Friday, November 20, 2015

Adventures On The Queen Mary

Adventures On The Queen Mary:

Tales Of A Teenage Crew Member

By Dave Wooders with James Radford

Published by The Perfect Page, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Amish Noel

An Amish Noel

By Patricia Davids

Published by Love Inspired/Harlequin, Nov 17th 2015

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn

By Penelope Wilcock

published by Lion Fiction, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Monocled Mutineer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Chats With Cats

Chats With Cats

How To Read Your Cat's Mind

By Celia Haddon

Published by Endeavour Press, October 2015

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Amish Christmas Gift

An Amish Christmas Gift

Three Novellas

By Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid & Kelly Irvin

Published by Thomas Nelson, October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dirty Old London

Dirty Old London

The Victorian Fight Against Filth

By Lee Jackson

Published by Yale University Press, Oct 15th 2015

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

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

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

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Friday, October 16, 2015



By Terri Roberts with Jeanette Windle

Published by Bethany House, Oct 6th 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Death On The Prairie

Death On The Prairie

By Kathleen Ernst

Published by Midnight Ink,  Oct 8th 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

By Kathryn Aalto

Published by Timber Press, 7th October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

Once Upon a Christmas

Once Upon a Christmas

By Rosanne Croft, Linda Reinhardt and Sharon Bernash Smith

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

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

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

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Down And Out Today

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

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

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

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

Well worth reading.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Anna's Healing

Anna's Healing

By Vannetta Chapman

Published by Harvest House, October 1st 2015

Anna Schwartz has struggled to find her place within her own community and has moved to Cody's Creek, Oklahoma, to spend time with her Mammi, uncle and aunt.  While minding their family produce stall, she makes the acquaintance of a reporter named Chloe Roberts and the two women quickly strike up a lively and interesting friendship.

Jacob Graber is a wandering labourer, a hard worker, who never stays long anywhere. Chance and the harvest bring him to Anna's family's farm, and he is there on the fateful day when a tornado strikes and causes the accident which renders Anna paraplegic.

It is traumatic and life-changing for all of them, but just when things are starting to settle and everyone is adjusting to this new life, Anna is suddenly healed. Completely, utterly healed - yet life  does not return to normal but instead changes dramatically for all of them once again, to their surprise and dismay....

One of the things I like so much about Vannetta Chapman's characters is that they are memorable. Some writers of Amish fiction produce characters which are of a remarkable "sameness" and that certainly cannot be said about the people in this book, who are lively, loving and utterly memorable, especially Anna's beloved grandmother.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918  

By J.H.M.Staniforth, edited by Richard S. Grayson

Published in 2012 by Pen & Sword Military in association with the Imperial War Museums

I'm currently reading quite a few WW1 books to provide me with a fuller picture of the life of my great-grandfather during the Great War, and I was truly  delighted to find this book because 'Max' Staniforth also enlisted in the 6th Connaught Rangers and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he might have encountered my great-grandfather.
Max left his Oxford college to enlist as a private in 1914 and by the time he returned to civilian life in 1918, he had achieved the rank of Major in the 16th Irish Division. In the interim, he had endured hunger, cold, lice, scabies and war wounds; he had been shelled, shot at and gassed. He and his companions had crawled through decaying human body parts, watched men around them being machine-gunned, seen soldiers go mad and endured enormous privations in the service of King and Country. All of this he faithfully relates in his weekly letters home to his parents, in a calm, lucid and collected manner which gives an indication of why he rose through the ranks so quickly.

It paints a vivid picture of an almost unimaginable experience and this book has been my faithful vade-mecum for several weeks now. I have had to really resist the temptation to race through it, mainly because it is one of those exceptionally rare non-fiction triumphs, a book which you enjoy so much that you really cannot bear to reach the last page. Despite the subject matter, it is not a depressing book; Max Staniforth manages to relate plenty of tales of humour, courage, kindness and comradeship in the midst of the war, and the details of his daily life show what a brave and thoroughly decent man he was.

The editor, Richard Grayson, gives some tantalising information about Max's adventures after the war, and I really do hope that at some point a biography is written about of this fascinating man who held the posts of soldier, salesman, train driver, broadcast announcer and clergyman as well as husband and father.

Most definitely a book I shall both keep and re-read.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Brain Fog Fix

The Brain Fog Fix
By Mike Dow
Published by Hay House, September 2015

The title of this book grabbed my attention immediately; in our house, two of us have different chronic illnesses, but each produces "brain fog". This is an insidious, debilitating problem, adversely affecting short-term memory, concentration and mood and having a major effect on everyday living. It affects many people, yet it is apparently both preventable and treatable. 

Re-balancing the brain's levels of serotonin, dopamine and cortisol, improving sleep, making real-life connections with people, developing a routine of meditation and/or prayer, starting a sensible and sustainable amount of gentle exercise and managing stress can apparently result in a rapid lessening or reversal of the distressing brain fog symptoms in three weeks. These are not all to be done at once, but introduced in groups over three one week periods. Diet plays a huge part, and some dietary tweaks will be necessary, but they need not be overwhelmingly difficult and they certainly do not rule out all possibility of further treats and occasional indulgences.  

Well worth a read, and I have ordered my own hard copy of this book after reviewing this digital copy via NetGalley!

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Monday, September 14, 2015

The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Latin Edition

Commentarii de Inepto Puero

(Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, Latin edition)

By Jeff Kinney

Translated by Monsignor Daniel B. Gallagher

Published by Amulet Books, 15 September 2015

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books are immensely and perennially popular and yes, we have them all at our home! I was excited to see that someone has had the brainwave of producing a Latin edition of the first book so that Latin students can have something very contemporary to study, and hopefully enjoy themselves as they do so.

Although several of the Harry Potter stories have been translated into Latin, their full pages of dense text with no illustrations makes even flicking through one of them a daunting prospect for adult Latin students, let alone youngsters. With this book, the frequent - and very funny - cartoons not only add clarity to understanding the story, they break up the text into more easily digested and rather less intimidating chunks.

Having said that, it is not a book for absolute beginners; even after studying Latin at school for two years many moons ago, and belonging to a U3A Latin study group for the last three years, I still found myself needing to refer to either my Latin dictionary and/or my Grammar text for clarification, and was tempted to borrow my daughter's English text for help.

The Latin translation has been done by Monsignor Daniel B. Gallagher who is currently working at the Office of Latin Letters at the Vatican and the author has written an appreciative foreword to this Latin edition.

Highly recommended!

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Geometry Of Love

The Geometry Of Love:

Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church

By Margaret Visser

Open Road, June 2015


The concept is clever: by studying, in minute and gratifying detail, the history, architecture, adaptation, structure, decoration and liturgical use of the ancient church of  St Agnes in Rome, it acts as a guidebook to the structure and meaning of a huge number of other traditional churches too, and by and large, it works exceptionally well.

When reading this book, I vacillated between thinking that it was a really good piece of scholarly research, which the author has managed to make humorous, lucid and thoroughly enjoyable as well as enlightening, and then falling into stunned speechlessness at some of the comments made.

Having been familiar with the Western liturgy of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil since I was a small child, and having read reasonably widely around the subject myself, I was more than a little disconcerted to read:

"The priest may plunge the paschal candle’s base into the font: fire uniting with water, vertical intersecting with horizontal, Christ entering the waters of Jordan at his baptism, the fiery Spirit “making the water fruitful.” The gesture insists on the conjunction of opposites, and creates an image decidedly sexual."

Really? Of all the things that spring to my mind when thinking of the symbolism of this ceremony, sexual imagery relating to this solemn act is really and truly the farthest thing from my mind and certainly would be looked at askance by my Catholic, Anglo-Catholic and Western-Rite Orthodox friends who share essentially the same ritual as described above.

The subject of relics also makes for interesting reading:

"The bones of saints, for instance, were often believed to have intrinsic power (in other words they could work magic), and were kept like fetishes."

This may indeed have been the case on occasion, but there is no satisfactory mention of the actual official theology behind the cult of relics, that due to the grace of holy baptism, the body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit and that the relics of those saints who through martyrdom for Christ or by leading lives of exemplary sanctity, retain undimmed the grace and power bestowed.

There are other issues too, but I must stress that by and large, I greatly enjoyed the book and appreciate the huge amount of hard work which has been put into it. Pictures truly do not always do such subjects justice, but I do think it would have been nice to have had some illustrations included.

This book has certainly whetted my appetite to visit this remarkable church.

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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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