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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