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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