Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Lopsided Christmas Cake

The Lopsided Christmas Cake
By Wanda E. Brunstetter & Jean Brunstetter
Published by Shiloh Run Press, Sept 1st, 2015

The Hochstetler twins are both single, in their thirties, living at home and content helping their parents run the family store. The tragic deaths of their grandparents brings the surprising news that they have inherited both their grandparents' house and their store business. Despite some initial hesitation, they embark on a whole new life of independence, fending for themselves in the run-down old house and learning how to become businesswomen and how to value each other's very different personalities and gifts.

When Thelma and Elma decide to enter an Amish baking competition to raise money for a family's medical bills, they find themselves baking live on-stage with two confirmed bachelors, and without giving too much away, this explains the unusual title :-) Can they each find love, or will either of them stand in the other's way?

This is an endearing and sweet Christmas-themed book co-authored by the well-known Wanda Brunstetter and her daughter-in-law Jean,who is a welcome addition to the writers of Amish fiction.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Mudhouse Sabbath

Mudhouse Sabbath

An Invitation To A Life Of Spiritual Discipline - Study Edition

By Lauren F. Winner

Published by Paraclete Press, August 2015

Although I have the audio-book of the first edition of Mudhouse Sabbath, I was delighted to have the chance to review this expanded study version courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

Lauren Winner was born into an Orthodox Jewish family and converted to Christianity as an adult, revelling and delighting in her new spiritual home, yet missing many of the observances of Orthodox Judaism which punctuated every day with rituals designed to bring the presence of God closely to mind. Her life has changed substantially since the first edition and she is now an Episcopal priest as well as having gained her Ph.D, and there are new insights in this new edition as well as extensive discussion questions/statements at the end of each chapter.

The book deals with some fascinating topics, discussing how both faiths have affected her feelings, knowledge and understanding, and how in many respects she finds that they complement each other. Christianity can certainly draw more deeply on its Jewish roots without compromising doctrinal orthodoxy, in her opinion.

Starting with the different ways Christians and Jews experience and celebrate the Sabbath,  she covers the meaning of keeping Kosher and fasting, mourning traditions, the obligation of hospitality, the practices of prayer and candle-lighting, the body and aging, marriage and mezuzot, thoughtfully describing, analysing and outlining her thoughts and beliefs in a clear and incisive manner.

 I have several books about Judaism, but this one is unique in its approach, engaging and enjoyable, and have no doubt I will be referring to it regularly.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living Well with Chronic Illness

Living Well with Chronic Illness
By Joanna J. Charnas
Published by MSI Press,LLC, August 2015

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is never easy; being told you have a disease which will affect you long-term - and possibly for the rest of your life  - can be a real body blow. This book is designed to help with the acceptance of such news and motivate you to make the very best use of the resources that are available in order to take the greatest possible care of your emotional and mental health as well as your physical health. It covers all sorts of topics, including protecting your close personal relationships and maintaining intimacy, accepting your new limitations in daily living  and finding new ways to have fun and enjoy life, as well as exploring complementary medicine to enhance mainstream medical treatments.

Many of the suggestions may seem obvious, but it is all too easy, when stressed, anxious and drained,  to forget how truly essential it is to stay well-hydrated and well-nourished, to get into a proper sleep pattern, to ask for help and to plan ahead to minimise the stress and difficulties that a really bad day can cause you. Family and friends need to be aware, to know how best to help and support you and it is an extremely good idea to join a support group for whichever illness you have, to find out how others manage to maintain their lives as normally as possible in the face of  sometimes very heavy odds indeed.

Although geared towards the American health and benefit systems, this book still has a great deal to offer readers in other countries too, and I found it to be an excellent little primer on living *with* your illness, rather than letting your illness control you.

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Looking Rather Than Reading

My copy of Terry Pratchett's final novel, The Shepherd's Crown, arrived on the same day as my copy of the new Chris Ryan military thriller, Hellfire. I still have not read either, and not simply because of the size of my book pile or the timescale demands of books I have been given to review. Hellfire will require me to adopt a mindset which is at odds with the way I feel at the moment.

I knew that I would find it hard to motivate myself to read the new TP, however much I love his books and the magnificent Discworld he created for our enjoyment, and I knew exactly why. To get to the last page of the last book he ever wrote will be an acknowledgement of the fact that part of my life has changed irrevocably.

 No longer will I be scanning the internet to see what his new book will be called, or when it will be published, or wondering which of the main characters it will revolve around. Would it be Rincewind, Tiffany Aching, the Witches, Sam Vimes or the Patrician? What new technology will be inflicted on Discworld? And once I get to the last page, I am immediately wondering what the next book will be about....

And there's the rub. There will be no "next" book :-(

That is why I have looked at it, greatly admired the cover, read the blurb on the back, opened a page at random and read a single sentence - before carefully closing the book, stroking the cover, smiling wistfully and putting it on the top of my "To Read" heap, where I can see it each time I walk through the dining room to the kitchen.

Looking, rather than reading.

 I'm not ready to close that chapter of my life just yet.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Georgian Menagerie

The Georgian Menagerie: 
Exotic Animals In Eighteenth-Century London
By Christopher Plumb,
I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, August 2015

I have vague recollections of reading about a collection of exotic animals kept at the Tower of London in one of Miss Heyer's Regency novels,  (I believe it was Mr Chawleigh taking Lydia Deveril  to see them in "A Civil Contract") but I had absolutely no idea that  in reality, the Georgians took their interest in exotic animals to quite inordinate lengths. 

Christopher Plumb has painstakingly collated references to exotica ranging from canaries to lions, rhinoceroses and just about everything in between, covering those owned by individuals and organisations, from a single animal or bird to zoological collections. He describes how they were kept as pets, or used for entertainment, food, medicinal resources, sport, science experiments and research.

 Interest in these animals was widespread across all social classes; even the working classes could in time hope to afford a singing canary and as for the wealthy, well, wherever in the world English ships could sail, expeditions could be mounted to capture and import increasingly rare and unusual creatures. Highly collectable creatures were sought after and obtained by any means possible, both legal and illegal.

Sadly, many animals and birds did not survive for long, being fed, housed and treated in inappropriate places and ways, and it makes for sobering reading to think that not much has changed in the ways that humans still so often treat wildlife in the intervening years.  The undercurrent of sadness this book produced means that I cannot in all fairness categorise it as entirely enjoyable to read, but it certainly is a fascinating, informative and enlightening book indeed.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Grammar Of God

The Grammar Of God

By Aviya Kushner

Spiegel & Grau/Random House, August 2015

Aviya Kushner is an Orthodox Jew who loves language, poetry, literature and history, and has used her original Master's thesis on how the languages used affect the Biblical text to produce a remarkable book which is the product of a decade's work. She has read, spoken out loud, learned and loved a variety of translations, finding out just how Biblical translation has affected Jews and Christians alike  - and continues to influence us - right up to the present day.

It's not just the simple act of translating words, concepts and ideas; even the very rhythm, rhyme and resonance of the original Hebrew can affect the way it is understood. Ironically, when translators inserted punctuation where there was very little in the original Hebrew, yet another layer of obscurity was added to the sacred text rather than serving to enhance or enlighten the reader or the auditor. Translation does not convey the cultural or historical detail and understanding of those reading in their native language, and she does her best to give us an insight into how much difference this really does make.

From the Creation to laughter, from the books of the Law to the songs of the Psalms, from travel across Germany to the deepest meanings of scheduled Torah portions, from her family history to education, from her beloved Jewish heritage to her respectful fascination with how Christians view the Bible, this is a book which I found utterly absorbing, from the very first page right through to the last.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Signs of Lancaster County

Signs of Lancaster County
A Photographic Tour of Amish Country
By Tana Reiff
Schiffer Publishing Ltd, June 2015

A slender volume, but filled with so many delightful photos! 
Tana Reiff has photographed just about every type of sign you can imagine: historic plaques, street signs, traffic signs, schoolhouse and church signs, warning signs, signs advertising shops, businesses, food, quilts and farm produce, signs which have been hand-printed, hand-painted, stencilled, commercially produced - all as varied as the people, whether Englisch or Amish, who live and work in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Complete Francis Of Assisi

The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, The Complete Writings, and The Little Flowers
Edited, Translated, and Introduced by Jon M. Sweeney
Paraclete Press, August 2015

I vividly remember being enchanted by the stories of St Francis and his followers when I read "The Little Flowers of St Francis" by Brother Ugolino when I was in my early teens but I did not know of any modern biographies about Francis nor of any works written by him, or I would have read those too!

Book One contains the biography by the French Protestant minister Paul Sabatier, originally published in 1894 and edited and annotated by Jon Sweeney for the modern reader.
 The biography actually ended up on the RC church's prohibited book list (the Index Librorum Prohibitorum) the same year it was published, but that did not stop the book being translated into many different languages and becoming a serious bestseller. It is relatively short but crammed full of interest - Sabatier sees Francis as an early forerunner of the Protestant reformers in his zeal for change, and his very real affection for Francis is tempered with a slight scepticism of some of the traditional stories about the Saint. Sweeney's annotations in the sidebars of the text are extremely interesting and helpful.

Book Two contains the essential writings of the Saint, prayers and canticles, monastic rules - including a rule for Third Order lay members -  and a number of letters including one to Brother Anthony of Padua, who became a canonised saint himself.

Book Three contains Sweeney's careful rendering into modern English of the text of  "The Little Flowers Of St Francis", along with an introduction and annotations. It has been re-ordered into a  chronological form and is immensely readable.

Jon Sweeney has produced a great resource by bringing all this together in one substantial volume, which will be of interest to a large audience. There is a good bibliography and suggestions for further reading, and the whole book has been carefully indexed with an excellent table of contents for each of the three parts. This is a superb book which will be eagerly read by all  who venerate St Francis of Assisi.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reading For Fun, Part Two!

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.
Published by Fourth Estate, 2015 in paperback.

Fed up of maintaining a pretense about having read books he had not, and wistful about books he wished he had read, Andy Miller set out to create a List Of Betterment and made a determined effort to carve out time in his busy life to read all  fifty of them.
 Each of the books is discussed at some length, whether or not it had lived up to the hype, been worth reading, been an enjoyable read and so forth. I found it endlessly entertaining and the inclusion of his "Lists" (he ended up with three) has given me lots more books I'd like to tackle at some point as I have only read 10 out of the 50 on the original List Of Betterment.

How on earth can you fail to enjoy a book which analyses "The Tiger Who Came To Tea" in the same way as it does "War And Peace" ?  Enormous fun.

The Science Of Harry Potter by Dr Roger Highfield.

This is a charity shop find, published in 2003 by Penguin Books, so  somewhat outdated as far as the science goes, but still a really interesting read about how much of the magic described in the Harry Potter books can actually be rationalised, explained  and even replicated by science.

I do hope an updated version will eventually be published as science has marched on considerably since 2003.

Lost And Found In Prague by Kelly Jones, published by Berkley Books, 2015

I found this by chance when browsing on Amazon and thought it looked worth reading.  The mysterious death of an elderly nun in the church of Our Lady of Victories in Prague - which is home to the miracle-working statue of the Holy Infant of Prague - brings a reporter, a police investigator, a current nun at the Carmelite Convent and an influential Catholic cleric together in an attempt to solve the puzzle of the nun's death. 

It seems unlikely at first glance that  the death of the elderly and infirm Sister Claire might be linked to the apparently random deaths of several other people in the Czech Republic, but it turns out that the echoes of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 still manage to have repercussions to this very day...

Atmospheric and surprisingly captivating, though I did find the repetitious use of the phrase "religious icon" irritating beyond belief by the end of the book ;-)

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Reading For Fun

A significant portion of my reading is done for review purposes, but I have also been doing a lot of reading purely for fun over the last few weeks. 

Just in case you are wondering what I have been enjoying, these are all highly recommended :-)

The Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. The staff at St Mary's Institute for Historical research are historians, researchers and scientists and support staff devoted to investigating historical events. It should be made perfectly clear from the outset that they do not do ‘time-travel’. 
Indeed not. They merely ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’.  So, top secret, high-tech time travel it is.....

 The series starts with Just One Damned Thing After Another, in which we meet Max and watch her exploring Norman London, World War One, get to grips with dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period and rescue books from the fire which engulfs the Great Library of Alexandria.

Book Two, A Symphony Of Echoes, sees the team have a perilously close shave with utter annihilation when they meet Jack The Ripper, witness the brutal murder of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, make the acquaintance of dodos and discover there are time-travelling enemies hell-bent on destroying the work of St Mary's.

Book Three, A Second Chance, investigates whether Isaac Newton was as clever as he was cracked up to be, a jump back to the Cretaceous period once more, the Battle of Agincourt and the only marginally less violent cheese rolling competition in Gloucester before Max's life changes forever when her long awaited trip to Troy goes horrifyingly wrong....

I absolutely loved these books - very clever, brilliantly complex plots and believable characters. I have three more to read :-D
 I haven't included the covers as the books are being re-issued this summer with brand new covers; for further information see Jodi's booksite.

The Spider Shepherd series by Steven Leather

Starting with Hard Landing, in which we meet Dan 'Spider' Shepherd, an ex-SAS soldier turned undercover cop, who goes on a perilous undercover mission inside a prison to find out just how a drugs baron is managing his empire while behind bars. 

When Spider's wife Sue is killed in a traffic accident, Dan is faced with being a single parent and an undercover cop - not an easy combination.

 The series is a long one, but so far I have completed Soft Target, Cold Kill, Hot Blood and Dead Men, and thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.
 Nail-biting, gripping the edge of your seat thriller/detective books, and my current bedtime reading!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Gift

The Gift

By Wanda Brunstetter

Published by Shiloh Run Press, August 1st, 2015

This is the second book in the "Prairie State Friends" series and this time, we learn more about Leah Mast and her talent for treating others using reflexology. Many sing her praises, but not her neighbour, Adam Beachy. He despises reflexology and takes every opportunity to belittle it and makes Leah feel uncomfortable as a result, especially as she cannot see why he should feel that way.
Leah decides it is best to have as little to do with Adam as possible, but their paths are forced to cross in a dramatic way when Adam's twin sister and her husband are killed in an accident, leaving Adam as the guardian to their three daughters.

Totally out of his depth - and comfort zone - in dealing with the children, who are shocked, traumatised and grieving for the loss of their parents, he ends up asking Leah to help care for the girls so he can continue to work in his hardware store. Seeing each other so often makes their initial attraction slowly develop into more romantic feelings, though neither will acknowledge or admit this openly. The girls become increasingly fond of Leah, and eventually Adam wonders if the best thing for them would be if he asked Leah to embark on a marriage of convenience with him.

When Leah meets a nurse who has just moved to the town and they start a tentative friendship, it turns out there are lots of skeletons in closets. Slowly, the reason for Adam's distaste for reflexology becomes apparent when Leah finds that the reason Adam's mother left her family and the Amish faith was to pursue a career in nursing after using reflexology in her community...

There are lots of twists and turns in the plot of this fast moving book, some of which I anticipated and others I certainly did not. The role of the hummingbirds is simply lovely, the information about banding the birds was fascinating indeed and both Adam and Leah share a great love of nature.  The Amish in this area are depicted as rather more progressive than in other stories, allowing the use of bicycles and we see much less use of  dialect. Leah's parents are often referred to as Mom and Dad as opposed to Mam and Datt, and her parents are very determined that Adam allow Leah to continue her reflexology work after she marries, despite Adam's initially vehement objections.

I found this an interesting read, but don't think it is as good as the first book in the series, "The Decision". It does not seem as neatly crafted as her other books, with quite a lot of repetition of phrases.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Epic Survival

Epic Survival: 
Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom, and Lessons in Living from a Modern Hunter-Gatherer

By Matt Graham and Josh Young

Published by Simon & Schuster, July 2015

We have watched Matt Graham on the Discovery Channel survival show "Dual Survival", so I was delighted to be offered the chance to read and review this title as an e-book. His feats of endurance  are truly remarkable -  in only fifty eight days he ran the entire 1600 mile Pacific Crest Trail and has taken part - on foot!-  in  a three day horse race and finished third.

But what motivated this man to more or less leave the modern world behind in favour of living as close to nature - and as close as it is possible to live the lifestyle of ancient hunter-gatherers? Could anyone do it? What does Matt get from his unusual way of life?

A very real love of nature from childhood and a growing feeling that man is doing himself no favours by alienating himself from the natural world and living in a way that humans were not developed to cope with was the catalyst for changing his way of looking at the world. He made the decision not to drive a car for eight months and instead, he ran everywhere, building endurance and gaining a reputation for both speed and stamina in his running, as well as developing a remarkable way of "reading" the natural world around him in his work as a member of a Park Service search and rescue team. Gradually, he spent more and more time living a "wild" life, willingly learning from anyone who has skills to teach him and then seeking to pass these skills on to others.

The way Matt tells it, he feels that his alternative way of looking at the world which surrounds him is accessible to anyone who wants to live at peace and at one with nature. It is not really surprising that  his belief system changes from a basic and lacklustre exposure to Christianity to a form of spirituality more consistent with that of Native American Indians. As his whole lifestyle becomes more focused on living in harmony with Nature and being mindful of an animal needing to die in order to provide him with food, he learns to be wholly respectful of the animals he kills to sustain his own life and makes sure not to waste anything at all in honour of this sacrifice.

Matt does not feel lonely, but this is most likely not a way of life that would be sustainable to many people. Although I enjoyed the book and found it very interesting, I don't feel the urge to follow his example but will continue to admire his exploits and convictions.
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Monday, July 13, 2015

Ghost Flight

Ghost  Flight

By Bear Grylls

Published by Orion Books, June 2015

I am only just managing to haul my jaw back up from the floor after finishing this book.

At the start of the story, Will Jaeger is a man whose life is on the line, being tortured in a prison in a small African state. He is rescued by Raff, an old friend and Army colleague and the two of them only just manage to escape alive.
It really is a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire, however, as when Jaeger finally returns to Britain he finds one of his colleagues - and a dear friend - has died in suspicious circumstances which smack of a cover-up. Why did Smithy have a mysterious symbol carved into him, which wasn't there before his death? Nobody has any answers until Will starts doing some serious research, which raises even more questions than it answers.

To say Jaeger has a troubled past is an understatement, and when a dream of a job opportunity is proposed to him, involving danger, excitement and the chance to make a mind-blowing historical discovery as well as a hefty amount of money, he takes it with both hands, but what starts out as an adventure rapidly becomes a desperate fight for survival in an inhospitable South American jungle, with a very mixed team of people.

Who can he trust, if anyone? What is the secret behind the enormous German plane hidden in the rainforest? Who is determined to stop his expedition in its tracks? And why is everything seemingly bound up with the exploits of his grandfather in a top secret Unit during the Second World War?

A coup in Africa. A miraculous escape. A mysterious family death and the abduction of his wife and son, several years previously. An Amazonian tribe with blowpipes living in  a forest with deadly giant predatory spiders. Double agents, Tracking devices, codes and espionage, hallucinogenic drugs, tribal bonding rituals. Add in crocodiles, piranhas and a Nazi plane whose cargo has killed the forest around it, and it seems as though it would end up as slapstick, but it works -  and it works very well indeed. I did anticipate part of what might happen, but there were lots of fascinating twists and turns in the plot, many of which left me glued to the pages.

This is Bear Grylls' first novel, and he has made a very impressive start. I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens to Will Jaeger next!

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Hardest Thing To Do

The Hardest Thing To Do

The Hawk & The Dove series, vol 4

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Lion Fiction, 2015

It is Lent at St Alcuin's Abbey. Always a time of extra prayer and rigorous fasting,  this year's Lent also sees the monks anticipating the return of their much loved Infirmarian to be their elected Abbot. After a year away studying at Cambridge and being ordained priest, Father John is finally on his way home to Yorkshire when he hears about a mysterious fire which has destroyed St Dunstan's Abbey and killed many of the monks. To his great surprise, he meets one of the surviving monks, outcast and avoided, injured and begging for food. John, being John, immediately and willingly provides what food and treatment he can to help before continuing on his way home to take up his responsibilities.

John finds that adapting to his new position at the Abbey is difficult at best, stressful at worst, and soon he is faced with a situation which puts him at odds not only with his helpful attendant, Brother Tom,  but even with most of the monastic brethren when one of the dispossessed monks from St Dunstan's arrives, injured and seeking succour. It is none other than Tom's archenemy, Prior William, who had publicly tormented and mercilessly humiliated Abbot Peregrine in the past. William has now been brought low by circumstances but certainly not lowered his self-esteem, pride and arrogance; he has a quite remarkable ability to cause dissent, squabbling, unease and bad feeling wherever he goes, like a rivulet of poison tainting a well of fresh water.

The tranquil and loving atmosphere of the Abbey is quickly shattered by his arrival. Brother is set against brother when John has to determine whether or not Prior William should be admitted to St Alcuin's or sent on his way to fend for himself and face an uncertain future. William could destroy the peace of the community- or the community could reach out to William and help to heal him.

Just how far can  and should forgiveness extend when there is little sign of repentance?  How much can or should be risked or sacrificed by a community for the sake of one monk? Is any soul beyond hope of saving? The situation is a major test of John's leadership ability, and the wisdom and compassion of both the Gospel of Christ and the Rule of St Benedict prove to be sure and certain guides to the difficult decisions John must make...

Yet another stunning and thought-provoking installment in this remarkable series by Penelope Wilcock, and an absolute joy to read.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Discovering Tuberculosis

Discovering Tuberculosis

A Global History 1900 To The Present

By Christian W. McMillen

Published by Yale University Press, June 2015

The discovery and widespread use of antibiotics and the use of the BCG vaccination programmes in the twentieth century initially promised to wipe out tuberculosis globally, yet failed to do so. We are now in the invidious position of tuberculosis staging a huge resurgence across the world, resistant to most antibiotics.

What on earth went wrong and how have we ended up in this potentially devastating situation?

McMillen, a historian, looks at the theories behind the susceptibility of races and transmission of the disease in the 1900s, at the discovery and use of antibiotics to  treat this once-dreaded disease and the problems of using allegedly "expert" opinions to form  policies which were largely based on economics rather than sound medicine and statistical evidence. The implementation of vaccination programmes across the world could in theory have enabled the disease to have been very greatly diminished or even eradicated from large parts of the world in the way polio has been, but this was not the case, with success rates in BCG vaccination trials ranging from  80%  all the way down to a staggering 0%. This illness does not have a "one size fits all" treatment profile and the in-depth study McMillen provides of three areas - Native American reservation populations, Kenya and India - demonstrates this clearly, with concerns about antibiotic resistance actually being expressed as far back as the 1950s.

We face the widespread rise of tuberculosis and a desperate struggle to somehow rein in the disease once again. There really is no room for complacency when dealing with this bacterium, which now kills more people per annum than at any time in recorded history. It is a master of disguise, allowing sufferers to appear healthy for long periods of time, yet many people in the developed nations of the world regard it as an historical disease or restricted to the poorest parts of the world - a dangerous fallacy indeed.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Stained Glass From Welsh Churches

Stained Glass From Welsh Churches

By Martin Crampin

Published by Y Lolfa, 2014

This is an absolutely joy of a book, perfect for anyone who enjoys looking at churches in general or more specifically at stained glass windows in particular. It is the culmination of many years of research and dedicated church visiting and photography by Martin Crampin, and the fruits of his labours can be seen in the almost 800 colour photographs which lavishly illustrate this large and heavy hard-backed book.

The best and most notable extant stained glass windows from the Middle Ages right up to the present day are shown, from the smallest, most humble churches right up to spectacular large churches and cathedrals. Church windows from hamlets and towns, villages and cities are all well covered both in the text and the illustrations, and I particularly liked the the thematic nature of each chapter, making it easy to find representative windows from each time period/artistic movement. The very informative introduction describes the technicalities of creating stained glass and mentions the "Imaging The Bible In Wales" project (which is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to find stained glass by artist, church or place, and can be searched at http://imagingthebible.llgc.org.uk/ ) which inspired Martin Crampin to produce this volume.

I don't wish to impinge upon any copyrights, so I am including a link which shows page spreads from the book so you can judge for yourselves how stunning a book this actually is.

The only way I can see that this volume could ever be improved upon would be the inclusion of maps and Ordinance Survey map references/GPS locations for what can often be very difficult to find rural churches. With a book whose scope is as huge as this, there will inevitably be some amendments and corrections, and there is a regularly updated document file which can be downloaded here to keep the book as correct as possible.

At only £29.95, this is an absolute steal of a book and well worth every single penny; I have spent many delighted hours poring over it and will no doubt spend many, many more too, as well as toting the book around with me to various churches to visit the windows illustrated so beautifully :-)

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

The C-Word

The C-Word:
Just Your Average 28 Year Old....Friends, Family, Facebook, Cancer
By Lisa Lynch
Published by Arrow Books, 2010 and also 23rd April  2015

Admin note: this book has since been re-issued with a new cover and updated to reflect later events, so I would *strongly* recommend getting the newer edition.

This book made me giggle, and also just about broke my heart.
Lisa Lynch has everything going for her, it seems - bubbly, funny, clever, in a dream publishing job, happily married and hoping to start a family. In her late twenties, busily living her life to the full, she and her husband discover a lump in her left breast. With no family history of cancer and her young age, everyone - including her GP - was naturally convinced it must just be a cyst. But it wasn't, and so began Lisa's experience of invasive  breast cancer.

It sounds a grim topic, and the feelings and treatments she undergoes are certainly distressing, traumatic and extremely sobering, but the book is remarkably uplifting, filled with love, laughter, friendship, relationships and family, underpinned throughout with dark humour as she nicknames her disease "Bullshit". The blog Lisa began to chronicle her thoughts, feelings and experience of breast cancer, called "Alright Tit", is very well worth visiting.  I had read about a third of the book, was avidly cheering her on and wondered what had subsequently happened in her life. I almost wish I hadn't, as after a quick Google search, I discovered that her cancer had returned with a vengeance a few years later  :-(

Lisa's story has, I subsequently discovered, been made into a BBC TV  drama which met with much acclaim, and is a tribute to a remarkable young woman, her husband, family and friends.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blue Skies And Black Olives

Blue Skies & Black Olives:

A survivor's tale of housebuilding and peacock chasing in Greece

By John Humphrys & Christopher Humphrys

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2009

This was a serendipitous find in a charity shop recently. I'm always a sucker for books about Brits who end up in Mediterranean countries.

John Humphrys is well-known to many Brits as a reporting journalist, newsreader, presenter and Radio 4 broadcaster. His son, Christopher, is a musician who auditioned for a post in a Greek orchestra and ended up making his home in Athens and marrying a nice Greek girl.

John has had many madcap ideas, including an unsuccessful stint as a dairy farmer in Wales, and buying a derelict house in a remote yet stunning part of mainland Greece was to prove the most madcap of them all. Absolutely nothing is straightforward, nothing goes according to plan and the positively Byzantine level of intrigue, bribery and threats needed to get even the simplest task done is hilarious to read about but most definitely would not be fun to have to endure. Chris deals with the flak both from the workmen he has to deal with and from an increasingly irate father who provides the funds to deal with unexpected problems while spending long periods away in Britain.

Yes, there are olives and olive trees - but not their olive trees even if on their land. There is a renegade peacock who adopts them, blue skies and blue seas galore. There are also broken-hearted neighbours, illegal Albanian workers, Greek bureaucrats, rats and planning laws to contend with...

Alternating between sections written by John then Chris, giving both sides of the story behind their Greek adventure and giving much insight into their relationship, this book had me laughing out loud in places. An enjoyable read.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Shepherd's Life

The Shepherd's Life

A Tale of the Lake District

By James Rebanks

Published by Allen Lane, April 2015

I first heard about James Rebanks via his Twitter handle, @herdyshepherd1, and greatly admired the gorgeous photos he takes of his beloved sheep and the Lake District where he farms.  Anyone looking to find lots of glossy photos in this book might well be disappointed by the relatively small number of black and white photos, but the book itself is quite remarkable.

James Rebanks struggled at school and was glad to leave with a mere scraping of qualifications. A very bright lad and a typical teenager, he was glad to be working on his family's farm in the wild yet lovely, tranquil yet sometimes brutal Lake District of England. After several run-ins with his father and a brilliant episode where he wrote an essay for his clever sister and it got more marks than she normally achieved, he decided to see if he could do this academic stuff for himself. Enrolling at evening classes, it was quickly apparent that yes, he certainly could do this academic stuff quite easily and he ended up being accepted to study at Oxford, all the while coming back home to help with the sheep.

After graduating, he returned home to the Lake District to throw himself into sheep farming, but being pragmatic, found other, more well-paying jobs which he could fit in around his farm tasks and hours to help support himself. His relationship with the land, his family, his beloved sheep, his friends and fellow shepherds and farmers as well as the visitors and tourists who flock in turn to the area are all described, examined and analysed as he takes the reader through a typical year on his farm and weaves into it stories from his childhood, his family's history over hundreds of years in the Lakes, memorable people and events and so much more.

Just how much his farming means to him cannot be under-estimated and the horrors of the  Foot and Mouth outbreak which ravaged the area  and his own family farm in 2001 are mercifully skipped over  quite quickly. The loss of sixty years of dedicated care and work by his family to build up a stunning breeding herd in a matter of days is a grief too deep to be laid bare for public consumption for very long.

A tough, gritty, touching and enlightening book about families, relationships, the countryside, farming and most of all, sheep.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Welcome To The Orthodox Church

Welcome To The Orthodox Church:

An Introduction to Eastern Christianity

By Frederica Mathewes-Green

Published in the US by Paraclete Press, May 13th 2015

Publication date for the UK: Jan 1st, 2016

I really liked this book very much indeed. Instead of starting off with basic theological concepts which can still  be really overwhelming to the average reader as well as pretty hard-going, the book starts with describing a fictitious but very typical Orthodox church which is dedicated to St Felicity.

From the first moment of entering the lobby- or Narthex - of an Orthodox church, it will be very unlike most other churches. Icons, sandboxes, beeswax taper candles, books in English and often Church Slavonic or Greek too! make a confusing visual introduction, which is carefully explained, introducing the Sign of the Cross, veneration of icons and prayer before entering the main part of the Church, in a quiet moment when it is empty, to explore further.

We find out how and why Orthodox churches are built the way they are, look at the visually striking iconostasis, examine the lovely icons and learn about the life of St Felicity the Martyr amongst many other things. Everything is explained in a lively, conversational and reassuring manner, gently and gradually leading deeper and deeper into the mystery that is Eastern Orthodoxy.

Eventually we get to visit the Church when there are services in full swing and meet Orthodox liturgy in action, which requires even more detailed explanation of concepts mentioned earlier, especially through the Hymnody of the Vigils and Liturgy where incredibly complex and profound theology can be packed into a a hymn only a few lines long - but the study of which could occupy a lifetime of prayer and meditation.

Finally, in the last section of the book, we learn about living the Orthodox life  through events such as house blessings, the Sacraments, life events including death and and burial, fasting customs and prayer.

What had seemed impossibly complicated at the beginning of the book seems logical and workable by the end, and has been an enjoyable and informative read throughout. Deceptively simple but remarkably thorough, this is an excellent introductory book about Orthodoxy.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

A Bookshop Of Wonders And Delights

I recently went with my daughter to one of the Bath Universities' (yes, there are two!) Open Days, and as luck and good planning would have it, we had time for a nice wander through the streets of a very busy Bath.

The best part of our day, without any shadow of a doubt, was discovering this amazingly wonderful independent bookshop; needless to say, we emerged with four books. If funds and our weary arms would have allowed, we would have brought home many, many more books....

                                  Welcome to "Mr B's Emporium Of Reading Delights"!

A very nice selection indeed of children's and Young Adult books,
 nicely laid out.....

Always plenty of places to sit and read, 
and some wonderfully quirky plays on words!

We saw several people having fun 
with the magnetic letters :-)

Not only one floor of books - there is a tantalising 
sign showing the way upstairs!

And on the way up, oodles of Tintin comic strips!

Hints, suggestions, laminated sheaves of book reviews
to give you ideas of what you  might enjoy reading next.

Comfortable chairs and complimentary tea and coffee
to make your browsing experience even more enjoyable.


The walk downstairs holds poetry galore.
Downstairs itself holds history, politics, religion, 
philosophy, current affairs, economics, 
health, psychology and more delights.

And a fun ceiling, which I only noticed when 
Dear Daughter pointed it out to me. 
I blame that on the fact that I am waiting for my new 
glasses to be delivered to the Optician's next week!

Friendly, welcoming, helpful and extremely
 knowledgeable staff made this the perfect bookshop experience. 
They were very happy to allow me to take 
these photographs of their super shop.

Do go and visit them at 
14/15 John Street, Bath BA1  2JL 
if you get the chance - you won't regret it!

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Been Busy....

Just in case you have been wondering why I have been so quiet over the last few weeks, we now have a cat :-)

I am in the process of reading several books which will be reviewed soon, I promise!
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hutterite Diaries

Hutterite Diaries

Wisdom From My Prairie Community

By Linda Maendel

Published May 18th 2015 by Herald Press

If you mention the word Anabaptist to most people, they will generally say "Amish". Few will say "Mennonite" and fewer still will say "Hutterite", which is a shame as the Hutterite philosophy and culture is absolutely fascinating.

The Hutterites believe in living communally in a Biblical fashion, eating together, working together, praying together and holding many things in common. No-one is rich or poor; everyone works, depending on their skills, aptitudes and ultimately the needs of their particular community. They  take the concept of Christian living and caring for each other very seriously indeed. The community farms, rises livestock and makes wooden items for individuals and businesses; they are happy to use modern technology when beneficial to them, but still keep to their traditional dress and the women wear headcoverings.

Linda Maendel is a school teacher at her Elm River colony near Oakville, Manitoba, Canada, and this is  a vivid and entrancing depiction of life there. It is often very hard work, but the blessings and happiness shine through in each and every vignette, illustrating aspects of the philosophy, customs, religious beliefs and organisation of her particular colony and an introduction to the history of the Hutterite movement in general. The chapter about Hutterites who were enslaved is particularly intriguing!

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Real Lives Of Roman Britain

The Real Lives Of Roman Britain

By Guy De La Bedoyere

Published by Yale University Press (London)

May 15th, 2015

The author is at great pains to point out that this is not yet another history textbook about the 360 years of Roman occupation in Britain. Instead, it is a book which talks about what we know about the people who lived and worked, prayed and fought in Britannia when Roman rule held sway and influence.

This knowledge comes from artefacts, buildings, archaeological excavations and inscriptions, ranging from brief fragments which tantalise to rather more extensive information, and I was really surprised to find that Britannia was a real cultural and racial crossroads, a melting pot of people from all over the Roman Empire - the idea of only modern-day Britain being a cosmopolitan place is wholly erroneous! It is, however, important to bear in mind that the cultural and racial identity of native Britons was largely determined by the tribe or clan to which they belonged and the idea of being a Briton  as we understand it now would have been quite alien to them.

The illustrations at the beginning of the book are extremely interesting, depicting  examples of pepper pots, gold buckles, wall paintings, mosaics, coins, altars, clay pots, tombstones and statues. Each has a story to tell and a point to make, and the workmanship of native craftsmen is lovely indeed. From the initial contact between Rome and Britain with Caesar's invasion, frontier life, Roman London, death and dying, religious beliefs and practices, this book answered many questions I had about everyday life under Roman occupation, and anyone interested in Roman Britain would definitely find this an enjoyable and enlightening read.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Thomas The Tank Engine Man

The Thomas The Tank Engine Man:

The Life Of Reverend W. Awdry

By Brian Sibley

Published by Lion Books, 15 May 2015

My daughters grew up with Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends; I read the books to them till they were old enough to read the stories themselves and played endless games of trains with them when they were small. Every train trip was a delight to us all, even though our trains weren't pulled by steam engines, I am sad to say!

 I am thrilled and delighted to have been able to read and review this book about the life and work of the Reverend Wilbert Awdry who created the stories for the entertainment of his own son Christopher, when that young lad was confined to bed when ill with measles. Christopher's misfortune proved to be a blessing for countless children ever since. Wilbert Awdry had grown up in a family which loved trains and model train sets and he passed on this love to his own children, along with his precise, in-depth knowledge of railway workings, lore and minutiae.

 His wife felt that the stories he made up for Christopher (and he also had to write them down to make sure that he told them exactly the same every time, or Christopher would correct him!) were infinitely superior to the children's books she saw in the shops.  When published, they proved to be equally popular with many other children and their parents.  Most of the stories were based on events which had really happened, which made them even more convincing and enjoyable. The crafting of the stories and their eventual publication makes for fascinating reading indeed as his attention to detail was legendary and the stories of his polite battles with his publisher over the illustrations which inaccurately portrayed engines and rolling stock will come as no real surprise to the reader.

As an extremely busy parish priest and father to a growing family, he had little spare time to devote to writing, yet he did so, and spent a huge amount of time replying to the questions posed to him by his eager young readers and their parents throughout the rest of his life. His younger brother George  willingly acted as a sounding board to his mapping out of the fictional Island of Sodor, where the stories were set and soon they had produced a complete topography, geography and history of their own island. Family holidays revolved around railways, new ideas blossomed and soon Wilbert found that the writing of the stories acted as a tonic and a way of de-stressing from his parish work.

In 1950, some of the stories were translated and published in Welsh and eventually they would be translated into many other languages. By 1958, merchandise was also being produced, starting with a press- out model book, a map of the Island of Sodor, nursery wallpaper and even records of the Rev Awdry narrating some of the stories. By 1961, some two million books had been sold -  a remarkable achievement, although the royalties he received were actually very small - and eventually Wilbert Awdry decided the time had come to give up being a parish priest and devote himself to his long-suffering wife and to the necessary in-depth research which  his writing career  made necessary.  He continued to be an active priest, acting as a visiting priest to Gloucestershire parishes where the incumbent was on holiday or ill, and saw his writing as a specific ministry to children.

This is an absolute "Must Read" book for any "Thomas" fan; absorbing, engaging and altogether fascinating reading.
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