Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Catholic Hipster Handbook





The Catholic Hipster Handbook
By Tommy Tighe
Published by Ave Maria Press, September 2017

Christianity as a whole is not often regarded as cool or trendy by modern young people, but this book aims to make a dent in Catholicism's un-cool image by looking at alternative but still very traditionally Catholic attitudes, prayers and practices which have gradually fallen into disuse and attempting to popularise them again amongst youngsters and young adults. Topic chapters come from a variety of contributors ranging from clergy and religious to bloggers, parents, musicians and more.

Many topics work extremely well -  looking at beards biblically and historically, cultivating an appropriate sense of humour, looking at both ancient and modern saints in a new light and including prayers many people may not have heard of (including me!) What shoes would a Catholic Hipster wear?  The ensuing discussion about Vans or sandals leads to mention of a religious community then quite naturally to the life of St Teresa of Avila and the Discalced Carmelites. Neat and clever.

Beer, music, beards, clothing, music, people to follow on Twitter and the value of modern media give way to chapters discussing discovering the Rosary and the Scapular, valuable prayer apps for your mobile phone and ascetic practices. Coming from an Orthodox Christian background, I cannot get to grips with or enjoy Ignatian meditation. so the chapter in which Melissa Keating described imagining herself at the Last Supper struck a discordant chord for me, but that is always a potential problem reading books from differing religious traditions to one's own and does not detract from the undoubted value of the book as a whole.

Some of the activities relating to each topic covered are not quite so effective, such as making up Catholic slang and decorating the outline of a crown, which seemed to be aimed at a very much younger age group than those who would be sporting beards, but these are minor grouses and don't detract from what it is a clever and enjoyable book for anyone looking at learning more about Catholicism and how relevant it still can be in the modern world while still using its ancient traditions.










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Praying The Rosary Like Never Before




Praying The Rosary Like Never Before
By Edward Sri
Published by Franciscan Media, July 2017

 Many Christians - and not just Catholics -  like the Rosary, love the Rosary, want to pray it more often or for longer, but worry that they are somehow doing it "wrong" and that they are not getting as much out of the spiritual practice as they would have hoped.

 In this easily readable and surprisingly deep book, Dr Sri tells us he feels that two and a half minutes is enough time to pray a single decade, and that there are very, very few people who are so truly incredibly busy that they cannot give God that length of time in the course of a day.

He urges us not to fret if we struggle with praying a five decade rosary as many saintly people have found that they can only manage a few decades at a time, and that too is fine. There is no single "right way" to pray the Rosary and different people  may need different techniques or need to change techniques at different times in their lives or spiritual journeys. The Rosary has proven to be eminently adaptable to individual  and contemporary needs, but Dr Sri is careful to point out that it is important to remember not to gabble and to show reverence and due respect to the Holy Name of Jesus whenever it occurs in prayers.

He provides very nice meditations and selections from Scripture for meditative pondering which can be used before, during and/or after each Mystery, for those who find it easiest to pray in this way.
A particular problem for Orthodox Western Rite Christians would be the use of the traditional Ignatian method of using the imagination to picture scenes relating to the Mysteries, but I do know devout Western Rite Orthodox who happily use  the Scriptural Rosary technique.  I really like the sometimes unusual scripture verses for meditation and prayer using this technique at the end of the book.

This was a most interesting read, and is a useful and informative book which could be used and adapted for Anglicans, Catholics and Western Rite Orthodox alike.




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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Shtum
















 



Shtum
By Jem Lester
An Orion paperback, 2017



This is an incredibly difficult book to review without giving away enormous chunks of the plot, which I always hate doing.

Ben and Emma Jewell are the parents of Jonah, who is ten and profoundly autistic. Ben and Emma appear to be just about coping with the rigid complexities of dealing with Jonah's daily needs, their work committments and their marriage, but when the question arises as to what school Jonah will attend when he leaves his current school, absolutely everything falls apart, quite literally.

 In one fell swoop, Ben finds himself wifeless, homeless and sole parent to Jonah, and in despair, he turns to his father, Georg, for help. It seems that Ben's descent into alcoholism is racing unchecked, and it is only when he discovers that somehow Jonah is unlocking the secrets of his family's past from his grandfather Georg that Ben begins to tentatively repair his relationship with his father......

For a book which deals with the Holocaust and the issues which surround the care of children with severely complex autism, this is a book with great touches of humour with scenes which made me laugh out loud and all too many scenes which made me cry. Jonah may not be able to talk, but he speaks to his family in many different ways and on many different levels, and they all talk back to him in their own ways too. But will they all ever learn to talk to each other?

This is a profoundly moving book about life, marriage, love, families and the struggles which the parents of every disabled child face in their determination to get their children the very best care they possibly can, and the battles which they face in doing so.

A troubling yet hopeful book, very well worth the read.
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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Traybakes


                                                



Traybakes: 40 Brilliant One-Tin Bakes For Enjoying, Giving And Selling

By Hannah Miles

Lorenz Books, March 2017



I found this book in my local library and simply had to check it out and bring it home! 

 My daughter very kindly offered to do a test bake of one of the recipes, so she made the Apple Shortcake bars, which were absolutely delicious. 

The only downside was that these really are large traybakes, and we ended up eating the bars quite literally for days. 

An absolutely wonderful book if you need to cater on a large scale for school/parish events, bake sales, parties etc, but otherwise the recipes really do need to be scaled down dramatically for normal domestic use which I did not feel confident doing.
 Recipes were varied and fun,  including Brownies, Blondies, a variety of Flapjacks, some appropriately Healthy Eating recipes and some gluten-free recipes too.




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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Silent Weapon




Silent Weapon
By Andy McNab
Published by Doubleday, August 2017


This is the second in the "Street Soldier" Young Adult series about Sean Harker, former gang lad and petty criminal, who gets recruited into the Army in the first book.

Sean has made good, turned his life around and created a whole new life for himself in the Army, after an admittedly pretty rocky start. Fresh from a tour of duty abroad, he is expecting to arrive safely back in Britain and then prepare for some holiday leave in sunny Tenerife, but things do not go according to plan. Their civilian plane is diverted and then the airport is attacked by terrorists.

Caught right in the middle of it all, Sean and his companions fight back....but this is not the end of the problem, in fact it is just the very beginning of a desperate search against time to track down the terrorists and disable their deadly biological weapon hidden on Sean's own home turf by people he knows from his past.

This made utterly compelling  and eye-opening reading; I found I was rapidly sharing Harker's concern, anger, disbelief and fear that radicalisation and terrorism could take place on his estate in London, among the people he knows and has grown up with. Everything he has believed about terrorism until now is turned on its head and he has very limited time to use his local knowledge of places and people to find those responsible and discover exactly what the weapon is before it is too late and a pandemic is unleashed.

An excellent story, which I ended up reading in one sitting and couldn't put it down. How on earth he is going to top this particular book, I have no idea, but I am equally sure that he will manage it.




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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Almost A Minyan








Almost A Minyan

By Lori S. Kline &  Susan Simon

Published by Sociosights Press, April 2017



Jewish synagogue worship requires a quorum of ten adults - a minyan - in order for Torah to be read and some services to be held.  Our young heroine is keen and eager to grow up and fulfil her ambition to join her beloved father and grandfather as part of the minyan at her local shul.

Sometimes the congregation struggles to find ten adults to make up the minyan and being able to take part herself seems a long way off as she wistfully describes the joy her father and grandfather feel as they attend services at the synagogue and observe the Jewish religious requirements.

Her life continues as normal, until her grandfather falls ill and sadly dies. Her world is turned upside down by this sad loss. However, it is not too long until the wonderful day arrives when her father reminds her that her Hebrew birthday is here and she is at last old enough to count as one of the minyan for morning prayers at the synagogue.

When she gets there, she is now officially part of the minyan, and to her utter joy and delight, she receives another wonderful gift too.....

The story describes Jewish life, bereavement, grief, worship and happiness, all seamlessly integrated in this lovely book,  told in verse throughout and delightfully illustrated. It has been an absolute delight and a pleasure to review!

Many thanks to Sociosights Press for sending me a digital copy to read and review.

http://www.sociosights.com/




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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to Mom,






The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to The Mom
By Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2016


Do you remember the delights of good old-fashioned children's reading books, with short sentences, oft-repeated words and educational snippets, all beautifully illustrated? I do, and was delighted to find that these type of books have actually been revamped and updated to reflect modern themes and concerns, aimed squarely at adults but still with the same charming format. The result is clever, incongruous and very amusing.

This one is "The Mom". As you would expect, it encompasses all the delights, hazards and frustrations of motherhood but presented with a vintage face. From the delights of nursing an infant (and the resulting baby puke), through to having to drink enough wine to have corks to make a doll, each page will strike a chord with mothers, whether your children are adults or still young.

"This is a mom.
A mom has two very important
jobs to do. One is to look after
her children.
The other is to do everything
else as well."

That just about sums it all up very neatly :-)
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Monday, November 07, 2016

One Of The Few








One Of The Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview

By Jason B. Ladd

Published by Boone Shepherd, 2015


 We read so much in the Bible about many being called, but few are chosen; this is also very true in the arduous selection process by which people become US Marines. Many people try, few succeed, and those who do succeed are among the bravest and most determined of all people, upright, honest, committed to the service and defense of their country.

Such an attitude is generally regarded as antithetical to the often wishy-washy milksop portrayals of Christianity in modern society and especially in modern media; just think of Ned Flanders in "The Simpsons" - not many people would take him for a role model. Many people would, however, want to be just like Jason B. Ladd: a devoted husband, father, patriot, Marine, hero, but he is, above all, a Christian.

How did he end up becoming a Christian as an adult, carefully forming his beliefs and his world view hand in hand with his marriage, fatherhood and his military service which included fighting in Iraq? He fell in love, at a young age, with a Christian girl who would become his wife and mother to their children, and by her quiet example and gentle teachings, he edged ever closer to developing his own faith in Christ.  Having children made him think long and hard about the Big Questions in life; he found that having a firm Christian belief  was no barrier at all to still being a warrior for his country, and in fact the two walk hand-in-hand very neatly and easily, as he skilfully shows.

This is his life story - filled with adventure, excitement, fear and danger as he recounts the stories of his gruelling training and hard work to eventually become a Marine pilot, counterbalanced by the tenderest of moments when he recounts episodes relating to his family life. He takes a long, hard look at modern society, its dangers, perils and pitfalls for the unwary, and how Christianity provides a sure and certain path even in these difficult and dangerous times.

This has been an incredibly interesting and absorbing read, and I commend it to anyone wondering if it is truly possible to be a modern Christian male, devoted family man and firm patriot. Jason Ladd shows that it is.


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Sunday, November 06, 2016

Calling all Georgette Heyer fans!










Just in case any of you were not previously aware, Miss Georgette Heyer's delightful short story anthology, "Pistols for Two" has just been reissued as a hardback version and this time, it also includes three short stories which have been out of print since the 1930s and have been recently rediscovered by Miss Heyer's biographer, Jennifer Kloester!


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Becoming Reverend








Becoming Reverend: A Diary

By Matt Woodcock

Church House Publishing, November 2016



 Meet Matt.
An enthusiastic and enthusing journalist, who has abandoned his career in order to attend theological college and be ordained in the Anglican church. He is married to the long-suffering Anna, and his stint at Cranmer Hall theological college coincides with their last-ditch attempt at IVF treatment - so no stress there then!

This was actually a thought-provoking read in ways which I did not expect.  I read to the half-way point quite quickly. I found myself  alternately really enjoying the highs and lows of Matt's life and then thinking either the editing of Matt's diary entries was so severe as to make him seem like a theological lightweight or had been done to make the book as amusing as possible in order to appeal to as many people as possible. I wasn't happy with either scenario, and was seriously considering abandoning the book altogether. I hate not finishing a book, so after a week's rest, I decided to carry on reading.

Then the miracle for which his fellow ordinands has been praying actually happens - Matt and Anna find they are to become the parents of twins. The disparate strands of all the different courses Matt has been studied start to coalesce, liturgical and parochial procedures are starting to become easier and more natural. The unravelling begins with the stress on his marriage due to his having to live at college, leaving Anna to deal with her advancing pregnancy, then the death of his much-loved Auntie Lynne. The young couple are faced with moving away after Matt's ordination, leaving Anna's support network of family and friends far away. Further stresses develop with his fellow ordinands and Matt seems to face problems everywhere.
What made me finish this book? Matt's unrelenting honesty in facing his own shortcomings as a Christian, as a husband and father, as an ordinand, and his fearlessness in apologising, making amends and his hard work in pulling himself together to be more of the person he wants to be. His courage is remarkable, and his character really does begin to shine brightly.

I shall follow his career with interest, and hope that we will have the opportunity to read more about him and his work in the future.



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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Life Of A Scilly Sergeant




The Life Of A Scilly Sergeant
By Colin Taylor
Published June 2016 by Century/Random House

The subtitle of this book is, appropriately, "Adventures of high tide and low crime", but life on this remarkable group of islands is not entirely crime-free and Sergeant Colin Taylor can expect to be roused at all hours of the day or night to deal with theft, traffic congestion, marital disputes and even the odd explosion. Everybody generally knows everybody else, and the occasional generational clash between relatives can prove to be interesting. 

The islands are stunningly lovely, there is plenty going on, despite the relative isolation from the outside world during the winter, and the summer sees a huge influx of visitors who have a bit of a culture shock when they step off the boat into a whole new way of life.

During the winter, there can be long periods when it is impossible for the scheduled sailings to arrive or leave  St Mary's, the largest island, so supplies can start to run a little low in the shops and police or legal back-up can be delayed. It may only be 28 miles from Land's End to Scilly, but when everything depends on boats and tides, life can get complicated!

If you have never been to Scilly, this book and its photos will make you want to visit. I have great memories of a day trip to St Mary's many years ago and I really do want to go again now after thoroughly enjoying reading this. 

My favourite chapter? The bird in the cell. No spoilers, but it is priceless :-)

Colin Taylor has now sadly finished his stint as a police officer on Scilly, but the book is a delight. 




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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Sundown Kid







:
The Sundown Kid:
A Southwestern Shabbat
By Barbara Bietz, illustrated by John Kanzler
Published by August House Inc, July 2016

When a Jewish family emigrated to the West, they knew some things would be very different. They kept their traditional Jewish customs - the mezzuzah on the front door and the Shabbat meal, but they missed their family and friends from back home.  “Too much soup,” Mama said. “Not enough family.”

As they settle in, the young boy makes friends in their small town and invites them to share their Shabbat hospitality, finally making Mama happy at having a full table to rejoice in the blessings they have received.

This is a gorgeous little book for children, beautifully illustrated, explaining the concepts of hospitality and sharing the blessings of Shabbat in a simple and fun way. 
Reading it was a delight :-)



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Friday, August 19, 2016

An Amish Harvest







An Amish Harvest:
Four Amish Novellas by Beth Wiseman, Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller & Vannetta Chapman
Published by Thomas Nelson, 16th August 2016


Another installment in a perenially popular Amish novella collection of books, this one dealing with stories relating to harvest-time.

Under the Harvest Moon by Beth Wiseman deals with some difficult themes.
 Naomi Dienner is newly widowed and pregnant with another child her late husband never knew she was carrying. Stephen was often loving but sometimes both physically and verbally abusive to her, though never to their children. She is anxious about the success of this pregnancy, having already lost one baby, and when an older lady turns up at her house seeming to have all sorts of knowledge about things she should not have known, and claiming to be able to provide protective herbs and charms to help Naomi carry her baby safely to full term, Naomi falls prey, much to the dismay of her father's Englisch friend Brock, who has come to help Naomi harvest the crops on her farm.
Can Brock persuade Naomi to abandon her trust in such charms and have faith in God's goodness and will for her, and indeed for them both? And can Naomi learn to trust a man again after her bad experience with Stephen?


Love & Buggy Rides by Amy Clipston

When Janie Lantz witnesses an accident between a car and a buggy giving tours to tourists being driven by Jonathan Stoltzfus, she feels compelled to help those injured and to protect Jonathan's job by witnessing to the truth of what she saw. A quiet friendship springs up between the two, to the dismay of her father, who feels that  the age gap between his daughter and Jonathan is too great to make a successful relationship - and also the fact that Jonathan is only a temporary visitor to the area. Janie is torn between respect for her father's wishes and the desire to see justice being done and a good man's name being cleared. Is there any way she can reconcile the two?


A Quiet Love by Kathleen Fuller

 Dinah Keim is initially upset when her mother arranges for her to go and stay with her Aunt Judith for a few weeks. She is self-conscious about her stammer and prefers to stay out of the public eye. She is catapulted into the midst of a family catastrophe when Judith's husband David is injured during an accident on the farm and Dinah lays an important role in saving her step-uncle's life. She is thrown into the company of the handsome Amos Mullet, David's son, whose unusual ways and demeanour help to bring her out of her shell and forget about her stammer. She in turn supports and encourages this young man whose family have done their level best to protect him from harm and help him come to terms with his being on the autistic spectrum, but she feels they have in some ways over-protected him. Their friendship blossoms into love, and some surprising secrets are revealed as time goes by.


Mischief In The Autumn Air by Vannetta Chapman

Martha Beiler is widowed, lives with her sometimes cantankerous aunt and she works for Eli Wittmer in his auction house. The unusual behaviour of a young couple inspecting some furniture at the pre-auction viewing raises her suspicions;  her suspicions convince her boss and their combined sleuthing uncovers a detective story involving  a treasure map, furniture and the history of her adoptive Amish community, as well as paving the way for a new romance....





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Monday, August 15, 2016

Street Soldier








Street Soldier
By Andy McNab
Published by Penguin Random House, August 2016


Sean Harker is a Londoner from Walthamstow's Littern Mills estate. He's a street kid, a member of the Littern Guyz gang; when a theft goes wrong, he takes the rap and ends up in a Young Offenders Institute. When he is offered a chance to leave the YOI early and join the Army instead, he is torn between his loyalty to his gang, some of whom are already at the Institute, and the chance to make something of his life - rather than be  always looking over his shoulder, waiting for another crime to go wrong and ending up in prison for a very long time.

He chooses the Army after witnessing the suicide of a friend in the Institute and vows to make something of his life. Everything is on track, he is settling down well ...until he becomes mates with Corporal Heaton, who has a flash car, a flash pad and a flash lifestyle. Sean is persuaded to help "liberate" some firearms from the Army, allegedly to help protect the general public from terrorist attacks and those who would subvert the British way of life. That, and a chance of ready cash in return seems like a good idea until he discovers that  Heaton is working for a very unsavoury group of people who claim to be good guys but are no better than those they despise. 

Sean has to make some hard decisions abut whom he can trust, whom he should trust and where his true loyalties lie - with his mum, his street gang mates or the Army. How far could he or should he go to serve and protect his country?

This is a hard and gritty story indeed. Definitely not for the faint-hearted or squeamish, it portrays the harsh mindset and activities of street gang life, crime, violence and the criminal justice system as experienced by juveniles in detail as well as Sean's Army training and experiences. Targeted at older teens/the YA market, I found it a really gripping read with a definite message that even if you mess up your life, you can always find a way to turn things around.



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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Bretherton







Bretherton: Khaki or Field Grey?

By W.F. Morris

Published by Casemate/Open Road, August 2016

A classic, happily now re-published after its debut in 1930 and regarded as a founding giant in the field of espionage/thriller fiction; this is a brilliant read for fans of the genre or for those who simply enjoy fiction about the Great War.

It's November 1918. The Germans are being chased into their final retreat and Captain Gurney takes part in clearing the area of hostile troops. Imagine his shock and bewilderment when he finds, in a chateau, the body of a man whom he recognises instantly, for he knows him well, but now he is dead and dressed in the uniform of a German soldier....what on earth has been happening?

His fellow officer Gerard Bretherton had been listed as missing after being seen to be injured. Why was now he here in the chateau impersonating a German officer?  Or has a German officer been playing a game of double-cross and impersonating him? Who is the woman found dead without a mark on her?

This is just the start of a truly gripping story, graphically describing the horror, physical and emotional trauma of war and the devastation it causes to those fighting in it and their loved ones.. Narrated initially from the viewpoint of Captain Gurney, then jumping back a little chronologically to recount events from Bretherton's viewpoint, I found this to be a compelling story indeed, and well worth reading.

Full marks to the publisher for making this title available once again for a new generation of readers.


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Saturday, July 23, 2016

House Calls and Hitching Posts








House Calls and Hitching Posts
Stories from Dr. Elton Lehman's career among the Amish
as told to Dorcas Sharp Hoover
Published by Good Books, 2004


I found out  about this book by accident; when browsing for a related book on an internet site, this popped up as a suggestion, and I am so glad that I did buy it!

Dr Elton Lehman was from a Swiss Mennonite background himself, and shortly after qualifying, he and his wife Phyllis made their home  and his general medical practice in the small town of  Mount Eaton, Wayne County, Ohio in the 1960s. They were soon to count many Amish among their patients and later their friends, and this is a dignified, affectionate and fascinating account of the life and work of this remarkable and devoted physician - and of his long-suffering wife and family. 

Dealing with amputated fingers, impalings, traffic and farm accidents, broken bones and serious  illnesses, as well as assisting at the births of many, many babies (6, 300 by the time he retired in 1993) kept him constantly busy and later he was to become assistant coroner for the area too, which was the least enjoyable - but still important - part of his work. He also helped to make medical history when one of his patients proved to have an incredibly rare blood group, which nearly cost her her life.

His constant love and concern for the well-being of his Amish patients greatly endeared him to them, and he was determined to do everything he could to help them maintain their Plain lifestyle, caring for them from cradle to grave.  On a few very sad occasions, he saved lives only to see them snatched away again a few years later, and his own deep  Christian faith as well as that of the Amish families helped them all to come to terms with their losses.

This certainly ranks as one of my favourite books about the Amish *and* about traditional doctoring. It is very good to know that Dr Lehman's son, Brent, has followed in his father's footsteps and continues to serve the people of the area.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Dare To Be Different!


This is why I try not to review the more "mainstream" books, 
mainly because everyone else is reading and reviewing them :-)

I like to read quirky, unusual and interesting things, 
and this is how I can end up reviewing both pacifist Amish books
 and SAS army fiction in the space of a very few weeks of each other!

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Teacher Misery



Teacher Misery 
By Jane Morris
Truth Be Told Publishing, May 2016


Exactly what it says on the cover: a collection of real-life anecdotes about events endured by a new teacher and her colleagues. Hilarious in a few places, terrifying and utterly, utterly appalling in equal measure in others, it is enough to make any responsible parent think twice about putting their child through mainstream schooling in the USA. If you are a responsible, thoughtful, caring parent, the events in this book will be of concern to you.

I simply cannot imagine any halfway decent parent complaining that their child has not actually broken any published school rules by being stark naked and having sexual intercourse on a school staircase, but I can certainly believe that some parents would think their child was being unfairly picked on for such behaviour. The apple rarely falls far from the tree, after all. On the other hand are the obsessive, manipulative and highly ambitious helicopter parents, who make their children just as miserable as the parents who do not care about what happens to their children.

 Drug dealing, aggression, poor hygiene, vile language and activities, sexual activity, overdoses and majorly psychotic behaviour on the part of some youngsters feature in the book, so reader beware.
Needless to say, the author's name is a nom de plume to protect both herself and her job, (and the names of all the persons involved have been changed) but despite everything, she has gritted her teeth and carried on teaching, helping youngsters to the best of her ability - whether they want it or not, and with or without the support of their parents.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Simple Pleasures



Simple Pleasures
By Marianne Jantzi
Published 29 March 2016 by Herald Press.

The writer is a Canadian columnist for "Connection" magazine, widely read by Plain folk, and the stories she shares with us abut her family life and community life are very readable and enjoyable vignettes. From her daily life as a busy wife and mother to four young children, to tending her garden, raising chickens and running a shoe business, she shows many different aspects of Amish life in general and Canadian Amish in detail. Underpinning everything is her deep faith and desire to honour God by living an authentically Christian, honest and ethical life.

This is a book for dipping into and reading a small portion at a time rather than reading right through; the vignettes are individually very enjoyable but did not really flow well enough for me to read large chunks in one sitting. Just like the Amish, this is a book written simply, plainly and from the heart.


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Monday, July 11, 2016

Catching Up

It's been an action-packed few weeks here, what with the run-up to the Referendum over whether or not Britain should leave the EU, then the aftermath of the Referendum vote and then the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme.

Lots of WW1 book have been devoured.

Normal book-reviewing will resume soon :-)

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Burning Angels




Burning Angels

By Bear Grylls

Orion, June 2016


This is the second book to feature Will Jaeger, and the tension so evident in the first book is kept to an even greater intensity in this sequel.

The first few chapters deal with the gruesome discovery of an ancient  ice-entombed female corpse  - displaying all the signs of a haemorrhagic disease - by Nazi troops. I have to admit, this part did turn my stomach, but the story soon moves into modern but no less frightening times.

Will is still desperately searching for his kidnapped wife and son, captured by unknown enemies for unknown reasons, and the regular photos he is sent of them in captivity are having their emotional toll on him. After completing a mission in Cuba,  a few clues emerge which suggest that Africa may hold the answers he is seeking and Will is persuaded by his colleague Narov to join the mysterious 'outfit' which employs her.

Will finds that family ties with the last war are deep and more complex than he had ever realised, and that he is faced with an enemy who will stop at nothing - not even biological terrorism - to achieve his goals, leaving Will Jaeger's wife and son in terrible danger....

This was a fast-paced, action-packed book which I found to be really enjoyable on the whole, though the ending seemed rather rushed and the science a little superficial. I find it very hard to believe that people who had endured torture and captivity would have slipped effortlessly and seamlessly back into everyday and family life as depicted here, but other than that, it was a cleverly plotted book.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Roman Quests1: Escape From Rome






The Roman Quests 1: Escape From Rome

By Caroline Lawrence

Published by Orion Children's Books, May 2016




Wow. Just wow.

If you liked Caroline Lawrence's wonderful "The Roman Mysteries" series, you certainly won't want to miss the start of this new series, set in the times of the evil Emperor Domitian. Domitian encouraged the  activities of delators, who denounced people they believed to have been undertaking activities treasonous to the Emperor. The accused's possessions, home and money would be confiscated and divided between the Emperor and the delator; the Emperor therefore gained easy money and delators had a convenient way to punish people who offended them and gain monetarily too.

When Juba's mother wakes him in the middle of the night to prepare him to flee with his siblings to their uncle, who lives in far-away Britannia, she ensures they have enough valuables to be able to pay their way, but nothing goes according to plan. Disaster follows disaster, and Juba has to make a  heartbreaking decision about his baby sister Dora in order to physically protect Fronto and Ursula, as well as keeping a dreadful secret from them.

Adventure follows adventure, and when they eventually arrive in cold and wet Britannia, they are older and wiser but find to their horror that their troubles are very far from over. With the help of unexpected and welcome allies, they have to face treachery, betrayal and danger once more. Have they escaped one dreadful fate only to fall into yet another?

This is a fast-paced, nail-biting adventure story  aimed at Key Stage 2 children aged between 7 and 11, though it would certainly be enjoyed by older readers too; I stayed up ridiculously late last night to finish this book because I simply could NOT bear to go to bed without finding out the ending :-)

I didn't simply "read" this story, I felt that I was actually there with Juba and his family. I found it absolutely spell-binding and chockablock with accurate historical detail, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.













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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dinner With Edward







Dinner With Edward
By Isabel Vincent
Published by Algonquin Books, 24th May 2016

Isabel Vincent's life was frenetic, frantic and her marriage was launching into a catastrophic free-fall. A casual conversation with a friend led her to agree to keep an eye on Edward, her friend's recently bereaved elderly father, who seemed to have lost his zest for life with the death of his adored Paula. It seems a recipe for disaster, throwing strangers together at such an unpropitious moment in their lives, but quite the opposite happens.

Isabel and Edward agree to have dinner together occasionally, with Edward cooking exquisite meals despite his ninety-odd years, dispensing his wisdom along with his culinary secrets, and a deep and abiding friendship begins between these two unlikely characters. Each of them brings solace, comfort and inspiration to the other, transforming each other's lives and helping each other to pick up the pieces of their lives and adapt to the new normal.

The food is exquisite, the company delightful, and I  urge you to read this book. Definitely my favourite book of 2016 so far.

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Saturday, May 07, 2016

Outback Midwife



Outback Midwife

By Beth McRae

Audio book released by Bolinda Publishing

Narrated by Caroline Lee



I found this purely by chance when browsing on the Audible.co.uk website, and knowing comparatively little about Australia, I decided to give it a go. I am so very glad that I did, as after a bit of a slow start, I found listening to this book to be a thoroughly enjoyable and quite compelling experience.

Beth McRae's story begins with her life as a country girl in Victoria, then moving to train as a nurse and a midwife, falling in love along the way with an Army man to whom her parents did not warm for quite a long time. Much as it broke her heart, Beth made it plain that she intended to marry Ian, with or without her parents' blessing, and they did come round to the idea.

With her husband's postings meaning they had to move quite often, she acquired a lot of hospital experience as she moved jobs too, but eventually they decided to put down some roots and Ian left the army. Life was not plain sailing for them; the extremely premature birth of their first daughter was a tragedy which took much time for them to recover from, but happier times did follow.

After over thirty years  as a midwife, in which she saw so many changes, the majority for the better, with her children grown up and leading their own independent lives, Beth plunges headlong into a long-held dream, of working in the outback in a primarily aboriginal community in Arnhem Land in the northernmost part of Australia. Just when many women would be starting to slow down and prepare for retirement, she finds that she has much to learn here, despite all her vast experience as a midwife, and has to draw on her own resources with comparatively little back-up compared to when  she was working in more populous urban areas. Being accepted by the community takes time and effort, but she quickly learns to love the area and its people.

I found this a fascinating and absorbing account of midwifery in an environment quite different from what I have been used to; Britain is a small place compared to Australia and the thought of women with complicated pregnancies being separated from their families for many weeks as they have to travel sometimes several hundreds of kilometres to get to and stay at a specialist hospital is quite heartbreaking.

The narrator is enthusiastic and engaging, with a lovely reading voice,  though I did feel she struggled a little with reproducing Scottish accents.

If you have an interest in midwifery or Australian life, this is well worth listening to. Apparently a paperback version of the book is due for publication in the UK later this year, but otherwise availability seems to be restricted to the Antipodes unless you purchase the audio book version as I did.

I  really hope another volume will be forthcoming in due course :-)


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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Seasons In My Garden






Seasons In My Garden
Meditations from a Hermit
By Sister Elizabeth Wagner
Ave Maria Press, March 2016



Elizabeth felt called to monasticism even before she was sure she believed in God; once she knew she believed, she tried out her vocation with the Carmelites before eventually settling in a semi-eremitical community in Maine which follows the Rule of St Benedict.

These are her meditations, starting with  the bitter chill of Winter, the joys of Christmas, snippets from the Breviary and the hazards of living  in an area with so many trees along the roads mingling seamlessly with descriptions of decorating the tiny Chapel and making fruit cakes. Each chapter can be read as a stand -alone meditation or you can simply follow her thoughts and descriptions of her life sequentially as presented; I tried both methods and thoroughly enjoyed both! 

Sr Elizabeth is a keen observer both of the human condition and the religious life; the glories of God's creation which she sees all around her - especially in her beloved garden where she delights in growing herbs - are vividly described.  This is a deep, deep, book which bears careful reading, yet it is so joyously, beautifully written that it simply captivates and entrances the reader, feeding mind and soul alike with challenges, beauty and faith.

A Must-Read!



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