Monday, June 30, 2014

A Mother's Secret

A Mother's Secret

(Book 2 in the Hearts Of The Lancaster Grand Hotel series)

By Amy Clipston

Published by Zondervan, June 3rd, 2014

Carolyn Lapp is a young single Amish mother; her overbearing brother still looks on her as an embarrassment and shame to their extended family and her son Benjamin is a vulnerable teenager being bullied  and set up by his cousins.

When Benjamin seems to get into trouble with a lonely Amish horse breeder named Joshua and has to spend time working for him as recompense, his employer and his mother are thrown into close proximity and all Amos Lapp's plans to find a suitable older widower to agree to a marriage of convenience with his sister seem to go sadly awry, as do those of Joshua's interfering mother Barbie, who is desperate to see Joshua safely married to a girl of her choosing.

 As is to be expected, we run into characters from the first book in the series and find that Hannah, her son and one of her twin daughters are all adjusting well to their new life in the Englisch world - but will she ever be able to salvage her relationship with her one daughter who chose to remain Amish and live with her Amish grandparents?

This is an unusual tale and the feisty and fiery Carolyn certainly is not your typical Amish main character.  The ending was a little predictable and I did wonder how likely it would be that the formidable Amos and Barbie would so meekly turn tail when confronted by Carolyn and Joshua respectively, but it was still a very enjoyable read, with hints of interesting possible plot twists for book 3 in the series!

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Angels And Saints

Angels and Saints

By Scott Hahn

Published by Image, May 27th, 2014

This is a relatively short book, weighing in at 127 pages in the digital ebook edition I reviewed. It starts with the biblical basis of and references to Jewish sanctity and holiness in the Old Testament and the development of the New Testament concepts of the community of saints, growth in holiness and the call of every baptised Christian to strive for sanctity.

How and why saints now in the Church Triumphant in heaven can and do help those in the Church Militant still on earth, the uses and veneration of relics and the special role of the angels are also examined, before Dr Hahn goes on to describe (albeit fairly briefly) the lives of some of his favourites.

This is a book which will appeal to many Christians who want to know the whys and wherefores of why the Church has saints and how they should be appreciated; although written from a Roman Catholic point of view, only four of the twelve saints are post-Schism which means that Orthodox Christians may also find this of some interest and there is a useful little bibliography of other books the reader may find useful.
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cataloging The World

Cataloging the World:

Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age

By Alex Wright

Published by Oxford University Press, June 2014

We are all used to using the internet and indeed for taking it for granted, so much so that sometimes we fail to remember what an amazing and extraordinary resource it is, and to which we have more or less free and untrammelled access.

Yet long before even the first microchip was thought of, there was Paul Otlet - a visionary genius who had the idea (and the intellectual capacity  to carry it out) of a plan to catalogue the entire knowledge of the world and make it easily accessible and widely disseminated.  His ideas, of course, were not for digital distribution of knowledge as we know it, but nonetheless, his idea was truly revolutionary. He saw a future where a simple library catalogue index card would lead to books and journals being published in microform and ultimately to the creation of an analog spider's web of information, where users would access special workstations with viewing screens which would then be connected to a central repository, allowing users to "call up" information on whatever topic interested them.

From the beginning of recorded history and more especially after the advent of the printing press, it had always been a challenge to catalogue, order and be able to find specific pieces of knowledge. As  increasingly large quantities of books were being published throughout the world, the problems became more acute and although  Dewey's famous library classification of books was a fine attempt to bring logic and order,  it had many failings. Topics which were of very  limited interest to the readers, writers and researchers of Dewey's age   were given short shrift and with the rapid advances in technology and science, soon there were to be many, many topics which Dewey had never envisaged.

  It needed a special person indeed to face such a challenge of catologuing the whole world and the exponential rise in published books, journals and documents, and that man was Paul Otlet.  He was convinced that knowledge went hand in hand with the potential for world co-operation and peace and saw his work as benefitting the whole world. He created a vast social network of personal friends, organisations and interested individuals and supporters who shared knowledge  and information freely. His creation of a Universal Bibliography and its associated museum displays, the product of almost fifty years of devoted work and housed at the Palais Mondial in Brussels, was ultimately to be dismantled by German troops in the pursuit of Hitler's dream of utilising the resources of Occupied Europe to create a Nazi university for the Third Reich.

Otlet's dreams had been dashed, and he was to die shortly after the liberation of Brussels in 1944, his work scattered and largely forgotten. It was not until the late 1960s when  a student named Boyd Rayward, who was working towards a doctorate in library science, unearthed references to Otlet and chose to use his work as the subject for his dissertation.  Searching through Brussels,  Rayward found the abandoned and deteriorating remains of Otlet's life's work and set about preserving  and recording as much as he could.

Alex Wright has done a superb  job of bringing Otlet's vision and achievements firmly back into the historical record and assessed his contribution to information technology in its broadest sense. A remarkable look at a truly amazing man.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sous Chef

Sous Chef: 24 Hours In The Kitchen

By Michael Gibney

Published by Canongate Books, April 2014.

Cooking programmes, even documentaries, tend to focus on only a few aspects of how a restaurant kitchen really works (or fails to work, in some shows!). I certainly could not tell you in detail what the duties of a sous chef would be, and over the years I have watched a variety of such programmes. When I started to read this particular book, I was prepared to be entertained and enlightened, and that certainly happened. After all, Gibney worked his way up from being a lowly dishwasher at the age of 16 and knows the restaurant industry through many years of first-hand experience.

The book opens with a detailed kitchen floor-plan and details of the restaurant kitchen Chain of Command, to set the scene for what follows. Chefs squirrel away their favourite supplies and samples from praying eyes and the eager mouths and fingers of their fellow-workers. The fact that baby powder and nappy rash ointment are also squirrelled away for emergencies, along with pain relief and burn ointment for the ever present hazard of burns was an unexpected but honest look at the downside of working in the food industry.

From clothing and shoes to the joys of perfectly balanced knife sets, to the difficulties of keeping food in the best possible condition, Gibney tells it like it really is. There are stresses and strains of working at top speed, with immense precision and under intense pressure to produce the very best food in the fastest possible time, all the while relying on your team of cooks and support staff to enable you to do what you love - cooking food for people who appreciate it as much as you do. The idiosyncratic quirks and tricks of the many individuals he describes made me smile, but what I did not expect was the absolute, poetic beauty and passion of so many of the descriptive passages. This is a man who loves, respects and enjoys experiencing everything about working with food. I never expected to be riveted by a description of filleting fish, but I was!

An absolute joy to read.

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

Under Magnolia

Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

by Frances Mayes

Published by Crown, April 2014

I credit Frances Mayes' wonderful book "Under The Tuscan Sun" with making me fall in love with Italy as it described Villa Bramasole, the Italian house she and her husband rescued and renovated.  In that book she regularly mentions snippets about her life growing up as a Southern girl; "Under Magnolia" is the fuller story of growing up in Georgia.

Fitzgerald, South Georgia, was a place where there was a  racial segregation and this coloured her early life; one of her staunchest allies in an often unhappy family was Willie Bell, who worked for her parents and cared for her. Her parents had a volatile relationship with each other and with Frances, who could be hit with a switch till she bled. Her father was shot, taking a bullet that was meant for her grandfather by a disgruntled employee, and this affected him profoundly, fuelling his subsequent outburst of anger; Frances vividly describes having to go to the same school as the executed shooter's daughter in their small community.

 Her father died comparatively young, after a long illness which cast a shadow on their family both at the time and afterwards; her feisty mother was most profoundly affected even though his death had been expected for a long time, and Frances' relationship with her changes quite dramatically as she becomes more and more independent of her mother. As her mother drowns her sorrows and financial worries in drink and searches for another husband, Frances devours books and music in equal measure as she finishes high school and looks forward to college days, where she eventually elopes and sets up life as a married woman.

She describes a completely different world from that of her adult academic career and her other home in Italy, that's for sure. From Southern names, food, clothes, the language, houses, the weather - everything is different, foreign, exotic even to this UK woman, and now I have a hankering to visit the South too....

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