Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Lieutenant Don't Know

The Lieutenant Don't Know: One Marine's Story Of

Warfare And Combat Logistics In Afghanistan

By Jeff Clement

Published in the UK & USA by Casemate Publishers,

 March 7th, 2014

Although I have read a few accounts of modern-day warfare and the challenges soldiers face in conflict, for some reason it had never occurred to me to wonder just how it was that they had equipment and supplies no matter where they were in the sphere of conflict.  Combat Logistics was not a term I had even heard of, let alone knew anything about, until I read this absorbing book.

Jeff Clement joined the US Marines and became a logistician, making sure that the chain of supply remained fully functioning and intact so that all necessary equipment and supplies were in the right place at the right time. His extensive training in the USA was to prove vital for his work when he had to ensure the supply of items for the use of both American and British troops in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

The Afghan terrain was rugged, brutal and naturally dangerous; added to this was the determination of hostile forces to do everything in their power to destroy or at least impede the progress of supply convoys. No matter how carefully they planned their convoys, checked for explosive devices and hazards, each convoy was a risky undertaking and there were many confrontations and injuries. And still the front-line troops needed their supplies, no matter what.

 It was an essential, stressful, difficult and  frustrating role, but one without which no battles could ever be fought.Those providing Combat Logistics required initiative, sound common sense, minute attention to detail, the habit of meticulous planning, a huge amount of background knowledge about the items needed and used by the troops and a phenomenal ability to think outside the box; they had to be prepared for anything and everything and to be surprised by nothing.

This is a remarkable look at the unsung heroes who provide the backup and support for the front-line troops, and whose work is often equally dangerous. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

American Saint

American Saint

The Life of Elizabeth Seton

By Joan Barthel

Published by Thomas Dunne Books, March 2014

This book is about about the life of Elizabeth Seton, the first American-born canonised Roman Catholic saint, but it is no hagiography.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in 1774 and dying at only 47 years of age. In her short lifespan she married, was widowed, brought up her five children and set up the first Catholic school as well as  founding an active religious order, the Sisters of Charity. 

She was only too aware of the social conventions and pressures upon women at that time, but she chose to convert to Roman Catholicism, knowing full well she would be ostracised and mocked by many of her family, friends and social circle for so doing. This was a sacrifice she made willingly, trusting God to guide and lead her.

The life of St Elizabeth Seton is fascinating but it grieves me (and I am not RC!) to see this Saint being suborned as a poster child for a group with whom she would find very little in common. The life, faith and importance of "Mother Seton" have been interpreted through an entirely modern mindset and subjected to  an agenda of political correctness and ultra-feminism.  Joan Barthel, in her introduction, references the  beliefs of  the vocally strident American Leadership Conference of Women Religious, whose passion for "reform"  has put them perilously close to espousing ideas which would risk putting them beyond the pale as far as traditional Catholic doctrine is concerned. St Elizabeth Seton was willing to struggle to follow what she believed was the will of God for her, but she still accepted the doctrine and Magisterium of the Church.

St Elizabeth Seton certainly understood the importance and true function of the religious life in the church; I am not convinced that the author truly  does and sadly, I cannot in conscience recommend this book to my Catholic friends.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Pieces Of Someday

Pieces Of Someday

By Jan Vallone

Published by Gemelli Press, November 2013

How does a Catholic lawyer of Italian-American descent end up teaching in a small Yeshiva?

Jan Vallone's father was a highly ambitious lawyer who wanted her to become a professional, which to his mind was either a doctor or a lawyer. He certainly did not want her to be a teacher like her mother! Pushed and prodded, she ended up eventually becoming a lawyer, but then she was the wrong sort of lawyer for her father's taste.

 When her adopted daughter Cristin struggled to make progress at school, Jan investigated becoming a teacher, but was deemed not qualified enough to undertake teacher training; nevertheless, by a series of chances, she ended up becoming a substitute teacher at a Jewish Yeshiva and a whole new life began for her.

As she poured out everything she knew and loved about writing, she learnt an enormous amount about Judaism and life from her students as well as gaining insight into her own Catholic faith, her life and marriage. She learnt, as well, just what it means to be a true writer and a true teacher, no matter how difficult things might become - and they became very difficult indeed.

This was a very pleasant read indeed; part autobiographical and part travelogue about her family's roots in Italy. I particularly loved the literary, Christian and Jewish quotations  scattered in the text to mark the themes of different parts, as well as the "discovering your vocation workshop" at the end.

The author has an excellent website at http://www.janvallone.com

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Thursday, April 10, 2014



By Chris Ryan

Published by Random House, April 10th, 2014

Chris Ryan is well known for his adult SAS fiction and his remarkable autobiographical account of his mission in the Gulf War from which he barely escaped with his life; he is also a prolific writer of great young teenage fiction.

Raphael and Gabriella are expert agents, charged with teaching and training the orphaned fifteen year old Zak Darke for a classified government agency represented by the mysterious "Michael".

Zak has survived several perilous missions for which his cover as a teenager was necessary. Once more he is on a mission, this time to South Africa to see if his one-time friend turned enemy, Cruz Martinez - who had been presumed dead - is actually still alive and involved in drug smuggling.

What looks like a simple and straightforward reconnaissance of a toy shop goes badly wrong and Zak is captured by Cruz's gang, forcing Gabriella and Raphael to find Zak's computer hacker genius friend Malcolm in order to track down Zak and join in the chase for Martinez across the African rain-forests, encountering deadly hostile wildlife and confronting a dangerous gang of child soldiers as they do so.....

 Action-packed, exciting and a compelling read from start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this as much as I enjoy Chris Ryan's adult fiction.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Harry's War

 Harry's War:

The Great War Diary of Harry Drinkwater

Edited by Jon Cooksey & David Griffiths

Published by Ebury/Random House UK, October 2013

August 4th of 2014 will mark the centenary of the start of the Great War, the war that was believed would be the war to end all wars,  and which almost destroyed an entire generation of men who fought in the four years of bitter armed conflict.

We are far enough removed from that time for it to be almost impossible to truly comprehend just how terrible it was, and it is perhaps only when we are able to catch glimpses of how it appeared to those who actually experienced it that it becomes real for us in our own generation.

Harry Drinkwater was rejected when he first applied to join the army. He was all of half an inch too short to meet the criteria, but he persevered until he found a battalion that was prepared to overlook that half an inch; he left his home in Stratford upon Avon to become a soldier with the 2nd Birmingham City Battalion in October of 1914. After basic training, he was set to France in November 1915, to the Somme, where he had a baptism of fire. It was to be fourteen long months before he slept in a bed again.

For Harry and his companions, the war meant that  barns, rough billets, tents and the vile, muddy trenches were to be their home and rats and vermin their uncomfortably near neighbours as they saw their friends and colleagues die around them. Exhaustion, privation, lack of food and clean water, harsh military discipline which saw infractions punishable by execution added to the horror of being surrounded by rotting corpses and the ever present danger of death from incoming sniper fire and mortar shells.

 Harry broke the rules and secretly kept a diary of what his war was like; this was in itself an offence for which he could have been court-martialled.  The delights of actually being able to have a proper wash and a shave after a week pale into insignificance as the war progresses and he has to scrape the trench mud off his hands and clothes with a knife and ends up wearing the same clothes for over a month before the bliss of finally being able to get clean ones and bathe properly. Cold rations and heavy rain are frequent companions, making tots of rum both a welcome treat and a morale-booster.

  Harry saw active service in Arras, the Somme, Passchendaele, French Flanders and even Italy before the war ended and although he was wounded twice, he was one of the fortunate few who survived. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery (he had completed a trench raid although badly wounded) and was an officer by the time the war ended; he remained in the army, being sent to Italy and then to Egypt before being finally discharged on medical grounds with a pension in May of 1920.

This is the remarkable story of a remarkable man, who willingly did what he felt was his duty to his King and Country, like so many of his compatriots. Major Harry Drinkwater's spellbinding diary speaks for the many equally brave souls who did not survive that terrible war and is a tribute to all who served.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s

Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s:

Why Don’t They Do It Like They Used To?

By David Roche

Published by University Press of Mississippi / Jackson

January 22nd, 2014

This is outside my normal remit of book reviews, I must admit, but one of my daughters is doing a course on Media Studies and as she is learning things, she is sharing them with me and I too am becoming fascinated with how and why films/TV shows are made they way they are.

It is popularly assumed, particularly in the tabloid press, that our culture is becoming more and more disturbed and disturbing with each successive year, with violence and mayhem infecting the general populace to the detriment of society as a whole. This may not be the case; David Roche carefully examines the types of films made in the 1970s to those being made more recently to ascertain what has changed in the media industries and why.  It would not have occurred to me to investigate the political and economical milieu of the era in which films were made to see what effect that would have, and I found this a particularly absorbing aspect of the book. The differences between types of remakes was particularly enlightening to me.

This is a scholarly book, naturally based heavily on media studies theories and encompassing sociology, psychology and anthropological underpinnings, but it is surprisingly accessible to a general audience too. Amongst the topics covered are text, subtext and context, the functional/dysfunctional American nuclear family, race, ethnicity and class, gender and sexual stereotyping and just what really constitutes horror and terror, whether it be masks or monsters.

I found it an absorbing read, even though I have only seen a fairly small number of the films and remakes it studies and references. I have very vivid memories of being truly scared by some films I watched in my late teens/early twenties, and it is fascinating to discover just why they had the impact on me that they did.

 This remarkable and compellingly readable book  will be an important addition to the library of Media Studies students and would be a source of unending interest to anyone who has an interest in sociology and/or anthropology, and as well as those who enjoy horror films as a genre.

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An Amish Garden

An Amish Garden

Four Amish Novellas

By Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Tricia Goyer & Vannetta Chapman.

All four of the novellas in this collection are connected by gardens and gardening, and this tried and tested format succeeds once more.

Rooted in Love by Beth Wiseman tells the story of Rosemary and Saul, who had been a courting couple for a brief period when Rosemary was sixteen. She is now 21 and like her, Saul is still single, although he shows his continuing interest in her as well as his regard, by his regular requests that she would consider going out with him again.

When Saul and her father have an unfortunate accident which leaves her father unable to work for a while, Saul decides to make amends by overhauling the family's long neglected vegetable garden. As the story unfolds and her widowed father seems to be developing a love interest of his own, we gradually find out exactly why Rosie broke off her courtship with Saul. Can she overcome her anxieties and give her relationship with Saul another chance, and can she come to terms with her father developing a new life for himself?

Flowers for Rachael by Kathleen Fuller introduces us to Rachael Bontrager, currently helping her grandfather and lovingly tending her garden. Her neighbour Gideon is handsome, shy and eager to court her, but unsure of how to start, until he takes advice from his sister, Hannah Lynn. Soon, Rachael is intrigued and baffled by the mysterious admirer who leaves beautiful flowers and attached short messages of regard at various places on her grandfather's land, but will these tokens of esteem be enough to make their friendship develop into something more?

Seeds of Love by Tricia Goyer
Eli Plank is an adventurer at heart. As a young lad living in Florida, he loved to read the stories in the Amish newspaper, The Budget, about those brave souls who set out to build an Amish community at West Kootenai in Montana and at long last, he was there, working and also writing the stories of his newly adopted community for The Budget for others to read and enjoy. Excited children and a bear cub lead him to meet Sadie Chupp, who has recently moved to the area after a family tragedy and she is determined to successfully raise tomatoes from her late mother's precious heirloom seeds. She has to decide if she should accept Eli's help and advice, or may there be an ulterior motive behind his kindness...

Where Healing Blooms by Vannetta Chapman

This was an interesting one to read. Emma Hochstetter is widowed, and lives with her beloved but frail mother-in-law. Her neighbour Danny is someone she has known since her childhood and it once looked as if they might one day get married, but Danny had left to travel and explore, only to return not too long before the death of Emma's husband. Their friendship endured, and when it turns out that a young runaway Amish lad is living secretly in Emma's barn, she and Danny confront him together.  Other problems occur in the community and when secrets from her mother-in-law's past come to light, it seems that there is a definite direction developing for the rest of Emma's life which will involve both gardening and healing, and maybe also love.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Stone Soup With Matzoh Balls

 Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls:

A Passover Tale in Chelm

By Linda Glaser

Published by Open Road Media/Albert Whitman

& Company, 18th March 2014

The fictional Eastern European village of Chelm is well-known in folklore as being a village of somewhat foolish people. This is the story of what happens when a mysterious stranger arrives in Chelm, just before the Passover Seder.

The villagers say they cannot offer him hospitality as they are all struggling to feed themselves and their families, but the stranger will not leave and says he can feed them all with soup made from the stone he has in his pocket.......but can he?

This is a well-known story, nicely re-told for young children and beautifully illustrated by Maryam  Tabatabaei, about the blessings of hospitality, communal action, care and consideration for others - as well as what happens when you utilise that sometimes rare commodity, common-sense! A truly lovely story for children and very appropriate indeed to read at Passover.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Rev Diaries

The Rev. Diaries

By The Reverend Adam Smallbone

Published by Penguin/Michael Joseph, March 27, 2014

I had never seen a single episode of the cult series "Rev.", before picking up this book, but that did not matter at all. Within a very few pages I was in hysterics,  and I alternated between laughing and crying  as I devoured the book.

Our supposed diarist is the Reverend Adam Smallbone, an Anglican priest who moves from rural Suffolk to the rather less salubrious surroundings of a London inner-city parish. Valiantly supported by his non-believing, talented lawyer wife, Alex, he is thrown head-first into what initially seems like Bedlam.

His new church of St Saviour's in Hackney has a small, very mixed congregation and he throws himself heart and soul into winning souls for Christ and improving the church's attendance. We meet Adoha, the lady who rather fancies him, Lisa, the potty-mouthed girl who serves in the local shop, Colin - who attends every service, often sleeps in the church building and is always in trouble of some sort - and Nigel, the erudite and earnest young pastoral assistant who yearns to be a priest himself.

Adam's remit includes the local C of E school and he quickly discovers the lengths some parents are prepared to go to  in order to secure a school place for their children.  Added to this  is the disastrous damage to one of the stained glass windows in the church and all the fund-raising to secure money for its repairs and Adam soon ends up spending far more time with his parishioners than he does with the long-suffering Alex, whose longing for a child seems unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon.....

Unsupportive (okay, frankly back-stabbing) clergy "friends" and superiors  play ultimately quite mind-boggling roles and it is hardly surprising that eventually Adam's world falls apart at the seams and he has a mammoth Dark Night of the Soul during which anything which can go wrong, does go wrong. Catastrophically so, in fact.

I have several friends who are Anglican  and Orthodox clergy, and I can see echoes of what they have told me about broadly similar episodes in this clever, thought-provoking, funny, touching and sometimes heart-rendingly sad book.  Candid and sometimes crude, these diaries open up what Adam really thinks and feels about his London life and what others think of him too.

This definitely, definitely will have a permanent home on my bookshelves, and I am looking forward to catching up with the TV series!

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