Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Skeleton Cupboard


The Skeleton Cupboard:
The making of a clinical psychologist
By Tanya Byron
Published by Macmillan, May 2014


Tanya Byron is a well-known British clinical psychologist who has appeared on many tv shows about child psychology and problems with children. In her 20+ years of clinical practice, she has met people of all ages with all sorts of mental health issues and problems, and it is her early training placements  covering the period 1989 - 1992 which are the focus of this book. In many respects she was thrown in the deep end, sometimes feeling only remotely supported by her clinical supervisors and  basically left to learn how to put her theoretical knowledge into practice and actually help her patients. 

The fact that she was so often able to do so in cases involving familial sexual abuse, transgender issues, sexual dysfunction issues, families struggling to come to terms with the impending death of sons from AIDS, anorexia and  dementia amongst many others is a testament to her own resiliency of spirit, determination and patience. Not everyone can be helped and not everyone actually wants to be helped, however. Dealing with such heart-rending and often tragic circumstances is draining and learning a certain degree of detachment from the clientele is a skill which is necessary but very difficult to learn, as this brutally honest memoir demonstrates. The cases she describes are vividly portrayed and her own thoughts and feelings about her experiences are laid bare for the reader, as are some distressing yet formative experiences from her own life. As a young clinician, she struggled to avoid allowing her work experiences to overwhelm her through maintaining her network of close friends, but on occasions her own immaturity and "nit-picking" of her supervisors did, I must admit,  irk me a little.

Many stories of tragedy and abuse are written by the person who suffered; this is the only book I can recall which has actually been written  solely from the therapist's point of view. I am sure that both clinical training placements and supervisory support have changed in the intervening years, but this remains a remarkable look at this period in Professor Byron's career, and the cases she describes will stay with me for a long, long time. Individuals described have of necessity been thoroughly anonymised, amalgamated and details changed to protect confidentiality, by the way, as I would expect in a book of this nature.

Not an easy read, and in places incredibly distressing, but a worthwhile one nevertheless for anyone with an interest in mental health issues.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The New Enemy


The New Enemy
(The Liam Scott series no 3)
By Andy McNab
Published by Doubleday, Jan 15th, 2015


Liam Scott might be young, but he has seen and lived through more than most people could ever imagine in their entire lives. Having survived two tours of duty in Afghanistan and shown aptitude for gathering Intelligence, his superiors have supported and encouraged his application to go on the Light Reconnaissance Commander's Course.

The course in the UK is gruellingly bad enough, but when the training in Kenya starts, he finds himself teaching members of the Kenyan Defence Force some of the things he has just learned as they fight against a vicious terrorist group based in Somalia. A simple "intel" gathering exercise mission about these terrorists unearths essential information which means the patrol goes back out to the danger zone and into almost unimaginable horrors when they are set up, ambushed and captured by the terrorists.

I've read the first two books in this series but this is by far the best, compelling me to read it in one session, my heart pounding along with Liam Scott's as he battles to save both his own  mission members and the Kenyan captives  held hostage by the Al Shabaab extremists.

Captivating, gripping and exhilarating, don't be put off by the publisher's "Young Adult/Teen" categorisation - anyone who enjoys action-packed adventure or military fiction will be sure to enjoy this book.  I'm just left wondering how on earth Andy McNab can top this story as he continues to chronicle Liam Scott's army career......


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Monday, January 19, 2015

When Books Went To War



When Books Went To War
By Molly Guptill Manning
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
December 2nd, 2014



The Nazi desire to control the minds of the German populace was quite remarkably terrifying. Books deemed demeaning or inimical to "true German" thoughts and beliefs were destroyed, especially books by Jewish authors, for fear they would pollute the pure minds of Germans.  Books by Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Jack London and many others were destroyed in orgies of book burnings which were broadcast on TV and radio. 

Ordinary German citizens were careful to make sure they had nothing in their homes which could make them open to criticism on this front, and during the Second World War, 100 million books were destroyed in Germany. The destruction of proscribed books was shortly followed by the imprisonment and destruction of people whom were deemed a threat to Nazi Germany and its desire to rule Europe.

The need for books to accompany American troops as they journeyed to and travelled within Europe, to lift their spirits, boost morale and occupy their time, was quickly recognised. This remarkable book outlines the story of how the Government, librarians, publishers and authors worked together to make this a reality. Raymond L. Trautman, a reserve soldier who had a library degree, experience of running bookstores and knew how the book industry operated, and Althea Warren, who was allowed leave of absence from her post at Los Angeles Public Library, were the initial key players. Supported by the Red Cross and wholeheartedly backed by the general public, America's largest book drive was soon underway, collecting new books and second-hand books for the troops.

The importance of the printed word in sustaining troops was recognised and the American Government agreed to authorise the printing of both books and magazines out of the war effort budget. Publishing companies found that it was too expensive and difficult to produce so many quality hardback books, due to a shortage of raw materials, and the birth of the mass market paperback edition was born.

A huge variety of fiction (both classic and modern) and non-fiction to suit all tastes and reading abilities was commissioned and many authors were delighted to be told their books had been chosen to be re-published in this special edition for the troops. Feedback from the troops about which titles they particularly enjoyed or found helpful was disseminated back to the authors, many of whom  took pains to answer each and every letter they received. Reading the accounts of how much these books meant to the front-line armed forces is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, and when you consider that 120 million new books were printed for the troops, it was a remarkable and highly successful undertaking, yet so few people are aware it even happened.

With the 1944 Soldier Voting Bill, known as Title V on the statute books, accusations of political propaganda and potential censorship as well as the morality of some titles became a strongly contentious issue, and eventually it was deemed better to avoid publishing a title at all rather than censoring and expurgating it for publication and affecting the ideal of free speech and freedom of the press. It is fascinating to see the lists of titles which were printed in Appendix B, and I now have an additional list of books I hope to read in the near future.

This was an amazing read, and a superb addition to my bookshelf.




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The Simple Life Devotional


Wanda E. Brunstetter's The Simple Life Devotional
Published by Barbour Books, November 2014

Everything about this book, from the layout and design, the background colour of the pages, the decorative touches and photographs, is a delight to the eye. 

The devotional content, which is even more important, is based on the Amish way of life and of looking at things, which can certainly help those of us who do not live the Plain Life but are faced with the stresses and burdens of a very different way of living. 

Short and sweet, and therefore much more likely to be sustainable as a book of devotional reading,  we are treated to anecdotes, sayings, quips, recipes (oh my, the recipes! Yum!) as well as short Biblical quotations for two whole months worth of daily readings to amuse, challenge you and make you think what you need to work on  as you progress on your life's pilgrimage to Christ.

A delightful book indeed.



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Sunday, January 04, 2015

My Secret Life in Hut Six



My Secret Life in Hut Six: 
One Woman’s Experiences at Bletchley Park
By Mair & Gethin Russell Jones
Published by Lion Books, July 2014

Imagine discovering that your beloved elderly mother hadn’t just worked for the Foreign Office during the Second World War, as she modestly admitted, but that she had been one of the team at Bletchley Park who were tasked with helping to identify and crack the secrets of  the Germans’ coded Enigma machine messages…
Looking through a recently published book about Bletchley Park and its vital role during the war, Gethin Russell Jones  saw a photograph which showed his mother, Mair, as a young woman, and gradually he unearthed the full story of his mother’s work which she had faithfully kept secret for so many years after signing the Official Secrets Act.  
Once others were publishing their recollections of this work, she finally felt able to tell her son the full details about the rather bizarre way she was head-hunted at Cardiff University where she was studying Music, German and History, and her quite remarkable life and experiences working at Bletchley Park. Her background from the small village of Pontycymer in the Garw Valley in South Wales was a marked contrast to the majority of the other “BP” workers, and it took some time before she felt at ease with her co-workers and with her task. 
A deeply devout Christian, Mair would likely have become a missionary after her time at Mount Hermon Missionary Training College in London  if the war had not supervened; her time in London ministering to those in the East End and supporting Jewish refugees had a marked impact on her, as did the death of a dear friend whose family was killed by a German bombing raid on Cardiff. The pacifism of some of her Christian friends was not for her, she felt very deeply that to allow Hitler to continue with his actions was unconscionable and that he must be stopped. She was both happy and proud to play her part in the war effort, despite the tensions it caused with some members of her family and her first landlady when she initially arrived at BP.
Despite the vital importance and complexity of their work, they were told remarkably little  on a day-to-day level about how their work was so significantly changing the course of the war in favour of Britain and her Allies, which must have been incredibly dispiriting and seems to have been very short-sighted of the “top brass” in charge of the team.  Quite how Alan Turing’s “Bombe” worked always remained a bit of a mystery to Mair, who admitted she was not particularly mathematically inclined!
Secrecy and discretion were held to be paramount and Mair witnessed two of her colleagues being hauled over the coals and then publicly and summarily dismissed for discussing information that had been passed on to them by other people, even though this had been done in the confines of the works canteen at BP.
She became friends with another new recruit, Joan, and safely ensconced in her new and much more friendly lodgings, she began to relax and really enjoy her work. Her ongoing courtship with Russ, who was studying to be ordained into the Baptist ministry, continued to flourish despite their long periods apart and blossomed into an engagement. Ill-health due to the poor working conditions at BP plagued many people and Mair became desperately ill with pneumonia towards the very end of the war. She was sent home to recuperate, but was then discharged from her duties at Bletchley Park and free to marry her beloved Russ and raise her large family.
I found the final few chapters where Gethin takes his mother back to Bletchley Park and her work being publicly honoured by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to be immensely moving. She kept her silence for over sixty years, and I am glad she was finally able to tell her story.
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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Growing Up Amish



Growing Up Amish:  A Memoir
By Ira Wagler
Published by Tyndale House, 2011


Growing Up Amish is a bit of a misnomer.
Having finished it today, the one thing that seems very obvious to me is that the author didn’t do very much “growing up” when he was living Amish; most of his growing up seems to have occurred long after he finally (after many short-lived periods living away) and completely left both the Amish faith and Amish way of life behind him.

 Ira Wagler acknowledges many times that he did not behave well towards many people, especially his poor fiancee, but I still do not truly get the sense that at that particular time in his life he ever put the needs  of anyone except himself first and foremost.  

Reading this book was fascinating and absorbing, but I also read with an inexorable sense of impending train-wrecks of relationships and friendships. He always wanted more than his community, way of life or family could give him, hence his painful and difficult attempts to walk away from his loved ones.

It was in many ways a profoundly sad book which has left me feeling very thoughtful about my own friendships and relationships on this New Year’s Day of 2015. Most of my books I will read multiple times, but I don’t think I will be reading this one again because it made me feel so desperately sad.
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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Ouch!

Real Life has really thrown me a curve ball - ten days ago, I fell and broke my right arm.

As I am right-handed, I am struggling to type, so although I am reading up a storm, I most likely won't be posting reviews till about mid- January :-(
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Make Ahead Bread


Make Ahead Bread

By Donna Currie

Published by Taunton Press, Nov 4th, 2014


One of the things which puts so many people off the idea of making bread from scratch at home is the thought of being tied to the kitchen for hours on end while the dough rises, proves then cooks. This is not actually necessary or true, and some of the steps involved can be done in advance, or the process safely interrupted, to fit around the many other demands on the cook's time.



The recipes are fun and varied, including

  • Bacon, Tomato & Cheddar Loaf
  • Oatmeal, Honey & Date Loaf
  • Maple, Bacon & Onion Loaf
  • Savoury Monkey Bread
  • Cinnamon Swirl Loaf
  • Candied Ginger Bread
and a great deal more, including some gluten-free recipes, sourdoughs, rye, buns, breadsticks, sliders, hot dog rolls and hamburger buns, all sorts of flatbreads and pizzas as well as a slew of delicious pastries. I particularly liked the information about using an instant read thermometer to assist in judging when the bread is properly cooked as a guide for novice bread bakers. 

It's a truly lovely book, but sadly, some of the ingredients are certainly not easily available in my part of the UK. Experimentation to find acceptable substitutes may be required :-)


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Monday, November 17, 2014

A Dream of Home



A Dream of Home

By Amy Clipston

Published by Zondervan, Nov 4th, 2014



Madeleine was a military nurse until her pilot fiance died; then she moved into her late grandmother's house in the depths of Amish country, Pennsylvania, to build a new life for herself. She soon discovers that unfortunately she cannot leave her memories and nightmares so easily behind her, and despite having a job working at a nearby hotel and making new friends, her life and heart are still pretty empty.

Her next-door neighbour is a widowed Amish man named Saul Beiler, a skilled cabinet maker who farms and also looks after his delightful young daughter. His past holds many secrets and although he knows his daughter Emma would benefit from a woman's daily influence, he does not feel quite ready to remarry and is certainly not expecting Madeleine and Emma to strike up such a deep and enduring friendship, nor to develop feelings for her himself. Afraid that things are moving too quickly and that Emma is becoming too fond of Madeleine, his attempts to step back from the budding relationship have unexpected results.

This is the latest installment of the "Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel" series and the stories of other characters from the preceding books are cleverly interwoven with Maddy's. Even though she is now living "Englisch" with two of her children and her new husband Trey, Hannah continues to try to rebuild her relationship with Lilian, her daughter who has resolutely chosen to remain Amish. 
Carolyn's wedding to Joshua is imminent yet her fiance is very unhappy about her continuing to work at the Lancaster Grand Hotel in case she too meets an Englischer and leaves the Amish world, just as Hannah did so recently. The Englisch and Amish worlds are closely inter-connected in this book, yet are poles apart. Can they influence each other for the good, or is that asking the impossible?

Enjoyable - although tear-jerking  in places, Amy Clipston continues to weave her magic and slowly things become much clearer for all the characters and giving tantalising hints of what further resolutions might occur in the next book.


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Tweeting Da Vinci


Tweeting Da Vinci

By Ann C. Pizzorusso

Published by Da Vinci Press, Oct 31st, 2014


The title intrigued me greatly, and when I started to read it, so did the contents. Ann Pizzorusso is one of a very rare breed - she is a geologist *and* an Italian Renaissance scholar, and in this book she seamlessly blends the hard science of geology with a fascinating look at how it has affected the structure, landscape, art, literature and life of Italy.

Inspired by the genius of Da Vinci and his remarkable talent of blending inspiration and scientific curiosity, she looks at the Italian world as he would probably have done if he had access to our modern knowledge. The book is beautifully produced and superbly illustrated both with Da Vinci's own artwork as well as photographs, commissioned artwork and maps so an intrepid explorer could use this as a guidebook to exploring some of the lesser known parts of Italy.

From the very tectonic plates underpinning Italy to valleys and volcanoes, ancient roads and temples to radioactive springs and divination by lightning, she looks at an enormous variety of topics  and breadth of Italian history from the ancient Etruscans and Romans right through to the present day.
A truly fascinating chapter is devoted to the geology shown in the two versions of Leonardo Da Vinci's superb "Virgin of the Rocks" and the metals and pigments used in art, but all sorts of fascinating snippets make their way into the book, even including the gems associated with the Apostles of Christ and the astrological signs associated with the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Intriguing, fascinating and sure to appeal to anyone who loves Italy, history, art or science - a versatile book indeed :-)



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The School Inspector Calls





The School Inspector Calls

(Book 3 in "A Little Village School" series)

By Gervase Phinn

Published by Hodder, June 2014


This is the third in the series telling the story of  "A Little Village School". The school in question is the village primary school of Barton-in-the Dale, ably run by the new and popular Head, Elisabeth Devine.

 The proposed merger of the neighbouring schools of Barton village and Urebank under Elisabeth's leadership continues to be problematic when Urebank's Head and Deputy Head seem determined to be thoroughly obstructive, uncooperative and difficult, making Elisabeth's task thankless in the extreme.

Concerned and worried, she naturally discusses her troubles with her fiance, Doctor Michael Stirling, only to find that he starts to lose patience when she talks almost constantly about the school and its woes, the most notable being a new and very troubled boy named Robbie who is causing mayhem.  When Robbie's harassed mother chooses the continuation of her marriage over her son and puts him into care Elisabeth is determined not to give up on the child, no matter what, but news of a visit from a School Inspector serves to add to her worries. A possible housing estate being built in the village, the serious illness of Miss Sowerbutts, the previous Headteacher, and the arrival of a mysterious and handsome man staying at Elisabeth's cottage keep the village gossips in a state of ferment - life is never boring in Barton-in-the Dale!

Gervase Phinn is a keen observer of life in his beloved Yorkshire and manages to portray both the beauties of the area and the idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants with unerring accuracy and kindly good humour. His long years of teaching and inspecting schools enables him to portray the anxieties and difficulties as well as the triumphs and joys of teaching, and he is a born storyteller, describing village and school life in loving detail. I'm really looking forward to the fourth book, due in 2015.








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Letters To Auntie Fori



Letters To Auntie Fori
By Martin Gilbert
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (hardback), 2002


I found this book by pure chance when I was searching on Amazon.co.uk for another of Sir Martin Gilbert's historical books. It looked interesting and I have not regretted buying it, despite its size and the space it takes on my desperately overloaded bookshelves! Running to 460 pages in the hardback version, this is a massive book both physically and in its scope as it covers the 5,000 year history of the Jewish people.

Just how the letters to Auntie Fori started is fascinating; Martin Gilbert knew her son from his time at Oxford University and when he visited New Delhi, he was urged to visit Mrs B. K. Nehru, and they became friends.  It was only many, many years later, at Auntie Fori's 90th birthday celebrations in 1998 that she mentioned to him that she was in fact  Hungarian and Jewish herself, though her knowledge of the history  and practice of her faith was very limited as she had not been a particularly observant Jewess in her youth. She wanted to learn more but could not find a book which would tell her exactly what she wanted to know, and so Martin Gilbert began a series of letters - 140 in total - outlining the history of the Jewish people around the world and their religious practices.

Reform Judaism does seem to have been rather skated over lightly, which I found a little surprising, and the actual religious practices of Judaism were only really touched upon, being covered from letter 104 onwards,but I found it all fascinating and read it slowly over a period of months, a few letters at a time. 



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Friday, November 07, 2014

An Amish Second Christmas




An Amish Second Christmas

By Beth Wiseman, Ruth Reid, Kathleen Fuller & Tricia Goyer

Published by Thomas Nelson, October 2014


The feast of Christmas spans two consecutive days in the Amish tradition. The first day is often spent quietly with family, reflecting on the spiritual meaning of Christmas and celebrating at home. The second day, known as Second Christmas, tends to be a more festive time where family and friends visit each other and celebrate.

This collection of novellas by four notable authors of Amish fiction deals with situations where Second Christmas plays a significant part in the storyline.

Initially, it was the striking and very lovely cover which attracted me to the title, but I quickly became engrossed in the joys and tribulations of the characters as they all approach Christmas and Second Christmas with very different life experiences, hopes and fears in their hearts. The stories are very different from each other and serve to complement each other. These have definitely put me in the Christmas spirit and will certainly be regularly read with huge enjoyment!

“When Christmas Comes Again” by Beth Wiseman

Katherine is determined to be strong for her children as they approach their first Christmas without her beloved husband , Elias. When she meets an elderly man who has photographs of Elias, she is intrigued and not a little concerned. The man's stories seem absurd, far-fetched - is he delusional or ill? Or could he actually be telling the truth about who he is and what his career in the Englisch world had been? And how will her children take the revelation about this man? Katherine has no idea that her daughter is hiding secrets of her own.... until Christmas changes everything for their family.


“Her Christmas Pen Pal” by Ruth Reid

Joy  - along with her family and friends - is eagerly  anticipating that her beau, Henry, will at long last be proposing to her. Imagine her shock when he does not, and instead is far more concerned with pursuing another girl. Angry, hurt and bitterly disappointed, Joy pens a letter to her dear cousin and posts it along with samples of her new Christmas cookies, but the parcel and the letter fall into the hands of someone else, who pens a reply to her along with his assessment of her new cookies. An unlikely blind pen-pal friendship develops, and when they meet each other in real life, can their friendship survive let alone blossom? 

“A Gift for Anne Marie” by Kathleen Fuller

Anne-Marie and Nathaniel have been the best of friends since they were kinner in school together, and spend a great deal of their free time together, sharing the same interest and hobbies. When Anne-Marie's best friend expresses her romantic interest in Nathaniel Anne-Marie is quick to disclaim any romantic interest in him, but then starts to feel the pangs of jealousy and to wonder why. 
When her mother divulges a shocking secret - that she is to marry again and move the family away from their home, family and friends -  Anne-Marie faces losing her best friend altogether and permanently. Forced to confront her heart and revise her plans for her future, she is faced with making adult decisions about her childhood friend.


“The Christmas Aprons” by Tricia Goyer

Esther loves her work as a maid, helping new mothers and their babies in the first weeks or even months after the babies' arrivals. She hopes one day to have a family of her very own, to marry a farmer and live a traditional Amish family life. It seems a remote prospect and she feels shy, awkward and unsure of herself or her place in the Amish world. 
When caring for her cousin Hannah in faraway Montana, she is asked to take part in a bake sale; she agrees and is delighted when her mother finally parts with the secret recipe for her renowned Vanilla Crumb Pie. The pie is a runaway success, but Esther is horrified when she finds that it is no ordinary bake sale, but rather a way for Amish bachelors to get to sample the delights of bidding on pies and meeting the girls who bake them....





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Friday, October 24, 2014

For Valour






For Valour

By Andy McNab

Published by Bantam Press, Oct 23rd 2014


It's surprisingly hard to say too much about this book without giving away the ending, so I apologise for the relatively short review :-)

The  Killing House, or to give it its proper title, the Close Quarter Battle Room, is where troops are trained in combat situations  involving hostage rescue, and always using live ammunition.  In theory it is an exceptionally dangerous place, but accidents are rare and fatalities even rarer. When Sam, the son of a deceased friend of Nick Stone's is accused and held on suspicion of causing a death in the CQB, his friends and colleagues are stunned and disbelieving,

When Nick starts to look into what happened, he finds that nothing is as straightforward as it seems on the surface and one by one, people who have been close to Sam - or investigating what happened - are being targeted and killed. Now that he has a baby son of his own, finding out what happened in the CQB and making sure that justice is done becomes even more imperative to Nick and he ends up travelling across Britain and Europe to try to find Sam's girlfriend Ella in a frantic race against time before the killers find her too.

Determined to uncover the truth, Nick finds that one of the very few people he really can trust in this situation just happens to be a priest. Nick is forced to confront some terrifying situations in which his own life is in very serious danger as he gradually uncovers a secret which someone will go to almost any lengths to keep well-hidden.....

Hard-hitting, gritty, frightening and entirely plausible, I was thoroughly gripped by the story and quite literally could not bear to put it down. It looks at what makes the difference between dangerous recklessness and real heroism and gives a remarkable insight into the emotional trauma soldiers can face when dealing with extreme situations in battle conditions, showing just how long a shadow such events can cast.

 I really did enjoy this book immensely, as I discovered more and more about what really makes Nick Stone tick and just how far he will go to protect his family and friends. I've read all the Nick Stone books and enjoyed every one of them, but this, the 16th in the series, is outstanding.


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Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy




The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

By Rachel Joyce

Published by Doubleday/Transworld

7th October, 2014


I have been counting down the days till this book was released for review, having thoroughly enjoyed "The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry". Harold never actually told us a great deal about Queenie, despite his epic walk along the length of England to visit her at the hospice. This isn't a sequel but rather a look at life from Queenie's perspective and we find out how she felt about her life when she was at the very end of it and looking back on the events, both good and bad, which took place. 
It sounds bleak and depressing, but it truly isn't. There are some very sad parts but the nuns, helpers and other patients in the hospice are real and engaging characters.  At  the hospice, Queenie is helped to squeeze as much into - and out of -  her last weeks as humanly possible.

Due to the ravages of her illness, Queenie's speech is no longer clear, so she writes her  letters in shorthand so that the resourceful and kind Sister Mary Inconnue can transcribe and type them  for Harold to read, whether or not he manages to arrive before her imminent death. From the sad circumstances surrounding her move down to Devon in the first place, her struggle to find a job and her respect and undeclared yet passionate love for Harold, Queenie embarks on a heroic and epic journey of discovery of her very own, without leaving the confines of the hospice, a place where she is bravely facing death and learning how to live life to its fullest.

Slowly, we learn the reason why she chose to exile herself to a Northern coast, where she laboriously creates a sea garden at her beach house in expiation of what she perceived as her wrongdoing; eventually she manages to confess a horrifying truth which she has concealed for so many years.......

This is a superb and memorable book, and a fitting companion to "The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry".








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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Behind The Scenes At The Museum Of Baked Beans


Behind The Scenes At The Museum Of Baked Beans

By Hunter Davies

Published by Virgin Books, 2010


I have absolutely no idea how on earth I managed to miss the release of this book in 2010 as it is exactly the type of quirky and slightly obscure book which I would enjoy.

Hunter Davies is himself a collector and at the back of his mind had been the niggling thought that perhaps he should start his own museum in order to display his collected items.
It seemed an eminently logical step to go round Britain looking at the most unusual museums he could find, to find out what made their founders start to collect and then open the collections to the public, how they function and what makes them tick....

When I looked at the contents, I did wonder if there were going to be large swathes of the book I would end up skipping as I wasn't particularly interested  in money, lawnmowers or vintage wirelesses. At least I thought I wasn't interested, until I started to read those chapters and found them just as enjoyable as the ones about the fan museum, the Witney Teddy bear museum, the Old Operating Theatre and the Baked Bean museum.

All told, he visited 18 museums and interviewed their founders or those who currently run them; not all were financially successful or even viable now, but all have a human interest story as well as the story of the collectable items they display.  So did Hunter Davies decide to go ahead and set up his own museum? No, but other museums are - or will be - the recipients of his own collections for posterity.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

The American Catholic Almanac





The American Catholic Almanac

A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States

By Brian Burch & Emily Stimpson

Published by Crown Publishing, September 30th, 2014


Considering America's reputation as a country of freedom, it is surprising to realise how many groups were disenfranchised due to their race or religion. Catholics were no exception, and at first, found it difficult living in the US. Eventually things improved, they were able to hold public office and practice their Faith freely.

The almanac gives a daily entry about Catholic people or events which were directly affected or influenced by Catholics, and I found it an absorbing and enlightening read indeed. I already knew about  some famous Catholics such as Venerable Fulton Sheen, the renowned TV evangelist, St Elizabeth Seton, President Kennedy and Al Capone. I had no idea that the first immigrant to set foot on the newly opened Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a young Catholic girl from Ireland in 1892, nor that Buffalo Bill chose to be baptised into that Church and was Catholic for only a day..

From the great and the good to the humble and the lawbreakers, this book looks at saints and sinners alike who all have one thing in common - they were baptised Catholics, although some of them certainly chose not to live as good Catholics, even if they chose to be reconciled with the Church on their deathbeds and hence died as good Catholics :-)


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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Misdiagnosed



Misdiagnosed: One Woman's Tour Of  - And Escape 

From - Healthcareland

By Jody Berger

Published by Sourcebooks Inc

23rd September 2014


Jody Berger's life was thrown into turmoil when  she was diagnosed as having Multiple Sclerosis on the basis of a single MRI scan.  Determined not to become overwhelmed by the diagnosis, she threw herself into research and investigation into what Multiple Sclerosis is and how it is both diagnosed and treated by modern Western medicine.

The more she investigated, the more unhappy she became at the quick and almost haphazard way her diagnosis was reached in contravention of what was regarded as best practice.  Her requests for second and third opinions were all biased by the unthinking acceptance of the initial diagnosis by her doctors instead of a careful re-taking of her symptom history and re-running of medical tests, the results of which should have been interpreted with an open mind.

The story is not one of unmitigated doom and gloom; eventually Jody found doctors and healthcare practitioners who would listen, think outside the box and look for ways to help her. This book has a happy ending, but only because Jody had the strength and courage to take charge of her own health and look for answers which made sense, rather than the obvious quick answers.

It is a salutary look at the dangers and pitfalls inherent in modern medicine and the need for both providers and consumers of modern healthcare to be prepared to question and challenge orthodox opinion when appropriate.


























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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dark Actors

 Dark Actors

The Life and Death of Dr David Kelly

By Robert Lewis

Published by Simon & Schuster, July 3rd, 2014.


Dr David Kelly was one of the lead scientists working on analysing whether or not Iraq actually had the weapons of mass destruction that it was claimed they had.  As a biological weapons expert, his knowledge and influence were well-known in his particular field and beyond it.  He had been giving evidence at a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee after an unauthorised conversation he had with a journalist. A few days later, he was dead, apparently having committed suicide in a field near his home. For many of us who followed the news in 2003, it all seemed very odd indeed.
A subsequent Government inquiry headed by Lord Hutton ruled his death was indeed suicide, yet the post-mortem results, on the scene photographs of the body and other evidence were deemed classified and to remain so for the next seventy years on the grounds of national security.  Newspaper reports made at the time of Dr Kelly's death and at the Hutton inquiry were patchy and often contradictory and many people  remained unconvinced that the Hutton Inquiry had delved deep enough or been far-reaching enough to ascertain the truth.

Robert Lewis has spent a  great deal of time and effort researching the events around Dr Kelly's death, and this fascinating book is the result. From David Kelly's often solitary Welsh childhood through to his academic career and becoming involved in researching biological weapons, he traces the formative events and interviews people in David Kelly's life to build up a compellingly vivid picture of a man who was put in an invidious situation because of his desire for honesty and truth, and the sequence of events that led to his untimely death. 

From the highly unusual and difficult artery chosen to sever in order to commit suicide
 and the remarkably small amount of blood lost at the place the body was found, the presence of tablets in his stomach when it was known that Dr Kelly had enormous difficulty in taking tablets, the body having been moved when left in the care of police officers and the fact that heat-seeking equipped helicopters which flew right over the place where Dr Kelly's body was found the next day yet found no trace of his cooling body, this book opens a Pandora's Box of official intrigue, misinformation and officially unasked questions. 

There are still many questions unanswered and a large number of people who do not believe Dr Kelly's death was a suicide, but rather that he was permanently silenced.....Read it yourself and see what you think.

I found it an absorbing read indeed.




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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Healing Quilt




The Healing Quilt

By Wanda E. Brunstetter

Published by Shiloh Run Press, August 1st, 2014


I was a little worried that this, the third title about the quilting lessons run by Emma and Lamar Miller, would run the risk of falling into a bit of a rut, but I need not have worried.

Emma and Lamar are overwintering in  Sarasota, Florida, and although Lamar's health is improving in the warmth, Emma is finding time hang a little heavily on her hands. With Lamar's encouragement, she advertises her quilting classes once more, and an equally disparate group of attendees turn up.

We meet a heavily pregnant young marred woman, an older single woman who feels her chances of love, marriage and children are  rapidly disappearing, a woman whose husband is a workaholic, a newly-retired widowed woman, an artist who is terminally ill but who has not told his family that his cancer has returned and a wheelchair bound young teenager who is struggling to come to terms with how her life has changed so dramatically.  As with any mixed group, some people bond  together quickly and others find it hard to make friends. When several people from Emma's original group turn up to add to the mix, things become complicated indeed.....

This book is more action-packed than its predecessors in some ways, and there is a lot of gentle humour to add to the keynotes of Christian love and faith which always occur in Wanda Brunstetter's books. Eventually, secrets and back stories from the group's past come to light and all of them  end up having to make decisions and confront things they would prefer to gloss over or avoid.

This was a super read, and one that brightened my week considerably :-)



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Monday, September 08, 2014

The Feasts

The Feasts:

How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics

By Cardinal Donald Wuerl & Mike Aquilina

Published by Image, September 16th, 2014

Christ Himself grew up following the liturgical practices and festal celebrations of Judaism and continued to follow these in His life as an adult as well. The Christian church from its earliest days followed a liturgical calendar, and as new saints and martyrs were canonised, added their feasts to the calendar too. Virtually every day is the feast day of a saint, and there can be many commemorations of saints on single days.

Each feast has a lesson to celebrate and to teach and preach by its very name, hymnody, psalmody and lectionary readings appointed to that day and has been one of the ways Christianity has thriven in non-literate cultures throughout the centuries.

This concise book describes the differences between worldwide feasts, national feasts, local feasts and the celebrations specific to parishes dedicated to certain saints or events, as well as explaining how the feasts are ranked and how decisions are made about transferring the dates of feasts which may clash. The importance of Sundays and of Easter, the major feasts of the Church's year including Christmas and Epiphany, Pentecost, Ascension, Corpus Christi,  the Holy Trinity, the feasts of Our Lady, All Souls and All Saints, the Holy Angels, the fasting season of Lent,  and the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week are clearly explained and there are many black and white photographs included.

Although very many of the Feasts mentioned in the book would be celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox alike, the calendar used is naturally the modern Roman Catholic one and there are some significant differences between the Churches in the dates of some feasts as well as theological differences; it is aimed primarily at a Catholic  readership but provides a very good introduction to much of the teaching of the Catholic church for those outside Catholicism.

This would be a particularly  good book for new Roman Catholic converts who feel they may have missed out by not "growing up" with the customs, traditions and celebrations of the various Church Feasts of the liturgical year and want to incorporate these feasts and customs into their lives and devotional practices.



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Friday, September 05, 2014

The New Indian Slow Cooker



The New Indian Slow Cooker:
Recipes for Curries, Dals, Chutneys, Masalas, Biryani, and More

By Neela Paniz

Published by Ten Speed Press,
September 2nd, 2014


At first glance of the cover, you might think this cookbook will give you recipes for making whole meals in the slow cooker and this is not the case; unless you have multiple slow cookers, that would be an impossibility, given that Indian meals by definition have many accompaniments and some techniques just would not work with long, slow cooking.

It does however give you 60+ recipes for simple, delicious Indian food which would suit  a variety of tastes and most are slow cooker friendly. From preparing your own fresh cheese and yoghurt (much easier than you might think!) to breads, chutneys, soups and utterly vibrant main dishes, this is a mouth-watering book. I discovered many fish and vegetarian delights to tempt me to try something new, and I am looking forward to experimenting and cooking basmati rice based dishes in my slow cooker this weekend.

A lovely book.



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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Working Stiff


Working Stiff

By Judy Melinek, M.D. and T.J. Mitchell

Published by Scribner, August 12th, 2014



This is a notable book. Not just because Judy Melinek was one of the MEs who worked with the victims of the 9/11 disaster, but because of the everyday routine work she did, ascertaining the causes of death of so many of the residents of New York during her two years there.

Death can occur from all sorts of causes: suicides, murders, house fires, drug overdoses, car accidents and industrial accidents, to name but a few.  Dr Melinek was instrumental in determining deaths which had initially seemed accidental were in fact the result of malicious intent, most notably in the case of a small child whose mother decided to "punish" her by immersing her in a bath of scalding hot water, and the child subsequently died from her burns. Hospital staff initially thought it was accidental, but she was able to prove conclusively that this was not the case.

The stories range from shocking to heartbreaking and frightening but although the often distressing cases and autopsy findings are described in detail, they are described sensitively and not gruesomely - a very clever and well-crafted balancing act by the authors. The long-term aftermath of the suicide of Dr Melinek's psychiatrist father when she was herself only a child emerges quite early on in the book and is a recurrent theme when she muses on what drives people to suicide as she performs the autopsies of people who have committed suicide and deals extremely sensitively with their families.

The events of 9/11 naturally occupy a significant part of the book. I was particularly interested to read about this period from the point of view of the medical examiner team, for all of whom this was a horrifying and unprecedented new experience despite their daily dealings with death in all its myriad forms and variety.

A five star book in my opinion; I read my review ebook twice in quick succession :-)


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Only Remembered


Only Remembered

Edited by Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by Ian Beck

Published by Jonathan Cape, July 2014


****Updated to add that I have only just discovered that I received an abridged digital copy to review, and that the published book is much more substantial indeed ****

This is a very special hardcover book to mark the centenary of the onset of The Great War, aimed  at children but appealing to all ages.

The entries have been  chosen by politicians, activists, writers and actors, and cover a wide variety of topics, beautifully and lavishly illustrated.

Some of the classic poems make their appearance, including the almost obligatory but still superb "Anthem for Doomed Youth" and "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owens, but we also see a war comic, period songs and family stories as well as the real life gripping tale of the heroism of Albert Ball, RAF flying ace.

The commemorative scroll which was sent to the families of the fallen was written by Rudyard Kipling, who was to lose his own son in the conflict, and we have the opportunity to read the original script for part of the final episode of "Blackadder Goes Forth", written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton.

For me, the highlight was a piece of unutterably poignant prose by Noel Streatfeild in her autobiography, A Vicarage Family, detailing how her family learn of the war life and the untimely death of her cousin John, but the whole book is a worthwhile and absorbing look at what was believed to be the war to end all wars.



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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Tino and the Pomodori



Tino and the Pomodori

By Tonya Russo Hamilton

Published by Gemelli Press, June 25th, 2014



These are the Italian childhood memories of  Antonio (Tino) Russo, father of the author, who  grew up in Roccarainola, near Naples.

Tino loved to help his Nonno grow tomatoes, right from saving the seeds through to preparing the soil, planting and tending the young tomato plants and waiting and watching for the exciting day when the flowers could be seen.

Soon, the pomodori (Italian plum tomatoes) would grow and ripen, ready to be made into all sorts of delicious dishes by his hard-working and devoted Nonna.

Lots of incidental Italian phrases add to the atmosphere and charm of this sweet children's book about Italian rural life and the life cycle of that staple food, the pomodoro. The illustrations by Britta Nicholson are a perfect match for the story and this is a very appealing picture book indeed for younger children.



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