Saturday, December 28, 2013

How To Like Paul Again


How to like Paul again

The apostle you never knew

By Conrad Gempf

Published in the UK by Authentic Media, May 2013


St Paul was responsible for writing some of the most memorable passages in the New Testament, and almost every church wedding will contain his words about love.

Most of us  have at least a passing knowledge of him, yet how many of us actually know much about him, his background and the congregations to whom he wrote his letters? Why did he become so influential in the Early Church? And why has he become regarded as a misogynistic, uncharitable, nay-saying killjoy by so many modern people? What did he really say, and why?

Dr Conrad Gempf is a Lecturer in the New Testament at the London School of Theology and is on a quest to make Paul understandable and accessible to our generation, especially people who may not be "church-goers" and may find, when they dip into the Bible, that Paul's writings are nigh on incomprehensible to them.

Why does Paul write in the style he does? Who was he writing to and why?  What authority did he have over these congregations of new Christians ? Does what he wrote and taught have any real relevance for us today, with our very differing viewpoints and understandings of gender issues and status?

This is an immensely readable book covering the letters of St Paul to the Galatians, Philemon and I Corinthians, with many touches of humour and dry wit. I look forward to reading more from Dr Gempf in the future, and thank him for making St Paul more accessible to me through this enlightening book.

Here is a video trailer from the early part of the book:




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Alzheimer's Early Stages

Alzheimer's Early Stages

First Steps for Family, Friends and Caregivers

Third edition

By Daniel Kuhn

Published by Hunter House, December 10th, 2013


Alzheimer's is often a dreaded diagnosis, as feared by family and friends as it is by those people who actually have the illness. Modern Western society places a great deal of emphasis on maintaining one's independence and capacity for caring for one's self, so to be told that you have a progressive disease which will eventually make you incapable of managing your normal activities of daily living without a considerable amount of help is a frightening and distressing situation.

Daniel Kuhn has written a thorough and detailed book about dealing with the early stages of the disease for those who have recently been diagnosed and for their family, friends and caregivers. The diagnostic process, possible helpful medications and considerations about participating in clinical trials are giving full consideration, but enormous weight is giving to discussing what it is actually like to have the disease, using interviews with people who have the disease and also referencing books written about and by people with the disease.

Contrary to popular belief (which is at least partly driven by doom-and-gloom reports in the media), people in the earlier stages of the disease can still lead happy and fulfilling lives with some support from family and friends and it is nice to read about these "success stories" and exactly how they have been achieved; equally, when and how to intervene appropriately to safeguard the person and others as the disease progresses is also thoroughly discussed. Advance planning for the future - with the involvement of the sufferer wherever possible - is essential, in terms of wills, legal powers of attorney, financial planning, end of life/living will directives  etc and there are sections of the book with areas to think about and discuss while it is still possible to make these plans with sufferers.

A large chunk of the book is devoted to taking care of the carers, which is all too often ignored. Those involved in the care of those with impaired cognition can rapidly become stressed, exhausted, depressed and overwhelmed with the task of caring and it is essential that carers set up support networks and stratagems for themselves as well as for those for whom they are providing care. Getting help from outside agencies is also encouraged.

This book contains a much of value which could be used to support anyone with a degree of cognitive impairment and it is a book filled with compassion, care and optimism. Whether you are a child, spouse or a friend of someone with Alzheimer's, this book will be of value.


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Mastering The Art Of French Eating



Mastering The Art Of French Eating

Lessons In Food And Love From A Year In Paris

By Ann Mah

Published by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, September 2013



Ann Mah was looking forward to her version of Heaven - spending several years living in France with her husband, a diplomat who had been assigned to Paris. Things did not turn out quite as she and her husband Calvin had hoped; he was temporarily re-assigned to the Middle East, and she was left alone in Paris for a year.....

She found herself a job, practiced her French and her cooking, and slowly began to make friends and expand her social circle to fill both  her time and loneliness without her husband.

 Passionate about food, she began to explore French cuisine with dogged tenacity, travelling, researching and tasting extensively, gathering recipes and recreating signature dishes from different regions of France. Each chapter covers a region, and recipes are given for the  reader who wishes to sample truly authentic dishes such as Fondue, Beef Borguignon, Steak Frites, Crepes, Andouillete, Salade Lyonnaise, Soupe au Pistou, Cassoulet, Choucroute and Aligot.

She meets some fascinating people on her journeys and her love for her husband and for the food, history and people of France shines through on every single immensely readable page of this very enjoyable book.


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Monday, December 23, 2013

A Simple Christmas Wish

 A Simple Christmas Wish

By Melody Carlson

Published by Revell, September 2013


Rachel Milligan is caring for her young niece whose parents are away on an anniversary trip. The last thing she expects to happen is for them to be killed in a plane crash, leaving her to care for Holly on a permanent basis - or so she thinks.

When Rachel's brother and sister-in-law's wills are read, Rachel is not appointed as Holly's guardian. Holly's mother Miri was born and raised Amish, and her Amish aunt Lydia will be given the full custody, care and responsibility for Holly from now on. Holly has a huge transition to make to Amish life, and Rachel is going to find it very hard to let go of her niece, especially at Christmas time when they both have birthdays......

I've read lots of Melody Carlson's contemporary Christian fiction -which I have always enjoyed - but I have to say that I did not enjoy this anywhere near as much.  Holly is a lovely child who captures the reader's heart immediately, but it took a long while for me to warm up to Rachel. The Amish in the story are not generally depicted as very prepossessing characters and the point where Rachel ponders becoming Amish so as not to be separated from Holly left me incredulous. Her newly-acquired Amish beau, Lydia and Miri's brother Benjamin, whose position in the community seems uncertain, is quick to disabuse her of her notion, but the ending seems very rushed.

 I found the book a rather unsatisfying read, much to my disappointment.



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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mind Over Medicine

 Mind Over Medicine:

Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself

By Lissa Rankin, M.D.

Published by Hay House Inc, May 2013



Dr Rankin, along with the overwhelming majority of doctors trained in the Western world, was taught at medical school that surgery and mainstream medications mediated via medical professionals cured illnesses, period. Pretty much everything else was dismissed as woo-woo.

Her own stress-filled life as an Ob/Gyn coincided with a period of deteriorating personal health and she left medicine altogether for a while to pursue a less stressful and more contemplative lifestyle.  Medicine never quite left her, though, and gradually she became drawn to researching and studying how the mind can positively or negatively affect one's health quite dramatically, and this immensely readable book is the result of her work in this field

Surprisingly, there is quite a body of medical literature and research about spontaneous remissions/ unexplained cures/miracle cures if one knows where to look. Dr Rankin draws together a seemingly disparate collection of sources and weaves the complex scientific information into a mind-bogglingly yet coherent narrative which covers the medical documentation of miracle cures at Lourdes, the placebo and nocebo effects noted in medical trials and the ability of positive belief and trust to  cure carefully documented  and proven medical conditions under certain circumstances.

This is **not** one of the self-help books which tries to convince the reader that if only you believe fervently enough, you will be cured of anything and everything under the sun; Dr Rankin has no desire to place that sort of guilt-trip burden on anyone with a serious illness. She does, however, want to make people aware that what they think about themselves, their illness and the doctors who care for them can have a definite effect on the curative process and the efficacy of  medications used in specific illnesses.

 The way news is broken and the language used by doctors when giving diagnoses and outlining treatments is also crucial and sometimes, too much information really is a bad thing - it is possible to produce adverse side-effects of medications even when patients in trials have only been given utterly inert substances.

A remarkable book, and a long overdue one.


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Yuletide Blessings


Yuletide Blessings:

Christmas Stories That Warm The Heart

By Nan Corbitt Allen

Published by B&H Publishing Group, October 2013


 Starting with the prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the coming of Christ and the significance of Bethlehem as Christ's birthplace, the Christmas story is unpicked to provide all sorts of fascinating pieces of information about livestock, shepherds, the wise men and their gifts.

The stories behind Christmas poems, songs, carols and Handel's Messiah are related as well as the background to all sorts of traditions and Christmas beliefs, including poinsettias, Christmas cards, "Silent  Night" (given in German and in English!), Christmas-themed popular songs and movies and the ballet "The Nutcracker". True war-time stories and travelling home for Christmas also get a special mention.

The book itself is beautifully produced, with subtle background designs printed on the paper and a very clear, readable and festive green font; appropriate quotations from the Bible are interspersed and a special section at the book for recording your own favourite Christmas traditions is a lovely touch.

A gorgeous little book, ideal as  stocking-filler gift for someone special at Christmas.


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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Busy Time Of The Year!

I have a few hectic days during this coming week so The Garden Window will be quiet for the next few days, but book reviews will resume by the end of the week :-)
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Friday, December 13, 2013

Annie's Christmas Wish


Annie's Christmas Wish

By Barbara Cameron

Published by Abingdon, October 2013

This installment of the Quilts Of Lancaster County series takes us back to the familiar characters of Matthew and Jenny Bontrager and their family, concentrating especially on their daughter Annie, who has grown to love writing as much as Jenny did in her pre-Amish life as a reporter and war correspondent.

Annie has always wanted to visit New York City and when Jenny is asked to be a special guest at a charity fundraising dinner there, it seems that it would be a perfect time to take the whole family as a special treat.

Their initial plans are thrown into disarray by an accident involving one of Jenny and Matthew's sons, and Annie's friend since their earliest childhood, Aaron, ends up accompanying them while the injured Joshua remains home with his great-grandmother Phoebe. The family meet many of Jenny's old friends and revisit places from her former career and it seems to everyone that Annie is entranced by what New York has to offer on a personal and a professional level. Aaron fears that he will lose his dear Annie to the bright lights and prospects of New York, and both of them have a lot of growing up and soul-searching to do before they can decide where their priorities lie...

A pleasure to read, and it was fascinating to see how Amish visitors to the Big Apple could so easily encounter pitfalls and perils for the unwary; the dangers and problems of life in a big city are handed well and provide a perfect counterpoint to the vividly described Christmas festivities and decorations.


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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener

The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener:

How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature

By Tammi Hartung

Published by Storey, Dec 11th, 2013


I grow our fruit and limited vegetables in an organic and as wildlife-freindly manner as I can at home, and was so pleased to review this book!

Tammi Hartung and her husband have a small farm in Colorado which they run on organic and wildlife friendly principles; it is also a wildlife and botanical sanctuary, so they have amassed a huge amount of experience in  encouraging biodiversity and productive food growing.



In order to understand the inter-connectedness of plants, animals, birds, insects and humans, it is important to learn how to identify the wildlife in your garden and the composition and inhabitants of your soil in order to enhance your garden's attractiveness to wildlife and minimise problems with pest infestation. Planning and starting a garden, composting and water management are naturally covered early on in the book; companion planting of herbs to deter insect pests is encouraged as well as planting things which will encourage pollinating and predatory insects which will benefit your garden and its crops.

There are occasions when it may sadly be necessary to use an organic pesticide; this is discussed in detail and valuable advice given on how to use these products effectively, safely and with as little collateral damage as possible as well as the judicious use of covers, netting, crop cages, poly-tunnels and scarecrows which can help reduce crop losses due to predation.

There is an enormous amount of information crammed into this excellent book; the principles would be applicable to anywhere in the world although the flora and fauna would likely be very different. The whole book is a pleasure to pick up and read; the illustrations are delightful, the layout is clear and uncluttered and most importantly of all, it is easy to find whatever pieces of information you particularly need as well as being a treat to browse through in a more leisurely fashion!

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The Christmas Quilt





The Christmas Quilt

By Vannetta Chapman

Published by Abingdon Press, October 2013

A sequel to A Simple Amish Christmas, which was the first Amish themed book I ever read (and had me hooked on the genre), I was delighted to have a chance to read and review this.

We revisit Annie and Samuel, now married, as they go about their daily lives. Annie's sister-in-law , Leah, is heavily pregnant with twins and Annie herself is expecting a baby. Annie and Samuel are very happy but Leah and her husband Adam seem much less happy together and are wondering how things could have changed so much in the few years  since their wedding day......

Annie's gift to the warmly anticipated twins is going to be a beautiful quilt; she is convinced that she will  have it finished in time for their birth in about six weeks. Leah, however, develops significant medical problems and ends up having to stay in hospital until the birth of the babies. It does not look like Annie has any chance of finishing her quilt before their birth, but as she spends the next few weeks caring for Leah in the hospital where until recently, she had herself worked, she realises that finishing the quilt has paled into insignificance.

The two women both grow closer to God, to each other and their families as they ponder the significance of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit and the number of patterned quilts  pieces they are busily sewing together as they tell each other stories relating to each Fruit to while away the long hours of waiting. Separated from his Fraa, Adam too has chance to think and pray about his marriage and his own insecurities, and the husband and wife manage to move past their problems, forgive each other and rejoice in their new life together as a family.

Heartwarming is a phrase that is often over-used about books, but this book is a sheer delight and truly warmed my heart -  it  is one I will plan on re-reading every Christmas :-)


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Monday, December 09, 2013

Leaves On The Line

Leaves On The Line

By Martin & Simon Toseland

Published by Portico Books, October 2013


Subtitled "What the British say...and what they really mean", this is a priceless, irreverent and quirky look at what makes us British "tick" as well as our lives, language and interests.

From notable expressions relating to politics, work, weather, sport and food through to a favourite national sport -passive/aggressive complaining - this is a concise and very funny guide to understanding the British and their double-speak.

I would however dispute that getting drunk is something that most of us would prefer even more than a nice cup of tea - this is not true of anybody I know, though that may be more due to my age :-)


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An Amish Family Christmas

An Amish Family Christmas

By Murray Pura

Published  by Harvest House, October 2013

Naomi Bachman has lost her parents and her sister in a tragic accident, and her brother Luke is now in a catatonic state with the doctors unsure of if and when he might recover.  There seems to be precious little to look forward to at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Caring for Luke when he comes home is going to be a full-time task for Naomi and her sister in law, Rebecca, but their lives are turned upside down once more when Micah (Naomi's estranged husband and Rebecca's brother) returns home from serving in the armed forces.  He has been given three days to consider his future - whether he will return to active service as a non-combatant medic or whether he will return to their Amish community and re-take his place there as an Amish pacifist and Naomi's husband - or face being placed under the Meidung once more, and be shunned by his wife, family and friends.

Micah and Naomi attempt to rebuild their marriage in the short time left to them, but they have sadness, anger and resentment to deal with as well as how much both they and their lives have changed.  Can they rebuild their lives and their marriage? Can Micah turn his back on what he believes to be a definite calling from God to serve as a medic to the troops?

It seems as if they need a miracle to sort out the whole complex tangle of issues with which they are faced in this remarkable book, which I enjoyed immensely on both my first and second reading.



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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Surviving Home

Surviving Home

By A. American

Published by Plume/Penguin, July 2013


Morgan Carter thought that getting home to his wife and daughters after an eventful 250 mile trek was going to mark the end of his immediate problems after modern life as he knew had reached an abrupt and dramatic end. After all, he lived in a nice, close-knit community, he had prepared well for any eventuality that might befall his family and he was hoping that he could just get on with providing for his family and doing his best to re-build their lives in this new world.


What he had not bargained for was the level of  in-fighting, greed, suspicion and downright hatred  from some in his community who had not made any preparations for their own families; when it became obvious that the Nanny State was not coming to help them anytime soon, they decided that they had the right to take whatever anyone else had had the forethought to prepare. The law enforcement officer in their neighbourhood was way out of his depth and unable to effectively secure the locality or dealing with crime and threats of violence.

As if this was not bad enough, the friends and allies Morgan had made on that trek home were facing their own sets of problems and it was becoming horrifyingly clear that  much of the FEMA camp forced relocation and forced labour solution the state was mandating was for a much more sinister purpose than was first believed. The friends reunite for a common cause and mutual help, which is just as well, as individually, their situations were reaching critical points.

Parts of the book are quite graphically gruesome and I nearly "lost my lunch" at one point, but it is a fast-paced and action-packed thriller of a book which kept me compulsively turning every page.  I hope that volume 3 will not be long in appearing as I really do want to find out what happens next!


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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Hanukkah In America


Hanukkah In America:

A History

By Dianne Ashton

Published by NYU Press, 14th October 2013


Hanukkah has traditionally always been a relatively minor feast in the Jewish year across most of the world, albeit with a multiplicity of spellings!
In America, however, over a period of almost 200 years, it has been transformed into a major feast, with town menorahs becoming a traditional part of the festive decorations in many parts of America.

How - and why  - did this transformation happen?  Dianne Ashton has created a substantial book which looks at the traditional Jewish history of the events surrounding the beginnings of Hanukkah, how it was celebrated - or relatively ignored - for long periods and then became a  major festival for American Jews of all backgrounds and fervour. Historical sources are closely examined and pondered and rabbinic texts outline the how and why of the celebratory activities. The fact that Jews were never persecuted or forced to live in ghettos by state decree meant that they were free to live, celebrate their festivals and publish books to an appreciative and growing audience; Protestant Christian interest in the history of the early church and its relationship to Judaism of the time meant that many Jewish historical and commentary texts were widely republished and disseminated, even back to mainland Europe via Christian sources and Hanukkah flourished.

The story of the Maccabees heroically resisting assimilation  to the decrees of King Antiochus was meant to encourage Jews to hold fast to their traditions and identity and encourage them not to become assimilated into a non-Jewish lifestyle in America, but paradoxically, it has become  possibly the only Jewish festival which has truly permeated the general American consciousness and been adopted by mainstream America. Hanukkah also became a way for families of Jewish descent but who were not particularly devout or serious about practicing their faith on a daily basis to maintain their Jewish identity and gradually find their way back to a more observant form of Jewish practice and faith.


This is a fascinating, painstaking and incredibly detailed book which covers every aspect - religious, historical, secular, scholastic, musical, ritual, artistic and anthropological  - of Hanukkah and how it has been and is still celebrated now.

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The Christmas Visitor

The Christmas Visitor

An Amish Romance

By Linda Byler

Published by Good Books, September 3rd, 2013


This is the story of Ruth Miller, left widowed when her beloved husband Ben died falling off a roof at a barn raising. Her youngest child, also named Ben after his father, was born several months after his death. 

She had to sell their farm as she was unable to work it herself with her very young family, and she could not afford to employ someone to do it for her; luckily a neighbour, Levi King, allowed her to live rent-free in a house he owned which made it just possible to scrimp by on the little money she had. She was regularly helped and supported by her family and friends in their Amish community, especially by her dear friend Mamie who provided comfort and practical help with the tasks of caring for her family.

Unlike some idealised Amish stories, this one pulls no punches at all about how hard she found it, being both mother and father to her children and desperately trying to make ends meet by herself without being too much of a burden on her extended family or her community. It also vividly portrays the absolute primal rawness of bereavement mixed with the joys of raising children and the sheer unrelenting hard work of  caring for a home  and  raising kids in the Amish tradition.

When John Beiler, a newcomer, who is believed to be courting a girl in the community seems to take a special interest in her, she is torn between being flattered at his courteous and low-key attentions and concerned at his apparent love interest in someone else - what sort of a man is he? When a mysterious benefactor starts leaving cash gifts in her mailbox and then food parcels, she starts to think about whether she should be remarrying, according to her community's tradition.....

 This is a lovely, lovely story, with huge amounts of fascinating detail about the day to day life of an Amish woman. 



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Monday, December 02, 2013

Adventures With The Wife In Space


Adventures With The Wife In Space

Living with Doctor Who

By Neil Perryman

Published by Faber & Faber, November 2013

The only Doctor Who story I clearly remember watching when I was young was "Horror at Fang Rock" in 1977, which frightened the living daylights out of me.

 It was utterly brilliant and I remember it vividly to this day, though I was never a serious fan of the show until it returned with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and my daughters were keen to watch it. They become total addicts and slowly, slowly, I was sucked into it too.

The prospect of reading a book about a Doctor Who fan - Neil Perryman - who managed to persuade his long suffering wife Sue that it would  be a good idea if they sat down together and watched as many of the classic Doctor Who episodes as they could, captured my imagination and I had such a brilliant time reading about their project that as soon as I finished the book, I read it again immediately and enjoyed it just as much the second time.

Sue not only ended up watching the TV shows but also some of the spin offs and reconstructed episodes, and she found their exploit was appearing on Neil's blog - complete with pod-casts - which documented her thoughts and reactions as she threw cushions and sat in disbelief, horror, enjoyment and hysterical laughter when watching the various episodes.  By the time the experiment ended, she had visited a convention and had even spoken to two of the real Doctors, as well as ending up with her very own fans.

Both Sue and Neil are Media Lecturers and it really added to my enjoyment to eavesdrop on their discussions of the technical side of producing Doctor Who as well as their thoughts on the story-lines, characterisations and scripts; Neil's knowledge of the genre in general is extensive and of Doctor Who in particular is almost encyclopaedic, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

This is definitely one of my Top Ten Best Books of 2013 and I have bought a copy for my daughters for Christmas :-)

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Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Stubborn Sweetness

A Stubborn Sweetness And Other Stories For The Christmas Season

By Katherine Paterson

Published by Westminster John Knox Press, August 2013



Don't be misled by the title or by the pretty cover; this is a book of short Christmas stories quite unlike anything you have ever read before.


From the rich woman being befriended by a poor little boy to an illiterate Christian man in revolutionary China becoming secret friends with a young Communist woman,  to a pastor in  Japan enduring bombings and South American Indians who have no priests, as well as plenty of other stories set across America, this anthology of stories by Katherine Paterson managed to make me laugh, cry, sigh and rejoice. It is filled with hope, compassion, love, sadness and grief, but underlying it all is the true message of Christmas and of love.

Definitely a keeper.


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Sizzling Stats!

I checked the statistics for "The Garden Window" this morning and was delighted to see that during November, there were 5, 192 page views!

Thank you to everyone who has visited my book blog :-)

All my personal blogging is now hosted over at "Beyond The Garden Window".
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