so on. The value of libraries stretches beyond books. And lending a book to a friend can lead to the friend spreading the word themselves and buying their own copy. A friend who likes the book is quite likely to try the rest of the author’s output.

On the subject of free, few can buy every book they want to read. Perhaps there are some people out there able to walk about a bookshop as Michael Jackson did an antique shop, buying up every book they do not own, but the vast majority cannot. (And, really, of those that can buy hundreds, how many books would get read? That’s important, too.) We borrow from the library, from friends and family. We take advantage of Kindle deals and Kobo coupons. We like to try before we buy, especially if we’re not sure enough about an author to buy the book but sure enough to want to read it. And when you’re studying, those research books you’ll use for one course aren’t cheap. In these cases it makes sense that everyone will borrow at some point. Indeed in the case of research, you’d be considered a fool to purchase everything, no matter how much money you have.

Then there are second-hand bookshops, beloved by all, that until only recently escaped discussion (discussion focused on ebooks at that).

Borrowing from the library doesn’t cause any literal harm. The main issue that might occur, if a wealthy person borrows, would be when a book was being borrowed at the same time as a person who couldn’t afford to buy wished to read it. When I say this, I am not factoring in wait lists; it’s all well and good to wait. However if lots of wealthy people were borrowing the book one after another then I think we’d be almost forced to accept that there was an issue because we are rightly focused on those who have less being able to access books easily. It is one of the biggest reasons for keeping libraries open. Share and share alike, but at what cost? Of course this idea of one after the other would have to be extreme to matter, but as it is possible and as it would have an impact, it’s something to consider.

By their borrowing, wealthy readers help keep libraries open. Everyone who uses the library helps to keep it open and so by extension do those who could technically go without libraries. Where authors, publishers, and so forth, may be done a disservice of sorts, the library is aided. We could ask if everyone would consider wealthy borrowing to be a good reason to keep the library open. Should it factor in a decision? Does it even matter? But regardless, those who can afford to buy books count as much as those who can’t when it comes to the number of people using the library, and therefore without wealthy borrowers, library numbers would fall. And even if they did happen to make up the majority of users of any one library, would that really matter on the whole? Closing such a library would not help those who weren’t of that wealth unless the money went to them in a better way, and it would stop new potential readers of any background.

Libraries need to be available to everyone and anyone who needs them, regardless of how much they do or do not have. And every user is important as a reader, as a member, and yes, as a number.

One Book Or Several?

A photo three books - Vincent Lam's The Headmaster's Wager, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park, and Kimberly S Young's The Eighth Wonder as an ebook

I haven’t written a post like this for a while, so I’m aware today may be a nonentity. I’m definitely out of practice.

I used to be book-monogamous. I was strict about this to the point of silliness. Then I experimented and found I could read a fiction book alongside a non-fiction or one of the two alongside an ebook of either type.

Now I read anything and everything with anything and everything and I’ve found both benefits and drawbacks. Please forgive my constant use of emphasis in this post, I want to make the subject of each paragraph obvious.

The biggest drawback to reading more than one book at a time is that it’s all too easy to lose your way for one and then just say “hey, I’m already reading two books, what difference will one more make?” This is why I’ve still Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair on the go, the latter for over two years now. It’s a lot easier to justify starting another book when you’ve already decided that you’re not monogamous, and it’s very easy to tell yourself that you’re not putting a book down for good. What’s hard is actually carrying it out, putting the book down and then coming back to it within a reasonable period of time (because let’s face it, a few years down the line doesn’t really count in this case). You could say that you should simply stop reading it, formally, but often these books are ones you were enjoying, you just happened to catch ‘shiny new object’ syndrome or have no reading time for a few days. (I think we all know how problematic for various reasons no reading time can sometimes be.)

However the biggest drawback to only reading one book is that it can stop you reading completely. For a while, at least. If you become bored with the book you’re reading, that’s it, unless you decide to DNF it and that’s a topic for another day. It can take a while to get through a book when you’ve reached a dull section and if you’re only reading that one book you won’t have any bookish respite from it for a potentially long period of time.

Another drawback of more than one book is confusion, confusing the storylines. This can of course happen anyway if you get through books quickly. A further drawback of one book is a lack of variety at any one time.

The variety that accompanies more than one book is important. Get bored, switch genres; learn about two subjects. You can also end up reading more books overall because variety helps with pace.

Yet the biggest reason in favour of one book is attention span. All your attention on that one book may just get it read. And, bonus point, if you write reviews and you like to write them soon after finishing, you’re highly unlikely to ever have more than one outstanding review at a time. It’s also easier to remember what you wanted to say in the case you’ve forgotten to make notes.

Do you read one book or more? Why?


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