Wednesday, May 25, 2016
The Roman Quests 1: Escape From Rome
By Caroline Lawrence
Published by Orion Children's Books, May 2016
Wow. Just wow.
If you liked Caroline Lawrence's wonderful "The Roman Mysteries" series, you certainly won't want to miss the start of this new series, set in the times of the evil Emperor Domitian. Domitian encouraged the activities of delators, who denounced people they believed to have been undertaking activities treasonous to the Emperor. The accused's possessions, home and money would be confiscated and divided between the Emperor and the delator; the Emperor therefore gained easy money and delators had a convenient way to punish people who offended them and gain monetarily too.
When Juba's mother wakes him in the middle of the night to prepare him to flee with his siblings to their uncle, who lives in far-away Britannia, she ensures they have enough valuables to be able to pay their way, but nothing goes according to plan. Disaster follows disaster, and Juba has to make a heartbreaking decision about his baby sister Dora in order to physically protect Fronto and Ursula, as well as keeping a dreadful secret from them.
Adventure follows adventure, and when they eventually arrive in cold and wet Britannia, they are older and wiser but find to their horror that their troubles are very far from over. With the help of unexpected and welcome allies, they have to face treachery, betrayal and danger once more. Have they escaped one dreadful fate only to fall into yet another?
This is a fast-paced, nail-biting adventure story aimed at Key Stage 2 children aged between 7 and 11, though it would certainly be enjoyed by older readers too; I stayed up ridiculously late last night to finish this book because I simply could NOT bear to go to bed without finding out the ending :-)
I didn't simply "read" this story, I felt that I was actually there with Juba and his family. I found it absolutely spell-binding and chockablock with accurate historical detail, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Dinner With Edward
By Isabel Vincent
Published by Algonquin Books, 24th May 2016
Isabel Vincent's life was frenetic, frantic and her marriage was launching into a catastrophic free-fall. A casual conversation with a friend led her to agree to keep an eye on Edward, her friend's recently bereaved elderly father, who seemed to have lost his zest for life with the death of his adored Paula. It seems a recipe for disaster, throwing strangers together at such an unpropitious moment in their lives, but quite the opposite happens.
Isabel and Edward agree to have dinner together occasionally, with Edward cooking exquisite meals despite his ninety-odd years, dispensing his wisdom along with his culinary secrets, and a deep and abiding friendship begins between these two unlikely characters. Each of them brings solace, comfort and inspiration to the other, transforming each other's lives and helping each other to pick up the pieces of their lives and adapt to the new normal.
The food is exquisite, the company delightful, and I urge you to read this book. Definitely my favourite book of 2016 so far.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
By Beth McRae
Audio book released by Bolinda Publishing
Narrated by Caroline Lee
I found this purely by chance when browsing on the Audible.co.uk website, and knowing comparatively little about Australia, I decided to give it a go. I am so very glad that I did, as after a bit of a slow start, I found listening to this book to be a thoroughly enjoyable and quite compelling experience.
Beth McRae's story begins with her life as a country girl in Victoria, then moving to train as a nurse and a midwife, falling in love along the way with an Army man to whom her parents did not warm for quite a long time. Much as it broke her heart, Beth made it plain that she intended to marry Ian, with or without her parents' blessing, and they did come round to the idea.
With her husband's postings meaning they had to move quite often, she acquired a lot of hospital experience as she moved jobs too, but eventually they decided to put down some roots and Ian left the army. Life was not plain sailing for them; the extremely premature birth of their first daughter was a tragedy which took much time for them to recover from, but happier times did follow.
After over thirty years as a midwife, in which she saw so many changes, the majority for the better, with her children grown up and leading their own independent lives, Beth plunges headlong into a long-held dream, of working in the outback in a primarily aboriginal community in Arnhem Land in the northernmost part of Australia. Just when many women would be starting to slow down and prepare for retirement, she finds that she has much to learn here, despite all her vast experience as a midwife, and has to draw on her own resources with comparatively little back-up compared to when she was working in more populous urban areas. Being accepted by the community takes time and effort, but she quickly learns to love the area and its people.
I found this a fascinating and absorbing account of midwifery in an environment quite different from what I have been used to; Britain is a small place compared to Australia and the thought of women with complicated pregnancies being separated from their families for many weeks as they have to travel sometimes several hundreds of kilometres to get to and stay at a specialist hospital is quite heartbreaking.
The narrator is enthusiastic and engaging, with a lovely reading voice, though I did feel she struggled a little with reproducing Scottish accents.
If you have an interest in midwifery or Australian life, this is well worth listening to. Apparently a paperback version of the book is due for publication in the UK later this year, but otherwise availability seems to be restricted to the Antipodes unless you purchase the audio book version as I did.
I really hope another volume will be forthcoming in due course :-)
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Seasons In My Garden
Meditations from a Hermit
By Sister Elizabeth Wagner
Ave Maria Press, March 2016
Elizabeth felt called to monasticism even before she was sure she believed in God; once she knew she believed, she tried out her vocation with the Carmelites before eventually settling in a semi-eremitical community in Maine which follows the Rule of St Benedict.
These are her meditations, starting with the bitter chill of Winter, the joys of Christmas, snippets from the Breviary and the hazards of living in an area with so many trees along the roads mingling seamlessly with descriptions of decorating the tiny Chapel and making fruit cakes. Each chapter can be read as a stand -alone meditation or you can simply follow her thoughts and descriptions of her life sequentially as presented; I tried both methods and thoroughly enjoyed both!
Sr Elizabeth is a keen observer both of the human condition and the religious life; the glories of God's creation which she sees all around her - especially in her beloved garden where she delights in growing herbs - are vividly described. This is a deep, deep, book which bears careful reading, yet it is so joyously, beautifully written that it simply captivates and entrances the reader, feeding mind and soul alike with challenges, beauty and faith.
Sunday, May 01, 2016
Esther The Wonder Pig:
Changing the World One Heart at a Time
By Steve Jenkins & Derek Walter with Caprice Crane
Grand Central Publishing, May 31st, 2016
I first found out about Esther via a casual link on Facebook. Intrigued, I ended up visiting her page and soon I was following her page every day, reading about her life on her farm with her Dads. There was absolutely no way I was going to pass up on reading this book and learning even more about Esther's story :-)
Esther was allegedly a mini-pig when Steve met her, fell in love with her and adopted her, but she proved that she most manifestly was not a mini-pig when she grew - and grew - and GREW, weighing in now at some 600 pounds. Derek was initially an extremely unwilling partner in raising Esther,but soon grew to love her dearly as well. Raising a small piglet was enough of an issue, but as she grew and then outgrew their small suburban home, what on earth were they going to do? They could not bear to part with her, yet the challenges and stresses of raising a pig, however gorgeous and lovable she might be, should never, ever be underestimated. Even the simplest practicalities such as the vast amount she drinks inevitably needing to be excreted in due course made me gulp. House-training Esther was a challenge!
Setting up a Facebook page for family and close friends to keep in touch with how Esther was doing seemed a logical step and Steve and Derek were shocked by how great an interest people were taking in their pig. Soon, Esther's page went viral, she appeared in newspaper articles and everything just snowballed. People could not get enough of reading about Esther's antics and soon it became obvious that this unusual family needed to move to somewhere where Esther could roam free but still be a house pig too. And not to mention that they were illegally keeping her as a pet, according to the zoning ordinances of their neighbourhood....
This is the story of how a snap decision changed lives, altered behaviours and changed people's minds. How could Steve and Derek continue to eat pork when they cared for a pig in their home? Could they continue to eat any meat at all? Should they eschew all animal based products completely, and how would they manage this? They were faced with lots of ethical quandaries and no matter what they did, people would - and did - unfairly criticise their point of view. They are at pains to show that Esther is funny, charming, shrewd, entertaining, clever and above all, lovable and that far too many factory farmed pigs just like her lead a truly horrific life, which should be a matter of ethical and moral concern to us all. There are a few F-bombs in the book, FYI.
Well worth reading, and highly enjoyable too. Long may Esther and her family flourish!