Monday, March 02, 2015

The Wounds Of God



The Wounds of God
By Penelope Wilcock
Published by Lion, 20th Feb 2015



We meet our old favourite characters from The Hawk and The Dove and learn much more about their lives and past histories in this marvellous sequel, as well as making the acquaintance of some new friends too.

 In this book, Melissa is much older, and we are immediately thrown into seeing how she deals with the tragic suffering and death of her friend Maggie and how she coped with that whilst wishing she still had her mother with her. She reminisces about her childhood, which was indeed rather spartan due to the family's relative poverty, but filled with love, laughter and family experiences of the sort which provide a whole lifetime of good memories and acting as a counterbalance to the unfairness that a sensitive child like Melissa can experience in a school setting where religious musings and thought were strongly discouraged if not actively punished. This book gives us more stories told by her mother, stories which continue to sustain and teach Melissa.


Brother Thomas is in deep disgrace when he is told he must accompany Father Abbot to a monastic conference chaired by Prior William, one of the most sinister and ungodly monks one can imagine. William is a man who delights in posturing and self-serving, taking pains to  persecute, humiliate and put down others, all in order to enhance his own self-importance in a disturbingly passive-aggressive manner....

 The conference is a lively one, (and I never, ever thought I would find someone who would write about theological concepts of justice, mercy and grace, while referencing in the Athanasian Creed in a novel!) and  I found myself heartily cheering on our dear Brother Tom when he leaps to Abbot Peregrine's defence. It was particularly nice to read about Abbot Peregrine's delightfully ebullient, erudite French equivalent, Pere Guillaume, who sees the great good in Brother Tom immediately, yet it is not long before Brother Tom is in trouble again, falling head over heels in love and leaving the abbey, only to realise at what cost, and making a painful return to monastic life.

It is enlightening, too, to see how hard the role of abbot is. He is responsible for the physical, spiritual and mental well-being of all the monks and novices at the abbey; he must make sure that each is given a role or task which is beneficial for his spiritual growth even if it is not always obviously best suited to his strengths and talents. The story of Brother Cormac and his stint of work in the kitchen with the fiery Brother Andrew is a case in point, but by the end of the book, we see how wise Father Abbot has been in these placements.

Steadfast loyalty, love, courage, friendship, repentance and spiritual growth are the deep, deep themes in this deeply moving and thought-provoking collection of stories which are definitely more aimed at adults and middle/older teens this time.  This book gives the open-minded reader some tender, loving, heartbreakingly raw and honest insights into the monastic life, what it costs the monk, even his family as well as the whole monastic community  before he reaches his heart's true home and the fullness of God's peace, which is the goal of each and every one of them.

I wept openly at several points and rejoiced at others, and I still find it hard to believe that these are only fictional characters, so deft and skillful are Penelope Willcock's  portraits of these monks and their monastic struggles.

A wonderful read.


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Trauma Junkie


Trauma Junkie
By Janice Hudson
Published by Firefly Books, 2010


This is an updated and expanded version of a book which was originally published in 2001 and just as the title says, describes the working life of an Emergency Flight Nurse.

Just about the only thing Janice did not experience was treating a shark attack victim (a rival medical flight team got that experience), but she saw and treated just about everything else: burns, car crashes, cot death, truck crashes, drug-related shootings, overdoses, kids with meningitis, earthquake injuries, hit and run injuries, heart attacks, drownings and jet ski/motorboat injuries, to name but a few. 

Not only that,  but her work has put her in situations where her own safety has been at grave risk, being more or less trapped in  car wrecks as firefighters struggle to extricate the injured people she is helping, having to be winched  up to a helicopter as part of a cliff-rescue as well as being on the helicopter when there was a duck strike to the engine and when fire warning lights came on in mid-flight. 

She's crammed more adrenaline -fuelled incidents in her working life than the collected population of the average small town, and this fascinating book is the result. Lots of detail, but not too much, which is always a hard tightrope to walk for a medical writer, this book  filled me with whole-hearted admiration for the work these amazing crews do, day in, day out.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

The Hawk and the Dove



The Hawk And The Dove

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Lion, February 20th, 2015


When we first meet Melissa, she is a lively teenager, desperately wanting to find her place in the wider world as well as already knowing her place in her beloved family. She loves all her family, but has a very special relationship with her mother, who holds the household together, surrounds them all with love and security and cares for her children 's bodies, minds and souls in equal measure.

Her mother is also an accomplished teller of family stories which go back hundreds of years to when their distant ancestor, Brother Edward, was a Benedictine monk at St Alcuin's Abbey in Yorkshire in the 1300s.  When the abbot dies, we find that the monks are all agog with curiosity to see who will be brought to them to be their new abbot; it turns out to be a monk named Columba, who is actually a relative of Edward's, a young man whose name in the world was Peregrine - hence the title as a play on words. The unlikely young monk has turned out to be a competent, fair and accomplished abbot, but it is only when he is badly injured does the true nobility and depth of his character really emerge as he struggles in his day to day life in the monastery.

Each of the delightful stories is a closely-woven tale which binds the world of these long-ago monks  with the modern world of Melissa and her family, encompassing family life, school, problems with friends and church life with the joys and difficulties of living in community in a monastery, learning to deal kindly and lovingly with each other no matter what vicissitudes may face them all. Each episode provides lessons both for the monks and for Melissa in a very Christian, non-preaching, gentle and loving manner; I found myself caring immensely about what happened to these monks and to Melissa and her family.

I can say with my hand on my heart that "The Hawk And The Dove" is engrossing, absorbing and utterly delightful.  I was truly saddened and sorry to reach the end of the book and am delighted to find that this is only the first in a whole series. Clearly written and utilising compellingly vivid language, these would be ideal stories for older children, "tweens" and teens to enjoy and ponder, as well as for adults; the stories challenge our conceptions about mediaeval monastics as well as modern concerns about simple living, priorities, relationships and beliefs.

 Well done indeed to Lion for deciding to re-publish this truly superb book for a whole new generation of readers to enjoy and to treasure. I know I will be cherishing it.




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New Habits


New Habits
From Sisterhood to Motherhood
By Eleanor Stewart,
Published by Lion, 20th February 2015

When Eleanor Stewart left her Catholic convent in order to pursue her desire to be a wife and mother, she was re-entering society as a young woman in 1969 - a society which was dramatically different from that which she had known when she entered the convent almost a decade earlier. 

Her first few months were a steep learning curve as she had to adapt to different clothes, different customs and different ways of behaviour, not to mention the aftermath of her parent's separation and her mother's mental health problems.  From going to the cinema, ordering alcoholic drinks, buying clothes and being horrified at the cost of living, she documents everything about her new life, and does not shy away from describing the trials and tribulations of dating boyfriends after having been a nun.

Eleanor continued her career as a midwife, this time in Chichester instead of Liverpool where she had worked as a nun-midwife, and quickly made new friends and forged a new life for herself. She and a friend moved and found jobs in Dorset for a period, enduring a bitter cold winter and an equally chilly working environment in the local hospital before she finally moved and settled in Portsmouth, where she met and married John, a self-avowed atheist. Having the children she so earnestly hoped for  was not as easy as she had envisaged, but eventually she and John were to have their adoptive family after medical problems made it impossible for her to conceive again.

I did enjoy finding out what happened to Eleanor after she left the convent, but many of the mistakes she made in her relationships with men were obvious to those around her (and to the reader) and were to have ramifications later in her life. When the book ends, she has finished work to look after her young family, but I am sure that certainly is not going to be the end of Eleanor's story.



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Saturday, February 14, 2015

An Amish Cradle




An Amish Cradle

By Beth Wiseman, Amy Clipston,
Kathleen Fuller  and Vannetta Chapman

Published by Thomas Nelson, Feb 10th, 2015


There is nothing more natural and joyous in an Amish family than the arrival of a new baby, but even for the Amish, a new baby can prove to be a challenge and change family dynamics. This interesting collection of stories looks at how  new arrivals change the lives of four extended Amish families.



In His Father's Arms by Beth Wiseman

When Ruth Anne and Levi's eagerly awaited baby, Joshua, is born with Down's syndrome, it is a total shock as they are only nineteen.   The young couple struggle to talk to each other and retreat further into isolation and misunderstanding each other.  When Joshua is subsequently diagnosed with a heart defect and other problems, he needs regular reviews and tests, causing added anxiety.

Ruth Anne struggles hard to be a good Mamm to Joshua and deal with what she fears is the disintegration of her marriage. Levi appears to have withdrawn both from his wife and his son, and it is only when he visits the bishop to ask advice that we find his cousin had Down's and died at a very young age; Levi is afraid to love baby Joshua  in case he dies too and is finding it hard to open up about his feelings, anxieties and fears about what lies ahead of their family. Levi's relationship with God is losing strength and although he begins to help care for Joshua, all is not well at home.

Can this loving young couple get their marriage back on track and unite in their love and concern for their wonderful little boy?


A Son For Always by Amy Clipston

Joshua and Carolyn are rejoicing in the birth of their baby girl, Sadie Liz, but Carolyn still worries that she needs to provide for the future for her son Benjamin, born when she was a young unmarried mother. Joshua loves Benjamin dearly and treats him as his own son, and struggles to convince Carolyn that he loves both children equally and for ever, and will always provide for both of them, no matter what. Carolyn feels torn between her desire to stay home and nurture her family and feeling she should go back to her job at the hotel to continue earning money; this causes tension between her and Joshua, and an interfering mother-in-law makes everything ten times worse.....

A Heart Full Of Love by Kathleen Fuller

Ellie and Christopher are overjoyed  about Ellie's pregnancy, but Ellie's mother has expressed concerns about how they will manage with a baby due to Ellie's blindness. When it turns out that Ellie is expecting twins, her mother's concerns threaten to spiral out of control, no matter how well Ellie is coping with being a wife and homemaker.

Even after Irene and Julia are safely born, Ellie's Mamm Edna allows her concerns to overrule what is best for the new family and makes Ellie feel threatened and inadequate. Poor Christopher is caught in the crossfire and wants to wholeheartedly support his Fraa while worrying about what is best for the twins. Edna's constant presence allows the young family no chance to settle down together. When he takes his courage in both hands, he inadvertently makes the situation worse before it gets better.

An Unexpected Blessing by Vannetta Chapman

Etta and Mose thought her days of childbearing were over at the age of 42, but God blessed them with an unexpected pregnancy, a joy after the sadnesses of the  stillbirth of their daughter Sarah and the moving away of their son David.  When Etta goes into labour in the midst of a blizzard, they struggle to reach the birthing centre in time, and when they do, Etta's labour proves not to be straightforward.

 The whole family's rejoicing over baby Hannah's arrival is muted when it looks like financial problems means they will need to sell their family home, even though they still have treasures such as the family cradle handcrafted by Mose and used by their own children and grandchildren too. Can David's unexpected return home alter their future?
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah





My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
By Paula Freedman
Published by Amulet Books, 2013


  Tara Feinstein's mother converted to Judaism when she married and Tara has grown up in a mixed Indian Hindu/Jewish American extended family, filled with love and laughter.

 For her parents, it is a no-brainer that Tara will be having a Bat Mitzvah to mark her passage into Jewish adulthood, but as the occasion draws nearer, Tara is beginning to have doubts.  Does she really believe in God? Is she really Jewish when her mother is a convert, not Jewish-born herself?  Will she be betraying her Indian/Hindu heritage by going ahead with her Bat Mitzvah?

Added to all of this is her life at school, her Robotics project, her best friends Rebecca and Ben-O, her arch-nemesis, Sheila Rosenberg, and attending Hebrew school to prepare for the ceremony, as well as trying to stop her mother going totally overboard with the reception afterwards. It is an enormous amount to deal with, especially in the teenage years.

Friendships wax and wane, disasters happen and life becomes incredibly complicated, especially when secrets come out into the open, but with the help of her beloved Gran and Rabbi Aron, she starts to make sense of who she is, what she believes, where she "fits in" in her school, social circle, family and her religious beliefs, growing up in every sense of the word.


This book, aimed at tweens and early teens, was an absolute delight to read :-)
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Monday, February 02, 2015

The Last Jews In Berlin


The Last Jews In Berlin
By Leonard Gross
Published by Open Road Media
January 2015


Before the Second World War, Berlin had a large Jewish community of 160,000  which took part in most aspects of Berlin's commercial and cultural life. The rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party meant that by 1943, fewer than 5,000 Jews remained there, a truly staggering diminution of numbers. Some lucky ones had fled Germany in the early days of the war, others were sent to the dreaded concentration camps, still others were killed in Allied bombing raids or starved to death in abject poverty or even committed suicide as a last resort.

At the end of the war, there were only a thousand Jews left in Berlin, and this is the quite amazing story of how some of them managed to survive epidemic disease, starvation, predatory Nazi officials, unfriendly neighbours and the infamous "Catchers", who managed to survive themselves in exchange for finding and denouncing others to the official regime.

Based extensively on interviews with the survivors, Gross outlines the stories of twelve Jewish men and women, from all backgrounds (from a teenage orphan to an intellectual) who relied on their own skill and wits, compassionate people and serendipity to survive the last hideous few years of the War and emerge to rebuild their lives once more.

This is a book which will certainly appeal to anyone interested in German history, the Second World War, the Holocaust or Jewish history, but I would advise that if you are thinking of buying this book as a gift, do check with the intended recipient that they do not already have a previous version of this book which was released in 1985 and again in 1999.


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Sunday, February 01, 2015

More than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting


More than Happy:
The Wisdom of Amish Parenting
By Serena Miller & Paul Stutzman
To be published by Howard Books
Feb 3rd 2015

Serena Miller writes Amish fiction and this foray into non-fiction makes for interesting reading. When researching the Amish way of life, especially in Holmes County, Ohio, she noticed that Amish children seemed to be the happiest, most well-behaved children she had ever seen, despite their lack of modern material goods.

Intrigued, she used her contacts to meet a variety of Amish people who were willing to discuss what makes Amish children so happy. Gradually she came to realise that it the key to it all is family. Her co-author, Paul Stutzman, was born into an Amish family who subsequently became Mennonite;  he himself married a Mennonite girl and remains in that faith community, and adds a great deal by his own accounts of growing up "Plain". The Amish believe in putting the needs of others before their own and they have a steadfast adherence to avoiding hochmut (pride) at all costs, while still believing any job of work needs to be done honestly and to the very best of their ability. 

Each chapter deals with a different topic, covering just about everything you could wish to know, starting with family, marriage, divorce (exceptionally rare), the extended family, the importance of family meals and gender roles, cherishing heritage and  the value of being bi-lingual, discipline, the importance of life-long learning, punishments and shunning, chores, allowances and the work ethic, technology and quality time, as well as faith related issues such as patience, forgiveness, generosity etc.

Having family members who enjoy your company, treat you as a blessing and a gift from God, who cherish you, love you, admonish you and are not afraid to correct you when necessary, means the world to children, who feel confident, secure and safe in their extended community as a result.
They are regarded as valuable and useful members of the family and community, quite able - and encouraged - to learn skills and work along with the adults at a very young age, to take responsibility for their actions and to share fully in the joys and sorrows of their community; to bring up a child to become a kind and decent godly adult is the priority for Amish parents, and happiness follows on naturally from their parenting process, rather than being seen as a goal in itself.

This is a fascinating book which will appeal to anyone interested in alternative styles of parenting or  the Amish way of life.


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Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Skeleton Cupboard


The Skeleton Cupboard:
The making of a clinical psychologist
By Tanya Byron
Published by Macmillan, May 2014


Tanya Byron is a well-known British clinical psychologist who has appeared on many tv shows about child psychology and problems with children. In her 20+ years of clinical practice, she has met people of all ages with all sorts of mental health issues and problems, and it is her early training placements  covering the period 1989 - 1992 which are the focus of this book. In many respects she was thrown in the deep end, sometimes feeling only remotely supported by her clinical supervisors and  basically left to learn how to put her theoretical knowledge into practice and actually help her patients. 

The fact that she was so often able to do so in cases involving familial sexual abuse, transgender issues, sexual dysfunction issues, families struggling to come to terms with the impending death of sons from AIDS, anorexia and  dementia amongst many others is a testament to her own resiliency of spirit, determination and patience. Not everyone can be helped and not everyone actually wants to be helped, however. Dealing with such heart-rending and often tragic circumstances is draining and learning a certain degree of detachment from the clientele is a skill which is necessary but very difficult to learn, as this brutally honest memoir demonstrates. The cases she describes are vividly portrayed and her own thoughts and feelings about her experiences are laid bare for the reader, as are some distressing yet formative experiences from her own life. As a young clinician, she struggled to avoid allowing her work experiences to overwhelm her through maintaining her network of close friends, but on occasions her own immaturity and "nit-picking" of her supervisors did, I must admit,  irk me a little.

Many stories of tragedy and abuse are written by the person who suffered; this is the only book I can recall which has actually been written  solely from the therapist's point of view. I am sure that both clinical training placements and supervisory support have changed in the intervening years, but this remains a remarkable look at this period in Professor Byron's career, and the cases she describes will stay with me for a long, long time. Individuals described have of necessity been thoroughly anonymised, amalgamated and details changed to protect confidentiality, by the way, as I would expect in a book of this nature.

Not an easy read, and in places incredibly distressing, but a worthwhile one nevertheless for anyone with an interest in mental health issues.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The New Enemy


The New Enemy
(The Liam Scott series no 3)
By Andy McNab
Published by Doubleday, Jan 15th, 2015


Liam Scott might be young, but he has seen and lived through more than most people could ever imagine in their entire lives. Having survived two tours of duty in Afghanistan and shown aptitude for gathering Intelligence, his superiors have supported and encouraged his application to go on the Light Reconnaissance Commander's Course.

The course in the UK is gruellingly bad enough, but when the training in Kenya starts, he finds himself teaching members of the Kenyan Defence Force some of the things he has just learned as they fight against a vicious terrorist group based in Somalia. A simple "intel" gathering exercise mission about these terrorists unearths essential information which means the patrol goes back out to the danger zone and into almost unimaginable horrors when they are set up, ambushed and captured by the terrorists.

I've read the first two books in this series but this is by far the best, compelling me to read it in one session, my heart pounding along with Liam Scott's as he battles to save both his own  mission members and the Kenyan captives  held hostage by the Al Shabaab extremists.

Captivating, gripping and exhilarating, don't be put off by the publisher's "Young Adult/Teen" categorisation - anyone who enjoys action-packed adventure or military fiction will be sure to enjoy this book.  I'm just left wondering how on earth Andy McNab can top this story as he continues to chronicle Liam Scott's army career......


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Monday, January 19, 2015

When Books Went To War



When Books Went To War
By Molly Guptill Manning
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
December 2nd, 2014



The Nazi desire to control the minds of the German populace was quite remarkably terrifying. Books deemed demeaning or inimical to "true German" thoughts and beliefs were destroyed, especially books by Jewish authors, for fear they would pollute the pure minds of Germans.  Books by Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Jack London and many others were destroyed in orgies of book burnings which were broadcast on TV and radio. 

Ordinary German citizens were careful to make sure they had nothing in their homes which could make them open to criticism on this front, and during the Second World War, 100 million books were destroyed in Germany. The destruction of proscribed books was shortly followed by the imprisonment and destruction of people whom were deemed a threat to Nazi Germany and its desire to rule Europe.

The need for books to accompany American troops as they journeyed to and travelled within Europe, to lift their spirits, boost morale and occupy their time, was quickly recognised. This remarkable book outlines the story of how the Government, librarians, publishers and authors worked together to make this a reality. Raymond L. Trautman, a reserve soldier who had a library degree, experience of running bookstores and knew how the book industry operated, and Althea Warren, who was allowed leave of absence from her post at Los Angeles Public Library, were the initial key players. Supported by the Red Cross and wholeheartedly backed by the general public, America's largest book drive was soon underway, collecting new books and second-hand books for the troops.

The importance of the printed word in sustaining troops was recognised and the American Government agreed to authorise the printing of both books and magazines out of the war effort budget. Publishing companies found that it was too expensive and difficult to produce so many quality hardback books, due to a shortage of raw materials, and the birth of the mass market paperback edition was born.

A huge variety of fiction (both classic and modern) and non-fiction to suit all tastes and reading abilities was commissioned and many authors were delighted to be told their books had been chosen to be re-published in this special edition for the troops. Feedback from the troops about which titles they particularly enjoyed or found helpful was disseminated back to the authors, many of whom  took pains to answer each and every letter they received. Reading the accounts of how much these books meant to the front-line armed forces is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, and when you consider that 120 million new books were printed for the troops, it was a remarkable and highly successful undertaking, yet so few people are aware it even happened.

With the 1944 Soldier Voting Bill, known as Title V on the statute books, accusations of political propaganda and potential censorship as well as the morality of some titles became a strongly contentious issue, and eventually it was deemed better to avoid publishing a title at all rather than censoring and expurgating it for publication and affecting the ideal of free speech and freedom of the press. It is fascinating to see the lists of titles which were printed in Appendix B, and I now have an additional list of books I hope to read in the near future.

This was an amazing read, and a superb addition to my bookshelf.




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The Simple Life Devotional


Wanda E. Brunstetter's The Simple Life Devotional
Published by Barbour Books, November 2014

Everything about this book, from the layout and design, the background colour of the pages, the decorative touches and photographs, is a delight to the eye. 

The devotional content, which is even more important, is based on the Amish way of life and of looking at things, which can certainly help those of us who do not live the Plain Life but are faced with the stresses and burdens of a very different way of living. 

Short and sweet, and therefore much more likely to be sustainable as a book of devotional reading,  we are treated to anecdotes, sayings, quips, recipes (oh my, the recipes! Yum!) as well as short Biblical quotations for two whole months worth of daily readings to amuse, challenge you and make you think what you need to work on  as you progress on your life's pilgrimage to Christ.

A delightful book indeed.



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Sunday, January 04, 2015

My Secret Life in Hut Six



My Secret Life in Hut Six: 
One Woman’s Experiences at Bletchley Park
By Mair & Gethin Russell Jones
Published by Lion Books, July 2014

Imagine discovering that your beloved elderly mother hadn’t just worked for the Foreign Office during the Second World War, as she modestly admitted, but that she had been one of the team at Bletchley Park who were tasked with helping to identify and crack the secrets of  the Germans’ coded Enigma machine messages…
Looking through a recently published book about Bletchley Park and its vital role during the war, Gethin Russell Jones  saw a photograph which showed his mother, Mair, as a young woman, and gradually he unearthed the full story of his mother’s work which she had faithfully kept secret for so many years after signing the Official Secrets Act.  
Once others were publishing their recollections of this work, she finally felt able to tell her son the full details about the rather bizarre way she was head-hunted at Cardiff University where she was studying Music, German and History, and her quite remarkable life and experiences working at Bletchley Park. Her background from the small village of Pontycymer in the Garw Valley in South Wales was a marked contrast to the majority of the other “BP” workers, and it took some time before she felt at ease with her co-workers and with her task. 
A deeply devout Christian, Mair would likely have become a missionary after her time at Mount Hermon Missionary Training College in London  if the war had not supervened; her time in London ministering to those in the East End and supporting Jewish refugees had a marked impact on her, as did the death of a dear friend whose family was killed by a German bombing raid on Cardiff. The pacifism of some of her Christian friends was not for her, she felt very deeply that to allow Hitler to continue with his actions was unconscionable and that he must be stopped. She was both happy and proud to play her part in the war effort, despite the tensions it caused with some members of her family and her first landlady when she initially arrived at BP.
Despite the vital importance and complexity of their work, they were told remarkably little  on a day-to-day level about how their work was so significantly changing the course of the war in favour of Britain and her Allies, which must have been incredibly dispiriting and seems to have been very short-sighted of the “top brass” in charge of the team.  Quite how Alan Turing’s “Bombe” worked always remained a bit of a mystery to Mair, who admitted she was not particularly mathematically inclined!
Secrecy and discretion were held to be paramount and Mair witnessed two of her colleagues being hauled over the coals and then publicly and summarily dismissed for discussing information that had been passed on to them by other people, even though this had been done in the confines of the works canteen at BP.
She became friends with another new recruit, Joan, and safely ensconced in her new and much more friendly lodgings, she began to relax and really enjoy her work. Her ongoing courtship with Russ, who was studying to be ordained into the Baptist ministry, continued to flourish despite their long periods apart and blossomed into an engagement. Ill-health due to the poor working conditions at BP plagued many people and Mair became desperately ill with pneumonia towards the very end of the war. She was sent home to recuperate, but was then discharged from her duties at Bletchley Park and free to marry her beloved Russ and raise her large family.
I found the final few chapters where Gethin takes his mother back to Bletchley Park and her work being publicly honoured by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to be immensely moving. She kept her silence for over sixty years, and I am glad she was finally able to tell her story.
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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Growing Up Amish



Growing Up Amish:  A Memoir
By Ira Wagler
Published by Tyndale House, 2011


Growing Up Amish is a bit of a misnomer.
Having finished it today, the one thing that seems very obvious to me is that the author didn’t do very much “growing up” when he was living Amish; most of his growing up seems to have occurred long after he finally (after many short-lived periods living away) and completely left both the Amish faith and Amish way of life behind him.

 Ira Wagler acknowledges many times that he did not behave well towards many people, especially his poor fiancee, but I still do not truly get the sense that at that particular time in his life he ever put the needs  of anyone except himself first and foremost.  

Reading this book was fascinating and absorbing, but I also read with an inexorable sense of impending train-wrecks of relationships and friendships. He always wanted more than his community, way of life or family could give him, hence his painful and difficult attempts to walk away from his loved ones.

It was in many ways a profoundly sad book which has left me feeling very thoughtful about my own friendships and relationships on this New Year’s Day of 2015. Most of my books I will read multiple times, but I don’t think I will be reading this one again because it made me feel so desperately sad.
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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Ouch!

Real Life has really thrown me a curve ball - ten days ago, I fell and broke my right arm.

As I am right-handed, I am struggling to type, so although I am reading up a storm, I most likely won't be posting reviews till about mid- January :-(
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Make Ahead Bread


Make Ahead Bread

By Donna Currie

Published by Taunton Press, Nov 4th, 2014


One of the things which puts so many people off the idea of making bread from scratch at home is the thought of being tied to the kitchen for hours on end while the dough rises, proves then cooks. This is not actually necessary or true, and some of the steps involved can be done in advance, or the process safely interrupted, to fit around the many other demands on the cook's time.



The recipes are fun and varied, including

  • Bacon, Tomato & Cheddar Loaf
  • Oatmeal, Honey & Date Loaf
  • Maple, Bacon & Onion Loaf
  • Savoury Monkey Bread
  • Cinnamon Swirl Loaf
  • Candied Ginger Bread
and a great deal more, including some gluten-free recipes, sourdoughs, rye, buns, breadsticks, sliders, hot dog rolls and hamburger buns, all sorts of flatbreads and pizzas as well as a slew of delicious pastries. I particularly liked the information about using an instant read thermometer to assist in judging when the bread is properly cooked as a guide for novice bread bakers. 

It's a truly lovely book, but sadly, some of the ingredients are certainly not easily available in my part of the UK. Experimentation to find acceptable substitutes may be required :-)


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Monday, November 17, 2014

A Dream of Home



A Dream of Home

By Amy Clipston

Published by Zondervan, Nov 4th, 2014



Madeleine was a military nurse until her pilot fiance died; then she moved into her late grandmother's house in the depths of Amish country, Pennsylvania, to build a new life for herself. She soon discovers that unfortunately she cannot leave her memories and nightmares so easily behind her, and despite having a job working at a nearby hotel and making new friends, her life and heart are still pretty empty.

Her next-door neighbour is a widowed Amish man named Saul Beiler, a skilled cabinet maker who farms and also looks after his delightful young daughter. His past holds many secrets and although he knows his daughter Emma would benefit from a woman's daily influence, he does not feel quite ready to remarry and is certainly not expecting Madeleine and Emma to strike up such a deep and enduring friendship, nor to develop feelings for her himself. Afraid that things are moving too quickly and that Emma is becoming too fond of Madeleine, his attempts to step back from the budding relationship have unexpected results.

This is the latest installment of the "Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel" series and the stories of other characters from the preceding books are cleverly interwoven with Maddy's. Even though she is now living "Englisch" with two of her children and her new husband Trey, Hannah continues to try to rebuild her relationship with Lilian, her daughter who has resolutely chosen to remain Amish. 
Carolyn's wedding to Joshua is imminent yet her fiance is very unhappy about her continuing to work at the Lancaster Grand Hotel in case she too meets an Englischer and leaves the Amish world, just as Hannah did so recently. The Englisch and Amish worlds are closely inter-connected in this book, yet are poles apart. Can they influence each other for the good, or is that asking the impossible?

Enjoyable - although tear-jerking  in places, Amy Clipston continues to weave her magic and slowly things become much clearer for all the characters and giving tantalising hints of what further resolutions might occur in the next book.


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Tweeting Da Vinci


Tweeting Da Vinci

By Ann C. Pizzorusso

Published by Da Vinci Press, Oct 31st, 2014


The title intrigued me greatly, and when I started to read it, so did the contents. Ann Pizzorusso is one of a very rare breed - she is a geologist *and* an Italian Renaissance scholar, and in this book she seamlessly blends the hard science of geology with a fascinating look at how it has affected the structure, landscape, art, literature and life of Italy.

Inspired by the genius of Da Vinci and his remarkable talent of blending inspiration and scientific curiosity, she looks at the Italian world as he would probably have done if he had access to our modern knowledge. The book is beautifully produced and superbly illustrated both with Da Vinci's own artwork as well as photographs, commissioned artwork and maps so an intrepid explorer could use this as a guidebook to exploring some of the lesser known parts of Italy.

From the very tectonic plates underpinning Italy to valleys and volcanoes, ancient roads and temples to radioactive springs and divination by lightning, she looks at an enormous variety of topics  and breadth of Italian history from the ancient Etruscans and Romans right through to the present day.
A truly fascinating chapter is devoted to the geology shown in the two versions of Leonardo Da Vinci's superb "Virgin of the Rocks" and the metals and pigments used in art, but all sorts of fascinating snippets make their way into the book, even including the gems associated with the Apostles of Christ and the astrological signs associated with the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Intriguing, fascinating and sure to appeal to anyone who loves Italy, history, art or science - a versatile book indeed :-)



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The School Inspector Calls





The School Inspector Calls

(Book 3 in "A Little Village School" series)

By Gervase Phinn

Published by Hodder, June 2014


This is the third in the series telling the story of  "A Little Village School". The school in question is the village primary school of Barton-in-the Dale, ably run by the new and popular Head, Elisabeth Devine.

 The proposed merger of the neighbouring schools of Barton village and Urebank under Elisabeth's leadership continues to be problematic when Urebank's Head and Deputy Head seem determined to be thoroughly obstructive, uncooperative and difficult, making Elisabeth's task thankless in the extreme.

Concerned and worried, she naturally discusses her troubles with her fiance, Doctor Michael Stirling, only to find that he starts to lose patience when she talks almost constantly about the school and its woes, the most notable being a new and very troubled boy named Robbie who is causing mayhem.  When Robbie's harassed mother chooses the continuation of her marriage over her son and puts him into care Elisabeth is determined not to give up on the child, no matter what, but news of a visit from a School Inspector serves to add to her worries. A possible housing estate being built in the village, the serious illness of Miss Sowerbutts, the previous Headteacher, and the arrival of a mysterious and handsome man staying at Elisabeth's cottage keep the village gossips in a state of ferment - life is never boring in Barton-in-the Dale!

Gervase Phinn is a keen observer of life in his beloved Yorkshire and manages to portray both the beauties of the area and the idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants with unerring accuracy and kindly good humour. His long years of teaching and inspecting schools enables him to portray the anxieties and difficulties as well as the triumphs and joys of teaching, and he is a born storyteller, describing village and school life in loving detail. I'm really looking forward to the fourth book, due in 2015.








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Letters To Auntie Fori



Letters To Auntie Fori
By Martin Gilbert
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (hardback), 2002


I found this book by pure chance when I was searching on Amazon.co.uk for another of Sir Martin Gilbert's historical books. It looked interesting and I have not regretted buying it, despite its size and the space it takes on my desperately overloaded bookshelves! Running to 460 pages in the hardback version, this is a massive book both physically and in its scope as it covers the 5,000 year history of the Jewish people.

Just how the letters to Auntie Fori started is fascinating; Martin Gilbert knew her son from his time at Oxford University and when he visited New Delhi, he was urged to visit Mrs B. K. Nehru, and they became friends.  It was only many, many years later, at Auntie Fori's 90th birthday celebrations in 1998 that she mentioned to him that she was in fact  Hungarian and Jewish herself, though her knowledge of the history  and practice of her faith was very limited as she had not been a particularly observant Jewess in her youth. She wanted to learn more but could not find a book which would tell her exactly what she wanted to know, and so Martin Gilbert began a series of letters - 140 in total - outlining the history of the Jewish people around the world and their religious practices.

Reform Judaism does seem to have been rather skated over lightly, which I found a little surprising, and the actual religious practices of Judaism were only really touched upon, being covered from letter 104 onwards,but I found it all fascinating and read it slowly over a period of months, a few letters at a time. 



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Friday, November 07, 2014

An Amish Second Christmas




An Amish Second Christmas

By Beth Wiseman, Ruth Reid, Kathleen Fuller & Tricia Goyer

Published by Thomas Nelson, October 2014


The feast of Christmas spans two consecutive days in the Amish tradition. The first day is often spent quietly with family, reflecting on the spiritual meaning of Christmas and celebrating at home. The second day, known as Second Christmas, tends to be a more festive time where family and friends visit each other and celebrate.

This collection of novellas by four notable authors of Amish fiction deals with situations where Second Christmas plays a significant part in the storyline.

Initially, it was the striking and very lovely cover which attracted me to the title, but I quickly became engrossed in the joys and tribulations of the characters as they all approach Christmas and Second Christmas with very different life experiences, hopes and fears in their hearts. The stories are very different from each other and serve to complement each other. These have definitely put me in the Christmas spirit and will certainly be regularly read with huge enjoyment!

“When Christmas Comes Again” by Beth Wiseman

Katherine is determined to be strong for her children as they approach their first Christmas without her beloved husband , Elias. When she meets an elderly man who has photographs of Elias, she is intrigued and not a little concerned. The man's stories seem absurd, far-fetched - is he delusional or ill? Or could he actually be telling the truth about who he is and what his career in the Englisch world had been? And how will her children take the revelation about this man? Katherine has no idea that her daughter is hiding secrets of her own.... until Christmas changes everything for their family.


“Her Christmas Pen Pal” by Ruth Reid

Joy  - along with her family and friends - is eagerly  anticipating that her beau, Henry, will at long last be proposing to her. Imagine her shock when he does not, and instead is far more concerned with pursuing another girl. Angry, hurt and bitterly disappointed, Joy pens a letter to her dear cousin and posts it along with samples of her new Christmas cookies, but the parcel and the letter fall into the hands of someone else, who pens a reply to her along with his assessment of her new cookies. An unlikely blind pen-pal friendship develops, and when they meet each other in real life, can their friendship survive let alone blossom? 

“A Gift for Anne Marie” by Kathleen Fuller

Anne-Marie and Nathaniel have been the best of friends since they were kinner in school together, and spend a great deal of their free time together, sharing the same interest and hobbies. When Anne-Marie's best friend expresses her romantic interest in Nathaniel Anne-Marie is quick to disclaim any romantic interest in him, but then starts to feel the pangs of jealousy and to wonder why. 
When her mother divulges a shocking secret - that she is to marry again and move the family away from their home, family and friends -  Anne-Marie faces losing her best friend altogether and permanently. Forced to confront her heart and revise her plans for her future, she is faced with making adult decisions about her childhood friend.


“The Christmas Aprons” by Tricia Goyer

Esther loves her work as a maid, helping new mothers and their babies in the first weeks or even months after the babies' arrivals. She hopes one day to have a family of her very own, to marry a farmer and live a traditional Amish family life. It seems a remote prospect and she feels shy, awkward and unsure of herself or her place in the Amish world. 
When caring for her cousin Hannah in faraway Montana, she is asked to take part in a bake sale; she agrees and is delighted when her mother finally parts with the secret recipe for her renowned Vanilla Crumb Pie. The pie is a runaway success, but Esther is horrified when she finds that it is no ordinary bake sale, but rather a way for Amish bachelors to get to sample the delights of bidding on pies and meeting the girls who bake them....





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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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