Friday, February 21, 2014

Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Groundbreaking Food Gardens:

73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden

By Niki Jabbour

To be published by Storey Publishing, March 5th, 2014.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the most versatile, user-friendly, practical and absolutely gorgeous food growing manual I have ever seen!

Niki Jabbour has worked in close collaboration  with gardeners, all expert in their own fields, from all over America, Canada and even the UK and Germany, and this delightful volume is the result.  

No matter how big or small your garden, even if you only have access to a patio or a windowbox, you CAN grow some of your own food.  Whether your garden is shady, cold, windswept, shared with livestock or chickens, subject to extremes of temperature or short growing seasons, this is the book you need. Are you a chili aficionado? There is a garden plan which will enable you to grow no fewer than 24 different varieties!

Culinary herbs, bee and butterfly gardens, raised bed gardens, balcony gardens, "square foot" gardening, using patios and greenhouses, combining a food-producing garden successfully with raising chickens in the same space (I especially loved this one), growing figs in Canada, keeping wildlife critters out of your crops, growing from your grocery store leftovers, growing your own fruits and using wall space for espaliered fruit trees, wildlife and children-friendly gardens and growing heirloom varieties and saving your own seeds are all covered in detail, and so very much more. 

Whether you want to try growing Asian vegetables, recreate a World War Two "Dig For victory!" garden, make magical gardens to encourage children to learn to grow food, recycle metal, wood and blocks to make raised beds, make a drought-resistant garden, use your rooftop, grow food for Italian cuisine, terrace a hillside, devote your whole garden to garlic or create an edible hedge,  this is the book you need.

Absorbing, comprehensive, delightfully illustrated, the only problem I now have is deciding which plan to try out first from this wonderful book......

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Noble Conflict

Noble Conflict

By Malorie Blackman

Published by Random House, June 2013

Malorie Blackman is an incredibly popular author of teen fiction and writes consistently high-calibre books, always about thought-provoking topics.

This book does not disappoint; set in a world torn apart and virtually destroyed by nuclear war, young Kaspar Wilding is delighted to have completed his training to be a peace-keeping Guardian instead of spending his life working on his uncle's farm.

Sworn to protect the Capital City and its inhabitants from the violent rebels in The Badlands, he is convinced of the rightness of the civilised enclave in which he lives and works - after all, the Guardians do not kill the insurgent rebels, only stun them, no matter how violent the rebel attacks may have been -  until one day, he meets one of the despised rebels in the person of a girl named Rhea and his outlook on life changes completely.

Discovering that he has only ever been  made aware of part of the truth about the rebels and their cause, he is determined to find out the whole truth,  but even with a trusted group of friends to back him up, the talented young Guardian may well have bitten off far more than even he can chew.....

Gritty, fast-paced and action-packed, this certainly kept my attention!

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The Gift Of Love

The Gift Of Love

By Amy Clipston

To be published by Zondervan on March 4th, 2014

Amy Clipston is a popular writer of Amish-themed fiction (including my favourite series, the Kauffman Amish Bakery series) and I was delighted to see that she has now written an autobiographical account of her momentous decision to undergo major surgery and become a kidney donor to someone else so that her husband Joe could himself receive a desperately needed kidney transplant .This was not the first hardship to hit her family; her beloved father had a massive and life-changing stroke, becoming a changed personality and whose physical problems and outbursts of anger caused much heartache and anxiety as they all worked together to deal with each difficulty as it arose.

Amy pulls no punches about how hard it is to see your young and fit husband's health deteriorate terrifyingly quickly to the point that he needs not just a first kidney transplant, but then a second.  It would be so easy to portray oneself as almost Mary Poppins-like, trusting, pious and always caring and understanding, but she is very quick to be brutally honest and point out just how hard she and her family found it to deal with Joe's illness and how badly it affected them all, coming very close to pushing their marriage on the rocks and massively testing her faith.   Amy was working full-time, caring for Joe and her boys with the help of her mother and writing her novels to try to make ends meet and cover their never-ending medical bills and expenses; against all the odds, a match for Joe was found and their lives were transformed once more.

 It really is an inspirational story of how faith, perseverance and courage allowed them to overcome hurdle after hurdle as a couple and as a family, and a delight to read that things turned out well for them in the end.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Romance Of Religion

The Romance of Religion:

Fighting For Goodness, Truth, And Beauty

By Dwight Longenecker

Published by Thomas Nelson, February 4th 2014

This is NOT a ghastly romance in the sense of "Jesus is my boyfriend", let me reassure you! It is a book about the romance of Christianity in the purest sense of the historical and romantic tradition of storytelling, where:

 "A fine romance is a good story—a story, like all good stories everywhere and at every time, that reveals eternal truth within a gripping tale. We are entranced by a good story because the plot is slick and the storyteller skilled. We are captivated by a good story because it incarnates the truth. A good storyteller locks the truth so tightly into the story that you cannot get at the truth without telling the story. The romantic believes the truth in the story, but he also believes that he can make that story come true in his own life."

Christians and Christianity get a generally bad press in the modern world - seen as boring, outdated, out of touch with the modern world, irrelevant, judgmental - you name it, it's been applied to Christianity. But is this what Christianity is all about? Not at all, says Fr Longenecker, who sees Christianity as the biggest, boldest, most awesome and outrageous adventure quest that has ever existed.

Using examples from Cyrano de Bergerac, C S Lewis' Reepicheep, Darth Vader, Neo Anderson from "The Matrix", from Greek philosophers and metaphysical poets right through to Hollywood movies and material science, the subject of "reality" is explored, along with the concepts of good and evil, war and the dangers of political ideologies, truth, beauty, love and heroic self-sacrifice.

Christianity calls us to leave behind our old lives, to take on a quest for salvation which will require all our strength, determination, ingenuity, integrity and commitment, yet we will only accomplish our quest by having faith in God and trust in His abundant grace and love for us all, and by being prepared to sacrifice absolutely everything for Him.  I cannot think of anything more compelling, exciting, terrifying and demanding than being called to be a Christian - can you ?

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

An Amish Miracle

An Amish Miracle

Three Amish Novellas 

By Beth Wiseman, Ruth Reid and Mary Ellis

Published by Thomas Nelson, December 2013

I really do enjoy these collections of Amish themed novellas by different authors, and this is one of the best I have read. Each story has a problem or situation which causes heartache and worry, and in each, a miracle  occurs to put things right.

Always In My Heart by Mary Ellis

Hope Bowman has three lovely daughters and is expecting a fourth child. When this baby is also a girl, she begins to wonder if God will ever bless her and her husband Stephen with a son.  Stephen has no idea that she was raped and became pregnant when only sixteen, and that her stern and unbending father Silas forced her to move away and give her infant son up for adoption so that no shame would be brought on their family.
When she tells Stephen the truth, she has no idea that soon her son James would turn up at their farm, looking for his birth-mother...but can James come to terms with the Amish way of life, or will Hope's heart be broken a second time when her son goes back to the Englisch world? And how will their community react to the truth about what happened all those years ago?

PS: Stephen has to win a prize for the best fictional Amish husband!

Always His Provision by Ruth Reid

Rosa Hostetler is a young widow, struggling to manage financially but fiercely independent and determined not to be a burden on her family or her community. She keeps her straightened circumstances hidden even from her best friend Hope Bowman, but finds her faith being tested when overdue back taxes on her farm bring her to the point of losing her home.  

When a series of dog attacks on her hen flock mean she is struggling to earn money from egg sales, disaster seems inevitable, especially when her attempts to protect her flock produce a huge vet's bill from the Englisch neighbour whose dog is responsible. It seems only a miracle can help her now, but is that miracle going to be in the  form of her neighbour, Adam Bontrager, who was a good friend of her husband's and is keen to help her too...?

Always Beautiful by Beth Wiseman

Becky Byler has a serious weight problem, even though she is only eighteen. She is mentioned in the two previous novellas, but this story is about her struggles with being seriously obese and how much it affects her life, her happiness and her relationships with her family, friends and neighbours. At the start of the story, she feels isolated and is in serious despair, begging God to grant her a miracle and help her to lose weight so that she can be pretty and slim like the other teenaged girls in her community.

When the miracle happens and she loses huge amounts of weight, her relationships with those around her change too. Her best friend Elam (who has eye problems and is awaiting corrective surgery) loves her dearly and hopes to marry her one day, regardless of her weight, because he loves the person she is. However,  Becky has another potential suitor, the popular, handsome and kind Matt King, and as her weight continues to drop off, her life and attitudes change and not necessarily for the better, the miracle the blessing she had hoped for, or was she happier before it happened?

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Monday, February 03, 2014

The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl & Motl, the Cantor's Son

The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-

Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son

By Sholem Aleichem

Published by  Open Road Integrated Media / Yale 

University Press, October 2013

Sholem Aleichem was a Jewish author and playwright from the Ukraine and lived from 1859 - 1916; the most well-known of his works in English is undoubtedly the story of Tevye the Dairyman, which ultimately became immortalised as the musical "Fiddler on the Roof."  This translation of his two works " The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl & Sheye-Sheyndl" and "Motl, the Cantor's Son" is by Hillel Halkin, who also wrote the introduction to the volume.

What can one say about Menakhem-Mendl and his wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl? He is utterly convinced that he has the ability to make a huge success of what he believes to be his financial acumen in speculative trading as he travels the cities of Russia in his attempts to make a fortune with which to support his family, but his business schemes regularly go awry, much to his wife's consternation and distress;  she often berates and scolds him for his reckless gambles and is increasingly puzzled and disturbed by him, especially when he heads over to the New World to seek a fortune there too. The dialogue between them ranges from loving, sweet and actually very charming, to outright fury, often making me laugh out loud at their interchanges in this intimate glimpse into pre-Revolutionary Jewish life. 

Motl, the son of Peysi the Cantor, who dies at the beginning of the story, is able to make the journey over to America and make a new life for himself, his mother and brother. Motl's talent and passion is for art, and he seems to be able to quickly assimilate into American culture and life; his learning to speak American English in a variety of accents is wonderfully described. Eventually the family launches into business with a newspaper and soda stand and things just keep on looking up for them after that.

Both stories were enjoyable and it has been a delight to have been able to finally read them in English.

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Amish Cooks Across America

Amish Cooks Across America:
Recipes and Traditions from Maine to Montana

By Kevin Williams & Lovina Eicher

Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, May 2013

From reading Amish-focused fiction, one could be forgiven for thinking that there are some very traditional foods which are common to all Amish; this is simply not the case, and this excellent book sets out to show the huge range of foods utilised by Amish communities across America to make meals for their families. No recipes for shoofly pie  in this book, according to the index!

Many Amish communities are vividly described and  very beautifully photographed; some of their most notable recipes are given, ranging from maple syrup based recipes made in the syrup producing area of Conewango Valley, Cherry Creek, New York, to rhubarb bread and cookies made in Fredonia, Pennsylvania. Amish in Dover, Delaware like to use seafood and the Amish settlement at Flat Rock, Illinois, loves its venison; in Beeville, Texas, the Amish make okra gumbo; in Ethridge, Tennessee, they cook cornbread and pork 'n beans as well as making their own molasses from sorghum.
Montana Amish make their own elk bologna, moose steaks and huckleberry pancakes and in the San Luis Valley, Colorado, burritos and tortillas are often to be found on the menu.

I particularly liked that the Amish reticence about courting publicity is honoured and so is their reference not to pose for photographs; the Amish who are photographed are done so very carefully, with the focus firmly on their clothing, items they are carrying or their homesteads and scenery rather than their faces. This is a lovely book indeed!

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