Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When My Baba Died

When My Baba Died

By Marjorie Kunch

Foreword by Fr Milos Vesin

Published by Pascha Press, 2015


Dealing with death and grief is hard enough for an adult. Trying to explain it to a child and then help the child to deal with the grieving process in a sensitive and loving manner is  particularly difficult, especially when the majority of books written on the subject may not include Christian traditions in general or the burial customs of the Orthodox Church in particular.

In response to this need, a fine book has been written by Marjorie Kunch entitled "When My Baba Died". Marjorie Kunch is an American Serbian Orthodox Christian, a mother and also a mortician, so she writes in an appropriate, informed and sensitive manner; Fr Milos Vesin, who wrote the foreword, is an experienced Priest and Professor at St Sava Theological Seminary, ensuring it is theologically and pastorally sound. 

This small book is gently, clearly and sweetly written for children and can be read out loud to much younger children.  The traditions described and illustrated are described in Serbian terms but will be familiar to all Slavic Orthodox, yet the book is of course suitable for all Eastern Orthodox Christians or even also for Eastern-Rite Catholic families. There is a helpful and extensive glossary at the book to explain any terms which might be unfamiliar to the reader.

We learn of the death of a young girl's beloved Baba (Grandmother) and how that made her feel, before discovering what happens at the funeral home, some of the general work the funeral staff do and how they all prepare Baba for the Visitation by family and friends and the prayers of the Pomen ceremony. The second part of the book deals with the funeral service at the church and the final part outlines the procession to the graveside and the burial of the coffin, as well as the forty day Memorial.

I especially love the profuse colour illustrations; they are all based on photographs shot on location at the Bocken Funeral Home and the Elmwood Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana, and at the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Archangel Michael at Lansing, Indiana. The photographs have been carefully re-rendered with an artistic painted effect to be clear yet not overly-stark or frightening to a small child; they illustrate the funeral process beautifully, including the Last Kiss, without causing fear or distress. Excerpts from the prayers of the funeral service are included too.

I really cannot praise this book too highly, and recommend it to all Orthodox families. At some point, we will all be faced with a funeral in our lives and this is an excellent book to explain Orthodox funeral traditions to our children.  The only caveat for UK readers is that formal Visitation services are not commonly held here, though many families do informally visit their reposed loved ones in the funeral home prior to the funeral.

There is a valuable accompanying Activity Workbook to this title, allowing children to write stories or poems about their feelings, information about grief as well as providing prayers for the departed, Bible verses about death and bereavement etc. Instructions on how to make Koliva are given, as well as suggestions for making a memory table and ideas for writing letters to be placed in the coffin of the departed relative. There are word searches, ideas for drawing pictures, suggestions about people who may be able to talk to you about how you feel and support you, and so much more. Details of organisations which can help support grieving children and families are also given. This workbook is an excellent resource and extension of the work of the initial book and is well worth purchasing.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

The Murder Of Mary Russell

The Murder Of Mary Russell

By Laurie R. King

Published by Allison & Busby, April 2016

I am a keen long-term fan of this engaging series, and was so very excited to buy this latest installment in the saga of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. I really wish now that I had not bothered, then I could have just enjoyed re-reading all the previous cleverly-crafted books every year.

So what was wrong with this book? There were quite a few gaping plot holes and inconsistencies which annoyed me intensely. I cannot imagine the intelligent and astute Mary Russell could possibly have been so dim in her initial encounter with her Antipodean visitor, for starters.  Not to mention that considering she had contacted Mycroft Holmes about the encounter and its unfortunate aftermath, why was the omniscient and omnipotent Mycroft suddenly incapable of finding Sherlock and getting a message to him about Mary without it taking a ridiculous length of time? These were the days when you could post a letter in London in the morning and have it arrive at its destination the selfsame day, after all! Even if the Holmes' telephone line was tapped, someone in the village whom they trust could have been contacted somehow, even if Mycroft would have had to send a physical envoy. It just did not make sense, and this was not the only instance.

Mrs Hudson is certainly not the character whom we think she is, and sadly this then has coloured my view of her retrospectively throughout the entire series. Her back-story occupies an inordinate length of time and  I found it overly long and tedious, neither did I find myself having any sort of real sympathy for her or any of her dysfunctional family.

This is one of the rare books I really wish I could un-read and expunge from my memory, in the same way I wish I could un-watch the dreadful "The Abominable Bride" Christmas special episode of Sherlock.

Will I ever read this book again? No.
Do I even want to have it on my bookshelf with all the others in this series? No.
And that breaks my heart.

Caveat Lector - let the reader beware!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Exciting News For Orthodox Christian Book Lovers!

Do you like reading Orthodox books, whether fiction, theology, history, devotional or travel? Do you want to buy books but get frustrated at the heavy shipping costs if you live far away from an Orthodox bookseller? Are you fed up with not being easily able to get Orthodox books for your e-reader?

I have answered yes to all of these at various points in the past, but no longer :-)

Ancient Faith Ministries now have an up-and-running e-bookstore with a superb selection of books which can be purchased and delivered immediately to your e-reader no matter where in the world you might be. Books are available in a variety of formats - mobi, epub or pdf, (though not all titles will have every format available at the moment) so the books will generally be suitable for Kindle, Nook, Kobo or generic e-readers. Purchasing and downloading books is simple and straightforward, and if you have any problems, staff  running the site will do their very best to assist you to resolve them quickly. I was able to navigate the site, purchase and download my book with no problem at all.

Currently, the 55 books in the e-book catalogue are available for $8.99 per title. I'm reading and thoroughly enjoying "The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women's Monastery" by Constantine R. Palmer at the moment and have spent quite a while looking at the titles to see which one I will read next.

I am particularly impressed by the fact that once you have purchased and downloaded your book, you can lend it to someone or even sell it once you have read it, provided that you do not retain a copy for yourself as well. (http://www.orthodoxchristianebooks.com/copyrights-and-usage/)

We really are spoilt for choice now, and all I can say to Ancient Faith Ministries is a huge "Thank You!" for making this possible.

If you want to see which books are available or want to know more, simply click here. And enjoy!


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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Anatomy Of A Soldier

Anatomy Of A Soldier

By Harry Parker

Published by Faber & Faber, March 2016

To say this is a remarkable book is something of an understatement. How on earth is it possible to write a new book about war, injuries and the realities of combat without ending up simply repeating chunks of what so many other books have said before?  Harry Parker has managed it and this book is very special indeed.

Our soldier is identified at the beginning simply by his army ID:  BA5799. We know nothing about him, really, other than that he has been very badly wounded indeed.  Each short chapter focuses on an aspect of his life as a soldier, from the tag which identifies him and his blood group, the fertiliser which is used by native inhabitants of the country to make the explosive device which changes his life forever, to the instruments used in operations and the wheelchair he uses at the start of his lengthy rehabilitation process.

In each chapter, we learn  a little more about BA5799,  Captain Tom Barnes, his life, his family, his hopes, his determination to do his job to the best of his ability and to treat the native people of the region with respect and decency, his comrades, the circumstances around his injuries and how his life falls apart and is slowly rebuilt. Running concurrently with this is the story of some of the inhabitants whom he meets and interacts with; what pressures are placed upon them and how they too do their best to cope with what fate has dealt them.

It can at times be a little challenging to work out what item is telling the story in the chapter; these can range from boots to surgical items, but it generally becomes obvious pretty quickly what they are.

Tough, gritty, emotional and succinct, I found this to be moving, enlightening and a terrific read.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Joshua's Mission

Joshua's Mission

By Vannetta Chapman

Published by Harvest House, February 2016

We meet Joshua Kline and his wayward brother Alton, and follow their travels from their family farm in Oklahoma to Texas, to join a Mennonite  disaster relief mission to a town devastated by a major hurricane. Joshua, his family and his Bishop all hope that a change of environment, a busy work schedule and helping those less well off than themselves will provide Alton with an outlet for his energies and less time to get into trouble again.

 The Amish contingent find that the Englisch folk also have problems, and that they can be thoroughly decent people - and troubled people too. Both Amish and Englisch are forced to abandon their preconceptions and look at each other with fresh  eyes and a fresh appreciation for the insight and blessings they each bring to the other. As the wise Amish Bishop suspected, a total change of scenery and way of life helps the two brothers begin to heal their fragmented and complex relationship with each other as well as discovering possible romantic interests in their female co-workers .

The Englisch folk we encounter re-learn to trust God and each other more deeply and build closer bonds, making the most of each and every day and counting their blessings; friendships are formed between the helpers and the helped. Charlie Everman is a delightful character from beginning to end of the story.

Fresh, funny, and by far the most "Englisch" of Vannetta Chapman's stories, to my mind, "Joshua's Mission" ranks as one of her very best and most enjoyable books to date.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Internet - What Internet?

It's been crazy here - we have changed Internet Service Providers and as part of the new contract involved having a new line fitted (by a different company again) we have been without telephone or internet access for several weeks, hence my absence!

I had only brief occasional access at the local library, but all seems to be up and working well again.

Several book reviews to post in the next few days, and news of an exciting new e-book service for Orthodox Christian readers :-)
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Friday, February 26, 2016

Lord of the World

Lord of the World

By Robert Hugh Benson

Published by Ave Maria Press, Feb 26th 2016

This is a re-publication of a book which was originally written in 1907 and it is set in a dystopian future, close to our own chronological time.

Christianity has all but been abandoned in favour of a secular humanism which embraces euthanasia as a kindness to those suffering from severe injuries, mental or physical illness, or for those who simply wish to end their existence. Religious faith is barely tolerated and most Protestant denominations in England have gone the way of the  established church and adopted humanism  as the guiding star of belief and praxis. Only the Roman Catholic Church has held steadfast, although people and priests are leaving even that church in droves as faith becomes less and less socially acceptable amongst all classes of society.

The story was a little slow to start, but I quickly found that I simply had to keep reading. The age of the book is shown in its mention of the use of asbestos in construction and the use of airships (volors) for rapid transcontinental transportation, for instance. This did not detract from the story and the book generally has a remarkably contemporary feel, with the loss of sovereignty of nation states in favour of a European, then world, confederation of states, which ultimately becomes the fiefdom of the mysterious yet all-powerful and mesmerising Julian Felsenburgh,

Everyone dreams of world peace and when Felsenburgh  promises he can actually deliver this, he is hailed as a hero, the Saviour of the world, and the world rushes to pledge allegiance to him and his ideas, with horrifying results. Soon, he becomes one before whom all must bow, pledge allegiance and even worship, or face severe punishment.

One British priest, Fr Percy Franklin has held firm to his Christian beliefs, despite all the difficulties, dangers and trials which beset him, and it falls to him to be eventually elected Pope and to keep the tiny remnant of faithful Christians worldwide trusting in God as the world edges ever closer to the Apocalypse.....

Remarkably prescient and almost prophetic, I found it well worth reading. In this edition, there is an introduction by Mark Bosco, S.J. and a particularly interesting  "Theological Reflection" by Michael Murphy.  The story behind the author's conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism and why he wrote this book is covered by Martyn Sampson, so there is plenty of food for thought in these chapters as well as in the "Lord of the World" itself.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

High Hats And Harps

High Hats And Harps: The Life And Times Of Lord And Lady Llanover

By Helen Forder

Published by TallyBerry, 2012

I was made aware of this privately-published book by chance, via a friend who knows the authoress, Helen Forder, and I was able to purchase a signed copy via the book's Facebook page.

Helen Forder was tracing her family tree and investigating her own family's connections to the Llanover estate when she became intrigued by the life, times and work of Augusta, Lady Llanover, and this book is the happy result.

 Lady Llanover  was a passionate and devoted fan of all things Welsh and made it her long life's  work to preserve and propagate the Welsh culture and language in any way she could.  She adopted the Welsh language name of "Gwenynen Gwent" - "Bee of Gwent" when she entered the Cardiff Eisteddfod of 1834 and it was an appropriate name indeed for her industrious nature and care for her tenants, neighbours, friends and countrymen during her very long life.

The book has many lovely photographs, including one of a magnificent triple harp, and has been written with a beautifully fluid style and plentiful footnotes for those wanting to delve further into specific topics or events. It really has been a reading delight and anyone with an interest in Welsh culture or history will certainly want to read this.

The book can be purchased by visiting: http://augustaladyllanover.coffeecup.com/
or www.facebook.com/augustaladyllanover/?fref=ts

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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 BookBuzz.net, 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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