Friday, October 24, 2014

For Valour

For Valour

By Andy McNab

Published by Bantam Press, Oct 23rd 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

By Rachel Joyce

Published by Doubleday/Transworld

7th October, 2014

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Behind The Scenes At The Museum Of Baked Beans

Behind The Scenes At The Museum Of Baked Beans

By Hunter Davies

Published by Virgin Books, 2010

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

The American Catholic Almanac

The American Catholic Almanac

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

By Brian Burch & Emily Stimpson

Published by Crown Publishing, September 30th, 2014

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

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

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

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Saturday, September 20, 2014


Misdiagnosed: One Woman's Tour Of  - And Escape 

From - Healthcareland

By Jody Berger

Published by Sourcebooks Inc

23rd September 2014

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dark Actors

 Dark Actors

The Life and Death of Dr David Kelly

By Robert Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

I found it an absorbing read indeed.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Healing Quilt

The Healing Quilt

By Wanda E. Brunstetter

Published by Shiloh Run Press, August 1st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 08, 2014

The Feasts

The Feasts:

How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics

By Cardinal Donald Wuerl & Mike Aquilina

Published by Image, September 16th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 05, 2014

The New Indian Slow Cooker

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

By Neela Paniz

Published by Ten Speed Press,
September 2nd, 2014

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

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

A lovely book.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Working Stiff

Working Stiff

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

Published by Scribner, August 12th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Only Remembered

Only Remembered

Edited by Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by Ian Beck

Published by Jonathan Cape, July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Tino and the Pomodori

Tino and the Pomodori

By Tonya Russo Hamilton

Published by Gemelli Press, June 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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The Knowledgeable Knitter

The Knowledgeable Knitter:

Understand the Inner Workings of Knitting and

Make Every Project a Success

By Margaret Radcliffe

Published by Storey Publishing, August 6th, 2014

This is a veritable knitting encyclopaedia!  No matter what you want or need to know, the answer is very likely to be found in this book.

 I am only an average knitter and I learned an enormous amount by reading this book, often something brand new to me on almost every page. I had never heard of Channel Island casting on, for instance, which produces a lovely stylized edging, and I am itching to try this out the next time I make a garment.

From the basics of picking a pattern, yarn and needles, changing stitch patterns and borders, knitting from the top of a garment down rather than the more traditional bottom up to top, right through to converting flat knitting to knitting in the round (and vice versa) as well as making up garments and caring for them, this is a treasure trove of a book. Margaret Radcliffe has also provided an extensive and comprehensive section on identifying and fixing mistakes, which is something every knitter has to do at one time or another, and in my case, fairly often :-)

The introduction quite rightly states that knowledge is power; armed and equipped with the reams of information, hints, techniques and troubleshooting contained in this book, you will be able to understand, adapt, create and transform knitting patterns to produce items which are exactly the way you envision them and want them to be, rather than having to follow other people's patterns slavishly because you lack the confidence or expertise to adapt them successfully.

Definitely a keeper!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Brief History Of Chocolate

A Brief History Of Chocolate

By Steve Berry & Phil Norman

Published by The Friday Project/Harper Collins UK

April 10th, 2014

This is actually an extract from a much bigger book, The Great British Tuck Shop, but it stands alone very well. Exactly as it says on the cover, it provides a brief history of chocolate primarily from a British perspective. 

From the early triumphs and disasters of commercial chocolate making, to the days of intense competition between the major players of Cadbury, Mars, Rowntree, Nestle, Terry  and Fry, this gorgeous little book is profusely illustrated with pictures of iconic chocolate bars and advertising campaigns. 

 Virtually every page saw me ooh-ing and ah-ing  as I saw long-forgotten favourites like Tiffin and Grand Seville bars, themed bars with collectible wrappers such as the Doctor Who bars, The Wombles bars and Mr Men bars, to the innovative tea-time treats such as Club biscuits, Kit-Kats and Wagon Wheels. 

The book also covers boxes of chocolates and tins: Black Magic, Dairy Milk,  All Gold, and Week End (which was one of my great loves!), Roses and Quality Street - before  delving into the heady realms of Easter eggs and the sophisticated chocolates such as After Eights, Matchmakers, Mint Crisp and Famous Names liqueur chocolates.

The book ended all too soon for my liking, and it would have been nice if it had been written to include more recent brands as well, but a thoroughly enjoyable little book nonetheless.

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The New Science Of Physical Intelligence

By Thalma Lobel

Published by Atria Books, 29 April 2014

Why people do the things they do is always interesting. Psychologists are constantly discovering new things, but comparatively few of them filter down to the general populace, most remaining the preserve of those who read learned journals.

This book goes way beyond fascinating and delves into the realms of the truly amazing, citing and clearly explaining the studies which show that our physical sensations at any given time - colour, scent, sound, lighting, temperature, weight, light and darkness - all have a role to play in determining our actions and judgments, whether we have any inking of it or not.

 Why are people more like to cheat at tests or be deceitful in a dimly lit room compared to when in a brightly lit room? Why can wearing sunglasses adversely affect our moral behaviour?  Why are people wearing dark coloured uniforms perceived as more harsh and aggressive than those wearing white uniforms? How can major elections be influenced depending on the clothes and colours candidates wear? Why does holding a warm or hot drink make you perceive those around you as nice, kind and trustworthy people?

Some truly remarkable results have been obtained from psychological studies over the decades, and in this absorbing book, Dr Lobel gives clear explanations of the likely causes and shows that the way we behave can be profoundly affected by things to which we may not ever have previously given any consideration at all. Definitely a keeper!

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Moor

The Moor:

Lives Landscape Literature

By William Atkins

Published by Faber & Faber, May 2014

There are some truly memorable books which feature moors, but why are moors so fascinating, so mysterious and so haunting? What actually *is* a moor?

 William Atkins has been intrigued by moors since he wrote an investigative study about his local moor and the impact local industry and activity was having on it, when he was studying for his GCSE exams. It was only much later as an adult that he discovered what they called their moor was not in fact one at all, but rather a fen - moors receive moisture via rainfall as opposed to fens receiving water via underground springs.

Nothing daunted, he has continued to investigate the phenomenon of moors and their influence on our culture and our psyche. The Sherlock Holmes story of "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" was based around Foxtor Mire and the infamous Dartmoor prison was actually home to French and assorted Napoloeonic allied prisoners in 1808 and to American soldiers from the war of 1812/3.

Many authors and poets have lived, worked and loved the moors include Henry Williamson, the author of "Tarka The Otter", the poet Ted Hughes and his wife Sylvia Plath, as well as the Bronte sisters who lived and wrote on the Haworth moors.

True moors can only occur at high altitude and Atkins  describes the topography, history, literature, customs and notable figures of these areas, including unsolved crimes and how historians, geographers and travellers have viewed moors over the years. We learn of farms in Exmoor which experience heavy rainfall every day from early May through to September with all the difficulties and near tragedies that brings, to the ecological preservation now in place to support those who farm these remote areas as well as the remarkable story of the restoration of Buckfast Abbey and its world famous apiaries.

 From grouse moors and their gamekeepers, tragic floods, Ministry of Defence radomes, artillery ranges (Otterburn), child murders (Saddleworth) and bird-watching (North Yorks Moors), this is a great book which springs surprises on nearly every page.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014


My family will recognise this as an accurate depiction
 of me when anywhere near a bookshop.....
Real Life has been in the way rather a lot 
over the last few weeks, but I am back on my reading schedule again
 and reviews will be posted by the weekend.
Unless I am sidetracked by more bookshops, of course ;-)

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Monday, June 30, 2014

A Mother's Secret

A Mother's Secret

(Book 2 in the Hearts Of The Lancaster Grand Hotel series)

By Amy Clipston

Published by Zondervan, June 3rd, 2014

Carolyn Lapp is a young single Amish mother; her overbearing brother still looks on her as an embarrassment and shame to their extended family and her son Benjamin is a vulnerable teenager being bullied  and set up by his cousins.

When Benjamin seems to get into trouble with a lonely Amish horse breeder named Joshua and has to spend time working for him as recompense, his employer and his mother are thrown into close proximity and all Amos Lapp's plans to find a suitable older widower to agree to a marriage of convenience with his sister seem to go sadly awry, as do those of Joshua's interfering mother Barbie, who is desperate to see Joshua safely married to a girl of her choosing.

 As is to be expected, we run into characters from the first book in the series and find that Hannah, her son and one of her twin daughters are all adjusting well to their new life in the Englisch world - but will she ever be able to salvage her relationship with her one daughter who chose to remain Amish and live with her Amish grandparents?

This is an unusual tale and the feisty and fiery Carolyn certainly is not your typical Amish main character.  The ending was a little predictable and I did wonder how likely it would be that the formidable Amos and Barbie would so meekly turn tail when confronted by Carolyn and Joshua respectively, but it was still a very enjoyable read, with hints of interesting possible plot twists for book 3 in the series!

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Angels And Saints

Angels and Saints

By Scott Hahn

Published by Image, May 27th, 2014

This is a relatively short book, weighing in at 127 pages in the digital ebook edition I reviewed. It starts with the biblical basis of and references to Jewish sanctity and holiness in the Old Testament and the development of the New Testament concepts of the community of saints, growth in holiness and the call of every baptised Christian to strive for sanctity.

How and why saints now in the Church Triumphant in heaven can and do help those in the Church Militant still on earth, the uses and veneration of relics and the special role of the angels are also examined, before Dr Hahn goes on to describe (albeit fairly briefly) the lives of some of his favourites.

This is a book which will appeal to many Christians who want to know the whys and wherefores of why the Church has saints and how they should be appreciated; although written from a Roman Catholic point of view, only four of the twelve saints are post-Schism which means that Orthodox Christians may also find this of some interest and there is a useful little bibliography of other books the reader may find useful.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cataloging The World

Cataloging the World:

Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age

By Alex Wright

Published by Oxford University Press, June 2014

We are all used to using the internet and indeed for taking it for granted, so much so that sometimes we fail to remember what an amazing and extraordinary resource it is, and to which we have more or less free and untrammelled access.

Yet long before even the first microchip was thought of, there was Paul Otlet - a visionary genius who had the idea (and the intellectual capacity  to carry it out) of a plan to catalogue the entire knowledge of the world and make it easily accessible and widely disseminated.  His ideas, of course, were not for digital distribution of knowledge as we know it, but nonetheless, his idea was truly revolutionary. He saw a future where a simple library catalogue index card would lead to books and journals being published in microform and ultimately to the creation of an analog spider's web of information, where users would access special workstations with viewing screens which would then be connected to a central repository, allowing users to "call up" information on whatever topic interested them.

From the beginning of recorded history and more especially after the advent of the printing press, it had always been a challenge to catalogue, order and be able to find specific pieces of knowledge. As  increasingly large quantities of books were being published throughout the world, the problems became more acute and although  Dewey's famous library classification of books was a fine attempt to bring logic and order,  it had many failings. Topics which were of very  limited interest to the readers, writers and researchers of Dewey's age   were given short shrift and with the rapid advances in technology and science, soon there were to be many, many topics which Dewey had never envisaged.

  It needed a special person indeed to face such a challenge of catologuing the whole world and the exponential rise in published books, journals and documents, and that man was Paul Otlet.  He was convinced that knowledge went hand in hand with the potential for world co-operation and peace and saw his work as benefitting the whole world. He created a vast social network of personal friends, organisations and interested individuals and supporters who shared knowledge  and information freely. His creation of a Universal Bibliography and its associated museum displays, the product of almost fifty years of devoted work and housed at the Palais Mondial in Brussels, was ultimately to be dismantled by German troops in the pursuit of Hitler's dream of utilising the resources of Occupied Europe to create a Nazi university for the Third Reich.

Otlet's dreams had been dashed, and he was to die shortly after the liberation of Brussels in 1944, his work scattered and largely forgotten. It was not until the late 1960s when  a student named Boyd Rayward, who was working towards a doctorate in library science, unearthed references to Otlet and chose to use his work as the subject for his dissertation.  Searching through Brussels,  Rayward found the abandoned and deteriorating remains of Otlet's life's work and set about preserving  and recording as much as he could.

Alex Wright has done a superb  job of bringing Otlet's vision and achievements firmly back into the historical record and assessed his contribution to information technology in its broadest sense. A remarkable look at a truly amazing man.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sous Chef

Sous Chef: 24 Hours In The Kitchen

By Michael Gibney

Published by Canongate Books, April 2014.

Cooking programmes, even documentaries, tend to focus on only a few aspects of how a restaurant kitchen really works (or fails to work, in some shows!). I certainly could not tell you in detail what the duties of a sous chef would be, and over the years I have watched a variety of such programmes. When I started to read this particular book, I was prepared to be entertained and enlightened, and that certainly happened. After all, Gibney worked his way up from being a lowly dishwasher at the age of 16 and knows the restaurant industry through many years of first-hand experience.

The book opens with a detailed kitchen floor-plan and details of the restaurant kitchen Chain of Command, to set the scene for what follows. Chefs squirrel away their favourite supplies and samples from praying eyes and the eager mouths and fingers of their fellow-workers. The fact that baby powder and nappy rash ointment are also squirrelled away for emergencies, along with pain relief and burn ointment for the ever present hazard of burns was an unexpected but honest look at the downside of working in the food industry.

From clothing and shoes to the joys of perfectly balanced knife sets, to the difficulties of keeping food in the best possible condition, Gibney tells it like it really is. There are stresses and strains of working at top speed, with immense precision and under intense pressure to produce the very best food in the fastest possible time, all the while relying on your team of cooks and support staff to enable you to do what you love - cooking food for people who appreciate it as much as you do. The idiosyncratic quirks and tricks of the many individuals he describes made me smile, but what I did not expect was the absolute, poetic beauty and passion of so many of the descriptive passages. This is a man who loves, respects and enjoys experiencing everything about working with food. I never expected to be riveted by a description of filleting fish, but I was!

An absolute joy to read.

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

Under Magnolia

Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

by Frances Mayes

Published by Crown, April 2014

I credit Frances Mayes' wonderful book "Under The Tuscan Sun" with making me fall in love with Italy as it described Villa Bramasole, the Italian house she and her husband rescued and renovated.  In that book she regularly mentions snippets about her life growing up as a Southern girl; "Under Magnolia" is the fuller story of growing up in Georgia.

Fitzgerald, South Georgia, was a place where there was a  racial segregation and this coloured her early life; one of her staunchest allies in an often unhappy family was Willie Bell, who worked for her parents and cared for her. Her parents had a volatile relationship with each other and with Frances, who could be hit with a switch till she bled. Her father was shot, taking a bullet that was meant for her grandfather by a disgruntled employee, and this affected him profoundly, fuelling his subsequent outburst of anger; Frances vividly describes having to go to the same school as the executed shooter's daughter in their small community.

 Her father died comparatively young, after a long illness which cast a shadow on their family both at the time and afterwards; her feisty mother was most profoundly affected even though his death had been expected for a long time, and Frances' relationship with her changes quite dramatically as she becomes more and more independent of her mother. As her mother drowns her sorrows and financial worries in drink and searches for another husband, Frances devours books and music in equal measure as she finishes high school and looks forward to college days, where she eventually elopes and sets up life as a married woman.

She describes a completely different world from that of her adult academic career and her other home in Italy, that's for sure. From Southern names, food, clothes, the language, houses, the weather - everything is different, foreign, exotic even to this UK woman, and now I have a hankering to visit the South too....

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Knit Your Own Moustache

Knit Your Own Moustache:

Create 20 knit and crochet disguises

By Vicky Eames

Published by Pavilion Books, April 2014

My youngest daughter loves the current fashion for items decorated with moustaches and I initially asked to review this book thinking it would give me ideas on how to whip up a few very basic knitted moustaches for her to stick on folders etc. I did not expect to find that there was so much more in this excellent little book!

Full and easy instructions are given on how to create classic, handlebar and walrus moustaches, the Sven, the Dali and even a Groucho Marx disguise on a stick, complete with glasses,  a colourful Rasta hat, an eye patch, a loopy long sailor's beard, a knitted brown paper bag to put on your head and a blue rinse wig.

Whether you want to crochet your own bandit mask, knit your own animal ears, create a bald head type wig or look like Pippi Longstocking with pigtails, this book is priceless and will show you how :-)

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A Tale Dark And Grimm

A Tale Dark & Grimm

By Adam Gidwitz

Published by a variety of publishers depending on edition, from 2010 onwards.

The title alone should give you a clue what sort of book this is. It is not a cute and fluffy, heavily edited and sanitised version of fairy stories suitable for reading to little children....oh no, indeed NOT.
This is filled with acerbic asides and commentaries which sound exactly as if they had come out of the mouth of an intelligent and sassy kid, and had me chuckling from the very first page.

The first story is "Faithful Johannes", which tells us about the ugly but faithful servant Johannes, who had served the old king who was grandfather to Hansel and Gretel, and how the new king came to meet and marry his beautiful wife. This is essential scene-setting for the bloodthirsty adventures which will befall the intrepid Hansel and Gretel as they rampage through the kingdom and the pages of this brilliantly clever book, the first in a trilogy.

The author, Adam Gidwitz, is an experienced former teacher and it shows. From the length of the stories, the clever asides and their suitably appealingly gruesome  yet child-suitable content, this is a book older children will love reading themselves and which parents will enjoy reading out loud to slightly younger children who are made of stern stuff. It won't appeal or be suitable for all children, but mine would have loved this when they were younger. Ideal for children around ten years old.

There is an extensive website, complete with videos, here.

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