Thursday, February 04, 2016

52 Original Wisdom Stories

52 Original Wisdom Stories: Short Lively Pieces for The Christian Year

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Monarch Books, 2015

If I was considering buying this book "sight unseen", I really would not know what to expect based on the title alone. It's surprisingly difficult to classify this book as a purely devotional one when so much of it centres around the relationship of Sid and Rosie (a fictional late middle-aged couple for both of whom this is their second marriage)  rather than solely on religious themes. 

Both Sid and Rosie have chequered religious backgrounds. Sid was originally a Roman Catholic who grew away from that church and now finds the silence of Quaker meetings more to his taste. Rosie is something of a church tourist, visiting various churches as and when she feels inclined to go to services, and also has an interest in other cultures.  Although they both firmly believe in God, their past experiences have rather put them off organised religion and they fall into the large number of people in the UK who profess belief but do not feel that they need to go to church particularly regularly or that churchgoing is particularly fulfilling for them. 

I am not entirely sure whether this book will be useful primarily to those who are respectful agnostics who wish they knew more, believers who have doubts and concerns, believers who have more firmly held beliefs but no longer attend church for one reason or another but wish to read about such things, or for those who are churchgoers who are struggling to understand what non-churchgoers may think or believe and why they do so. At different points in the book, all of the above seem to apply, which makes it a very interesting and thought-provoking read.

However, I don't always agree with the points of view pondered by Sid or deeply held by Rosie. I believe that the development of Church Tradition is rooted in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and I feel somewhat uncomfortable with aspects of it being dismissed and others selected.  I am mindful of the fact that there are many unchurched folk who struggle with religious doctrines and traditions and that Sid and Rosie will undoubtedly speak for many of their views, however surprising these may be to those from rather more traditional denominations, for whom the right understanding of  the totality of Christian doctrine underpins both their worship and belief systems.

Do I like the characters of Sid and Rosie, and find them engaging, humorous, thoughtful people doing their level best to make sense of the world and of Christianity, and to live their lives in accordance with Christian beliefs, as they understand them? Yes, I most certainly do, and hope they will re-appear in a future book. Would I enjoy having Sid and Rosie as friends and neighbours? Most certainly - we would have some lively discussions indeed :-)

Did I enjoy the basic theme of each chapter? Yes.  I may not have fully agreed with the expositions given, but they certainly made me think hard about what - and why - I personally believe as a member of the Orthodox Church. Being challenged to think about these things is important.

I love the fact that we see Sid and Rosie go about their everyday lives, cooking, cleaning, reminiscing about their respective individual pasts, having visits from family members - weaving in their Christianity into their everyday lives, as it should be, and not just reserved for an outing to Church on a Sunday and then put back in a box for the rest of the week. I also love the fact that the book is centred around the themes and festivals of the traditional liturgical year and agricultural calendar, rooting and grounding us firmly in our historical and cultural heritage. People may be being exposed to the lives and teachings of St Francis, St Clare, St Benedict, St Martin of Tours and St Teresa of Avila for the first time.

There are so many people who believe - or want to believe - for whom the standard Christian churches are a bit of a mystery. Even the church buildings are rather intimidating places to venture into if you are not already familiar with what goes on inside. Those of us who are churchgoers, familiar with the services, ritual and the cycle of the liturgical year, would do well to bear all this in mind, and it can be a surprising salutary experience to see ourselves as "outsiders" see us.

Thank you to Monarch Books for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for a full and frank review.

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What Goes Around

What Goes Around

By Emily Chappell

Published by Faber & Faber, January 2016

If someone said to me that I would find a book about the life of a London bicycle courier an absorbing read, I might have raised a quizzical eyebrow, but I found this book interesting indeed.

Emily Chappell worked at Reception and often saw bicycle couriers arrive to collect or deliver documents, and wondered what their working life was actually like. A keen cyclist herself, she decided to give the work a try and found that she enjoyed it - apart from the sometimes viciously inclement weather, traffic hazards and absolute exhaustion, that is......yet she found new friends, an exhaustive knowledge of London geography, surprisingly exquisite parts of London, hidden gems of history and culture, including a bronze statue of Doctor Johnson's cat and an appreciation of the sights, sounds and smells of the city which she might not have gained without the time she spent as a courier.

Much of the book was fascinating reading but the author divulged rather more of her relationship with her female partner than I wished to read.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

An Amish Market

An Amish Market

Four novellas:
Love Birds by Amy Clipston
A Bid for Love by Kathleen Fuller
Sweeter than Honey by Kelly Irvin
Love in Store by Vannetta Chapman

Published by Thomas Nelson on Feb 2nd 2016

I have every one of these Amish novella collections in paperback and for my e-reader, and this volume uses the setting of either an Amish store or an Amish market as the focus for each individual story. 

Being Amish certainly does not mean being perfect and the characters exhibit their flaws and foibles as well as their faith. It is an enjoyable and pleasant read for anyone who enjoys Amish-themed stories, with intrigue, mystery and a few surprises mixed up with the challenges of Christian living.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016


Chickpeas: Sweet and Savory Recipes from Hummus to Dessert
By Einat Mazor
Published by Charlesbridge/Imagine, Feb 2nd, 2016

Exactly as it says on the cover, this is a recipe book to gladden the heart of anyone who loves chickpeas and is looking for something a little more adventurous than Hummus yet again!

The majority of recipes are Vegetarian-friendly and a significant number are also Vegan-friendly and Gluten-Free, making this an ideal cookbook for people looking to reduce their meat and dairy content for medical reasons or religious fasting or due to gluten intolerance.

There are hummus recipes, of course, but with a twist - I was particularly taken with the beetroot flavoured one - and recipes are taken from a myriad of Mediterranean cultures as well as Indian sub-continent recipes, and some have a Japanese influence too.

Whether you are looking for soups, casseroles, burgers, main courses, salads, cakes or desserts, this little book is brilliant.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

By Katarina Bivald

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016

Sara Lindqvist lives in Sweden, is a bona fide bookworm and has an elderly penfriend named Amy, united by their shared love of literature.

Amy lives in a remote small town in Iowa with the wonderful name of Broken Wheel, and when Sara takes up Amy's offer to visit, she arrives to find that Amy's funeral is underway and she is utterly at a loss to know what she should do now. The consensus of opinion among Amy's friends and her nephew Tom is that Sara should stay in Amy's house exactly as Amy had planned, but as Sara explores the tiny town, she finds it hard to reconcile the quirky, vibrant place and people so lovingly described in Amy's letters with the moribund town and seemingly very ordinary people she encounters.

There is much more to Broken Wheel and its inhabitants than she first perceives, and when she decided to open a bookstore using Amy's extensive collection of books, the town begins to come to life and the people start to show hidden depths and strengths.  The lives of Sara and of the inhabitants of Broken Wheel will never be the same again now that their lives have been touched and transformed by books...

This is a book to be savoured - an enchanting read.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Life in the Third Reich

Life in the Third Reich: Daily Life in Nazi Germany 1933-45
By Paul Roland
Arcturus Publishing 2015 (2016 in UK)

This is a reasonably good illustrated introduction to what life was like in Nazi Germany, but it does only skip across the surface of the topic. My daughter is studying Nazi Germany at A level and is able to go into much, much greater detail than this book, which does then beg the question as to its intended audience. I think it would work well as an introduction for younger schoolchildren just starting to study Nazi Germany for GCSE, but any adult with an interest in history would probably be aware of  a lot of the content anyway.

I would have liked to have seen much greater use of contemporaneous or immediately post-war source material  and less stress placed  on websites as potential resources, but that means I am probably showing my age :-)
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Dean's Diaries

The Dean's Diaries

Being a True & Factual Account of the Doings & Dealings 
of the Dean & Dons of St Andrew's College
By Professor David Purdie
Published by Luath Press, 2015

Words fail me when it comes to describing this book, but I shall try, nevertheless.
Imagine the lunacy of the academic staff at Terry Pratchett's Unseen University at Ankh-Morpork combined with the intrigue and scheming of the Byzantine courts, the setting of Hogwarts and add to that an unusual British academic institution which takes itself, its customs and traditions very seriously indeed and then you begin to get some idea of how thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable this book is.
The Dean is long-suffering, intelligent, articulate and determined to preserve the status quo of his somewhat secretive tower of academe, despite the best efforts of some of the more eccentric staff and the menagerie of animals also resident in various departments; we meet Schrodinger the cat, the philosophical Mynah bird, assorted dogs, a Giant Squid and a defrosting Woolly Mammoth. Grace has been known to be said in Latin, but in such a way that it causes theological chaos and you will have to read the whole book to discover what else the Dean has to put up with and how great his damage limitation skills really are.....
I really do hope a sequel is in the pipeline :-)
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blood Trails

Blood Trails:
 Follow your medical lab work from beginning to end with everything that can go wrong in between
By Ralph Giorno, MD
Published by, 2015

If you have any interest in health care in general, or any form of disease or illness, it is well worth reading this book. We take what happens to specimens of blood, urine etc for granted, assuming the samples will be properly taken at the correct time, handled appropriately and that the tests will be done in such a way that accurate and reliable results will be generated. Sadly, however, this is not necessarily the case and patients need to be aware of what can go wrong in order to ensure that it does not. 

Although much of the information is based on US medical care, with many independent labs handling tests as well as hospital labs, there is a great deal in this book which is highly relevant to the UK too.
As a hospital trained midwife, I have to admit that there were quite a few things about lab testing that I certainly did not know and nether did my doctor colleagues, so it is fairly safe to assume that the vast majority of patients who have lab tests done would not know either. When should your TSH thyroid test be done for the most accurate results? Unless you want to run the risk of being inaccurately diagnosed as hypothyroid, avoid having your test done before noon when there is a natural surge in the hormone levels which could skew your results quite markedly...

How and when should blood be drawn?  How are results interpreted? Why do tests fail and need to be re-done? To fast or not to fast before blood tests? Who draws up the reference tables against which the results are interpreted, and are these accurate across a range of age groups and for both males and females? What tests do you actually need to have done?

You might think the answers to these questions are simple, but you would be mistaken. An excellent and clearly written guide for patients and which will also be of value and interest to health care professionals.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Reading - An Amish Christmas

I don't have a huge number of books piled up for review, so I have been able to enjoy some  festive re-reads of some of my favourite Christmas stories.  I was really surprised to realise that I had never reviewed Cynthia Keller's "An Amish Christmas", as it is one that I read at least once each year!

There are several different covers but this is the hardback copy I own, published in 2010 by Ballantine Books.

Meg Hobart has it all. A loving and incredibly hard-working husband, three healthy children, a fabulous home, an organiser diary crammed full of activities...until one Thanksgiving, her life falls apart when she discovers her husband has been hiding secrets from her which will change their lives dramatically and for ever. 

Penniless and homeless, the family are reluctantly driving to Meg's quite ghastly parents to stay and join their family store business when a missed turning in Pennsylvania leads to an accident and their meeting Amish farmer David Lutz, who offers them shelter with his family until their car can be fixed.

Their stay with the Lutzes gives them time to re-assess their marriage, their future, their older children's bad attitudes and what is actually important in life; plans are drawn up, futures decided and lifelong friends have been made to the enrichment of them all.

It's an absolutely gorgeous story and despite the overworked cliche, it really is a heart-warming one, and a perennial favourite of mine.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau: The Essential Reference

By Carol Belanger Grafton

Published by Dover Publications, October 2015

This is a lovely book, filled with delights for anyone interested in art or graphic design and who wants to learn more about Art Nouveau. It is a pleasure to look through it and use it as a source book for ideas, but.......

In my opinion, it is more of an introduction rather than an essential reference book. The biographical information about the artists is of the bare bones variety and although this book includes super pictures of works from the US, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and England, only Mucha is included from Czechoslovakia, which is a real shame.

A great introductory volume, but not as comprehensive as I would have hoped.

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Monday, November 30, 2015




By Gaston Dorren

Published by Grove Press,  Dec 1st 2015

Don't be put off by the slightly slow start as it initially deals with the necessary evil of explaining the chain of language descent from the straightforward Finno-Ugric and the much more complex  Proto-Indo-European; it does not take long before the fun really begins!

This is a truly fascinating look at a variety of aspects of sixty different European languages. The languages with only a tiny number of speakers and/or a relatively circumscribed geographical area of incidence such as Cornish, the Channel Isles Norman, Monegasque and Icelandic  are given equal coverage with languages such as German, French and Spanish. The internationally used invented language of Esperanto is included, as is coverage of the many varieties of sign language.

I was naturally delighted to see the chapter on Welsh,  and was pleased to see that my schooldays instruction in Welsh had obviously taken some root as I had no difficulty in deciphering the three varieties of mutations which flummox Welsh beginners when trying to consult a dictionary. The chapter outlining the problems faced by speakers of languages which not only have words to describe numbers but specific words when dealing with mathematics involving numbers did leave me feeling both dazed and confused. I simply cannot imagine having to calculate sums in Breton when counting is based on 20s and the number 77 is  seventeen-and-three-twenty. Maths in English is far simpler, mercifully.

Alphabets, dialects, rivalries, the structure and grammar of languages, linguistic conventions and word-borrowing are all featured and the long-term use of "minority" languages is discussed, as is the sad death of some languages.

Absorbing, entertaining, saddening yet hopeful, Lingo shows us just how we manage to communicate with other people across Europe despite our many different languages and their individual dialects too.

This is a WONDERFUL book.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Remember Me

Remember Me

(Volume 6 in The Hawk & The Dove series)

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Lion Fiction, 2015

This is a book in which we finally learn who Father William really is. We have had glimpses in the last few books, but this is the story of how at various times he bares his soul, whether willingly or unwillingly, to his Abbot, to Father Oswald and Brother Conradus, to the whole community at one particularly heartbreaking Chapter Meeting, to Madeline and her elderly neighbour, Mother Cottingham.

Each one of them  has grown to love him and to want his happiness, yet what William truly wants is forbidden and impossible; gradually he becomes so isolated and unhappy that his life once more seems to be a burden of despair. He loses his pride, his arrogance, his self-esteem, his joy and the love of his life, but he has not counted on the fervent prayers of Brother Conradus and the schemes of the delightful old Mother Cottingham aimed at restoring his joy.......

This could so easily have been a sad story of heartbreak and self-sacrifice; I am so glad that the ending is both happy and open-ended, leaving me wanting more but glad that things have worked out the way that they have.

I am counting the days till the next installment in the series is published, eager to see whether William ever returns to visit the Community and to discover how the Abbey brethren fare without him. Can friendships endure despite the strictures of canon law and public opinion? Will Nemesis fall on William and Abbot John for the decisions they have made and the actions they have performed?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Adventures On The Queen Mary

Adventures On The Queen Mary:

Tales Of A Teenage Crew Member

By Dave Wooders with James Radford

Published by The Perfect Page, 2015

I thought this would likely be an interesting read but was unprepared for how utterly engrossing I would find it! Dave Wooders was all too glad to leave school in 1957 aged 16 and go to sea as a bellboy on the world-famous RMS Queen Mary and it was to prove to be an education in every sense of the word as he was catapulted into a world far beyond his wildest dreams.

The Queen Mary was a luxury cruise liner but was in a class of her own even among these ships. Standards of service were expected to be incredibly high to match the luxurious surroundings and the often very distinguished guests; David was expected to learn quickly and perform his duties first as bellboy and then as a waiter in an exemplary fashion. Off-duty was a different matter and he and his fellow workers managed to have a enormous amount of fun too, seeing the world and making friends. It was a wonderful life for a young man, and his love for the ship and fond memories of his time aboard shine through in every story he tells.

There were of course occasional problems and even more occasional tragedies, but David's explorations of all parts of the ship led him to learn a huge amount about it and its history, enabling him to fill the book with fascinating and unusual snippets of information. The ship even had its own purpose-built synagogue, kosher kitchen and kosher chef. There was of course also provision for Catholic and Protestant religious services to be held in Lounges and Drawing Rooms, but segregated accordingly for First, Second and Third class passengers.  The book is profusely illustrated with official photographs, snapshots, promotional materials and posters, but the most memorable picture for me was of a very young and incredibly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor with her dogs.

 I'm very glad that Dave Wooders' memories of his time aboard have been captured for history in this super and immensely enjoyable book.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Amish Noel

An Amish Noel

By Patricia Davids

Published by Love Inspired/Harlequin, Nov 17th 2015

Emma Swartzentruber had a serious crush on Luke Bowman when they were both teenagers, but when Luke left the community after getting involved in using drugs, her heart was well and truly broken.

She is now faced with the dreadful news that her beloved stepfather is dying and is shocked when he tells her that he wants her to consider courting a widowed farmer with a young daughter and settle down before he dies. This is bad enough, but when fate brings Luke Bowman back into her life after he rescues her brothers from serious danger in  an icy river, Emma's life and her heart are thrown into turmoil.

Luke has repented and rejoined the community, and Zachariah Swartzentruber sees fit to employ him to help sort out and repair his extensive collection of items so Zachariah can finally open his long-hoped for hardware shop, and Luke and Emma are thrown back into close daily contact once more. Can they repair and renew their friendship, and do they even want to? Could they rekindle their love for each other, or will the history of Luke's previous disastrous foray into the Englisch world affect her brothers too ?

This is a lovely Christmas romance, handed deftly and with the sure touch which is a hallmark of Patricia Davids' writing.
Definitely a keeper.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn

By Penelope Wilcock

published by Lion Fiction, 2015

This is the fifth book in "The Hawk & The Dove" series, and the joy of Abbot John's first Easter at St Alcuin's Abbey in his new role is destroyed by the news that his mother and sister have been attacked at their home.

His mother is dead, his sister Madeleine has been brutally violated and poor Abbot John is shocked and distressed beyond measure; not even his faithful attendant Brother Tom can help him in his devastation and grief. To everyone's surprise, help comes in the unlikely form of Brother William, who had so recently caused his own form of chaos in the community.

 It is William who goes with the Abbot to visit Madeleine, who has taken shelter at the convent of the Poor Clares, but the siblings in their grief and shock can give each other no comfort yet and the visit is a painful one for them both. Blame, self-blame and recrimination are the undercurrents during this meeting and it is William who comes to the rescue once more. His determination to go in search of one of his homeless brother monks leads to the discovery of poor Brother Oswald, tortured, blinded, made dumb and left to die. Caring for Oswald is a task  John knows how to do, and Oswald's truly pitiable state leads John and Madeleine to put aside their problems and unite in caring for someone who needs the medical expertise of them both working together as a team to help him recover.

This is in many ways a dramatic and sometimes distressing book, yet it is filled with radiant episodes of hope, faith, love and quite superlative goodness. The meaning of taking on one another's burdens out of love, truly living in community and excluding no-one as well as what it means to have a vocation as a Christian, let alone a monk, are all beautifully explored.  Brother Conradus is an absolute joy, as you will find out, and shows us that even the smallest things done with love can sometimes have the most profound and lasting impact.

 Even after my fourth reading, I am still finding new depths and insights each time; this is another magnificent installment by Pen Wilcock, and a blessing to read.

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Monocled Mutineer

The Monocled Mutineer
By John Fairley & William Allison
Published by Souvenir Press, 
September 2015 (2nd paperback edition)

I have been reading several books dealing with the First World War as I am tracing my great-grandfather's war service, but had not heard of the Etaples Mutiny nor of one of its ringleaders, Percy Topliss, the infamous "monocled mutineer", prior to reading this book.

Conditions during the Great War were generally grim indeed, but the training camp at Etaples in Norther France was particularly bad, and under a pretty brutal regime too. It is hardly surprising that there were murmurings of unrest, but British and Commonwealth troops were renowned for putting their heads down and toughing things out. Nobody ever expected that there would be a full-scale armed mutiny, which lasted for days and spread from the camp to the town itself.  Both military police and the camp's Commander, Brigadier-General  Andrew Graham Thomson were the targets, and it is the official war diary of Thomson which up until now has provided the main source of information about these four eventful days.

Most of the ringleaders were caught quickly, court-martialled and promptly executed for mutiny, but Percy Topliss escaped capture for three long years, and is believed by some to have been the Deus ex Machina of the mutiny. Topliss' career was one of deceit (posing as an officer when he was not)  ambition and ruthlessness; he had gone into the Army straight from jail and managed to deceive and charm people in equal measure.  He was deemed a dangerous man and when eventually caught in Cumbria, was shot dead. The Government wanted no 'loose cannons' fomenting unrest.

The authors have undertaken a huge amount of research with this book over many years, tracking  down surviving soldiers who had experienced conditions at Etaples, Topliss' friends, relatives and comrades. unearthing newspaper reports, the coroner's inquest and those sources which had not been officially sealed by the Government until 2017.

The question remains: was Topliss some sort of a hero for drawing attention to dreadful conditions at Etaples or just a deceitful, dangerous, manipulative rabble-rouser, capable of causing mutiny, mayhem and riots which could easily have been detrimental to the course and outcome of the War and undermined discipline amongst the troops?  Should the ringleaders have been executed or merely jailed? Should the mutiny at Etaples have been covered up by the Establishment or should it have been officially acknowledged much earlier? Would it have made any difference?

  It will be interesting to see what records will be released in 2017, but this is a fascinating book indeed.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Chats With Cats

Chats With Cats

How To Read Your Cat's Mind

By Celia Haddon

Published by Endeavour Press, October 2015

This may only be a very slender volume indeed, but it is packed full of information and after reading it, I have found out so many new things despite a lifetime of owning cats.

I was particularly interested in the stages of hunting prey which a cat goes through, and how depriving an indoor cat of the chance to fulfill these stages can result in certain behaviour patterns; I have followed her advice about allowing carefully supervised and structured play session opportunities with our recently rescued cat and within forty-eight hours, our cat is definitely calmer and more settled.

Definitely worth a read if you are a new cat owner, have rescued a cat or are faced with caring for an older cat with health issues.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Amish Christmas Gift

An Amish Christmas Gift

Three Novellas

By Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid & Kelly Irvin

Published by Thomas Nelson, October 2015

Every year, I look forward to reading the Amish Christmas books and this one is a welcome addition to my library.

The Amy Clipston story, Naomi's Gift is one I have read before in A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection, but it fits in well here with this collection and I was more than happy to re-read the story of  Naomi King, who believed that she was unlucky in love as her two previous relationships ended badly. Just when she had stopped looking and hoping, love walks into her life in the shape of the young widower Caleb and his delightful daughter Susie. Is she brave enough to grab the opportunity or will the bossy and self-assured Irene Wagler snatch Caleb first?

Ruth Reid's story is called An Unexpected Joy and introduces us to the lovable, chatty and irrepressible Abigail Kemp, who too has given up on finding a nice Amish bu to court her and is instead busily saving to buy herself a horse so she can be as independent as possible. Micah Zook is in a bind when his parents leave him alone to care for his grandmother with mild dementia while they go to help his sister who is due to give birth. Micah has a work deadline to meet but is afraid to leave his grandmother alone for fear of what she might get up to,  and ends up employing Abigail to be a companion to his grandmother to free him to work. Abigail simply has to see what Micah gets up to and nearly drives him scatty with her non-stop conversation at first before they gradually begin to see all the positives in each other. Abigail's extended family has great troubles, and Micah soon finds himself being drawn in to help.

Kelly Irvin's A Christmas Visitor rounds off the collection and tells us about Frannie Mast, a good Amish maedel currently living with her uncle and aunt in Bee County, Texas. Her relatives are trying to match-make for her, but her heart is firmly fixed on her Englischer friend, Rocky Sanders, whom she met when she was working in Missouri.  When Rocky turns up, saddened by the death of his beloved uncle, who was his nearest relative, he and Frannie rekindle their friendship despite the disapproval of her family. Rocky's encounter with the local Amish bishop leads him to consider what faith really means and why it is so desperately important to the community that Frannie does not marry an Englischer and leave.  His own weak faith starts to grow and he has both some growing up and some serious decisions to make about what his own growing Christian faith is calling him to do next..... This is a lovely story, possibly my favourite out of the three.

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Sorry for the delay in posting the next review; it has been  half-term holiday for the children, so things have been busy at home :-)

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dirty Old London

Dirty Old London

The Victorian Fight Against Filth

By Lee Jackson

Published by Yale University Press, Oct 15th 2015

When a population increases rapidly, there will be a concomitant rise in waste of all types. Consider the  infamous night-soil (human refuse) collected at night in order to minimise the annoyance caused by odours, or the manure and urine liberally deposited by the horse drawn carriages and  hansom cabs, dirt of all sorts, household refuse, ash and cinders, soot from coal burning fires and factories, dead animals such as feral cats and dogs, and worst of all, dead human bodies.

All of the above had to be disposed of somehow; methods ranged from rough and ready to carefully thought-out, from simply dumping items in the street or the nearest body of water (especially the River Thames) to the construction of miles of sewers, public toilets and brand-new burial grounds and housing.

In nine riveting and mind-boggling chapters, Lee Jackson introduces us to the darker side of London and the people who tried, with varying levels of success, to clean it up.

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Friday, October 16, 2015



By Terri Roberts with Jeanette Windle

Published by Bethany House, Oct 6th 2015

There cannot be many people with even the slightest interest in things Amish who have not heard of the Nickel Mines Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Wholehearted and unconditional forgiveness is a hallmark of Amish teaching, but what is it like being on the receiving end of such forgiveness when it is your oldest son who has committed this dreadful crime and brought tragedy, grief and heartbreak to so many families?

This is the story of Terri and Chuck Roberts, well-known, well-loved and well-respected in their community and their church, and how their lives changed forever on that one fateful day. From their despair, anguish and grief, through trying to understand and make sense of the tragedy and then working to try to bring about healing for their community and family, Teri looks at what forgiveness really means for those extending it and for those receiving it.

At the end of the day, we cannot wait to feel that we forgive someone, we must actually make a conscious and often incredibly hard decision to extend forgiveness as the Bible commands us,  and then live out that forgiveness in our actions and words, each and every day.

This is a heartbreaking yet surprisingly uplifting book, showing Amish forgiveness in action and the close bonds which have been forged between the Roberts families and those of the Amish community - bonds which continue strong and close to this day and have bound the families together in ways they could never have imagined.

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Death On The Prairie

Death On The Prairie

By Kathleen Ernst

Published by Midnight Ink,  Oct 8th 2015

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this, as I have not read any of the earlier titles in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, but the fact that it was themed around Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and books grabbed my attention. It was a good move, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-moving story.

Chloe Ellefson is stunned when an elderly friend, Miss Lila Gillespie, turns up at the museum where she works, with a quilt which may well have been made by THE Laura Ingalls Wilder. A keen fan of the Little House books since her childhood, Chloe decides that she really does need to investigate this thoroughly to see if it could possibly be true, but is shocked when Lila is almost immediately found dead after apparently apprehending a burglar at her home. Was this just an unfortunate case of Lila being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or is it something more sinister?

Chloe decided to take the precious quilt with her to a Symposium about the famous writer and persuades her sister Kari to come with her on a road trip which will take them to each site associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family.  Mayhem dogs their steps and it soon becomes obvious that someone is determined to get that quilt back, no matter what it takes, even murder - but why?

 During their travels the sisters meet devotees, fans and even fanatics who are obsessed  with the author, and they get drawn into all sorts of situations. Added to this are Kari's family concerns and Chloe's police officer boyfriend showing signs of wanting to settle down, and what started as a simple road trip has turned into something life-changing.

This was such a fun read, and it provides a lot of information about Laura and her life on the way. I am now tempted to get the other books in the series to see what I have been missing!

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The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

By Kathryn Aalto

Published by Timber Press, 7th October 2015

There cannot be many people who have never heard of Winnie the Pooh.  The books of his many adventures were an integral part of my childhood and my children have also grown up with Pooh and his companions: Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo.

We all feel we know the Hundred Acre Wood, but this book tells the real story which inspired the creation of the Hundred Acre Wood - Ashdown Forest in Sussex, which was a beloved and familiar stamping ground to the Milne family. Determined to give their son Christopher Robin as idyllic a childhood as they had themselves enjoyed, Alan Alexander Milne and his wife Daphne purchased Cotchford Farm on the edge of Ashdown Forest to use as a regular retreat from life in London, and a few years later, they moved there permanently.

Christopher Robin had a menagerie of stuffed animals which would become the focus of the characters which we know today through the books. Phenomenal bestsellers, the published stories were the result of a productive and pleasant working collaboration between Milne and the artist E.H. Shepard, who visited the area to make on-site sketches. Milne was already an incredibly successful and prolific author and dramatist with a prodigious output of literary work, yet his stories about life in the Hundred Acre Wood would eclipse his other works.

Kathryn Aalto has skilfully woven together the geology, geography, history and natural history of the Forest and its surrounding villages, providing a travelogue, a guide, a nature spotting manual and a nostalgic glimpse of the past, all rolled into a delightful and eminently readable book, profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. This is an area of outstanding beauty and Ashdown is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, ranging from adders to eagles, bees to carnivorous plants as well as trees. She pinpoints as many places as possible which can be identified from the stories and gives suggestions for activities for visitors to undertake which involve utilising the natural features of the Forest.  Poohsticks, of course, gets a special mention and I was delighted to learn about the World Poohsticks Championships and that restoration of the iconic bridge has been done without  in any way spoiling or altering it.

Mercifully the area remains very much as it was in Milne's day;  Hartfield village was mentioned in the Domesday Book  and is still a very traditional English village, unspoilt and with only a discreet sign to show the path to the  Poohsticks Bridge and a small Tea Room/ Gift Shop to give a clue to its connections with Winnie the Pooh. No theme parks here!

I want to describe so much of this book that the review would be enormous, so I must content myself with strongly recommending this book to *anyone* who loves Winnie the Pooh.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

Once Upon a Christmas

Once Upon a Christmas

By Rosanne Croft, Linda Reinhardt and Sharon Bernash Smith

Published by Shiloh Run Press/Barbour, Oct 1st, 2015

It's always enormous fun getting to review Christmas-themed books this early in the year, and this is a really delightful collection of  fifty five short stories related to the Christmas period, covering all parts of the globe and a large swathe of  relatively modern history. 

Heartache, sadness, sorrow and even danger make an appearance, but the Christmas message holds true and strong for the characters we meet in these stories. It is ideal for dipping into, or just reading right through, and I found it to be a great antidote to the commercialisation of Christmas. Just as the cover says, it brings meaning to the season and is likely to become a perennial favourite in our house!

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Down And Out Today

Down And Out: Notes From The Gutter
By Matthew Small
Published by Paperbooks, Oct 1st, 2015

This is an impassioned, timely and intriguing book; Matthew Small examines the many reasons how - and sometimes why - people  become homeless, destitute or just are simply struggling to manage on a low income, and what can and is being done to support and help them.

Bath is a tourist spot, apparently affluent, yet there are substantial numbers of people who are homeless. Some are simply financially challenged, others have problems with addiction or mental illness.There are shelters, but not enough, and not everyone can afford the cost; many do not feel comfortable there either.  There are soup kitchens, charities and a very busy Foodbank  and Foodcycle operating from churches, but is this the right way to go about helping the vulnerable? Does it cause almost as many problems as it solves? Opinions are quite sharply divided, and Matthew examines all aspects of this complex issue.

He also leaves Britain to look at poverty in India and then onto Nepal, both countries where life is very different to Britain. Cities such as Mumbai have their fair share of people flocking there hoping for a better job, a better life, only to find things are just as hard there, with no Indian government support outside of state hospitals and schools. He visits a slum in Mumbai, and sees people who believe that  sending children out to beg - and therefore earn -  is seen as more important than sending them to school. His visit to a leper hospital, where yes, there are still people being treated for leprosy, shows him that there are people and communities trying to help the disadvantaged, missionary religious orders  especially so in a society where caste discrimination remains a real problem. Despite their poverty, there seems to be far greater happiness than in Britain.

Well worth reading.

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