Thursday, October 31, 2013

R.I.P. Off!


Or The British Way Of Death

By Ken West

Published by Matador, October 8th, 2013

First of all, this is not a Mitford-esque, factual expose of the British way of death. This is a novel, but one which is based on the extensive experience of Ken West, who has spent 45 years working in bereavement services and who set up the world's first natural burial site in 1993 in the UK.

It's an unlikely subject for a novel, but it works brilliantly and I read it obsessively from cover to cover, keen to find out what happened next.

 Set in Cumbria, England, it follows the lives, fortunes and misfortunes of local undertakers/funeral directors as they go about their daily work, dealing with bereaved families, struggling with recalcitrant corpses, worrying about making ends meet, greasing the palms of gravediggers and crematorium workers and then, worst of all, dealing with Ben West.

Ben is their worst nightmare: a trend-setting, forward-thinking, environmentally-friendly Bereavement Services Manager for Carlisle County Council, determined to offer people the greatest possible choice when arranging funerals for their departed loved ones.

Graham, Ronson, Brian, Bill, Roger. Willy, Peter and Jack are the undertakers described, covering a large geographical area with a wide variance in the populaces they serve. They deal with sweet little old ladies, crooks, drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally unstable people and those who are prepared to lie about the ownership of a grave plot to get a burial on the cheap, people who want  pop songs at funerals and those who are adamant they will not see their "late lamented" be buried in the wrong denominational section of the graveyard. They deal with it all, but the winds of change are blowing and they will have to decide whether to accept the innovations Ben West is hell-bent on introducing or face their clients choosing options other than the traditional funeral services they provide.

The full panoply involved in collecting, preparing, embalming, burying, cremating and even exhuming the  dead is introduced in this remarkably clever book; it manages to be witty, sarcastic, thoroughly irreverent, thoughtful, funny and gruesome in equal measure, and I read it straight through in one sitting, laughing out loud in places and feeling sad in others.

It is well-characterised and on the whole very well written indeed; I did notice a few typos and would perhaps have preferred less dependence on exclamation marks, but still a clever book which lays the world of the funeral director wide open.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

365 Slow Cooker Suppers

365 Slow Cooker Suppers

By Stephanie O'Dea

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

September 24th, 2013

This substantial book can give you a whole year of convenient, tasty and easy to prepare suppers using your crockpot/slowcooker.

One of the things which makes this book stand out head and shoulders above the rest is that gluten-free options are given for all recipes, making this an ideal book whether you have to cater for people who need a gluten free diet everyday or only for occasional visitors.

What is in it?

  • There is a whole chapter of bean recipes, both vegetarian and meat based.
  • A chapter for soups and stews.
  • Meatless main dishes,
  • Beef, lamb, pork and chicken recipes.
  • A whole chapter devoted to making fillings for sandwiches, subs, wraps, quesadillas and  lettuce wraps, including burgers, hot dogs, sloppy joes and pulled pork.
  •  A  fish and seafood chapter with unusual recipes such as lemony balsamic honey salmon and a more familiar and homely tuna and noodle supper.

There are many vegetarian and some vegan dishes scattered throughout the book as well as in the meatless mains section.

I think possibly my favourite chapter is the one devoted to chicken recipes: honey mustard chicken, lemon chicken, mango chicken, parmesan crusted chicken, barbecue chicken thighs - all mouth-watering recipes with glorious photographs, as if you needed any further tempting to cook them. Never in a million years would I have thought of soaking chicken in a coffee , orange juice, peppercorns cloves and star anise brine before cooking, but it works, giving a really unusual taste which would certainly have guests wondering what all the ingredients are!

Whether you prefer highly spiced curries or more mellow and subtle flavours, there are recipes which can be adapted and used. I do particularly like the "verdict" notes describing what works or does not work, what picky eaters might like or dislike about a recipe, and how to tweak recipes accordingly.

Now she just needs to produce a companion 365 pudding book :-)

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101 Tips For A Happier Marriage

101 Tips for a Happier Marriage

By Jennifer Roback Morse & Betsy Kerekes

Published 28 October 2013 by Ave Maria Press

None of us have a perfect marriage; we are all flawed and imperfect people yet so many of us married couples seem to expect far higher standards from our spouses than we do from ourselves - me included!

This is a simple and short book of 101 effective tips on how to make your marriage stronger and both of you happier, by accepting that only God is perfect and that we all need to cut each other a little slack and communicate better. Marriage is good for us individually and collectively, as a couple, as a family and as a society and we should all be making every effort possible to support, help and encourage each other to make our marriages stronger.

I really like the way the tips have been split into sections, ranging from "Make A Decision To Love" and "Get It Done Without Drama" to "Understand The Physiology Of Fighting",  "Handle Criticism Gracefully" and "Soothe Yourself To Let Go Of Grudges", amongst others. This does make it easier to find things in a hurry when you feel yourself about to launch into meltdown mode!  I was not aware of the fact that female stress hormones after an argument can still be at a high level they day after a spat, and that women can easily be precipitated back into a high stress situation in that time; both partners therefore need to tread carefully after an argument to avoid accidentally falling into further confrontation and upset.

It is a very useful little book which gave me lots of food for thought, and I would certainly benefit from reading one tip a day, every day.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

C.S.Lewis: A Biography Of Friendship


A Biography Of Friendship

By Colin Duriez

Published by Lion Books, June 2013

I was rather sceptical about whether anything new could be said about the much-lauded C S Lewis, and was very pleasantly surprised by this unusual book.

It is not a traditional chronological biography but instead a fairly slim volume which chooses to examine the friendships he had and which he valued greatly. Some were almost lifelong friends, especially his beloved brother Warnie, others were philosophically-akin friends, college friends or academic friends, some were transient but important friends and some were almost soul-mates. His friendship with Tolkien and the other Inklings is described but so are the lesser-known friendships and relationships. His unusual and significant friendship with Jane, the mother of his army colleague Paddy Moore was to last until her death in 1951; he and Paddy had made a pact that if one of them did not survive the horrors of the First World War, the survivor would take care of the other's family, a pact which Lewis took exceptionally seriously, making sure Paddy's mother and sister were provided for, and living with them until Maureen's marriage and then Jane's death. There has been controversy as to the depth of the relationship between them;  he often introduced Jane to others as "Mother", but this is handled in a detached and certainly not prurient fashion. The only jarring note in the whole book is the description of Lewis disclosing his sexual fantasies at a young age in letters, which I felt was unnecessarily intrusive and did not add to my understanding or enjoyment of that segment.

As it is a thematic biography and not a time-line biography, I did find I occasionally had to skip back and forth to check on dates and names as I was reading, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book at all.  Lewis' conversion from atheist to agnostic to Theist and finally to Christian is handled very well and  in depth, making for fascinating reading in these days of strident atheism. No-one can doubt Lewis' intellect, having First Class Honours degrees from Oxford in English, Philosophy and Classics, which makes his conversion to Christianity all the more remarkable and heartening. I found it was particularly interesting to read about his science fiction novels, which I have not yet read but intend to do so in the near future, and I feel rather sad to have reached the end of this book....

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A Bead And A Prayer

A Bead And A Prayer:

A Beginner's Guide To Protestant Prayer Beads

By Kristen E Vincent

Published by Upper Room Books, 2013

I was intrigued by the title  - and the sub-title!

 Having started life as an Anglo-Catholic, I was accustomed to praying the traditional Rosary, and as an Orthodox I have my chotki, my long prayer rope on which I pray the "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner" prayer. I had heard of the "Anglican Rosary" which was developed in the 1980s but had never seen a set of the distinctive beads or known anyone who prays it.

Kristen Vincent has been intrigued by,  loved and collected Rosary beads and chaplets since her Presbyterian childhood, although she does not use the usual invocations to the Mother of God which constitute the traditional Rosary. She felt a distinct call to make and distribute prayer beads and started a ministry doing just that, wishing to make the usefulness of praying with beads known to many and dispelling the belief that this was a type of prayer restricted to Roman Catholic Christians. This slim book is  based on the four week long workshop sessions she teaches about making and using prayer beads.

She identifies the beads as having a similar function to Jewish Tzitzit, a means of reminding, focusing and concentrating on God and indeed, Christians have been praying with stones or strings of beads since the earliest days of Christianity. The Desert Fathers and Mothers used stones to count where they were in their daily recitation of the Psalter and this practice was followed by many pious laypeople, who if they were unable to read and pray the Psalms, would recite 150 Our Father prayers instead, using a prayer rope. Over time, this developed into the Rosary still prayed by many Catholics throughout the world. Many Protestant Christians would feel uncomfortable asking the prayers of the Blessed Virgin, but Kristen Vincent argues that there is no need for them to miss out on the many benefits and spiritual helps  that praying with beads can give.

The resources section is good, indicating useful books, websites and sources for purchasing the beads etc needed to make a set of prayer beads. Full and very simple instructions are given about making your very own and highly personalised set of beads as well as several different sets of prayers which can be used with the beads, ranging from the Eastern Orthodox Jesus prayer, the Lord's prayer, verses from Scripture to intercessory prayer for others - a versatile tool indeed for any Christian.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Christmas In Apple Ridge

Christmas in Apple Ridge:

Three-in-One Collection

By Cindy Woodsmall

Published by Waterbrook Press, December 2012

This is a 3 in 1 collection of The Sound of Sleigh Bells, The Christmas Singing and The Dawn of Christmas.

The Sound of Sleigh Bells introduces us to  Lizzie and Beth 
an aunt and niece team who run a business. Lizzie has never married and Beth is a young woman who seems unable to shake off either her mourning for her dead fiance or her stark black mourning clothes. When Beth returns from a buying trip where she has discovered the work of a talented Amish sculptor, she enthuses about it to Lizzie; Lizzie does not want Beth to remain lonely for the rest of her life and takes matters into her own hands. She tells a few white lies which means that Beth starts to correspond with Jonah the sculptor, believing him to be an older man and he believes he is corresponding with the older Lizzie...... can deceptions made with good intentions ever bring healing or happiness?

The Christmas Singing tells us about Mattie, a talented baker who runs a cake store - and nurses immense sadness about the breakup with Gideon several years ago. Gideon let her believe that he had found an Englisch girlfriend, and Mattie is slowly building her life back up, having a comfortable yet unexciting relationship with Sol, who is trustworthy, reliable and will never, ever break her heart.  When Mattie's business burns down, she returns to her parents' home for a while to recuperate and she has to deal with Gideon's presence in the community once and for all. Was Gideon lying? Who was the Englisch girl and how did he meet her? Can she trust him ever again? And just who does she love, Sol or Gideon?

The Dawn Of Christmas - This was an unusual story. Sadie calls off her wedding to Daniel when she finds him behaving inappropriately with her cousin, and throws herself into work with an Ohio Mennonite community, telling her family and Church elders that she cannot stay in the same locality as Daniel when her heart is broken. Daniel denies any inappropriate behaviour and many folk do not know who to believe. 

Eventually,Sadie's Daed tells her well, orders her) that she must return home to her Amish community and try to rebuild her life. Sadie is loving her relative independence working for her Mennonite friends in their store as a way to save for her mission trip expenses but as fate would have it, she is catapulted into meeting an eligible young bachelor after a horse-riding accident.  Levi is a cousin of Beth and Mattie from the first two stories, and gradually they build a solid friendship which they think might be manipulated to buy them both time and freedom from constant family pressures to settle down..... and then Daniel starts his sweet-talking lies again and causes chaos once more...

This was a great trilogy and one I will enjoy re-reading.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lady Catherine, The Earl, And The Real Downton Abbey

Lady Catherine, The Earl, And The Real Downton Abbey

By The Countess of Carnarvon

To be published in the US by Crown Publishing/Broadway Books on 29th October 2013

The Countess' s previous book about Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnavon, was interesting and this is an even more riveting volume, dealing with the lives of the 6th Earl and Countess of Carnavon. Before he succeeded to the title, young Lord Porchester - generally known as Porchy - met and fell in love with a lovely American, Catherine Wendell.

The highly popular young couple moved in the highest social circles and seemed destined to live a charmed life, but sadly, the happiness of their fairy-tale wedding did not last.  The tragic death of the 5th Earl meant the end of their life in India with Porchy's regiment and taking up the reigns of the huge Highclere estate; the enormous death duty tax payable to the Government had to be found and then ways sought to make Highclere survive and thrive at a time when the world was changing rapidly and inching slowly to political instability.

 Porchy's "wandering eye" was a major factor in the breakdown of their marriage and after her divorce at the age of 35, Catherine was faced with all the stress and challenges of building a new life for herself and their two children, which she did very successfully. All too soon, however, she was faced with the death of her adored second husband on active duty and then the dreadful anxiety of watching her son also march off to serve in World War II. Porchy's own second marriage sadly proved unsuccessful and he devoted himself to life at Highclere; he and Catherine managed to remain on friendly terms for the rest of their lives.

Sure to appeal to anyone who enjoys Downton Abbey and social history.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Separating The Personal From The Public

"The Garden Window" has become well-established as a book blog now, much to my surprise and delight, so I will continue to use this blog purely for my formal book reviews and book news.

 I have set up another blog entitled "Beyond The Garden Window"which will be for my personal posts and news :-)

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Raising Henry

Raising Henry:

A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, & Discovery

By Rachel Adams

Published by Yale University Press, September 2013

Rachel Adams is an academic, a professor at Columbia University and a literary critic, an intelligent, well-educated woman who prides herself on being an advocate of women's reproductive freedom.  Her world revolves around her husband, her two year old son and her job - but her world is turned upside down and inside out when she finds that her newborn second son, Henry, has Down Syndrome.....

This is not an easy book to read; intertwined with her shock at Henry's diagnosis is her raw grief for the "perfect" second son she will never have and disbelieving anger at the way Henry's tentative diagnosis is handled by the medical staff.who care for her. We learn of her sister's decision to abort her own Trisomy 13 baby, talking of the baby as "it" and castigating the "hostile" anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic where the procedure took place over several distressing visits over successive days - uncomfortable reading to be sure.

Like a mother tigress, Rachel fights to ensure that Henry gets as much help and intervention from dedicated professionals as possible, even while still a tiny baby, determined to give her beautiful and beloved son the best possible start in life; we meet baby nurses, speech therapists, play therapists, physiotherapists, nursery staff, nannies and medical professionals and share their triumphs and joy as Henry develops and thrives.

There is a darker undercurrent, though: Rachel describes her feelings about her amniocentesis with her older son and her decision not to have one when pregnant with Henry; the casual and almost callous attitude of some medical professionals who see Henry as only as a Down baby and not a precious child; society's ambivalent attitude towards people with disabilities, trying to make the world more accessible to disabled people yet simultaneously implementing and refining testing procedures to make sure that "disabled" children like Henry are identified in the womb and prevented from even being born alive. It is a complex world indeed.

Henry has changed the lives of their whole family and this is a positive and hopeful book which has just as much laughter, love and enthusiasm as it has sadness and sobering discussion about the problems of parenting a child with special needs.
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Quiet Kids

Quiet Kids:

Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World

By Christine Fonseca

Published by Prufrock Press/Sourcebooks, October 2013

Introverts generally get a bad press. Regarded as shy, retiring types, unable or unwilling to be good team players or engage wholeheartedly in group work -  modern society has all too many negative synonyms for introversion.

Just because introverts do not necessarily chatter endlessly or engage frenetically with others 24/7 does not mean they are not as equally creative, innovative and intelligent, and this book sets out to dispel many of the myths which surround introversion as well as providing a valuable resource for parents, educators and introverts themselves to use. Parents may be completely nonplussed about how to help their introverted, quiet child to both survive and thrive in a society which does not see the value of introversion; quiet kids are often the target of bullies and do need to be taught stratagems to become more confident and stand up for themselves effectively in a sadly sometimes hostile society.

Personality and temperament are two different things altogether; we never change our basic biologically determined temperament but our environment, interactions and own will can certainly adapt our personality; the author is a typical introvert but has learnt to enjoy public speaking about introversion! Quiet kids are very often the brightest children in a class but this can easily be overlooked because the child  may be reluctant to get involved in group projects or willingly volunteer information or answer questions; teachers are encouraged to look at alternative stratagems for getting the very best from these pupils and making them feel comfortable and valued in a classroom setting. Parents may sometimes feel their child is standing on the margins of family life and a huge part of this book is devoted to helping parents to enable an introverted child to have the solitude he/she craves whilst still being an active and engaged member of a family/social group and being valued for who he/she is.

This is **such** a valuable book, and should certainly be compulsory reading for those learning to be educators!

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits

Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits

By Andrew Schloss

Published by Storey Publishing, October 16, 2013

Oh my. What a truly superb book!

If you have ever wondered how liqueurs are made, or wanted to replicate the taste of your particular favourite - or even obscure - "difficult to get hold of" tipple, you will enjoy this book.

Chapters on liqueurs made from Fruits, Nuts, Vegetables, Herbs & Spices, Flowers, Coffee, Chocolate, Tea, Cream, Caramel and Butterscotch are all included as is a chapter on how to make your very own infused spirits, as well as lots of cocktail recipes using the drinks mentioned.

Whether you like rhubarb, licorice, lychee, prickly pear, unripe green walnuts, coffee & honey, ginger, artichoke or even chocolate & blood orange best, there is almost certainly a drink you can make from it at home. The steps are straightforward and clearly explained, many take only five to seven days to prepare and will last for up to a year when stored correctly, although cream based recipes should be used within a month.

I have yet to be convinced of the merits of wasting good alcohol in making a grapefruit liqueur or a horseradish-infused spirit, but with those exceptions, the recipes are superbly varied and it could take a lifetime to exhaust the possibilities outlined in this book.

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How To Pray When You're Pissed At God

How To Pray When You're Pissed At God

Or Anyone Else For That Matter

By Ian Punnett

Published by Harmony Books, 2013

The title caught my eye and I knew this was a book I simply had to read. I've been feeling pretty fed up at God myself about the sudden and tragic death of the young son of a dear friend of mine, and hoped this book might help....and it has.

Ian Punnet is a member of the Episcopal clergy and has worked as a hospital chaplain, experiencing helping people cope with trauma, pain and death; many of the people he meets have no idea that it is actually okay to be sometimes angry at God, to rage and and shout at Him, and that there is ample Biblical precedent for doing so, even Our Lord Himself.  In Jewish tradition there are many rabbis who have remonstrated forcefully with God, following in the tradition of Moses and of Job in the Old Testament, not to mention the imprecatory psalms.

His rewording of Psalm 22  works well at being an angry prayer which will speak clearly to many, using modern imagery which young people - sometime those who feel themselves most distanced from God - will find familiar and to which they can relate. I had absolutely no idea that in Jeremiah  3: 1-3, the language used in anger is intemperate indeed, the Hebrew word used  being equivalent to modern "f-bomb" when talking of Israel's lack of fidelity to God.

Punnett's angry prayers in Chapter Eight are heartfelt and often hard to read, covering a wide variety of human pain and experience in modern life; not all end with the pray-er feeling more reconciled with God but still have elements of hope. It is better to express the anger in prayer, however forcefully, to get it out of one's system and then be able to begin to re-work one's relationship with God.

There are a large variety of prayers from other people who are angry at God, themselves and others, and also a useful section on using the Psalms as a hymnal and a prayer book in this useful and thought-provoking book.

Definitely a Five Star book in my eyes and one I am buying as a hard copy book as well as keeping it on my e-reader.

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Has Brain Research Reached Its Breaking Point?

By James Le Fanu

Published by emBooks, May 2013

I've been a fan of Dr James Le Fanu's incisive, considered critiques of the state of medical science and research for many years, and this is a welcome addition to his published works.

Admittedly this is a very short summary of current research at only 88 pages but each is crammed full of information and often damning critique of the failings of medical research and the sometimes ridiculous extrapolations which have been made from some very flawed work ending up being accepted as mainstream medical gospel.

I live in hope that one day his books will end up being required reading for medical students.....
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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Batsford Book Of Chess For Children

The Batsford Book Of Chess For Children

By Sabrina Chevannes

Published by Anova Books/Batsford, August 2013

Although this title is aimed at children, this is definitely the best introduction to chess which I have ever seen. I do enjoy playing chess but very much at an introductory level and I have learnt a phenomenal amount from reading this book!

From setting up a board correctly to learning what all the pieces actually can do, this book teaches you all the essentials you need to know. It also teaches you how to score points gained or lost and a variety of tactics and moves to make your game better; many have been given fun titles to make them more memorable to younger readers.  It even teaches you how to "read" famous played games of chess and see how these games actually progressed.

It is well-written and profusely illustrated, making it attractive and inviting to look at and fun to use/read. Well worth buying for adults and children alike.
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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Eat, Fast, Slim

Eat Fast Slim

By Amanda Hamilton

Published by Duncan Baird Publishers, April 2013

Several of the books I  have previously read about Intermittent Fasting have outlined  several days of 16 hour fasts or two full day fasts with only an evening meal. Amanda Hamilton provides similar information along with what you need to consider if you are adding exercise to your routine and also a variation adding juice fasting to the menu of foods.

The science behind Intermittent Fasting is explained clearly, simply and succinctly along with its proven health benefits apart from simple weight loss/maintenance. I cannot work up any enthusiasm for colonic hydrotherapy which she describes as beneficial to many people, though....

Part Two of the book shows how to tailor IF to work for the reader's own individual circumstances. Men and women also react to fasting differently and women would be better advised to start IF a few days after the beginning of a menstrual period. The chapter on cultivating a "fasting state of mind"  is partly based on the author's predilection for meditation and yogic practices which may not appeal to every reader although the information about the effects of sleep deprivation on appetite I found fascinating.

Part Three tells the reader how to actually put all the theoretical information onto practice and start safely fasting; she outlines eating nutritionally sound meals and  how much exercise can you or should you - take whilst fasting, as well as when you should not fast or when you should stop fasting.

Part Four provides countdowns for easing gently into fasting patterns and a very good selection of suggested menus with their accompanying recipes.

This is a great book, accessible, clear and persuasive even though I did do a "double-take" on p 25 of the ebook where she says "There are a mind-boggling number of faiths and religions that have a version of fasting within their sacred texts. These include but are not limited to Sikhism, Baha’i, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Christianity, Greek Orthodox, Catholicism, Taoism, Buddhism and Islam."

- Does this mean that she does not consider Catholics and Greek Orthodox to be Christians, and if so, why does that not apply to Russian Orthodox too? The Eastern Orthodox family of churches are actually the only ones who do expect their members to fast regularly throughout the year.....

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Explore Everything

Explore Everything

Place-Hacking the City from Tunnels to Skyscrapers

By Bradley L Garrett

Published by Verso Books, October 8th, 2013

I have always been intrigued by the activities of those who explore places the general public is barred from accessing; part of me delights in their determination to truly "explore everything" and document it. There are many websites filled with photographs taken by such explorers and these sites ted to be exuberantly enthusiastic about the perils, joys and thrills of urban exploration; I was hoping this book would be in a very similar vein.

 It describes some of the explorations the author and his comrades have undertaken in a variety of places, but it is more of an academic raison d'etre of why they do what they do, encompassing ethnology, ethics, philosophy and social anthropology among many other disciplines.

 I found it quite heavy going in places, to be honest. It is definitely a book which is better read as a hard copy rather than as an e-book, in my opinion.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Confessions Of a Criminal Lawyer

Confessions Of A Criminal Lawyer

A Memoir

By Seymour Wishman

Published by Open Road, March 2013

No, this is *not* about a lawyer who is a criminal! Seymour Wishman is a lawyer who specialises in defending those accused of crimes and he has written a truly fascinating  account of his career and some of the  people whom he has defended.

I have always wondered  how on earth a lawyer can choose to defend someone whom they suspect might be guilty and still have to present a compelling case in court and found this book very interesting indeed.

 I cannot say it is an enjoyable book when it is dealing with cases such as defending a man who beat a young child to death, but it was an eye-opening look at the American legal system and the effect that being a defence lawyer for cases such as these has on the lawyer concerned.

It is a compelling read, but at times a very distressing one.

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The Sandwich Generation Guide To Eldercare

The Sandwich Generation Guide To Eldercare

By Phillip D. Rumrill, Jr

To be published by Demos Health on 18th October 2013

As medical care improves, people are tending to live longer; many of them will be in reduced health and will need care from others at some time or another. It is increasingly common for families to be simultaneously caring for their young children and aging parents and/or grandparents, hence the phrase "Sandwich Generation". We  ourselves are in this situation, currently providing care for my mother-in-law as well as still having two youngsters living at home and I really wish this book had been available a few years ago!

It covers the full spectrum of caring for older family members, whether their problems are due to mental health issues or physical health issues:

  • What are the practicalities of  providing day to day care for a loved one in her own home or in your home? 
  • When is the right time to call on the help of outside agencies or consider assisted living or a nursing home for your loved one?  
  • What should you do about helping a loved one to manage his finances or health issues? 
  • How can you protect your loved one's well-being without compromising her independence? 
  • How can you explain a loved grandparent's illness to children and maintain a good, loving relationship between grandparent and grandchild?
  • What are the warning signs of Carer burnout and stress?
  • What should you consider and look out for when choosing a nursing home/care facility?
  • How should you manage finances and legal matters on behalf of a parent?
  • What do you need to know to be an effective advocate for your loved one with the medical profession?
  • When, where and how to find help.
Although written for the American market, this book is extremely valuable for carers in other countries too.
I know that when I was caring for my mother, I did not seek help early enough and seriously compromised my own health by doing far too much for far too long; having read this book, my husband and I will be much more careful when providing care for my mother-in-law so that we can do what is best for her and remain healthy ourselves.  

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Southern Italian Desserts

Southern Italian Desserts

Rediscovering the Sweet traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily.

By Rosetta Costantino

Published by Ten Speed Press on October 8th, 2013

If you do not have easy access to a pistachio tree, you may regret buying this wonderful, wonderful book, as so many of the recipes call for pistachios :-)

If pressed, most people of my acquaintance can name only two Italian desserts - Zabaglione and Tiramisu - yet this book shows there are so very many luscious desserts from Southern Italy alone.

Cookies, tuiles, cake rolls, watermelon tart, baked ricotta tart, filled sponge cakes, pastries and pies galore will tempt the reader to head straight into the kitchen and start baking. Mousses and gelatos made me wish I had an ice-cream maker of my own..... Saints' Days have traditional dishes such as the wheatberry pudding for St Lucia's Day, St Joseph's Cream Puffs, St Joseph's fried pastries, Carnevale semolina cake, Easter pies and so much more.

The countryside is photographed as beautifully as the recipes, and is just as tempting as the food showcased in the book.
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Storming Home

Storming Home

By Billy Gilvear & Eric Gaudion

Published by Monarch Books / Lion Hudson, June 21st, 2013

From a staunchly Christian missionary home background, Billy Gilvear found it hard to build a good relationship with his father for a variety of reasons and he left home to join the Army at 16, turning his back on Christianity.

Although he did well in the Army, quickly rising through the ranks and passing many courses, it was done in a self-punishing manner and he became a very heavy drinker.  Along with the drinking came the loss of control of his temper, causing him to be involved in brawls and soon his rage was out of control even when he was sober.

When he left the Army, he worked as a bodyguard and got to meet many of the "Rich and Famous", and although he enjoyed his work, he became involved in not only procuring and using drugs, but also in dealing. them. Needless to say, his marriage did not survive and his life was spiralling out of control to the point where he was seriously considering committing suicide.What stopped him from carrying out his plan? The experience he had of God's presence and God's love for him.

Supported by the prayers of his landlady, he started to go to Church and committed his life to God, preaching the Gospel and eventually becoming a pastor in Guernsey. It's a remarkable story, especially when he solves his personal problems and is reunited with his ex-wife too in this new life for and in Christ.

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Pope Francis In His Own Words

Pope Francis In His Own Words

Edited by Julie Schwietert Collazo & Lisa Rogak

Published by New World Library, May 28th, 2013

This book appeared very soon after the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the Papacy, whereupon he took the name Francis. During his time as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was an outspoken advocate of a living and active Christianity, calling those in his pastoral care to live more Christ-like lives filled with compassion and humanity.

A thoughtful collection of many of Pope Francis' speeches and written comments, there is much food for thought and much to ponder for all Christians in this volume. Challenging, sobering, questioning and inspiring, this is an interesting look at the the new Pope and his teachings to date.

One of my favourites is this quote:

On Giving Money to Beggars
Sometimes I ask someone who is making confession if they give alms to beggars. When they tell me, “Yes,” I ask, “And do you look in the eyes of the person to whom you are giving alms? Do you touch their hand?” And
that’s where they start to get tangled up, because many just throw the money and turn their heads."

It is all too easy to give money, but that is not enough - we need to give of ourselves too, of our compassion, thoughtfulness and kindness to those who are in need.

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Herbal Antivirals

Herbal Antivirals

Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections

By Stephen Harrod Buhner

Published by Storey Publishing, September 2013

This is a huge - and hugely important - book and a companion volume to the recently revised and well-received  "Herbal Antibiotics".

As viruses become ever more resistant to conventional medical pharmaceutical treatment, the number of effective medications becomes ever smaller.  Due to the complexity of whole herbal medicines when compared to single ingredient medications, it is very hard for viruses to become resistant to herbal medicines, and one day fairly soon, herbs may well be our last resort for effective treatment of viral infections.

Respiratory viruses are discussed extensively in one chapter, with a lot of  in-depth background for influenza, especially the history, origins, causes and symptoms of the 1918 flu pandemic. Extensive detail of the biological modus operandi of the virus is given and how herbal antivirals can help more by their ability to provide  support and enhance the body's defense systems  Extensive lists of appropriate essential oils and herbal medications, their preparation and use to fight infections are given.

Viral encephalitis infections and their treatment occupy another chapter and Chapter Four looks at general viral infections such as CMV, Dengue, Hand, Foot & Mouth, Glandular Fever, Herpes, Varicella and Gastro-intestinal viruses and their treatments.There is a superb and very extensive Materia Medica of herbs  used in treating viral infections and a useful appendix on how to make and prepare herbal medicines from the raw ingredients.

This book is complex, informative and very readable; it does presuppose  a good basic knowledge of both biology and herbal medicine but it contains enough detail to definitely be essential reading for anyone with a keen interest in herbs, herbal medications and pandemic illnesses and for anyone who wants to take a greater role in providing health care for themselves or others in their families or communities.

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Upstairs At the White House

Upstairs at the White House

My Life With The First Ladies

By J.B. West

Published by Open Road Media, October 1st, 2013

Living across The Pond, the White House and its occupants  hold as much fascination for me as the Royal Family and their residences do to many of my American friends.  I was keen to read this and it did not disappoint.

This is an extraordinary book; Mr West worked at the White House for twenty eight years and held the post of Chief Usher for many of these, being responsible for the day to day administration and running of  1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He witnessed the public lives of the First Families and a great deal of their private lives too, working very closely with each First Lady from Mrs Roosevelt to Mrs Nixon before his retirement.

A lesser man might have written a prurient, sensationalised media-driven book about these remarkable years, but Mr West has authored a truly insightful, very honest yet tactful memoir in which he displays the families the same respect as he showed them in person. The building itself has been greatly renovated, restored, decorated and changed over the years and there is an extensive photographic section. A pleasure indeed to read, and a book of great interest.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

Red Fortress

Red Fortress

The Secret Heart of Russia's History

By Catherine Merridale

Published by Allen Lane/Penguin, October 3rd, 2013

Professor Merridale has published several books abut Russian history and has certainly produced another masterful volume in "Red Fortress". Using the Kremlin as its focus, this book encompasses a vast swathe of the history of the territories which would become known as Russia, disentangles fact from fiction and uses the dark and sinister history of the Kremlin itself to good effect.

For those readers of Orthodox background, there are frequent references to famous historic icons and fascinating detail about the building and decoration of the Kremlin's Cathedrals and chapels; indeed the history of the earliest days of Holy Rus is intertwined with the story of  Simon Ushakov’s  icon masterpiece of 1668, The Tree of the State of Muscovy which is nowadays housed in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. She gives a generally accurate and quite sympathetic treatment of Russian Orthodoxy, although I was slightly puzzled by this quote on P 17 of the PDF version where we are told about Prince Vladimir of Kiev:
"Just to make sure, he also had the pagan idols flogged and dragged about the streets before condemning
them to death."
 I wondered if this is meant to read "pagan idolaters" as it would be rather difficult to condemn an idol to death.

No fewer than 479 pages cover the first settlement at the Kremlin, its growth and embellishment, its role in the Romanov dynasty, the Russian Revolution and the inevitable purges, ending with the subsequent interest in preservation and restoration in modern times. I found this a gripping read indeed and it will certainly appeal to anyone with an interest in Russian history, Orthodoxy or culture.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Music In The Castle Of Heaven

Music In The Castle Of Heaven

A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach

By John Eliot Gardiner

Published on October 3rd 2013 by Allen Lane/Penguin

If you are looking for a short introduction to the life and works of Bach, this is NOT the book you are looking for.  This outstanding volume is positively encyclopaedic in its scope, approach, scholarly erudition and size, clocking in at 600 pages in the digital edition and all the while retaining its author's enthusiasm and love for Bach.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner is a world renowned musician and conductor who has a truly phenomenal passion for Bach, having played and sung the composer's works since he was a young child; he has harnessed this performer's intimate knowledge with his background as a historian to produce a thoroughly comprehensive portrait of  the life and times of the whole Bach family from its earliest recorded instances, though its primary focus is on the Master himself, Johann Sebastian Bach.  It is a delight to learn so much about Sir John's own musical journey through life at the opening, which sets the scene for the rest of the book.

 The influences of Luther on the teaching of music to children, the political situation of Germany, the history of Protestantism and the rise of the Pietist movement  as it comes into conflict with the rise of the Baroque and a more orthodox Lutheranism as well as the influence of the Enlightenment in scientific and philosophical matters all had a significant impact upon the social milieu in which Bach lived and worked, and all are described. The question of how the Bach family produced so many musicians is the subject of a chapter on its own, though we are reminded that many of the extensive dynasty were very average musicians at best.

There is an in-depth analysis of many pieces of music and I found it a delight to become acquainted with so very many pieces I had not previously encountered, listening to them wherever possible, often via YouTube, as I was reading Sir John's commentaries in the book. The sheer prodigious output of Bach is almost unbelievable; the liturgical music he composed for the Sundays and feast days  of the Christian year in cantata form alone is staggering. I particularly enjoyed learning about so many other great composers who were either more or less contemporaneous or influential on J S Bach, and how this amazing musical jigsaw puzzle of sources and  influences fits together. The nuts and bolts of composition make for absorbing reading even for me, and I cannot read a note of music.

This is a truly remarkable book and I cannot recommend it too highly to anyone who likes music.

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Door Jams

Door Jams

Amazing Doors of New York City

By Allan Markman

Published by Schiffer Publishing, September 28th, 2013

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see a whole book devoted to photographs of doors in a city, but I am thrilled beyond measure that Allan Markman has followed his dream and published this book. 

Traversing New York City, he has photographed doors from all sorts of environments  - churches, hotels, upmarket buildings and down-at-heel buildings, garage doors, shop doors, fire station doors, doors where someone has wanted to make a social, political or religious statement, doors which have been allowed to become neglected and run down, doors which someone has wanted to beautify, doors which have been vandalised and graffiti-ed. Pagodas, sunsets, flowers, animals, patterns, faces, abstracts, messages and colours galore - they are all in this book and even better, at the back is a thumbnail index to tell you where they are located! 

One of the most fun books I have read this year.

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