Sunday, April 28, 2013

Orthodox Holy Week

To all my Orthodox family and friends, for whom our Holy Week 2013 begins today, my prayers for a blessed Holy Week to you all!

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Thursday, April 25, 2013



By Mark Goldblatt

To be published by Random House (Children) on May 28th, 2013

Twerp starts quite slowly, in the form of a written task being completed by a sixth-grader named Julian Twerski.
Julian got into serious trouble at school and after being suspended for his unnamed misdeed, he was offered a deal by Mr Selkirk, one of his teachers. In return for writing a journal, especially about the incident which got him suspended, he could get out of the dreaded class assignment of  writing a whole report about Shakespeare.

If there is one person on the whole planet whom Julian loathes and despises, it is Shakespeare, and he is delighted to have found a way of avoiding the task. We gradually learn  more and more about Julian, his family, friends - especially his best friend Lonnie -  his attendance at Hebrew shul in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, what he thinks of school teachers, Shakespeare, his quite remarkable talent for running and his burgeoning love interest with Jillian.

Inexorably, we grow to care about him, to like him, to see why he thinks the way he does and slowly we learn the truth about  the event which got him suspended from school and needing to write the journal in the first place, and we see Julian growing up before our eyes, realizing the enormity of what he did to Danley and how he manages to make amends.

Clever, touching, sad and satisfyingly resolved at the end, this a book which will resonate with youngsters and adults alike.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Hope Of Spring

The Hope of Spring

(The Discovery, Part 3 of 6)

By Wanda E. Brunstetter

Published by Barbour Books, April 1st, 2013

After the initial traumas of the first two parts of the story, this installment settles down to be a much gentler, contemplative interlude in which we get to know many of the characters rather better.

Meredith  is resigned to having to take things easy due to pregnancy complications and accept the loving - though rather over-protective help of her parents, who have their own financial anxieties.  The newly-returned  Jonah Miller is keen to buy Luke's horse which will aid her financial problems but causes her heartache at the thought of selling her dear husband Luke's beloved horse, and Jonah seems on the brink of falling in love with Meredith.

Luke, unbeknownst to Meredith is not dead but seriously ill in hospital, his true identity unknown to the staff or to himself.  Nurse Susan Bailey (who nicknames him Eddie when she looks after him at the hospital) is instrumental in his recovery after he was brutally assaulted, his identity stolen and then left for dead.

A  quieter, slower pace is noticeable in this part of the story, though we have our usual  cliff-hanging episode right at the end to keep us on tenterhooks and eager to find out what happens in next month's installment!

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

One Year Lived

 One Year Lived

By Adam Shepard

Published by Scratch Beginnings Press, April 2013

Adam Shepard's first book, Scratch Beginnings, detailed his journey to achieving the American Dream having graduated with $25 in his pocket, and was a runaway bestseller, becoming a recommended freshman text at  80 colleges and universities in the US.

Adam contacted me via a serendipitous connection of links, sent me a chapter excerpt of his new book and asked would I be interested in reading and reviewing the book for "The Garden Window".

The chapter from his new book, One Year Lived, which  he sent me via email, was about his experiences in bullfighting; normally this would be enough to send me fleeing for the hills as I don't like reading about animals being hurt in any circumstances, but Adam is a sensitive, thoughtful young man who writes passionately and respectfully about the topic and to my surprise I really enjoyed the excerpt so much I was keen to read the rest of the book and see what else Adam had done in his truly remarkable year's travelling odyssey around the world.   

He bungee-jumped off high bridges, helped dig a well so locals could have access to clean, safe drinking water in Nicaragua, helped street children in Honduras, visited Auschwitz concentration camp, hugged a koala, rode an elephant in Thailand and fought a bull, amongst many, many other experiences. “If you can lend a hand to someone, educate yourself about the world, and sandwich that around extraordinary moments that get your blood pumping, that’s a pretty full year,” he notes.

I was amazed to discover that only 35% of Americans have passports; the overwhelming majority - some 71% - of UK citizens have passports and young folk here who have left school often have a "gap year" to travel before they embark on their university career in the the UK.

 This is not the case in America, and Adam saved for two years to get enough money together (he spent $19,420.68, by the way) so he could  travel the world, visiting  17 countries over 4 continents, determined to live life to the full and trying to make a difference to some of the people he met.  In British terms I have not travelled much as I have only visited six countries, all of them in Europe and I really, really  enjoyed reading about Adam's travels to places I have not visited but have only dreamed of : Australia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Slovakia, Thailand, Antigua in Guatemala, Honduras and more.

This book is an attempt to encourage young Americans to look at the  whole world, not just at America and Adam believes so passionately in promoting his message to travel as much as possible, to learn, to experience life as much as possible, to step outside of our normal, safe, predictable comfort zone, that he has generously given me the opportunity to offer my readers the chance to have a free authorized copy of his ebook if they comment on my blog, share a link to this review on their own blogs/Facebook pages/Twitter feeds or want to write their own reviews.

Just let me know what you have done, giving me your email address and I can send you a copy directly or  I can give you the link and login details so you download your own copy from his site, though this latter option will only run till Weds next week.

The book has its own website which has many photos of his travels and is well worth a visit!
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

French Twist

French Twist

An American Mom's Experiment in Parisian Parenting

By Catherine Crawford

Published by Ballantine Books, March 2013

I laughed till I cried when I read this book.
 From the first pages, where she discusses the stereotypical (and seemingly quite accurate) picture of many concerned American parents pandering to their children's every whim, even to the point of packing four different snacks for a child to choose from when being taken home from school , to the seeming  indifference of French friends who are parents, who advise that if there is no blood, one should ignore the constant demands for attention from children who do not actually need immediate parental input, this book depicts, discusses and dissects the different approaches to parenting exhibited by the two nations.

It's a truly fascinating comparison. The French treat their children with respect and much love, but they are expected to behave well both  in public and at home, to be in turn respectful to all adults, to eat what is put in front of them and to allow their parents some time, space and respite from being constantly at their beck and call. 

When Catherine's almost three year old drew in crayon on their apartment wall, she phoned her french friend for advice. Should she talk to her child about the reasons why she felt compelled to decorate the wall ? 

Non. She should be given a sponge, a stool and told to scrub. 

But the crayon won't scrub off....

Pas de probleme, after a few minutes, she will realise that and it will deter her from doing it again......

And indeed it did. The cultural differences mean that the French are utterly perturbed by the concept of the "terrible two" phase, as it is unheard of among their children, and such behaviour would not be tolerated or pandered to. Conversely, French children are fully included in all aspects of French life and are expected to attend important family functions such as weddings, parties and suchlike with their parents.  It is common to see small children at restaurants, enjoying the food and the ambience as much as their parents, without being given different, "children's food".

I  don't necessarily agree with everything in the book (whether relating to American or French-style parenting, but I found much of value and use in it. Definitely a keeper! 

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Sins Of The Fathers

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Vol 4): Sins Of The Fathers

Written by Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

Illustrated by Andy Kuhn

Published by Diamond Book Distributors, February 2013
The TMN Turtles have been a fixture in our house ever since my eldest daughters were tiny, so it was fun to be able to read and review this installment of a graphic novel series about them via NetGalley.

Our pizza-loving turtle heroes - Donatello, Raphael, Michaelangelo and Leonardo, their Sensei, Master Splinter and  Shredder, their arch-enemy,  probably need no introduction to anyone who had children in the 1980s and 1990s, and their popularity has endured ever since through TV series, film, comics and graphic novels.

This is the fourth book of this particular story, and although I had not read the preceding volumes, it was not difficult to catch up with the plotline. There is plenty of action and lots of suspense, just as I expected, and our heroes win the day but not without some major moral dilemmas along the way. When their friend Casey turns up, badly hurt by his abusive father, Raphael goes on the warpath, determined to teach the father a well-earned lesson by giving him a taste of the medicine he had meted out to poor Casey, but Master Splinter follows him to intervene and teaches Raphael to channel his anger into more positive action than simply thumping Casey's unpleasant father.

 I enjoyed seeing Karai, a Ninja villainess and remain amazed at how well it is possible to portray action moves in a graphic novel format. I thought the artwork was excellent and well-matched to the story.  There are bad guys galore, aliens, a mysterious laboratory and some rather worrying loose ends to be continued in the next book. I can't wait!

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Morning

It's been rather a strange morning. Having dispatched the offspring safely to school, I walked up to town to run some errands. Most were speedily and easily completed but my normally profitable perusal of the books in the town's six charity shops was fruitless.

Several reduced items were on offer in the supermarket, so I snaffled those and was making my way to the checkouts when I saw a young woman, talking loudly on her top of the range mobile phone while pushing a very small boy in a stroller.  He quietly said something to her, and was met with a tirade of abuse : "Will you f**king shut up? If you don't stop f**king dropping things on the floor, I wouldn't have to f**king pick things up all the time for you! You are doing my f**king head in!" in not just an annoyed tone but an absolutely venomous tone.
 My heart ached for this poor little boy. Goodness knows, I have shouted at my kids in the past, but never, ever like that. If he hears language like that constantly and is told repeatedly he is a "damn nuisance", what a sad childhood he must have :-(

I then went to check if items I expected to be delivered to a store today had arrived. I was told the delivery had not yet arrived and I explained that I just thought I would check when  was passing, as I didn't want to walk all the way home and then find an email waiting for me saying the items were ready to be picked up.  The clerk smiled, and while I was still there browsing , the wretched delivery was actually received and logged in by the clerk.

 In the foolish expectation that some rudimentary notion of customer service might just prompt one of the several staff on duty to actually unpack the order, I hung around looking conspicuous, but the clerk I originally spoke to just stood at the counter talking vacuous nonsense to a friend. I gave up after approx 20 mins, walked home and when I opened up my computer, behold there was an email saying the items had arrived and were waiting for me to pick them up.

Sigh. I simply cannot face another one hour round walk today, so it will have to wait for another day.
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Catching Up

It's been a busy two weeks chez nous due to the youngest two girls being home  from school on Easter holidays, hence my internet  silence.......

 We've managed to cram in two shopping trips to The Big City (one trip with me per girl, while Dad stayed home with the other), numerous walks with Prince Vasyl, lots and lots of cooking, a brilliant day with our friend K., lots of reading and just chilling out :-)

The young ones are back in school tomorrow, I shall be back in Latin class and The Hubster and I will be back to the task of redecorating Mum's house ready to be put up for sale. We do have other Great News to share in due course, but until all family members have been told in person, it would not be appropriate  to divulge it here yet.

News of major national and  international import  has been the recent death of The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, after a long period of ill-health. Her funeral will be held in St Paul's Cathedral in London on Wednesday of this week.

God grant her rest, light and peace in His kingdom, and may her memory be eternal.

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Saving The School

Saving the School

The True Story of a Principal,
a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids,
and a Year in the Crosshairs
of Education Reform

By Michael Brick

The Penguin Press, New York, 2012

The American and British school systems are quite different and I was particularly glad to be allowed to review this book to gain a better insight into the American public school setup.

Just as in Britain, there are areas where the economic and social demographics have changed substantially over the years and some schools  have been left with only the poorest children attending, whose families have been unable to afford to move away or send their children to schools in more affluent neighbourhoods.

This is the story of Anabel Garza, a dedicated maverick teacher/administrator who was determined to save Reagan High, a failing high school in Austin, Texas, which had plummeting student numbers, even lower attendance rates and a student/teacher self-esteem ratio to match. The authorities seemed far more inclined to simply close the school for its low academic standards and bus the kids to other schools than to actually identify the problems and act upon them, and Garza was given the challenge of raising standards. Standardised testing - seen as the be-all and end-all by the education authority - was doing more to destroy neighbourhoods than anyone could have guessed.

She was determined to change things for the better in the short deadline she was allotted, to the extent of driving to students' homes to get them out of bed and into school in the mornings, encouraging them to take care of themselves, dress and groom themselves and believe in themselves as essential prerequisites to actually getting them to learn. Disaffected and demotivated staff were fired and a team spirit fostered among the remaining staff that they could, should and would improve the school and give the students real hope for their futures.

 It was a difficult and often thankless task, with little apparent real support from the powers that be, but Garza was determined to enlist the support of the local community and the youngsters themselves. It was a long, hard task, but the staff were determined to give their students every possible chance at succeeding in the next round of standardised testing, teaching them how to study, how to learn, how to behave in properly in class - all things which should have been addressed many years before in their school careers, and it does make the reader wonder what on earth many of the original staff who had been fired had actually been doing at the school for so many years for standards to have slipped so badly.

The ultimate success story gives huge insight into the lives and backgrounds of the staff and students at this school as well as identifying the problems inherent in the public school system.  I found it an interesting read indeed.

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage

True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat

Edited by Caroline M. Grant, Lisa Catherine Harper

Published by Shambhala Publications, March 2013

This book is exactly what it says on the cover, a collection of poignant, amusing and captivating anecdotes about family foods, family meals, family recipes and everything that goes into the experience of learning to eat, enjoy or loathe family mealtimes.

Based on the popular blog Learning To Eat, this book is a collection of essays written by American authors from varying backgrounds, all of whom are united in their fascination with food, and each essay ends with a recipe. From the frustrations of trying to source fresh seafood, cooking for workmen,  revisiting Southern soul food, running a food blog right through to finding out that your family is not as devoutly kosher as you might have believed, this is a treat to read.

Pregnancy diets, childhood nutrition and obsessions with certain types of food,  growing food, preserving food, eating too much, too little or the wrong sorts of food - all have a mention at least and some have whole essays. The Cassoulet of the title gets a whole, wonderful and well-deserved essay, and is definitely my favourite piece of the whole book.

Sad families, happy families, hungry families, dysfunctional families  - all eat, and all have stories to tell. Some families cook freestyle, others have collections of much-loved cookbooks, some love to cook, others hate it. The final part of the book, entitled Learning To Eat, is particularly illuminating - and reassuring-  if you have a child who is a picky eater or just doesn't really enjoy eating food.  

To sum up? Well worth a read.
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Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?

 Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?

By Jena Pincott

Published in the UK by Souvenir Press, 2013

I'll be absolutely honest and say, hand on heart, that I expected to discover  only a few new things about the science of pregnancy and early neonatal health when I picked up this book. As a retired midwife who had - and continues to have - a keen interest in anything relating to pregnancy and birth, I believed that I was still well  read and knowledgeable in the  subject, and I was delighted to find that this book proved me completely and utterly wrong!  

Clearly written in a lucid and highly engaging way, Jena Pincott has masterfully turned extremely complex scientific research into an easily understandable and always enjoyable book. Although it starts in a time-linear fashion, it is not necessary to read the whole book in sequence; it is perfectly possible just to dip into specific areas of interest but the reader should be warned that this is an utterly absorbing book - you may well end up cooking food with  one hand whilst still clutching the book in the other and reading voraciously!

I was already aware of the research dealing with the aftermath of  major famine/starvation problems affecting pregnant women's health and the health  of the babies they bore.  What I was not aware of was the absolutely staggering breadth and depth of knowledge which has been garnered in this area alone in the last fifteen years.  Not only were the babies born during or just after famine conditions  adversely affected in height and weight, both immediately and as they grew older, but it is now coming to light that even the grandchildren of these women who experienced starvation are showing definite health problems directly relating to the original womens' experiences - a phenomenon dubbed epigenetics, which has become an expanding field of study for medical researchers.

 This book covers a truly huge number of topics from why pregnant women are more aware of odours from other people  to why their own body odour changes in pregnancy, the importance of diet in the formation of a baby's brain, to how and why maternal stress affects the ability of babies and children to deal with  stress  and learn how to cope with complex situations.  We learn that male babies exposed to high levels of maternal stress hormones in the womb are statistically more likely to experience learning deficits whereas girls are more likely to become anxious or depressed individuals and that baby girls born in the autumn will remain fertile for an average of eighteen months longer than those born in the spring....

 There is so much information condensed and crammed into this book that it is impossible to do it justice in a review; I can only urge that if you have any interest at all in what makes humans they way they are, make yourself comfortable  and prepare to be enthralled and astonished by this truly remarkable book.

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