Ok, so maybe I got this game a little late, and it’s taken a couple of months for my rage at this game to build, but here it is nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoy playing FIFA games normally, and while I accept that things change and are not always as you would wish them to be, here are 14 reasons FIFA14 got it massively, horrendously and hilariously wrong.

1. My PS3 cannot handle the game.

My Playstation can play Call of Duty: Ghosts, which was released after this game, and requires, I would imagine, a great deal more in terms of processor power and graphics capability. While it can play Ghosts without interruption or problem, FIFA 14 jumps, skips, freezes, pauses and is almost completely unresponsive half of the time. This means that games take twice as long, menus are frustrating to navigate and substituting a player requires a Masters in Knowing Whether During The Pause The Action Is Being Processed Or Not.

Also, during the early months, FIFA’s Ultimate Team suffered massive connectivity and freezing/crashing issues, fixed not by a proper programming patch, but by unticking some boxes. Well done there EA.

2. EA Sports are not really interested in helping players.

When I tweeted EA Sports about my freezing issue I got a very quick response, telling me that they knew ALL about the Ultimate Team problem, and here was the link I was too stupid to find. Thanks EA Sports.

Two problems here: I don’t PLAY Ultimate Team so that’s useless advice and, when I explained the problem further, no response at all. Shocking customer service.

3. You have to hold on to at least one email or the inbox won’t work.

If you don’t have an email in your inbox, you can’t move up to select the player conversation tab, meaning the ‘conversation’ is a little one sided. If you manage to get to the Player Conversation tab, Heaven forfend you ever delete the conversation, because now you can’t get back to the Inbox proper. Smooth.

 4. Skills games are repetitive and slow.

Yep, I missed those black barrels there… now shall I wait for the ball to roll 50 yards at an agonisingly slow pace? Oh ok, sure…

5. No one has thought of this simple fix for the “Oh, I didn’t mean to pass it, I was trying to tackle, I didn’t even have the ball” problem.

A) Any player more than 5 feet away from the ball can’t store actions. Wait til we are at least close to the thing.

B) If the opposition are in possession and their first touch (see point 6) or any other touch causes the ball to drift away from them, the ‘tackle’ I just pressed X for does NOT become a pass to their left back! Maybe make it a controlling touch, one to bring it in to your feet, and players can double tap if they really want to get rid of that annoying sphere they keep accidentally getting.

6. First Touch.

Definition: Something your opponent has.

Result: You can no longer turn players properly, you can’t collect the ball under pressure, you can’t set yourself for a pass or shot.

7. Sprinting is pretty much the worst thing to do.

In the current Premier League season, fast players like Nathan Dyer and Theo Walcott are highly valued and exceptionally useful. In FIFA 14, if you sprint you are no longer capable of turning without slowing to less than half the speed, and even without turning you are significantly slower. Also, in defensive areas, sprinting is akin to being a chicken with no head. No defensive reactions, no anticipation, just your opponent turning effortlessly as you run 30 feet past them with no way to slow or turn yourself.

8. Throw-ins are just stupid.

Oh, what’s that? The screen went blank a second while they retrieved the ball, and in the second that took my players are no longer anywhere near theirs, meaning they can take the throw in under no pressure? Ok, cool. As long as we’re on the same page. Oh, we’re not?

9. Challenging for a header = Not challenging for a header.

How many different buttons must I press before moving towards the opposition and jumping is achieved? Don’t press x, because that does nothing, and the rest are only marginally effective, and you can’t use O in the opposition half or you shoot, with your head, from 40 yards.

10. Winning the 2nd ball NEVER happens.

No matter whether you have slide tackled, standing tackled, won a header (see above) or had a bad first touch or a misplaced pass, your opponent now has possession. Sliding tackles that you win result in you lying on the floor and your opponent or a teammate of his now in possession of the ball. Headers that you win are pointless, because your other players never come within 20 feet of you to pick the ball up. Maybe you smell bad? If you misplace a pass, they misplace a pass or a tackle is made, your other players will stand around looking at the ball while an opponent who is further away collects it and disappears with it.

11. AI stands for almost intelligent.

Forward players stand around offside, as I mentioned above no one moves towards a free ball, if you make a pass that’s a little off the opposition player will run towards it while your player keeps waiting for the better pass to turn up.

12. Defending crosses and corners is a lottery.

No amount of good movement or anticipation will help. Forward players from their team can body check your defender and head the ball in with consummate ease anyway. Best to foul the player before they can make the cross… Plus, half of the time you can’t see where the ball is headed until it’s almost there, making any attempt to defend too little, too late.

13. Players below Premiership level have never kicked a ball.

I played Career Mode – Manager with AFC Wimbledon and Career Mode – Player with Newcastle and ended up on loan to Wycombe Wanderers. Both teams are in League 2, and despite their almost preternatural ability to make a good back heel, they cannot do anything else. Even turning requires them to stop running, think, and then set off at a right angle, regardless of whether that was you intention.

14. And lastly, player switching. Or, as I like to call it, Own Goal by Default.

Let’s say the opposition are attacking. You want that player just to the right of their man, as he’s a step ahead and he’s already running. You switch player. He stops running. They’re in. They score. Own Goal by Default. The player should keep going same speed, same direction as long as you have indicated so with your controller. I thought that was what they were for.

 

So there you have it. And that’s not even taking into account the lack of common sense in the passing options, which has always been a problem. I pressed down, I want to pass it down. I held the pass button longer, I want to pass it to the further player, not to their keeper. Similarly, I only tapped the pass button, I want to pass it to a close player, not a single meter away (and since I’m sprinting there’s no way I’m stopping in time to get it back).

Maybe that was 15. Oops.

If only I had played it as soon as I had got it and I could ask EA Sports for my money back.

 

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“Rejoice always…”

It’s amazing how two words can be so intimidating. For Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, it would probably be “spoken for”. For Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory it would most likely be “physical intimacy” or possibly “dirty sock” (now now people, behave).

For me it was “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Maybe it still is for you, and that’s why I felt I needed to tell you my experience of finding access to joy with God’s help. Perhaps you feel like a bad Christian, if there were such a thing, because you often find it difficult to be positive, or your life seems to be overwhelming you. I won’t downplay the medical seriousness of depression, but if you’re often finding yourself struggling to see anything to be joyful about then I hope God speaks through what I tell you now.

Joy, like love, is often something we do, and not just something we feel.

Dictionary.com definesrejoice‘ as both ‘to be glad‘ and ‘gladden‘, meaning that joy can be something we experience in an abstract way but it can also be something we bring ourselves to. This seems counter-intuitive in our results-based society, where to celebrate or to rejoice implies that something has happened for which we should celebrate or rejoice. A friend might get a job or a promotion, so you celebrate. It might be your birthday, so I might celebrate.John and Abby's wedding

Don’t get me wrong, rejoicing for good things in the present or past is beneficial, and can be crucial to our emotional and spiritual well-being. In fact in my earlier post “Soul Economics” I talked about a sort of spiritual boom and bust, where in the hard times we should look back at when things were good, to be thankful but also to spur us on to strive for those good times again. I recently attended the wedding of one of my closest friends and his beautiful bride, and even got to be a groomsman, and that event causes me to rejoice. Jesus even invites us to take communion in remembrance of what he did for us, asking us to look back and celebrate what we have been given by his death on the cross.

What I will say to you, however, is that simply rejoicing for things that happen or have happened is not enough.

If we are to gladden, or to rejoice in the sense of bringing joy to ourselves and others, we need to look at how we conduct ourselves, especially in times of trial.

A number of times, when in difficulty myself or around others who are experiencing hardship, I have a strange desire to make a joke, or to do something stupid. One of the most touching tributes after the death of Robin Williams recently was from a man who saw Robin come and sit with his parents, complete strangers both, for no other reason than they looked like they needed cheering up. He gladdened their hearts just by making them laugh. Did their situation change? No, they were still in pain, and their negative experience wasn’t diminished by their joy, but although the circumstances didn’t change, their outlook, at least for a time did. They were reminded that hardship did not bar them from joy.

Let me give you an example from my own life, if for no other reason than it is a fond memory. What feels like many years ago, when I was a secondary school student in Cornwall, my friend Danielle was having a bad day. Her boyfriend had cheated. Ouch. What do you even do in that situation? As a teenage boy, I didn’t know that the ‘correct’ procedure was to say that I’d always hated him and she was better off without him. I didn’t even have the good grace to sit and wallow with her in pity.

So what did I do? I know what you’re thinking: “Pete, you gave a very fine and eloquent speech that inspired your friend and everyone else around you, and they all went on to win whatever sporting event they were on their way to”. Why thank you, you’re so kind. I didn’t give a speech, or write a wonderful letter about how amazing she was, or how stupid and ugly he was. Frankly, I don’t think bigging one person up and tearing another down is any use in that situation. Her feelings for him were still strong, and she felt pretty negatively about herself. Best I could hope for with that strategy is to get her back to 50/50. So here it is, my 100% foolproof, guaranteed-to-fix-everything cure-all.The awesome healing power of cut grass.

I pushed her down a hill.

My friend Gavin and I knew that the grass had just been cut in the school field, which was two-tiered with a ten-foot, 45-degree slope between the two halves of the field. We also knew that, sometimes, doing something undignified is an incredibly easy way to rejoice, to gladden the heart. So the three spent just ten or twenty minutes rolling and sliding down a hill of freshly cut grass. In our white school shirts.

Sitting through the final lesson of the day with giant grass stains all over her previously pristine white shirt, Danielle couldn’t stop smiling. Had her situation changed? No, but her outlook did. She was able to rejoice the heart.

Do not conform to the accepted pattern of sympathy and ‘space’ in your own hard times, and encourage others to avoid this too!

It is interesting to note that Philippians 4:4 encourages us to “Rejoice in the Lord always, being more specific than the general instructions given to the Thessalonians.

I am often frustrated by people who seem to think that the only way to rejoice in the Lord is to bang on a Jesus Culture song, read your Bible and pray. All of these things are good, and we can have access to joy through worship music, God’s word and seeking him in prayer, but they are not everything, and dare I say they are not enough!

Yes, I used a Batman quote in the caption that has only a passing relevance to the actual message. You know why? I'M BATMAN.

Why do we fall?

God, like people, is not someone just to learn about and talk to. He is not satisfied with our relationship being one of brief phone calls and Facebook stalking his profile. God wants to share activities with us. He wants us to do things for him, with him and because of him. He wants us to enjoy the world he made and the hobbies and skills he has given us. Does football or Harry Potter make you happy? Then do it, and thank God for them. Does a Kit Kat Chunky in the bath make you happy? Go for it, just keep it to yourself.

The revolutionary concept I have been learning over the past couple of years and that I want you to get hold of is this:

When we have things to rejoice about, let us rejoice.

When we don’t, let us rejoice. Let us gladden our hearts.

Does God stop being good when times are hard? No.

Do the things he has given us: family, friends, sunshine, Match of the Day, Classic FM, barbecues, roller disco or clay pigeon shooting, go away? No.

When things go wrong, God will not stand over you, waiting until you have been through enough days of mourning before you can find joy. Nor should any person convince you that joy is an experience and nothing else.

Be someone who brings joy, because when you do, you might be the reason someone, perhaps even yourself, experiences joy.

 

Top 10 Series: Movies

Person with a clapperboardFollowing on from my previous Top 10 post about my favourite novels, I now wish to extol and rave about the virtues of my favourite movies. This was a much more difficult list to compile, as I have watched many more movies than I’ve read books, which is fair enough as they take considerably less time to get through! I have willingly (and in fits of hysterics) sat through 90 minutes of Pegasus vs. Chimera on Netflix, my shout for worst film ever, but reading all the way through Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders at University was too painful. One of maybe two or three that I just couldn’t finish.

Another difficulty arose in trying to order these Top 10 Movies, because I love each of them for different reasons and they all appeal to me more at different times. However, each of these movies has impressed me so much to keep these following movies out of my Top 10. Here are my nearly-made-it-ins.

Honourable Mentions:

Gladiator – Quality action film, excellent lead and supporting actor in Russell Crowe and the fantastic Joaquin Phoenix. Could be shorter.

Die Hard/Bad Boys/Indiana Jones – All amazing (we shall forget Die Hard 5 and Indiana Jones 4 ever existed for obvious reasons), with great appeal to the wannabe action hero in all of us.

Hot Fuzz – Hilarious, quotable, Pegg and Frost at their very best.

Avengers Assemble – Joss Whedon is my hero. The Avengers film is the best Marvel offering to date.

 

Without further ado, I present for your discussion and heated argument, my Top 10 Movies.

10. Push

Push is a beautiful film, even before you consider the plot and acting. Set in Hong Kong, both the setting and the post-production work lend this film a really gritty kind of appeal. It’s not shiny or false, it’s real life plus psychic powers.

Oh, did I forget about the psychic powers? Push is primarily a story about special people who can use telekinesis, predict the future or make people’s blood vessels burst by shouting at them. Seriously, they shout and people slowly die. It’s weird. A group called Division seek to control and experiment on these extraordinary few, and those who aren’t already under their control live in hiding. Focusing on a few of these fugitives, the film delivers a powerful story of defiance against overwhelming odds. Full of humour and with a great soundtrack, this film has a long list of reasons to watch it.

With the action of a Bourne film, the artistic integrity of House of Flying Daggers and the comic book flair of X-Men, it bears thinking about.

9. Stardust

Based on a very good Neil Gaiman novel, the film alters the style and story a bit to appeal to a more mainstream audience. In true Gaiman style however, the weird, the wonderful and the witty all collide in this coming-of-age adventure romance (that enough genres for you?).

With an impressive cast including Robert de Niro, Clare Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer, with cameos from Ricky Gervais, David Walliams and Rupert Everett, this film is bursting with talent in front of camera and behind it. Stardust is just as comfortable tugging on your heartstrings as it is building tension, and the result is a mix of emotions that keep you invested in the plot. The cinematography is excellent too, and in case you weren’t already convinced, the creators threw in flying pirates, two-headed elephants and a quest. Everyone loves a darn good quest!

With the charm and exotic variety of The Hobbit, the magic and courage of the Harry Potter films, and a love story a thousand times better than Twilight, you need to watch it.

8. Serenity

It was painful not to make this film one of my Top 3 Movies, however this follow on from the cult favourite TV series Firefly suffers a little unless you are familiar with the series.

Whether you have seen the series preceding it or not, Serenity is one of the most unique and delightful films I have seen, with a cast incredibly comfortable in their roles. Creatively dubbed a Space-Western, the film enjoys a novel appeal, taking the best of the gun-toting Westerns and the drama and excitement of a great Sci-Fi adventure. Never allowing itself to be one-dimensional, its characters are conflicted and mature (except Jayne), and the plot races headlong towards an incredible action climax. Dotted throughout with laugh-out-loud moments and with beautiful attention to detail, Serenity is a breath of fresh air in a stale movie scene of sweaty, same-old stories with wooden acting and predictable characters.

Gives all the thrills of the new Star Trek films, the gritty realism of a Clint Eastwood film and the zany joy of  Back to the Future. Get it.

7. Braveheart

Finally, a film with no spaceships, magic or comedians in highly-paid cameo roles. Braveheart is one of the finest historical films made, and regardless of your take on Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent, this is inspirational stuff.

Taking the story of Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace and bringing it to the big screen required some gumption, but Braveheart lives up to the promise. It tells you a lot about the quality of the film when it can get you to root against your own country. Longshanks is brilliantly wicked, Wallace is seriously angry and the Scottish highlanders are aggressively hairy. A haunting soundtrack and the majestic natural beauty of the setting add to the appeal, but you could have set the film in a car park and the drama would still get you shouting at the screen.

The action of Gladiator on a larger scale, the heartbreaking tragedy of Gladiator, and the humour that Gladiator was missing. Breathtaking stuff.

6. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Obviously I could have put any of the three LOTR films here, or indeed either of the brand spanking new Hobbit films, but my personal favourite is Two Towers. Tolkien’s masterpiece of epic adventure is realised with great gusto by director Peter Jackson, and a stellar cast shipped off to the other side of the world for a couple years give the story the dedication it deserves.

Elves, Dwarves and men fight against the hordes of evil in this thrilling and exotic tale. Focusing on Two Towers, the battle sequences are awesomely packed with action, the location, costume and cinematography are beautiful and the acting isn’t too shabby. If you consider that many of the scenes had to be shot several times or under difficult circumstances due to the varying heights of the characters, the effort is phenomenal.

I would compare this film and/or series to others, but there’s really no point. There is nothing like Lord of the Rings. Worth investing several hours of your life in, you will not have wasted them.

5. UP

There have been many animated films that have appealed to adults and children alike, and this is the best of them (and that is coming from a dedicated King Julien impersonator). An emotional, madcap adventure involving an elderly man, a chubby Wilderness Explorer and lots of balloons!

I first watched this with a group of friends over a fry up, expecting a good laugh and a few aww moments. What we were treated to was a story that made us choke on our beans with laughter, well up with tears and cheer madly, Well, I have done all  those things anyway. The plot is sweet and crazy, in just the right amounts, and the characters deliver laughs and gasps with great timing and funny voices. I can only imagine the difficulty of making a smooth and vivid animated film, but the animators should be applauded for their work.

With the funny animals of Madagascar, the mature but all-age humour of Shrek and the emotional impact of the classic Disney animations, this is a must see for the whole family. And there are no songs that people can endlessly sing/post links to (I’m looking at you Frozen).

4. Now You See Me

A heist film with a twist. The main characters are magicians. You heard me. They do magic.

Now You See Me’s appeal lies in its innovation. Anyone can make a funny heist movie (Ocean’s Eleven) or a movie about magicians (The Prestige). But the combination of crime and the impossible makes for a mind-bending thrill ride. The characters are brought to life in excellent fashion by just the right cast. The humour, the illusions, the action and the dramatic tension all weave together, never letting up. The dialogue is good, but put Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson on the case, and it becomes so much more than good. Oh, and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are in it. Just sayin’.

I’ve stolen my own comparison thunder already with my previous comments, but anyone who wants both comedy and action will enjoy this.

3. The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back is one of the most understated and underrated films I have had the pleasure to comes across. I remember seeing a trailer and loving the humour of the film. This is a great coming-of-age film with a sweet summer flavour to it.

Sam Rockwell is a loveable rogue, just as funny as his character seems to think he is. Steve Carrell takes a step away from the usual daft, but effective, humour of his other films to play a more serious role. The young lead, Liam James, plays a teen who is forced to spend the summer with his mother, his mother’s boyfriend and his mother’s boyfriend’s daughter at their summer house. What starts out as a nightmare turns into a summer he will never forget.

Not to be compared with many cheesy teen summer movies, this is a charming movie that hearkens back to the better teen movies of the 80s, except without the dodgy hair.

2. Good Will Hunting

To those of  you who have seen this movie, I need say nothing. I have yet  to come across anyone who didn’t appreciate it. For those of you who haven’t, I will do my best. Good Will Hunting is a movie about a young man in Boston who is going nowhere. His temper is out of control, his trust issues are complex and he seems to be ok with that.

Matt Damon stars as Will, a man with more to him than meets the eye. Between his best friend played by Ben Affleck, a counsellor played by Robin Williams and a beautiful girl portrayed by Minnie Driver, he has his work cut out trying to avoid confronting his feelings. What happens is a journey of joy, grief, courage and discovery. Williams and Damon are outstanding in their roles, bringing to life complex and enigmatic characters. Did I mention that Damon and Affleck wrote the screenplay too? Oh yeah, and the screenplay won an Oscar. Mock their other films all you want, but this film has real credibility.

Incomparable. Along with my number one film, this film will be a benchmark by which you assess other films. Best dramatic film I have ever watched.

Empty cinema

1. Remember The Titans

There had to be a sports film on here. Remember The Titans is THE sports film. Based on a true story, this film tells the story of a high school American football team in a newly segregated school. Due to the political situation, Herman Boone, a black coach played by Denzel Washington, is put in charge of the previously all-white team and given the task of making the players of both backgrounds work together.

While I don’t think this is Washington’s finest acting of his career, the story and the work of the rest of the cast elevate this film to something altogether more than a good sports film. The political and social backdrop of the film adds real emotion to the sporting drama, already exciting and gripping. For a sports fan, this film is absolutely unmissable, but there is wider appeal. Donald Faison (Turk from Scrubs) and Ryan Gosling star in early roles as part of a large cast, notable also for a young Hayden Panettiere as a football-mad coach’s daughter.

If you thought getting insurance from Money Supermarket would make you feel epic, not even a voiceover from Snoop Dogg could make this film more epic. Paving the way for excellent movies like Coach Carter, Remember The Titans is good enough to watch over and over.

Top 10 Series: Novels

I was wondering to myself the other day: “What are your Top 10 books?” Good question. “Well Pete”, I replied…20140706_101013

Ok, maybe I won’t do the internal dialogue thing, it’s a bit old hat. But it got me thinking, and I would like to share with you my Top 10 books, and I will also do a movies post for those with ADD, the illiterate (who probably won’t read the list, maybe you could read it to them) and those who have not understood how good books are.

NB: Where the book/movie is part of a series, I will only mention my favourite, although I may discuss the others in the description.

NB2: Non-Fiction not included! That gives me an idea for another post… oh dear.

Honourable mentions:

Anything by Shakespeare clearly, he didn’t make the list as they aren’t novels, but dude got skills.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is brutal, moving and inspirational.The Passage by Justin Cronin is proper Vampire fiction, forget Twilight, no one sparkles in this horrific/terrific apocalyptic series.

Ok, so here we go, the Top 10 in descending order:

10. The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M Harris

Yes, the lady that wrote Chocolat now also writes Fantasy novels. Perhaps as a tribute to the late Iain M Banks she simply added an M to her name for the genre change. Anyhow, fans of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the Marvel films will love the sardonic humour of this recent effort. Loki narrates the novel and is at times hilarious, while recounting a story of betrayal, bitterness and revenge.

Recommended for those who like comic book action, wit and a bit of mythology on the side.

9. A Game of Thrones – George RR Martin

I was actually tempted to leave this off the list for a number of reasons. Firstly, just like Harris, he stole this middle initial thing from Tollkien, who did it before it was mainstream, gosh! Also, the level of graphic content and Martin’s willingness to be ruthless with his characters does make for unsettling and upsetting reading at times. In the end, I included it simply because he masterfully portrays a seething mess of power hungry nobility, a desperate band of heroes trying to save the world, and exotic beauties – both in terms of people and places – with a great eye for detail.

Recommended for those who love an epic tale with humour, victory, cunning. Full of good guys that are good against bad guys that are bad against good guys that are bad against bad guys that are good against scary mythical beasts.

8. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

This book appears on almost every newspaper list of teachers’ favourite books, best books of the century, books most likely to end in unattractive snot-crying and so on. It definitely deserves to be on that list. World War II books have been done to death, right? So Zusak didn’t write one. He wrote a powerful, delicate and sensational tale about people, set in Nazi Germany. Narrated by death, it also leans towards the hilarious at times, while not ruining the emotion of the unfolding drama. His interludes, the main character’s well-realised personality and the strength of the plot all serve to create something a bit special.

Recommended for those who want a human drama that will move you, reaffirm your faith in humanity and make you want to adopt German orphans.

7. S – Doug Dorst/JJ Abrams20140817_212707

JJ Abrams, eh? Doesn’t he make films? Isn’t this the wrong list for him? Well exCUSE me, I think you’ll find he sort of wrote a book. Well, Dorst wrote the book, but he came up with the idea. I like the thought that he sat looking over Dorst’s shoulder as he wrote, occasionally saying “No, don’t answer the reader’s questions, we must use their curiosity to enslave them!”

This entry is a novel about a novel and two people who read the novel. The best way to explain it is to say that in the slipcase you get a beautiful, vintage-looking book with a story inside, annotated by two different readers, along with dozens of inserts (photos, letters, postcards etc…). This is more than a novel, it is a moving testament to the power of the written word. The story is exciting, as you follow two readers of an old novel, trying to discover the identity of the author, while at the same time dealing with their trust issues and getting to know one another.

Recommended for those who like mystery, reader participation (there are clues you can decipher for yourself, and websites full of people analysing the online materials that accompany the book), and a love story, all rolled into the most beautifully-presented book ever made. It may cost £28 but it is a reading experience rather than just a book.

6. Wool – Hugh Howey

Wool is a post-apocalyptic drama that serves as a more mature Hunger Games, while being just as dark and well-written. The first in a three-volume series, this excellent novel is a fantastic suspenseful thriller with believable characters, real danger and a great plot. A setting that seems like it would inhibit the story actually turns out to be one of the greatest assets of Howey’s debut, as the description and plot work really give you the impression of being present as the story unfolds.

Recommended for those who like post-apocalyptic fiction, thrillers and almost unbearable curiosity. I won’t call it a page-turner, since Michael McIntyre made it clear that is the minimum that should be expected from a book, but I will instead call it a kept-me-up-til-3am-so-I’m-exhausted-at-work-er.

5. Magician – Raymond E Feist

Perhaps the best post-Tolkien epic fantasy (although, also read Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and Jordan’s Wheel of Time series), and still as engrossing the 2nd and 3rd time round. I should know. This novel introduces a well-realised world in which magic, courage and friendship all work together in a Good versus Evil plot that will knock your socks off. Feist is just as adept introducing a new culture as he is fleshing out a character, and you will find yourself drawn into the story. If you’ve ever watched Braveheart or Remember The Titans and found yourself wanting to free Scotland or play American Football, you’ll feel the same pull to become a legendary magician, or at least one of the many exotic and dangerous characters he encounters.

Recommended for those who like a good adventure, a lead character you genuinely root for, incredible detail and plenty of buckled swashes.

4. Return of the King – JRR Tolkien

My list wouldn’t be complete without the novels of one of the finest thinkers literature has ever had. A huge, intricate and infinitely exciting world full of characters you love to love or hate. If Google wanted to create a virtual world for us to explore, they’d want him to talk them through it. If Disney ever finally ran out of story ideas, he could keep them in business for decades.

I picked Return of the King because it is climactic, desperate, gracefully written and hungrily read. The previous two books in the series build up elegantly to the end-game, the final days that will settle the fate of Middle Earth. I don’t need to say much more about this series, because if you don’t already know how good it is, you’re clearly mad enough not to appreciate it fully. So go read Twilight again, and cry because Bella picked the wrong/right guy.

Recommended for everyone. Ever.

 

The top 3 books in this series eclipse Tolkien possibly because I am too familiar with it, and I have discovered these in the days since reading Lord of the Rings, but I stick by their places.

3. Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Translated from Spanish, this tense supernatural/literary thriller is almost a genre of its own. Set in Barcelona in the early 20th Century, this novel is the first in a trilogy (so far) based around a son introduced to a secret he must keep his whole life, a moment that triggers a surreal and frightening series of events. Zafon’s description of the city, the weather, the characters and their stories is excellent, and much like Abrams he likes to spark your curiosity and keep you hanging on every word.

Recommended for fans of gothic horror, tense atmosphere and flowing prose.

2. Tigana – Guy Gavriel Kay

It was hard to pick just one of Kay’s novels, as he is my favourite writer. I will explain later why I picked something else at number one, but Kay’s novels are all exceptional in their own way. Kay writes fantasy mostly based around historical cultures. With the exception of a few novels, he uses history and geography to create a familiar and yet fictional world that you can dive into. Tigana is based in a fictional version of city-state Italy, fractious and divided. Two sorcerers, both bringing their own influences to the region, hold on to part of the peninsula each, in a tense and uneasy standoff. Enter a band of disreputable heroes, all seeking to overthrow the tyrants. Their reason secret, known only to a few, they hurtle headlong towards a final confrontation, through a vivid and well-researched parallel Italy.

Recommended for fans of historical novels and fans of fantasy. Let’s face it though, you should all read it.

1. The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

While Kay may be my favourite author, this may simply be an oversight on my part, having only read one Graham Greene novel. I studied this book at University and found that I finished it in two sittings (I had a social life then). The tearful tale of a whiskey priest in Mexico during a time of great persecution, Greene’s novel is a breathtaking work of drama, taking in political and religious themes as well as a personal struggle. A powerful morality tale that is simply begging to be made into a film, fans of Dead Poet’s Society and Braveheart will be familiar with the mix of tragedy and bravery, tears of mourning and tears of joy.

Recommended.

 

Soul Economics

I’m the sort of person with ready answers to a lot of questions. You could say it’s a defensive mechanism born of hurt in my past and a need to project an image of myself that I’m happy with. You could also say it’s a useful defense against my own need for emotional outlets. I don’t write, sing or dance enough to properly express all the emotional kerfuffle in my heart, so all too often a good friend asks an innocent question and gets burdened with problems they don’t need.

That’s all fairly tangential to what I’m wanting to say, so I’ll get to my point:what_is_your_deepest_fear__by_aaronwalwyn-d4p5san

If you asked me what I am most afraid of, my ready answer is never finding someone to share my life with.

Confession time. This is a lie.

In truth, it’s an exceptionally good lie for many reasons. It contains a massive dollop of truth, it has had me convinced for a goodly part of my life, and it is so ‘normal’ and common to a lot of people’s experience that it prevents people (including me) from looking deeper.

Lately, as I have been more prone to introspection and trying to rebuild my relationship with God – and probably my relationship with myself too – I have discovered what my real fear is. My church leader recently talked to me about looking beyond the surface problems and difficulties to see the root cause, and for once I must have been listening, because behind my fear of being alone is a deeper fear.

It is a fear confronted daily, and one that is a massive issue for our generation.

Emptiness.

I am very good at not holding on to negative emotion when I need to get rid of it. I can walk away from a conflict with someone and five minutes later walk back in and they don’t even realise they’ve upset me because it’s gone. But when I let go of these negative feelings, I too often find myself feeling empty. Like my heart and soul are running dry.

This may be a little offensive to some people in my life, as it basically means I have not filled my heart with God’s love, their friendship, familial love and appreciation for all the good things I have in life.

Go ahead, be offended.

Because you’re right.

Economists can look back at years of financial markets and global trends and see what is called “Boom and Bust” in many places, where economies go through good times and then fall into recession. Gordon Brown was criticised by many for selling gold during boom years, when the price was low, and in the bust years, when it was most valuable, it was gone.

This is a bit like my life sometimes, and I’m sure this is not just me.

I can look back at so many good memories, moments where friendships have been made or strengthened, beautiful places I’ve seen, and experiences of love from God or others. So where is the cumulative weight of joy in my heart from all this experience? The appreciation?

10-weigh-it-sl

Let me suggest that, like when we arrive at the airport with too much baggage and have to shed some physical weight, we’re always carrying around too much emotional baggage, and when we arrive at a new beginning, the start of a new adventure, we shed some spiritual/emotional substance. We get rid of things. Things that seem frivolous and not necessary. We stop appreciating what has gone before, stop holding on to the good things we have and the good times we’ve had.

We find it so much easier to recall the hard times, the insults, the hurts and rejections in our past, because they changed us almost instantly. The negative things that happen to us have an immediate effect very often, and the good seems to change us only gradually (obviously there are exceptions to this, but you see my point). So we’re holding on to all this negative baggage, and leaving the good stuff back at the airport, hoping to find more good stuff where we’re going.

Like Gordon Brown in the Boom Years, we’re selling off our joy at a low price. And like Gordon Brown in the Bust Years, we pay for it dearly when hard times come.

In contrast to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (*waits to see who mentions he was also Prime Minister, and then says “Yeah, duh, but not when that story happened, why do you have to ruin everything?*), Joseph of flashy overcoat fame can teach us a lesson in soul economics… and actual economics, in fact.

When he interprets Pharaoh’s dream that Egypt is about to face seven years of famine and poverty, he is buoyed by the knowledge that he can store up seven years worth of good harvests, ensuring that during the hard times Egypt can not only support themselves, but bail out others in need.

Before any of this could happen, Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, and through no fault of his own also ended up in prison. Through all these trials he remained positive because he remembered the promises God had made in his dreams, he remembered the favour he had been shown by his father and his Heavenly Father.

I need to learn to do this in my Boom Times (yes, that is what I will now be calling any good days/weeks/months etc). Store up the stories, the jokes, the smiles, the beautiful scenery, the love, the blessings, everything I have been given.

When new adventures and trials begin, I must cling on to the good relationships I have, especially with God. I must remember the blessings I have been given (safety, roof over my head, ability to provide for myself etc). I must remember the experiences and sights of the past.

Instead of dumping the good stuff at the airport when I head off, I plan on dumping all the trash, even if it’s easier to keep it. I plan on fighting for all the joy I can hold on to, because if I don’t, my deepest fear will be realised on a regular basis. And that’s not how I roll.

If you struggle to go back to work when you come back from a holiday, if you struggle to maintain your joy when you come home from Newday or another conference or event, if you struggle to start over because you remember all the bad stuff in your past and none of the good, remember this:

Don’t forget to look back at the Boom Times.

Hanging In There

So today has been a good day. I say that knowing full well I’m still not well. Have had an illness all week that has been painful, wearying and uncomfortable. On top of the normal things on my plate. Today is a good day because I am hanging in there.

I have found it difficult of late to do much more than cling to the cross. Hold on for dear life to the fact that I am a Christian, saved by God’s grace, adopted into his family. More than that, if I’m honest, is a real struggle. To give you a picture of how I’ve been feeling, let me point you to Lamentations 3, a chapter in the Bible where Jeremiah talks about his suffering. 

“He has driven me away and made me walk
    in darkness rather than light” – verse 2

 

“He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
    he has weighed me down with chains.
 Even when I call out or cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer.” – verses 7-8

 

“I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.” – verse 17

 

Those are words the resonate with how I have been feeling lately, and they come from a man of God, so I don’t feel any shame in identifying with them. However, I have needed to be reminded of what Jeremiah goes on to say later in the chapter. He is very clear that no matter how bad his lot might seem, one thing remains.

Hope.

“21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.”

 

Same chapter. Same guy. Same situation. Same God.

I keep beating myself up for not making more effort to repair my relationship with God. Thinking if only I could do this, or that, my life would take a turn for the better. Believing in my heart I am and have been a failure and a disappointment to God all the while, because I have been unable to do so. Becoming bitter and angry all the time because of this belief. Jeremiah describes as being filled with bitterness and gall.

But look at those turn-around verses again. What is Jeremiah doing to fix things? Where is his effort? 

All Jeremiah needs to do to continue with God is to wait. To place all his hope in God’s hands, to know God is the place that hope belongs, and wait. 

The Lord is my portion. God supplies him with the strength he needs to wait, and God will supply him with everything he needs to turn his life of waiting in a wasteland to a life of thriving in the throne-room. God does not need us to fix things when they are broken. Absolutely he wants us to seek him, and seeking is not passive. But have you ever considered that waiting doesn’t have to be passive either? If we choose to wait on God, to seek him with our hearts, to hope in him and to secure our lives against the temptations of the world and the enemy, we are actively siding with God. 

And let me be clear here. We are actively taking the winning side.

“32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.”

 

So I have had a good day, renewing my hope in him, declaring that I will wait on him, seeking his Kingdom reign in my life. That, and a day of selling books. 

Since this post has been notably devoid of film references, I will simply point out that God – if he has the sense of humour I have 

always credited him with – is no doubt looking forward to the moment when he can say to me, “I love it when a plan comes together”.

That is all.

Persistence.

Persistent.

That word for some of us is incredibly positive. For others it is not. My instant thought is that persistence is the bane of diplomacy. Me and my best friend (among others who have the dubious pleasure of my company) often have arguments about daft things. Do you really think Keith Lemon is funny? Was that tree really the tallest in the world at one point (please note – still not true)? Was it a good film or a bad film? 

The running theme is that both of us will persist in putting forward the same argument no matter what. Neither of us are capable of changing our minds once they are set. We are both convinced we’re right until someone googles it, and then my best friend is grumpy for an hour because I was right…

Okay, not 100% of the time. 

In truth, like money, sex and chocolate, it is neither good nor bad. There is no inherent moral value to it.

It is interesting to note that in the Bible, every reference to persistence in the Old Testament, before Jesus, was negative. Either they persisted in doing evil, they persisted to pester God’s prophet until he did what they told him, instead of listening, or… mould. Persistent, defiling mould. Who knows?

From Jesus’ time onwards, persist occurs only 3 times in the New Testament. All three are positive references. And for those who check, yes I’m including the one about NOT persisting in unbelief. That ends pretty well for everyone, so there.

So here’s the point (thanks for hanging in there).

We persist in doing wrong. We comfort eat, gossip, lash out in anger, or we do something, say something, watch something or think something we shouldn’t. And we allow history to repeat itself over and over again.

But I am never more free of that cycle of wrong than when I persist in doing good. It costs time, effort and a whole lot of patience to persist in doing good. That patience is sorely tested in the school I work at, where teenagers will take every opportunity to push your buttons. One girl in particular recently tore up a report about an incident she’d been involved in, right in front of my face, watching me the entire time. Testing. Pushing. 

I would love to say I felt as calm and unruffled as I looked. I dealt with the situation, but underneath I was hurting. Couldn’t she see what it cost me to give her another chance to do right? And what it cost to do the right thing even after she wasted that chance?

In truth, Jesus was given every excuse not to die for us. His enemies tried to kill him. His home town barely even listened to him, let alone respected him. Members of his own family thought he was mad. Finally, when it looked like his enemies had won, even those closest to him turned away, rejected him, denied him. Threw everything he had done and was doing that very moment in his face. I’d like to think Jesus included Peter in that forgiveness he spoke of, and I’d like to think he also thought of me. 

Our persistence in doing evil can be overcome. Yes, pray for each other, seek the Spirit’s guidance, power and comfort. God loves to work in those who love him, but he is not a vending machine. A relationship with God goes both ways, and he wants us to respond to his work in our lives.

For the sake of the one who died for you, persist in doing good. When it costs you, when you don’t feel like it, don’t stop. Just look at Jesus, who it cost, and who didn’t feel like it, as they killed him. 

I don’t think it would have been as effective if William Wallace had shouted PERSISTENCE! in one of my favourite films. I do, however, consider it a battle cry. I don’t want to get to heaven and stand before God making excuses. “It was difficult, Lord”… “They laughed at me!”… “I wasn’t ready”…

We have the best example of persistence. We have Jesus interceding for us before God. We have the Spirit. No excuses.

Strap on the armour of God, step out onto the battlefield, and persist. 

God is with you.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

           – Romans 12:21

 

P.S: I am not suggesting that we achieve success just because we try (no salvation or righteousness by works here), but when we see God working in us, it should cause a response in us. When we respond in kind and we step out in faith, putting ourselves in the centre of God’s will for ourselves and the people around us, what better place is there on Earth?