Sunday, July 28, 2013

UK Readers Alert!

To my UK based readers, on BBC 2 tonight  (Sunday 28th July) at 9 pm is a documentary about a recently discovered tomb in one of the Roman catacombs containing 2000 carefully packed skeletons.

Why would 2000 bodies be buried together - massacre or disease? It looks as if it will be fascinating viewing!

More details available here.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Week Of Parenting Book Reviews

I think next week might end up being a week of reviews of parenting and children's education books I have recently read - would that be of interest to readers?

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A Vow For Always

A Vow For Always

Part 6 of The Discovery

By Wanda E. Brunstetter

Published by Barbour, July 2013

This is the final installment in the six part "The Discovery" series, and Luke finally starts to regain significant parts of his memory. Piece by piece, the jigsaw puzzle of what had happened to him becomes clearer as the realisation dawns on him and Susan that they are developing strong feelings for each other. It seems inevitable that *someone* is going to end up hurt.

In the meantime, Luke's  wife Meredith continues her slow and gentle courtship with Jonah despite the concerns expressed by both her own and Luke's family when she eventually agrees to marry him. Luke's parents are especially worried that their access to their infant grandson might be curtailed by Meredith's new husband and are reassured when it becomes apparent this will not be the case. It looks like all is resolved, until one night, a stranger comes knocking at Meredith's family door and everything changes...

I did enjoy this episode but the last chapter did seem a little rushed and I would have loved to have found out what happened to all the wedding food and preparations - was everything called off or was there a joyful gathering to celebrate Luke's return? It would have been nice to have explored Susan and Jonah's feelings about the ending in more detail and although it was nice to have the epilogue, perhaps an additional chapter would have been more fulfilling for the reader.  Having said that, I did very much enjoy the book and will certainly read the series again.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Fancy a Cuppa by the Cathedral?

Fancy a Cuppa by the Cathedral?

By Simon Duffin

Published by Troubador, 26th July 2013

I have to say that I initially really didn't quite know what to make of this book. The concept is brilliant  - to give a very brief introduction to notable cathedrals in the UK and also to note where a decent cup of tea or coffee may be had close by - but to do the cathedrals alone proper justice would require a massive tome, and that is outside the scope of this book. Information is concise, often intriguing but frustratingly short and the photographs are sometimes eccentric - Brecon cathedral's shot consists mostly of outbuildings, parked cars and a large tree obscuring what little of the cathedral is visible in the picture.

Are all Cathedrals included? No.  The author has indicated that he chose to include some large Scottish churches which are known locally as cathedrals although they are not actually the seats of bishops. Bath Abbey was once a cathedral  but not now, and is excluded from the book. The decisions seem a little arbitrary, and as an Eastern Orthodox Christian I was quite disappointed that a few notable Orthodox Cathedrals were excluded. It was nice to see coverage of RC cathedrals included.

Excellent and very comprehensive information is given about the establishments nearby serving teas and coffees and I found this much more interestingly written than the ecclesiastical information. My only concern is how quickly this part of the book may go out of date as businesses seem to open and close  very quickly in the ongoing UK recession.

This is a fun book, useful to have if you travel and like to look at historic churches and if the search for a decent "brew" and bite to eat inspires readers to spend a few minutes or hours wandering around and hopefully enjoying the local cathedrals, all the better!

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One Hen

 One Hen

How One Small Loan Made A Big Difference

By Katie Smith Milway

Published by Kids Can Press, 2008

This is a book which deserves a place in every school and every family's bookcase.

One of the key concepts taught at my youngest daughter's school is the realisation that we are all global citizens and that what affects one country may well have an effect on countries across the globe.  However unlikely we may think it, a small action to help one person or family can have far-reaching consequences, and thoughtfulness for the needs and living situations of others can make a huge difference.

This is the story of how a micro-loan made a massive difference to one family, and it is based on the true story of a young lad who lived in Ghana, who received a very small loan which enabled him to buy a hen. By selling the eggs, he was able in time to build up a flock of hens, giving food for his family and earning money from the sale of eggs which enabled him to go back to school and get an education. Gradually he was able to buy a farm, employ people and also to make loans to other people to fund projects, the same way he had been helped. He used his hard-earned wealth wisely and made a huge difference to his community, encouraging those he helped to help others in turn.

It is an inspiring, delightful and heart-warming story as well as a way of  introducing children to the concepts of determination, hard work, kindness, responsibility towards others and the quite incredible value of micro-loans to those in developing countries.  It is a colourful, highly illustrated book which is eye-catching, attractive and fun to read for adults and children alike.

I cannot praise this book too highly!

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Going Home: A Novel of Survival

Going Home: a Novel of Survival

By A. American

Published by Penguin/Plume, 24th July 2013

I do enjoy disaster/survival books, both fiction and non-fiction. This is probably the best fictional account of survival, action and adventure which I have read in a *very* long time.

What makes this book stand out from the crowd?  

Our hero, Morgan Carter, is a long-term prepper. His wife has only more recently come on board with the idea that preparing for the most likely eventualities would be a good idea. Morgan is working away from his well-equipped home when disaster strikes but  being a motivated and cautious prepper, he has a good selection of kit in the rucksack he always keeps in his car.  

He is 250 miles away from his home in Florida and he is bound and determined to get back home to his wife and children as quickly as he possibly can, fearful for their well-being and safety in what will certainly - and very shortly - become very troubled times indeed. Will he prepared to kill to ensure his own safety and that of the folk he meets? He avoids trouble as far as he can unless his conscience and common sense dictate otherwise, but he soon sees that yes, he would kill if he had to. He finds it hard to deal with emotionally and mentally, as one would expect, but he knows it is a case of him or them and he is determined it will not be him. 

This is a fascinating and gripping book, full of what-if scenarios which gave me food for thought. It is fast-paced with a lot of action occurring in the time it takes him to travel from Tallahassee to Lake County and he meets a wide variety of people, two of whom become travelling companions for a good part of the journey. The majority of  the characters are pretty well-drawn indeed. The bad guys get their just desserts which is always nice to read in a story and there is an enormous amount of survival information cleverly incorporated in the story, unlike some other survival novels which are either constantly moralising, preaching or clumsily giving almost text book chunks of information.

Did I enjoy it? Yes indeed!
Will I be really looking forward to reading  the sequel, Surviving Home ? For sure!

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Year - Round Slow Cooker

Year - Round Slow Cooker:

100 Favorite Recipes for Every Season

By Dina Cheney

Published by Taunton Press, January 2013

First of all, I love the division of recipes into seasons, which makes using fresh produce so much simpler and cheaper. It is an attractive book, well illustrated and laid out, and a great deal of thought has gone into the design and structure of the recipes.

It is not a young family-friendly cookbook unless you have epicurean children (I do not!); it is aimed at sophisticated palates, those willing to try unusual or exotic flavours and I think it would actually be perfect for a busy cook who loves to entertain friends for meals. There are plenty of traditional recipes and lots of exotic ones from different countries and cultures, though perhaps it was not terribly tactful to place a recipe for pork shoulder roast immediately after a recipe for Cholent......

As usual, the puddings are always my primary concern: Sticky toffee pudding with cranberries sounds wonderful, and I am keen to try Winter holiday pudding with citrus, Pineapple and mango cobbler with coconut biscuits and  Lemony strawberry-rhubarb cobbler.

If you like to cook unusual dishes or are catering for older teenage/adult family members or guests, this may be a great book for you try out.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

By Artemis Cooper.

To be published in the USA Oct 15th, 2013

By New York Review Of Books

I first read one of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books  - A Time Of Gifts - about twenty years ago and was captivated by the vivid and enchanting portrayal of the people and places he saw in the first part of his epic journey from Holland right through to Constantinople.   Eventually I discovered two of his books dealing with remote and ethnologically fascinating parts of Greece -  Mani and Roumeli – which were equally enjoyable.

I knew precious  little about him other than what he revealed in his books and was delighted to get the chance to read this new biography of him by Artemis Cooper.  Flesh is put on the very bare bones of his personal and family life and a fuller picture of his quite unbelievable life given. He became acquainted with a vast number of European notables, academics and aristocrats alike, and made friends easily across all classes and backgrounds of people wherever he went on his wide-ranging travels before finally settling in his beloved Greece.

 I had absolutely no idea that Fermor had served in Crete during World War 2 as part of the British Special Operations  Executive  working with the Cretan Resistance movement;  he was awarded with the D.S.O. medal for his vital part in the abduction and capture of General Kreipe who then spent the rest of the war years incarcerated in the  Island Farm prisoner of war camp  very close to my home in South Wales.

 I have to be honest and say that I would have actually preferred to read considerably less about his marked propensity for sowing his wild oats and his numerous liaisons with women outside of his long-term and very open relationship with the Hon. Joan Rayner, whom he eventually married, but nonetheless, this is a truly fascinating biography of a remarkable man.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Kicking The Habit

Kicking The Habit:

From Convent to Casualty in 1960s Liverpool

By Eleanor Stewart

Published by Lion Books, 21st June 2013

From the first page to the last, this book was a pleasure to read as well as being a revelation.  As a young woman, Eleanor Stewart wondered if she might have a vocation to the religious life even though she loved to socialize and go out on dates.

Her quest led her to join a community of nuns who had convents in the UK even though their Mother House was in France and soon Eleanor was on her way to a new life in France.

Like so  many of us, I  have often wondered about what life in a convent is really like. How on earth do you manage when you are immersed in a foreign language?  What makes a postulant finally decide to take vows? What happens if you cannot get on with some of the nuns? Do nuns ever smoke? Are they allowed to use modern sanitary protection? There are so many unknowns about life inside a convent and this is the first book I have read which deals with the everyday minutiae as well as the spiritual side of things.

Written with enormous good humour and love for her fellow nuns, Eleanor finds the funny side of  the most unlikely situations and speaks candidly - but always respectfully and with great affection - of the time she spent as a nun, and how much she loved it and benefited from it. The ill-health of her mother and breakdown of her parents' marriage was a worry to her and life at the convent was not always easy, especially when doubts about her vocation started to creep in .

Her transfer back to a British convent and her training as a nurse and then as a midwife gradually convinced her that much as she loved the convent life, she also dearly loved her working life at the hospital and eventually she realised that, deep down, she did want to get married and have a family after eight years in a convent.

She leaves the convent at the end of this book, but I have a feeling that we will be hearing more about  her subsequent life in a future book as she is a born storyteller with a wonderful and very natural style of writing. An absolute treasure of a book, and one which will certainly find a permanent place in my collection!

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Knocking On Heaven's Door

Knocking On Heaven's Door: 
The Path To A Better Way Of Death

By Katy Butler

To be published by Scribner,
10th September 2013

Given the opportunity to choose  where and how you would prefer to die, what would you opt for ?

A/  Slipping peacefully away at home from a cardiac arrhythmia as your heart gradually fails and your mind succumbs to the ravages of dementia
B/ A prolonged death in hospital due to your heart being shocked by an internal cardiac pacemaker even though every other organ system in your body  has either completely failed or is rapidly shutting down as a result of the aforesaid dementia

Katy Butler's father had a stroke. He made a reasonable recovery, but then needed a hernia repair operation, which the surgeon wanted to do under general anaesthetic but only after her father had a cardiac pacemaker fitted to control a slightly unstable heart rhythm. That decision was a slippery slope to a cascade of medical involvement which resulted in a situation where several years later, even though her father became profoundly handicapped by the ravages of  severe dementia, every time his body tried to fail, his heart would be automatically shocked back into normal beat pattern. 

Katy and her elderly mother questioned the wisdom of the initial decision to insert the pacemaker, and this book chronicles the story of how their lives changed as a result  and their subsequent attempts to get a doctor to disable the pacemaker to allow her father to die peacefully when his body failed him rather than the pacemaker keeping him alive. 

She questions how society and the medical profession have  have been so overtaken by the truly remarkable advances of modern medicine that they are reluctant to allow any patient to die, even though it is very obviously not in the patient's best interests to keep performing invasive, painful and unpleasant interventions when there is no hope of reversing  or even stabilising the underlying terminal health problems. The effect that this has on those who have to care - often over a long period of time - for the affected patients is described with brutally truthful, honest and disturbing clarity. 

It makes for profoundly uncomfortable reading and is a call to action to provide a more humane way of delivering  more appropriate and  responsive end of life care specifically tailored to the individual needs of vulnerable elderly members of society. 

A challenging read, but a worthwhile read.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Five Days At Memorial

Five Days At Memorial

Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

By Sheri Fink

Crown Publishing

To be released September 10th, 2013

The tragedies surrounding this hospital in New Orleans - which was badly hit by Hurricane Katrina a few years ago - made headline news across the world. This is a cleverly conceived book which sets out to give a full account of the people involved: staff, rescuers,  patients and their families and the general community.

One of the key controversies about the apparent decision to euthanise some of the sickest patients was introduced right at the beginning, whereas I would have preferred to read about that much further into the book as the chain of events unfolds. The book  presents the persons concerned as very real characters under extreme and harrowing circumstances. It is easy for those who were not placed in the position these physicians and nurses were to make accusations and point fingers of blame for the course of action they pursued, but reading this book shows it was a horrific position for the staff to be in and they did what they believed to be in their patients' best interests at that time.

What I did find frightening was the apparent lack of official concern; varieties of disaster plans had been drawn up and even rehearsed, but when the potential for flooding affecting the electrical systems of the hospital was noted several months earlier, the capital cost of protecting/altering the system was deemed prohibitive and the work was shelved. Modern hospital care is so very technology dependent that power is an absolutely essential part of patient care and safety. Evacuation of the whole hospital had never been considered as a possible need, for some reason.

It also brings home the necessity for everyone to step up to the plate and take a pro-active stance in doing their best to ensure they have enough basic survival items laid away to last their families for at least a week should such a disaster strike in their own communities, no matter where in the world they may live. Official disaster relief may not be forthcoming for some time after these events, and even then it may not be effective - a frightening scenario to contemplate, but one which needs to be discussed openly.

After the events of that dreadful five days came the reckoning - the official investigation into the events surrounding the disaster and the actions of the staff tending the patients who had remained at the hospital, and this makes quite distressing reading.  Detailed, harrowing and in some places simply heartbreaking, this is a remarkable piece of investigative writing but its length and quite gruelling subject matter may be too much for some readers.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Busy, Busy!

Sorry about the lamentable lack of posts; our very dear elderly friend and adopted family member, John, has been very unwell indeed and was admitted to hospital, so much of my time has been spent visiting him, phoning the hospital and fighting to get him the best care possible while he has been in the hospital.

Exhausting, stressful but so very rewarding when he is now in a rehabilitation ward and likely to be discharged home again next week, much to our delight.

DD4 is going on a school-run activity holiday next week, so we are gearing up for that and getting things packed. She's also been having swimming lessons and is making good progress  as well as having lots of fun. DD3 is struggling with the intense heat here, especially as their compulsory school uniform dictates that all the girls who wear skirts must also wear navy tights (nylons) which is not much fun when the temperatures are reaching 28C  and the school only has AC in four of the rooms, even though there are 1600 children there. The female staff, of course, can wear what they like and are not wearing tights in this heat. Thank goodness the school term is very nearly over and the girls will soon be able to just relax at home and stay cool.

Yesterday I had the joy of having DD2 and her wonderful boyfriend Rob send the day with us, along with my "grandpug", Bertie. We had a great day, chilling, chatting and enjoying the cool shade in the back garden and laughing at the tortoise trying to stalk Bertie...... before heading off to visit John in hospital in the evening.

Next week is likely to be the last Latin class until September, so I really am hoping I will be disciplined enough to do a little study every day and not forget  what has been so laboriously learnt these last few months!

I have a veritable mountain of books to review and an equally large heap of ironing, so I really should tackle the ironing while it is still cool here at 7 am...........
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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Local Treasure!

Walking through Bridgend, 
this looks like a very ordinary street on a drizzly day. 
Nothing remarkable.

A quick peek up shows some quite pretty cottages on a hill.

If you actually walk part way up the hill, you get to see this absolute gem
 - a mediaeval  house, known as St John's House. 
It dates back to the fifteenth century  - for which there is documentary evidence - 
but very possibly much earlier, judging by some of the architectural features. 
It is a listed building, and has only barely escaped 
being converted into two modern flats.

This is to the left of the entrance porch.

The main door. 
It was previously owned by the St John Ambulance Brigade, 
hence their insignia on the door; 
there is also reason to believe a possible connection with the Knights Templar 
as you will see somewhat later.

I had to angle the shot to avoid the cars 
parked on the narrow road of the hill......

The entrance step is quite high up now.

There were historical re-enactors present, which added to the fun!

Around the side of the house is a blocked up door....

And the current ground level is lower than it used to be!

Some of the windows at the side.

It is believed this was the house of a person or organisation of some standing, 
as the window surround, albeit tiny, 
is carved out of one solid block of stone......

And a back door!

The walls are incredibly deep as you can see by the window surrounds!

Information about the building and the floor plan.

Arch, stonework and roof beams.

One room was fitted out as a chapel, 
as it is possible at one time this may have been a hospice 
and would certainly have had a chapel in that case.....

There are no working utilities in the building 
so candlelight was essential 
as well as wonderfully atmospheric :-)

In a recess behind the "altar" was an icon 
which I could not identify without risking getting burnt....

The stone carvings above and below were originally outside the house
 but have been placed inside for safekeeping. 
The motifs are apparently in keeping with the Templars' motifs.

The stairway to the main chamber upstairs were stone, 
narrow and lit by candle lanterns.....

As well as by one tiny window.

This was a toilet facility, with its own window
 in a small chamber off the main room.

A window upstairs. 
The distance light penetrated is quite remarkable.

This is the main chamber, with a huge fireplace, 
decorated wood carvings and exposed timbers.

And a close-up of the carvings.

Another room beyond....

These were the roof trusses and beams in the attic room.

Getting up and down was via a perilous, steep stone staircase 
with no handholds and precious little 
room for foot placements - I would have 
hated to use it on a daily basis........
this was the view looking down, by the way.

If you looked up when you reached the foot of the stairs,
 you could see an old colourwash
 on the ceiling which was exposed by peeling lime-wash.....

Downstairs, the re-enactors had laid out weapons 
and replica mediaeval artifacts 
which they were delighted to show and discuss with visitors.

It was possible to try them on for size!

And some of the medicinal and kitchen pot-herbs of the time. 
By this stage I had to leave, sadly.

Once across the busy road, I traversed the mediaeval stone bridge 

- Yr Hen Bont, The Old Bridge.....

The bridge leading to the main part of the modern town. 
A total contrast!

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