Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Reading - An Amish Christmas

I don't have a huge number of books piled up for review, so I have been able to enjoy some  festive re-reads of some of my favourite Christmas stories.  I was really surprised to realise that I had never reviewed Cynthia Keller's "An Amish Christmas", as it is one that I read at least once each year!

There are several different covers but this is the hardback copy I own, published in 2010 by Ballantine Books.

Meg Hobart has it all. A loving and incredibly hard-working husband, three healthy children, a fabulous home, an organiser diary crammed full of activities...until one Thanksgiving, her life falls apart when she discovers her husband has been hiding secrets from her which will change their lives dramatically and for ever. 

Penniless and homeless, the family are reluctantly driving to Meg's quite ghastly parents to stay and join their family store business when a missed turning in Pennsylvania leads to an accident and their meeting Amish farmer David Lutz, who offers them shelter with his family until their car can be fixed.

Their stay with the Lutzes gives them time to re-assess their marriage, their future, their older children's bad attitudes and what is actually important in life; plans are drawn up, futures decided and lifelong friends have been made to the enrichment of them all.

It's an absolutely gorgeous story and despite the overworked cliche, it really is a heart-warming one, and a perennial favourite of mine.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau: The Essential Reference

By Carol Belanger Grafton

Published by Dover Publications, October 2015

This is a lovely book, filled with delights for anyone interested in art or graphic design and who wants to learn more about Art Nouveau. It is a pleasure to look through it and use it as a source book for ideas, but.......

In my opinion, it is more of an introduction rather than an essential reference book. The biographical information about the artists is of the bare bones variety and although this book includes super pictures of works from the US, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and England, only Mucha is included from Czechoslovakia, which is a real shame.

A great introductory volume, but not as comprehensive as I would have hoped.

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Monday, November 30, 2015




By Gaston Dorren

Published by Grove Press,  Dec 1st 2015

Don't be put off by the slightly slow start as it initially deals with the necessary evil of explaining the chain of language descent from the straightforward Finno-Ugric and the much more complex  Proto-Indo-European; it does not take long before the fun really begins!

This is a truly fascinating look at a variety of aspects of sixty different European languages. The languages with only a tiny number of speakers and/or a relatively circumscribed geographical area of incidence such as Cornish, the Channel Isles Norman, Monegasque and Icelandic  are given equal coverage with languages such as German, French and Spanish. The internationally used invented language of Esperanto is included, as is coverage of the many varieties of sign language.

I was naturally delighted to see the chapter on Welsh,  and was pleased to see that my schooldays instruction in Welsh had obviously taken some root as I had no difficulty in deciphering the three varieties of mutations which flummox Welsh beginners when trying to consult a dictionary. The chapter outlining the problems faced by speakers of languages which not only have words to describe numbers but specific words when dealing with mathematics involving numbers did leave me feeling both dazed and confused. I simply cannot imagine having to calculate sums in Breton when counting is based on 20s and the number 77 is  seventeen-and-three-twenty. Maths in English is far simpler, mercifully.

Alphabets, dialects, rivalries, the structure and grammar of languages, linguistic conventions and word-borrowing are all featured and the long-term use of "minority" languages is discussed, as is the sad death of some languages.

Absorbing, entertaining, saddening yet hopeful, Lingo shows us just how we manage to communicate with other people across Europe despite our many different languages and their individual dialects too.

This is a WONDERFUL book.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Remember Me

Remember Me

(Volume 6 in The Hawk & The Dove series)

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Lion Fiction, 2015

This is a book in which we finally learn who Father William really is. We have had glimpses in the last few books, but this is the story of how at various times he bares his soul, whether willingly or unwillingly, to his Abbot, to Father Oswald and Brother Conradus, to the whole community at one particularly heartbreaking Chapter Meeting, to Madeline and her elderly neighbour, Mother Cottingham.

Each one of them  has grown to love him and to want his happiness, yet what William truly wants is forbidden and impossible; gradually he becomes so isolated and unhappy that his life once more seems to be a burden of despair. He loses his pride, his arrogance, his self-esteem, his joy and the love of his life, but he has not counted on the fervent prayers of Brother Conradus and the schemes of the delightful old Mother Cottingham aimed at restoring his joy.......

This could so easily have been a sad story of heartbreak and self-sacrifice; I am so glad that the ending is both happy and open-ended, leaving me wanting more but glad that things have worked out the way that they have.

I am counting the days till the next installment in the series is published, eager to see whether William ever returns to visit the Community and to discover how the Abbey brethren fare without him. Can friendships endure despite the strictures of canon law and public opinion? Will Nemesis fall on William and Abbot John for the decisions they have made and the actions they have performed?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Adventures On The Queen Mary

Adventures On The Queen Mary:

Tales Of A Teenage Crew Member

By Dave Wooders with James Radford

Published by The Perfect Page, 2015

I thought this would likely be an interesting read but was unprepared for how utterly engrossing I would find it! Dave Wooders was all too glad to leave school in 1957 aged 16 and go to sea as a bellboy on the world-famous RMS Queen Mary and it was to prove to be an education in every sense of the word as he was catapulted into a world far beyond his wildest dreams.

The Queen Mary was a luxury cruise liner but was in a class of her own even among these ships. Standards of service were expected to be incredibly high to match the luxurious surroundings and the often very distinguished guests; David was expected to learn quickly and perform his duties first as bellboy and then as a waiter in an exemplary fashion. Off-duty was a different matter and he and his fellow workers managed to have a enormous amount of fun too, seeing the world and making friends. It was a wonderful life for a young man, and his love for the ship and fond memories of his time aboard shine through in every story he tells.

There were of course occasional problems and even more occasional tragedies, but David's explorations of all parts of the ship led him to learn a huge amount about it and its history, enabling him to fill the book with fascinating and unusual snippets of information. The ship even had its own purpose-built synagogue, kosher kitchen and kosher chef. There was of course also provision for Catholic and Protestant religious services to be held in Lounges and Drawing Rooms, but segregated accordingly for First, Second and Third class passengers.  The book is profusely illustrated with official photographs, snapshots, promotional materials and posters, but the most memorable picture for me was of a very young and incredibly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor with her dogs.

 I'm very glad that Dave Wooders' memories of his time aboard have been captured for history in this super and immensely enjoyable book.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Amish Noel

An Amish Noel

By Patricia Davids

Published by Love Inspired/Harlequin, Nov 17th 2015

Emma Swartzentruber had a serious crush on Luke Bowman when they were both teenagers, but when Luke left the community after getting involved in using drugs, her heart was well and truly broken.

She is now faced with the dreadful news that her beloved stepfather is dying and is shocked when he tells her that he wants her to consider courting a widowed farmer with a young daughter and settle down before he dies. This is bad enough, but when fate brings Luke Bowman back into her life after he rescues her brothers from serious danger in  an icy river, Emma's life and her heart are thrown into turmoil.

Luke has repented and rejoined the community, and Zachariah Swartzentruber sees fit to employ him to help sort out and repair his extensive collection of items so Zachariah can finally open his long-hoped for hardware shop, and Luke and Emma are thrown back into close daily contact once more. Can they repair and renew their friendship, and do they even want to? Could they rekindle their love for each other, or will the history of Luke's previous disastrous foray into the Englisch world affect her brothers too ?

This is a lovely Christmas romance, handed deftly and with the sure touch which is a hallmark of Patricia Davids' writing.
Definitely a keeper.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn

By Penelope Wilcock

published by Lion Fiction, 2015

This is the fifth book in "The Hawk & The Dove" series, and the joy of Abbot John's first Easter at St Alcuin's Abbey in his new role is destroyed by the news that his mother and sister have been attacked at their home.

His mother is dead, his sister Madeleine has been brutally violated and poor Abbot John is shocked and distressed beyond measure; not even his faithful attendant Brother Tom can help him in his devastation and grief. To everyone's surprise, help comes in the unlikely form of Brother William, who had so recently caused his own form of chaos in the community.

 It is William who goes with the Abbot to visit Madeleine, who has taken shelter at the convent of the Poor Clares, but the siblings in their grief and shock can give each other no comfort yet and the visit is a painful one for them both. Blame, self-blame and recrimination are the undercurrents during this meeting and it is William who comes to the rescue once more. His determination to go in search of one of his homeless brother monks leads to the discovery of poor Brother Oswald, tortured, blinded, made dumb and left to die. Caring for Oswald is a task  John knows how to do, and Oswald's truly pitiable state leads John and Madeleine to put aside their problems and unite in caring for someone who needs the medical expertise of them both working together as a team to help him recover.

This is in many ways a dramatic and sometimes distressing book, yet it is filled with radiant episodes of hope, faith, love and quite superlative goodness. The meaning of taking on one another's burdens out of love, truly living in community and excluding no-one as well as what it means to have a vocation as a Christian, let alone a monk, are all beautifully explored.  Brother Conradus is an absolute joy, as you will find out, and shows us that even the smallest things done with love can sometimes have the most profound and lasting impact.

 Even after my fourth reading, I am still finding new depths and insights each time; this is another magnificent installment by Pen Wilcock, and a blessing to read.

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Monocled Mutineer

The Monocled Mutineer
By John Fairley & William Allison
Published by Souvenir Press, 
September 2015 (2nd paperback edition)

I have been reading several books dealing with the First World War as I am tracing my great-grandfather's war service, but had not heard of the Etaples Mutiny nor of one of its ringleaders, Percy Topliss, the infamous "monocled mutineer", prior to reading this book.

Conditions during the Great War were generally grim indeed, but the training camp at Etaples in Norther France was particularly bad, and under a pretty brutal regime too. It is hardly surprising that there were murmurings of unrest, but British and Commonwealth troops were renowned for putting their heads down and toughing things out. Nobody ever expected that there would be a full-scale armed mutiny, which lasted for days and spread from the camp to the town itself.  Both military police and the camp's Commander, Brigadier-General  Andrew Graham Thomson were the targets, and it is the official war diary of Thomson which up until now has provided the main source of information about these four eventful days.

Most of the ringleaders were caught quickly, court-martialled and promptly executed for mutiny, but Percy Topliss escaped capture for three long years, and is believed by some to have been the Deus ex Machina of the mutiny. Topliss' career was one of deceit (posing as an officer when he was not)  ambition and ruthlessness; he had gone into the Army straight from jail and managed to deceive and charm people in equal measure.  He was deemed a dangerous man and when eventually caught in Cumbria, was shot dead. The Government wanted no 'loose cannons' fomenting unrest.

The authors have undertaken a huge amount of research with this book over many years, tracking  down surviving soldiers who had experienced conditions at Etaples, Topliss' friends, relatives and comrades. unearthing newspaper reports, the coroner's inquest and those sources which had not been officially sealed by the Government until 2017.

The question remains: was Topliss some sort of a hero for drawing attention to dreadful conditions at Etaples or just a deceitful, dangerous, manipulative rabble-rouser, capable of causing mutiny, mayhem and riots which could easily have been detrimental to the course and outcome of the War and undermined discipline amongst the troops?  Should the ringleaders have been executed or merely jailed? Should the mutiny at Etaples have been covered up by the Establishment or should it have been officially acknowledged much earlier? Would it have made any difference?

  It will be interesting to see what records will be released in 2017, but this is a fascinating book indeed.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Chats With Cats

Chats With Cats

How To Read Your Cat's Mind

By Celia Haddon

Published by Endeavour Press, October 2015

This may only be a very slender volume indeed, but it is packed full of information and after reading it, I have found out so many new things despite a lifetime of owning cats.

I was particularly interested in the stages of hunting prey which a cat goes through, and how depriving an indoor cat of the chance to fulfill these stages can result in certain behaviour patterns; I have followed her advice about allowing carefully supervised and structured play session opportunities with our recently rescued cat and within forty-eight hours, our cat is definitely calmer and more settled.

Definitely worth a read if you are a new cat owner, have rescued a cat or are faced with caring for an older cat with health issues.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Amish Christmas Gift

An Amish Christmas Gift

Three Novellas

By Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid & Kelly Irvin

Published by Thomas Nelson, October 2015

Every year, I look forward to reading the Amish Christmas books and this one is a welcome addition to my library.

The Amy Clipston story, Naomi's Gift is one I have read before in A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection, but it fits in well here with this collection and I was more than happy to re-read the story of  Naomi King, who believed that she was unlucky in love as her two previous relationships ended badly. Just when she had stopped looking and hoping, love walks into her life in the shape of the young widower Caleb and his delightful daughter Susie. Is she brave enough to grab the opportunity or will the bossy and self-assured Irene Wagler snatch Caleb first?

Ruth Reid's story is called An Unexpected Joy and introduces us to the lovable, chatty and irrepressible Abigail Kemp, who too has given up on finding a nice Amish bu to court her and is instead busily saving to buy herself a horse so she can be as independent as possible. Micah Zook is in a bind when his parents leave him alone to care for his grandmother with mild dementia while they go to help his sister who is due to give birth. Micah has a work deadline to meet but is afraid to leave his grandmother alone for fear of what she might get up to,  and ends up employing Abigail to be a companion to his grandmother to free him to work. Abigail simply has to see what Micah gets up to and nearly drives him scatty with her non-stop conversation at first before they gradually begin to see all the positives in each other. Abigail's extended family has great troubles, and Micah soon finds himself being drawn in to help.

Kelly Irvin's A Christmas Visitor rounds off the collection and tells us about Frannie Mast, a good Amish maedel currently living with her uncle and aunt in Bee County, Texas. Her relatives are trying to match-make for her, but her heart is firmly fixed on her Englischer friend, Rocky Sanders, whom she met when she was working in Missouri.  When Rocky turns up, saddened by the death of his beloved uncle, who was his nearest relative, he and Frannie rekindle their friendship despite the disapproval of her family. Rocky's encounter with the local Amish bishop leads him to consider what faith really means and why it is so desperately important to the community that Frannie does not marry an Englischer and leave.  His own weak faith starts to grow and he has both some growing up and some serious decisions to make about what his own growing Christian faith is calling him to do next..... This is a lovely story, possibly my favourite out of the three.

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Sorry for the delay in posting the next review; it has been  half-term holiday for the children, so things have been busy at home :-)

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dirty Old London

Dirty Old London

The Victorian Fight Against Filth

By Lee Jackson

Published by Yale University Press, Oct 15th 2015

When a population increases rapidly, there will be a concomitant rise in waste of all types. Consider the  infamous night-soil (human refuse) collected at night in order to minimise the annoyance caused by odours, or the manure and urine liberally deposited by the horse drawn carriages and  hansom cabs, dirt of all sorts, household refuse, ash and cinders, soot from coal burning fires and factories, dead animals such as feral cats and dogs, and worst of all, dead human bodies.

All of the above had to be disposed of somehow; methods ranged from rough and ready to carefully thought-out, from simply dumping items in the street or the nearest body of water (especially the River Thames) to the construction of miles of sewers, public toilets and brand-new burial grounds and housing.

In nine riveting and mind-boggling chapters, Lee Jackson introduces us to the darker side of London and the people who tried, with varying levels of success, to clean it up.

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Friday, October 16, 2015



By Terri Roberts with Jeanette Windle

Published by Bethany House, Oct 6th 2015

There cannot be many people with even the slightest interest in things Amish who have not heard of the Nickel Mines Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Wholehearted and unconditional forgiveness is a hallmark of Amish teaching, but what is it like being on the receiving end of such forgiveness when it is your oldest son who has committed this dreadful crime and brought tragedy, grief and heartbreak to so many families?

This is the story of Terri and Chuck Roberts, well-known, well-loved and well-respected in their community and their church, and how their lives changed forever on that one fateful day. From their despair, anguish and grief, through trying to understand and make sense of the tragedy and then working to try to bring about healing for their community and family, Teri looks at what forgiveness really means for those extending it and for those receiving it.

At the end of the day, we cannot wait to feel that we forgive someone, we must actually make a conscious and often incredibly hard decision to extend forgiveness as the Bible commands us,  and then live out that forgiveness in our actions and words, each and every day.

This is a heartbreaking yet surprisingly uplifting book, showing Amish forgiveness in action and the close bonds which have been forged between the Roberts families and those of the Amish community - bonds which continue strong and close to this day and have bound the families together in ways they could never have imagined.

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Death On The Prairie

Death On The Prairie

By Kathleen Ernst

Published by Midnight Ink,  Oct 8th 2015

I really wasn't sure what to expect from this, as I have not read any of the earlier titles in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, but the fact that it was themed around Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and books grabbed my attention. It was a good move, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-moving story.

Chloe Ellefson is stunned when an elderly friend, Miss Lila Gillespie, turns up at the museum where she works, with a quilt which may well have been made by THE Laura Ingalls Wilder. A keen fan of the Little House books since her childhood, Chloe decides that she really does need to investigate this thoroughly to see if it could possibly be true, but is shocked when Lila is almost immediately found dead after apparently apprehending a burglar at her home. Was this just an unfortunate case of Lila being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or is it something more sinister?

Chloe decided to take the precious quilt with her to a Symposium about the famous writer and persuades her sister Kari to come with her on a road trip which will take them to each site associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family.  Mayhem dogs their steps and it soon becomes obvious that someone is determined to get that quilt back, no matter what it takes, even murder - but why?

 During their travels the sisters meet devotees, fans and even fanatics who are obsessed  with the author, and they get drawn into all sorts of situations. Added to this are Kari's family concerns and Chloe's police officer boyfriend showing signs of wanting to settle down, and what started as a simple road trip has turned into something life-changing.

This was such a fun read, and it provides a lot of information about Laura and her life on the way. I am now tempted to get the other books in the series to see what I have been missing!

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The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

By Kathryn Aalto

Published by Timber Press, 7th October 2015

There cannot be many people who have never heard of Winnie the Pooh.  The books of his many adventures were an integral part of my childhood and my children have also grown up with Pooh and his companions: Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo.

We all feel we know the Hundred Acre Wood, but this book tells the real story which inspired the creation of the Hundred Acre Wood - Ashdown Forest in Sussex, which was a beloved and familiar stamping ground to the Milne family. Determined to give their son Christopher Robin as idyllic a childhood as they had themselves enjoyed, Alan Alexander Milne and his wife Daphne purchased Cotchford Farm on the edge of Ashdown Forest to use as a regular retreat from life in London, and a few years later, they moved there permanently.

Christopher Robin had a menagerie of stuffed animals which would become the focus of the characters which we know today through the books. Phenomenal bestsellers, the published stories were the result of a productive and pleasant working collaboration between Milne and the artist E.H. Shepard, who visited the area to make on-site sketches. Milne was already an incredibly successful and prolific author and dramatist with a prodigious output of literary work, yet his stories about life in the Hundred Acre Wood would eclipse his other works.

Kathryn Aalto has skilfully woven together the geology, geography, history and natural history of the Forest and its surrounding villages, providing a travelogue, a guide, a nature spotting manual and a nostalgic glimpse of the past, all rolled into a delightful and eminently readable book, profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. This is an area of outstanding beauty and Ashdown is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, ranging from adders to eagles, bees to carnivorous plants as well as trees. She pinpoints as many places as possible which can be identified from the stories and gives suggestions for activities for visitors to undertake which involve utilising the natural features of the Forest.  Poohsticks, of course, gets a special mention and I was delighted to learn about the World Poohsticks Championships and that restoration of the iconic bridge has been done without  in any way spoiling or altering it.

Mercifully the area remains very much as it was in Milne's day;  Hartfield village was mentioned in the Domesday Book  and is still a very traditional English village, unspoilt and with only a discreet sign to show the path to the  Poohsticks Bridge and a small Tea Room/ Gift Shop to give a clue to its connections with Winnie the Pooh. No theme parks here!

I want to describe so much of this book that the review would be enormous, so I must content myself with strongly recommending this book to *anyone* who loves Winnie the Pooh.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

Once Upon a Christmas

Once Upon a Christmas

By Rosanne Croft, Linda Reinhardt and Sharon Bernash Smith

Published by Shiloh Run Press/Barbour, Oct 1st, 2015

It's always enormous fun getting to review Christmas-themed books this early in the year, and this is a really delightful collection of  fifty five short stories related to the Christmas period, covering all parts of the globe and a large swathe of  relatively modern history. 

Heartache, sadness, sorrow and even danger make an appearance, but the Christmas message holds true and strong for the characters we meet in these stories. It is ideal for dipping into, or just reading right through, and I found it to be a great antidote to the commercialisation of Christmas. Just as the cover says, it brings meaning to the season and is likely to become a perennial favourite in our house!

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Down And Out Today

Down And Out: Notes From The Gutter
By Matthew Small
Published by Paperbooks, Oct 1st, 2015

This is an impassioned, timely and intriguing book; Matthew Small examines the many reasons how - and sometimes why - people  become homeless, destitute or just are simply struggling to manage on a low income, and what can and is being done to support and help them.

Bath is a tourist spot, apparently affluent, yet there are substantial numbers of people who are homeless. Some are simply financially challenged, others have problems with addiction or mental illness.There are shelters, but not enough, and not everyone can afford the cost; many do not feel comfortable there either.  There are soup kitchens, charities and a very busy Foodbank  and Foodcycle operating from churches, but is this the right way to go about helping the vulnerable? Does it cause almost as many problems as it solves? Opinions are quite sharply divided, and Matthew examines all aspects of this complex issue.

He also leaves Britain to look at poverty in India and then onto Nepal, both countries where life is very different to Britain. Cities such as Mumbai have their fair share of people flocking there hoping for a better job, a better life, only to find things are just as hard there, with no Indian government support outside of state hospitals and schools. He visits a slum in Mumbai, and sees people who believe that  sending children out to beg - and therefore earn -  is seen as more important than sending them to school. His visit to a leper hospital, where yes, there are still people being treated for leprosy, shows him that there are people and communities trying to help the disadvantaged, missionary religious orders  especially so in a society where caste discrimination remains a real problem. Despite their poverty, there seems to be far greater happiness than in Britain.

Well worth reading.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Anna's Healing

Anna's Healing

By Vannetta Chapman

Published by Harvest House, October 1st 2015

Anna Schwartz has struggled to find her place within her own community and has moved to Cody's Creek, Oklahoma, to spend time with her Mammi, uncle and aunt.  While minding their family produce stall, she makes the acquaintance of a reporter named Chloe Roberts and the two women quickly strike up a lively and interesting friendship.

Jacob Graber is a wandering labourer, a hard worker, who never stays long anywhere. Chance and the harvest bring him to Anna's family's farm, and he is there on the fateful day when a tornado strikes and causes the accident which renders Anna paraplegic.

It is traumatic and life-changing for all of them, but just when things are starting to settle and everyone is adjusting to this new life, Anna is suddenly healed. Completely, utterly healed - yet life  does not return to normal but instead changes dramatically for all of them once again, to their surprise and dismay....

One of the things I like so much about Vannetta Chapman's characters is that they are memorable. Some writers of Amish fiction produce characters which are of a remarkable "sameness" and that certainly cannot be said about the people in this book, who are lively, loving and utterly memorable, especially Anna's beloved grandmother.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918

At War with the 16th Irish Division 1914-1918  

By J.H.M.Staniforth, edited by Richard S. Grayson

Published in 2012 by Pen & Sword Military in association with the Imperial War Museums

I'm currently reading quite a few WW1 books to provide me with a fuller picture of the life of my great-grandfather during the Great War, and I was truly  delighted to find this book because 'Max' Staniforth also enlisted in the 6th Connaught Rangers and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he might have encountered my great-grandfather.
Max left his Oxford college to enlist as a private in 1914 and by the time he returned to civilian life in 1918, he had achieved the rank of Major in the 16th Irish Division. In the interim, he had endured hunger, cold, lice, scabies and war wounds; he had been shelled, shot at and gassed. He and his companions had crawled through decaying human body parts, watched men around them being machine-gunned, seen soldiers go mad and endured enormous privations in the service of King and Country. All of this he faithfully relates in his weekly letters home to his parents, in a calm, lucid and collected manner which gives an indication of why he rose through the ranks so quickly.

It paints a vivid picture of an almost unimaginable experience and this book has been my faithful vade-mecum for several weeks now. I have had to really resist the temptation to race through it, mainly because it is one of those exceptionally rare non-fiction triumphs, a book which you enjoy so much that you really cannot bear to reach the last page. Despite the subject matter, it is not a depressing book; Max Staniforth manages to relate plenty of tales of humour, courage, kindness and comradeship in the midst of the war, and the details of his daily life show what a brave and thoroughly decent man he was.

The editor, Richard Grayson, gives some tantalising information about Max's adventures after the war, and I really do hope that at some point a biography is written about of this fascinating man who held the posts of soldier, salesman, train driver, broadcast announcer and clergyman as well as husband and father.

Most definitely a book I shall both keep and re-read.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Brain Fog Fix

The Brain Fog Fix
By Mike Dow
Published by Hay House, September 2015

The title of this book grabbed my attention immediately; in our house, two of us have different chronic illnesses, but each produces "brain fog". This is an insidious, debilitating problem, adversely affecting short-term memory, concentration and mood and having a major effect on everyday living. It affects many people, yet it is apparently both preventable and treatable. 

Re-balancing the brain's levels of serotonin, dopamine and cortisol, improving sleep, making real-life connections with people, developing a routine of meditation and/or prayer, starting a sensible and sustainable amount of gentle exercise and managing stress can apparently result in a rapid lessening or reversal of the distressing brain fog symptoms in three weeks. These are not all to be done at once, but introduced in groups over three one week periods. Diet plays a huge part, and some dietary tweaks will be necessary, but they need not be overwhelmingly difficult and they certainly do not rule out all possibility of further treats and occasional indulgences.  

Well worth a read, and I have ordered my own hard copy of this book after reviewing this digital copy via NetGalley!

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Monday, September 14, 2015

The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Latin Edition

Commentarii de Inepto Puero

(Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, Latin edition)

By Jeff Kinney

Translated by Monsignor Daniel B. Gallagher

Published by Amulet Books, 15 September 2015

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books are immensely and perennially popular and yes, we have them all at our home! I was excited to see that someone has had the brainwave of producing a Latin edition of the first book so that Latin students can have something very contemporary to study, and hopefully enjoy themselves as they do so.

Although several of the Harry Potter stories have been translated into Latin, their full pages of dense text with no illustrations makes even flicking through one of them a daunting prospect for adult Latin students, let alone youngsters. With this book, the frequent - and very funny - cartoons not only add clarity to understanding the story, they break up the text into more easily digested and rather less intimidating chunks.

Having said that, it is not a book for absolute beginners; even after studying Latin at school for two years many moons ago, and belonging to a U3A Latin study group for the last three years, I still found myself needing to refer to either my Latin dictionary and/or my Grammar text for clarification, and was tempted to borrow my daughter's English text for help.

The Latin translation has been done by Monsignor Daniel B. Gallagher who is currently working at the Office of Latin Letters at the Vatican and the author has written an appreciative foreword to this Latin edition.

Highly recommended!

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Geometry Of Love

The Geometry Of Love:

Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church

By Margaret Visser

Open Road, June 2015


The concept is clever: by studying, in minute and gratifying detail, the history, architecture, adaptation, structure, decoration and liturgical use of the ancient church of  St Agnes in Rome, it acts as a guidebook to the structure and meaning of a huge number of other traditional churches too, and by and large, it works exceptionally well.

When reading this book, I vacillated between thinking that it was a really good piece of scholarly research, which the author has managed to make humorous, lucid and thoroughly enjoyable as well as enlightening, and then falling into stunned speechlessness at some of the comments made.

Having been familiar with the Western liturgy of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil since I was a small child, and having read reasonably widely around the subject myself, I was more than a little disconcerted to read:

"The priest may plunge the paschal candle’s base into the font: fire uniting with water, vertical intersecting with horizontal, Christ entering the waters of Jordan at his baptism, the fiery Spirit “making the water fruitful.” The gesture insists on the conjunction of opposites, and creates an image decidedly sexual."

Really? Of all the things that spring to my mind when thinking of the symbolism of this ceremony, sexual imagery relating to this solemn act is really and truly the farthest thing from my mind and certainly would be looked at askance by my Catholic, Anglo-Catholic and Western-Rite Orthodox friends who share essentially the same ritual as described above.

The subject of relics also makes for interesting reading:

"The bones of saints, for instance, were often believed to have intrinsic power (in other words they could work magic), and were kept like fetishes."

This may indeed have been the case on occasion, but there is no satisfactory mention of the actual official theology behind the cult of relics, that due to the grace of holy baptism, the body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit and that the relics of those saints who through martyrdom for Christ or by leading lives of exemplary sanctity, retain undimmed the grace and power bestowed.

There are other issues too, but I must stress that by and large, I greatly enjoyed the book and appreciate the huge amount of hard work which has been put into it. Pictures truly do not always do such subjects justice, but I do think it would have been nice to have had some illustrations included.

This book has certainly whetted my appetite to visit this remarkable church.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Lopsided Christmas Cake

The Lopsided Christmas Cake
By Wanda E. Brunstetter & Jean Brunstetter
Published by Shiloh Run Press, Sept 1st, 2015

The Hochstetler twins are both single, in their thirties, living at home and content helping their parents run the family store. The tragic deaths of their grandparents brings the surprising news that they have inherited both their grandparents' house and their store business. Despite some initial hesitation, they embark on a whole new life of independence, fending for themselves in the run-down old house and learning how to become businesswomen and how to value each other's very different personalities and gifts.

When Thelma and Elma decide to enter an Amish baking competition to raise money for a family's medical bills, they find themselves baking live on-stage with two confirmed bachelors, and without giving too much away, this explains the unusual title :-) Can they each find love, or will either of them stand in the other's way?

This is an endearing and sweet Christmas-themed book co-authored by the well-known Wanda Brunstetter and her daughter-in-law Jean,who is a welcome addition to the writers of Amish fiction.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Mudhouse Sabbath

Mudhouse Sabbath

An Invitation To A Life Of Spiritual Discipline - Study Edition

By Lauren F. Winner

Published by Paraclete Press, August 2015

Although I have the audio-book of the first edition of Mudhouse Sabbath, I was delighted to have the chance to review this expanded study version courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

Lauren Winner was born into an Orthodox Jewish family and converted to Christianity as an adult, revelling and delighting in her new spiritual home, yet missing many of the observances of Orthodox Judaism which punctuated every day with rituals designed to bring the presence of God closely to mind. Her life has changed substantially since the first edition and she is now an Episcopal priest as well as having gained her Ph.D, and there are new insights in this new edition as well as extensive discussion questions/statements at the end of each chapter.

The book deals with some fascinating topics, discussing how both faiths have affected her feelings, knowledge and understanding, and how in many respects she finds that they complement each other. Christianity can certainly draw more deeply on its Jewish roots without compromising doctrinal orthodoxy, in her opinion.

Starting with the different ways Christians and Jews experience and celebrate the Sabbath,  she covers the meaning of keeping Kosher and fasting, mourning traditions, the obligation of hospitality, the practices of prayer and candle-lighting, the body and aging, marriage and mezuzot, thoughtfully describing, analysing and outlining her thoughts and beliefs in a clear and incisive manner.

 I have several books about Judaism, but this one is unique in its approach, engaging and enjoyable, and have no doubt I will be referring to it regularly.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living Well with Chronic Illness

Living Well with Chronic Illness
By Joanna J. Charnas
Published by MSI Press,LLC, August 2015

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is never easy; being told you have a disease which will affect you long-term - and possibly for the rest of your life  - can be a real body blow. This book is designed to help with the acceptance of such news and motivate you to make the very best use of the resources that are available in order to take the greatest possible care of your emotional and mental health as well as your physical health. It covers all sorts of topics, including protecting your close personal relationships and maintaining intimacy, accepting your new limitations in daily living  and finding new ways to have fun and enjoy life, as well as exploring complementary medicine to enhance mainstream medical treatments.

Many of the suggestions may seem obvious, but it is all too easy, when stressed, anxious and drained,  to forget how truly essential it is to stay well-hydrated and well-nourished, to get into a proper sleep pattern, to ask for help and to plan ahead to minimise the stress and difficulties that a really bad day can cause you. Family and friends need to be aware, to know how best to help and support you and it is an extremely good idea to join a support group for whichever illness you have, to find out how others manage to maintain their lives as normally as possible in the face of  sometimes very heavy odds indeed.

Although geared towards the American health and benefit systems, this book still has a great deal to offer readers in other countries too, and I found it to be an excellent little primer on living *with* your illness, rather than letting your illness control you.

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Looking Rather Than Reading

My copy of Terry Pratchett's final novel, The Shepherd's Crown, arrived on the same day as my copy of the new Chris Ryan military thriller, Hellfire. I still have not read either, and not simply because of the size of my book pile or the timescale demands of books I have been given to review. Hellfire will require me to adopt a mindset which is at odds with the way I feel at the moment.

I knew that I would find it hard to motivate myself to read the new TP, however much I love his books and the magnificent Discworld he created for our enjoyment, and I knew exactly why. To get to the last page of the last book he ever wrote will be an acknowledgement of the fact that part of my life has changed irrevocably.

 No longer will I be scanning the internet to see what his new book will be called, or when it will be published, or wondering which of the main characters it will revolve around. Would it be Rincewind, Tiffany Aching, the Witches, Sam Vimes or the Patrician? What new technology will be inflicted on Discworld? And once I get to the last page, I am immediately wondering what the next book will be about....

And there's the rub. There will be no "next" book :-(

That is why I have looked at it, greatly admired the cover, read the blurb on the back, opened a page at random and read a single sentence - before carefully closing the book, stroking the cover, smiling wistfully and putting it on the top of my "To Read" heap, where I can see it each time I walk through the dining room to the kitchen.

Looking, rather than reading.

 I'm not ready to close that chapter of my life just yet.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Georgian Menagerie

The Georgian Menagerie: 
Exotic Animals In Eighteenth-Century London
By Christopher Plumb,
I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, August 2015

I have vague recollections of reading about a collection of exotic animals kept at the Tower of London in one of Miss Heyer's Regency novels,  (I believe it was Mr Chawleigh taking Lydia Deveril  to see them in "A Civil Contract") but I had absolutely no idea that  in reality, the Georgians took their interest in exotic animals to quite inordinate lengths. 

Christopher Plumb has painstakingly collated references to exotica ranging from canaries to lions, rhinoceroses and just about everything in between, covering those owned by individuals and organisations, from a single animal or bird to zoological collections. He describes how they were kept as pets, or used for entertainment, food, medicinal resources, sport, science experiments and research.

 Interest in these animals was widespread across all social classes; even the working classes could in time hope to afford a singing canary and as for the wealthy, well, wherever in the world English ships could sail, expeditions could be mounted to capture and import increasingly rare and unusual creatures. Highly collectable creatures were sought after and obtained by any means possible, both legal and illegal.

Sadly, many animals and birds did not survive for long, being fed, housed and treated in inappropriate places and ways, and it makes for sobering reading to think that not much has changed in the ways that humans still so often treat wildlife in the intervening years.  The undercurrent of sadness this book produced means that I cannot in all fairness categorise it as entirely enjoyable to read, but it certainly is a fascinating, informative and enlightening book indeed.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Grammar Of God

The Grammar Of God

By Aviya Kushner

Spiegel & Grau/Random House, August 2015

Aviya Kushner is an Orthodox Jew who loves language, poetry, literature and history, and has used her original Master's thesis on how the languages used affect the Biblical text to produce a remarkable book which is the product of a decade's work. She has read, spoken out loud, learned and loved a variety of translations, finding out just how Biblical translation has affected Jews and Christians alike  - and continues to influence us - right up to the present day.

It's not just the simple act of translating words, concepts and ideas; even the very rhythm, rhyme and resonance of the original Hebrew can affect the way it is understood. Ironically, when translators inserted punctuation where there was very little in the original Hebrew, yet another layer of obscurity was added to the sacred text rather than serving to enhance or enlighten the reader or the auditor. Translation does not convey the cultural or historical detail and understanding of those reading in their native language, and she does her best to give us an insight into how much difference this really does make.

From the Creation to laughter, from the books of the Law to the songs of the Psalms, from travel across Germany to the deepest meanings of scheduled Torah portions, from her family history to education, from her beloved Jewish heritage to her respectful fascination with how Christians view the Bible, this is a book which I found utterly absorbing, from the very first page right through to the last.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Signs of Lancaster County

Signs of Lancaster County
A Photographic Tour of Amish Country
By Tana Reiff
Schiffer Publishing Ltd, June 2015

A slender volume, but filled with so many delightful photos! 
Tana Reiff has photographed just about every type of sign you can imagine: historic plaques, street signs, traffic signs, schoolhouse and church signs, warning signs, signs advertising shops, businesses, food, quilts and farm produce, signs which have been hand-printed, hand-painted, stencilled, commercially produced - all as varied as the people, whether Englisch or Amish, who live and work in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Complete Francis Of Assisi

The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, The Complete Writings, and The Little Flowers
Edited, Translated, and Introduced by Jon M. Sweeney
Paraclete Press, August 2015

I vividly remember being enchanted by the stories of St Francis and his followers when I read "The Little Flowers of St Francis" by Brother Ugolino when I was in my early teens but I did not know of any modern biographies about Francis nor of any works written by him, or I would have read those too!

Book One contains the biography by the French Protestant minister Paul Sabatier, originally published in 1894 and edited and annotated by Jon Sweeney for the modern reader.
 The biography actually ended up on the RC church's prohibited book list (the Index Librorum Prohibitorum) the same year it was published, but that did not stop the book being translated into many different languages and becoming a serious bestseller. It is relatively short but crammed full of interest - Sabatier sees Francis as an early forerunner of the Protestant reformers in his zeal for change, and his very real affection for Francis is tempered with a slight scepticism of some of the traditional stories about the Saint. Sweeney's annotations in the sidebars of the text are extremely interesting and helpful.

Book Two contains the essential writings of the Saint, prayers and canticles, monastic rules - including a rule for Third Order lay members -  and a number of letters including one to Brother Anthony of Padua, who became a canonised saint himself.

Book Three contains Sweeney's careful rendering into modern English of the text of  "The Little Flowers Of St Francis", along with an introduction and annotations. It has been re-ordered into a  chronological form and is immensely readable.

Jon Sweeney has produced a great resource by bringing all this together in one substantial volume, which will be of interest to a large audience. There is a good bibliography and suggestions for further reading, and the whole book has been carefully indexed with an excellent table of contents for each of the three parts. This is a superb book which will be eagerly read by all  who venerate St Francis of Assisi.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reading For Fun, Part Two!

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.
Published by Fourth Estate, 2015 in paperback.

Fed up of maintaining a pretense about having read books he had not, and wistful about books he wished he had read, Andy Miller set out to create a List Of Betterment and made a determined effort to carve out time in his busy life to read all  fifty of them.
 Each of the books is discussed at some length, whether or not it had lived up to the hype, been worth reading, been an enjoyable read and so forth. I found it endlessly entertaining and the inclusion of his "Lists" (he ended up with three) has given me lots more books I'd like to tackle at some point as I have only read 10 out of the 50 on the original List Of Betterment.

How on earth can you fail to enjoy a book which analyses "The Tiger Who Came To Tea" in the same way as it does "War And Peace" ?  Enormous fun.

The Science Of Harry Potter by Dr Roger Highfield.

This is a charity shop find, published in 2003 by Penguin Books, so  somewhat outdated as far as the science goes, but still a really interesting read about how much of the magic described in the Harry Potter books can actually be rationalised, explained  and even replicated by science.

I do hope an updated version will eventually be published as science has marched on considerably since 2003.

Lost And Found In Prague by Kelly Jones, published by Berkley Books, 2015

I found this by chance when browsing on Amazon and thought it looked worth reading.  The mysterious death of an elderly nun in the church of Our Lady of Victories in Prague - which is home to the miracle-working statue of the Holy Infant of Prague - brings a reporter, a police investigator, a current nun at the Carmelite Convent and an influential Catholic cleric together in an attempt to solve the puzzle of the nun's death. 

It seems unlikely at first glance that  the death of the elderly and infirm Sister Claire might be linked to the apparently random deaths of several other people in the Czech Republic, but it turns out that the echoes of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 still manage to have repercussions to this very day...

Atmospheric and surprisingly captivating, though I did find the repetitious use of the phrase "religious icon" irritating beyond belief by the end of the book ;-)

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Reading For Fun

A significant portion of my reading is done for review purposes, but I have also been doing a lot of reading purely for fun over the last few weeks. 

Just in case you are wondering what I have been enjoying, these are all highly recommended :-)

The Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. The staff at St Mary's Institute for Historical research are historians, researchers and scientists and support staff devoted to investigating historical events. It should be made perfectly clear from the outset that they do not do ‘time-travel’. 
Indeed not. They merely ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’.  So, top secret, high-tech time travel it is.....

 The series starts with Just One Damned Thing After Another, in which we meet Max and watch her exploring Norman London, World War One, get to grips with dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period and rescue books from the fire which engulfs the Great Library of Alexandria.

Book Two, A Symphony Of Echoes, sees the team have a perilously close shave with utter annihilation when they meet Jack The Ripper, witness the brutal murder of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, make the acquaintance of dodos and discover there are time-travelling enemies hell-bent on destroying the work of St Mary's.

Book Three, A Second Chance, investigates whether Isaac Newton was as clever as he was cracked up to be, a jump back to the Cretaceous period once more, the Battle of Agincourt and the only marginally less violent cheese rolling competition in Gloucester before Max's life changes forever when her long awaited trip to Troy goes horrifyingly wrong....

I absolutely loved these books - very clever, brilliantly complex plots and believable characters. I have three more to read :-D
 I haven't included the covers as the books are being re-issued this summer with brand new covers; for further information see Jodi's booksite.

The Spider Shepherd series by Steven Leather

Starting with Hard Landing, in which we meet Dan 'Spider' Shepherd, an ex-SAS soldier turned undercover cop, who goes on a perilous undercover mission inside a prison to find out just how a drugs baron is managing his empire while behind bars. 

When Spider's wife Sue is killed in a traffic accident, Dan is faced with being a single parent and an undercover cop - not an easy combination.

 The series is a long one, but so far I have completed Soft Target, Cold Kill, Hot Blood and Dead Men, and thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.
 Nail-biting, gripping the edge of your seat thriller/detective books, and my current bedtime reading!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Gift

The Gift

By Wanda Brunstetter

Published by Shiloh Run Press, August 1st, 2015

This is the second book in the "Prairie State Friends" series and this time, we learn more about Leah Mast and her talent for treating others using reflexology. Many sing her praises, but not her neighbour, Adam Beachy. He despises reflexology and takes every opportunity to belittle it and makes Leah feel uncomfortable as a result, especially as she cannot see why he should feel that way.
Leah decides it is best to have as little to do with Adam as possible, but their paths are forced to cross in a dramatic way when Adam's twin sister and her husband are killed in an accident, leaving Adam as the guardian to their three daughters.

Totally out of his depth - and comfort zone - in dealing with the children, who are shocked, traumatised and grieving for the loss of their parents, he ends up asking Leah to help care for the girls so he can continue to work in his hardware store. Seeing each other so often makes their initial attraction slowly develop into more romantic feelings, though neither will acknowledge or admit this openly. The girls become increasingly fond of Leah, and eventually Adam wonders if the best thing for them would be if he asked Leah to embark on a marriage of convenience with him.

When Leah meets a nurse who has just moved to the town and they start a tentative friendship, it turns out there are lots of skeletons in closets. Slowly, the reason for Adam's distaste for reflexology becomes apparent when Leah finds that the reason Adam's mother left her family and the Amish faith was to pursue a career in nursing after using reflexology in her community...

There are lots of twists and turns in the plot of this fast moving book, some of which I anticipated and others I certainly did not. The role of the hummingbirds is simply lovely, the information about banding the birds was fascinating indeed and both Adam and Leah share a great love of nature.  The Amish in this area are depicted as rather more progressive than in other stories, allowing the use of bicycles and we see much less use of  dialect. Leah's parents are often referred to as Mom and Dad as opposed to Mam and Datt, and her parents are very determined that Adam allow Leah to continue her reflexology work after she marries, despite Adam's initially vehement objections.

I found this an interesting read, but don't think it is as good as the first book in the series, "The Decision". It does not seem as neatly crafted as her other books, with quite a lot of repetition of phrases.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Epic Survival

Epic Survival: 
Extreme Adventure, Stone Age Wisdom, and Lessons in Living from a Modern Hunter-Gatherer

By Matt Graham and Josh Young

Published by Simon & Schuster, July 2015

We have watched Matt Graham on the Discovery Channel survival show "Dual Survival", so I was delighted to be offered the chance to read and review this title as an e-book. His feats of endurance  are truly remarkable -  in only fifty eight days he ran the entire 1600 mile Pacific Crest Trail and has taken part - on foot!-  in  a three day horse race and finished third.

But what motivated this man to more or less leave the modern world behind in favour of living as close to nature - and as close as it is possible to live the lifestyle of ancient hunter-gatherers? Could anyone do it? What does Matt get from his unusual way of life?

A very real love of nature from childhood and a growing feeling that man is doing himself no favours by alienating himself from the natural world and living in a way that humans were not developed to cope with was the catalyst for changing his way of looking at the world. He made the decision not to drive a car for eight months and instead, he ran everywhere, building endurance and gaining a reputation for both speed and stamina in his running, as well as developing a remarkable way of "reading" the natural world around him in his work as a member of a Park Service search and rescue team. Gradually, he spent more and more time living a "wild" life, willingly learning from anyone who has skills to teach him and then seeking to pass these skills on to others.

The way Matt tells it, he feels that his alternative way of looking at the world which surrounds him is accessible to anyone who wants to live at peace and at one with nature. It is not really surprising that  his belief system changes from a basic and lacklustre exposure to Christianity to a form of spirituality more consistent with that of Native American Indians. As his whole lifestyle becomes more focused on living in harmony with Nature and being mindful of an animal needing to die in order to provide him with food, he learns to be wholly respectful of the animals he kills to sustain his own life and makes sure not to waste anything at all in honour of this sacrifice.

Matt does not feel lonely, but this is most likely not a way of life that would be sustainable to many people. Although I enjoyed the book and found it very interesting, I don't feel the urge to follow his example but will continue to admire his exploits and convictions.
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Monday, July 13, 2015

Ghost Flight

Ghost  Flight

By Bear Grylls

Published by Orion Books, June 2015

I am only just managing to haul my jaw back up from the floor after finishing this book.

At the start of the story, Will Jaeger is a man whose life is on the line, being tortured in a prison in a small African state. He is rescued by Raff, an old friend and Army colleague and the two of them only just manage to escape alive.
It really is a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire, however, as when Jaeger finally returns to Britain he finds one of his colleagues - and a dear friend - has died in suspicious circumstances which smack of a cover-up. Why did Smithy have a mysterious symbol carved into him, which wasn't there before his death? Nobody has any answers until Will starts doing some serious research, which raises even more questions than it answers.

To say Jaeger has a troubled past is an understatement, and when a dream of a job opportunity is proposed to him, involving danger, excitement and the chance to make a mind-blowing historical discovery as well as a hefty amount of money, he takes it with both hands, but what starts out as an adventure rapidly becomes a desperate fight for survival in an inhospitable South American jungle, with a very mixed team of people.

Who can he trust, if anyone? What is the secret behind the enormous German plane hidden in the rainforest? Who is determined to stop his expedition in its tracks? And why is everything seemingly bound up with the exploits of his grandfather in a top secret Unit during the Second World War?

A coup in Africa. A miraculous escape. A mysterious family death and the abduction of his wife and son, several years previously. An Amazonian tribe with blowpipes living in  a forest with deadly giant predatory spiders. Double agents, Tracking devices, codes and espionage, hallucinogenic drugs, tribal bonding rituals. Add in crocodiles, piranhas and a Nazi plane whose cargo has killed the forest around it, and it seems as though it would end up as slapstick, but it works -  and it works very well indeed. I did anticipate part of what might happen, but there were lots of fascinating twists and turns in the plot, many of which left me glued to the pages.

This is Bear Grylls' first novel, and he has made a very impressive start. I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens to Will Jaeger next!

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Hardest Thing To Do

The Hardest Thing To Do

The Hawk & The Dove series, vol 4

By Penelope Wilcock

Published by Lion Fiction, 2015

It is Lent at St Alcuin's Abbey. Always a time of extra prayer and rigorous fasting,  this year's Lent also sees the monks anticipating the return of their much loved Infirmarian to be their elected Abbot. After a year away studying at Cambridge and being ordained priest, Father John is finally on his way home to Yorkshire when he hears about a mysterious fire which has destroyed St Dunstan's Abbey and killed many of the monks. To his great surprise, he meets one of the surviving monks, outcast and avoided, injured and begging for food. John, being John, immediately and willingly provides what food and treatment he can to help before continuing on his way home to take up his responsibilities.

John finds that adapting to his new position at the Abbey is difficult at best, stressful at worst, and soon he is faced with a situation which puts him at odds not only with his helpful attendant, Brother Tom,  but even with most of the monastic brethren when one of the dispossessed monks from St Dunstan's arrives, injured and seeking succour. It is none other than Tom's archenemy, Prior William, who had publicly tormented and mercilessly humiliated Abbot Peregrine in the past. William has now been brought low by circumstances but certainly not lowered his self-esteem, pride and arrogance; he has a quite remarkable ability to cause dissent, squabbling, unease and bad feeling wherever he goes, like a rivulet of poison tainting a well of fresh water.

The tranquil and loving atmosphere of the Abbey is quickly shattered by his arrival. Brother is set against brother when John has to determine whether or not Prior William should be admitted to St Alcuin's or sent on his way to fend for himself and face an uncertain future. William could destroy the peace of the community- or the community could reach out to William and help to heal him.

Just how far can  and should forgiveness extend when there is little sign of repentance?  How much can or should be risked or sacrificed by a community for the sake of one monk? Is any soul beyond hope of saving? The situation is a major test of John's leadership ability, and the wisdom and compassion of both the Gospel of Christ and the Rule of St Benedict prove to be sure and certain guides to the difficult decisions John must make...

Yet another stunning and thought-provoking installment in this remarkable series by Penelope Wilcock, and an absolute joy to read.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Discovering Tuberculosis

Discovering Tuberculosis

A Global History 1900 To The Present

By Christian W. McMillen

Published by Yale University Press, June 2015

The discovery and widespread use of antibiotics and the use of the BCG vaccination programmes in the twentieth century initially promised to wipe out tuberculosis globally, yet failed to do so. We are now in the invidious position of tuberculosis staging a huge resurgence across the world, resistant to most antibiotics.

What on earth went wrong and how have we ended up in this potentially devastating situation?

McMillen, a historian, looks at the theories behind the susceptibility of races and transmission of the disease in the 1900s, at the discovery and use of antibiotics to  treat this once-dreaded disease and the problems of using allegedly "expert" opinions to form  policies which were largely based on economics rather than sound medicine and statistical evidence. The implementation of vaccination programmes across the world could in theory have enabled the disease to have been very greatly diminished or even eradicated from large parts of the world in the way polio has been, but this was not the case, with success rates in BCG vaccination trials ranging from  80%  all the way down to a staggering 0%. This illness does not have a "one size fits all" treatment profile and the in-depth study McMillen provides of three areas - Native American reservation populations, Kenya and India - demonstrates this clearly, with concerns about antibiotic resistance actually being expressed as far back as the 1950s.

We face the widespread rise of tuberculosis and a desperate struggle to somehow rein in the disease once again. There really is no room for complacency when dealing with this bacterium, which now kills more people per annum than at any time in recorded history. It is a master of disguise, allowing sufferers to appear healthy for long periods of time, yet many people in the developed nations of the world regard it as an historical disease or restricted to the poorest parts of the world - a dangerous fallacy indeed.

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