Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Plain Christmas





Plain Christmas

A Plain Fame novel #6

By Sarah Price

Published by Waterfall Press, 2016



This is part of the "Plain Fame" series, and although I had not previously read any of the other books, I found I was able to just jump straight in and enjoy this title with no problem at all.

A Cuban-heritage music star husband named Alejandro, his devout Catholic mother Alecia, his Amish-brought up wife Amanda and their very modern children. This is an unlikely combination, to be sure, but with huge amounts of love, tolerance and respect, Alejandro Diaz (better known as "Viper" in the music industry) and Amanda  have managed to build a stable marriage, a loving family life for their children and she does her level best to keep her kids grounded and focused on what really matters in life, regardless of how wealthy and famous their Dad is.

When  Amanda  receives a rather cryptic letter from her mother in Lancaster County, she is concerned and feels a burning need to take her family back to spend time in her childhood home for a real  Amish Christmas with her extended family. Is there more to her mother's letter than meets the eye? How will her children cope without their technology and all the trappings of an Englisch Christmas? There is going to be an understandable major collision of worlds, culture and heritage. Will the visit be a disaster or a triumph under these circumstances?

This book should not work, but it does work extremely well and the protagonists have very real personalities. The superstar lifestyle of the Diaz family might be a wealthy one, but it carries responsibilities and obligations, and burdens too, especially that of being constantly in the media and public eye. It certainly is not a lifestyle I would ever want for myself or for my children, and the Diaz family's stay with Amanda's family brings new insights into their individual hopes and expectations from life, as well as some unexpected twists and blessings. It is a surprisingly deep and thoughtful book, but one I enjoyed greatly and now I need to go back to the beginning of the series to find out what I have missed out on!





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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Light for a Dark Season





Light for a Dark Season:  

Treasuring God's Faithfulness as the Year Ends

By Ruth J. Leamy with Mark J. Leamy

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, October 2017



When the nights draw in, it is all too easy to become a little sad or despondent with the prospect of a long, dark winter ahead. This devotional is a great way to dispel those feelings, turning our hearts and minds to the blessings we have received and the preparation for the greatest joy, Christmas, when Christ came into the world for our salvation. It is also ideal for those for whom  2017 may have been a hard year emotionally or spiritually, as it focuses on the faithfulness of God throughout history, those people in the Bible who have trusted in God and the passages of Scripture which point to God's promises and His faithfulness.

Designed to start on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, this devotional is in a large A4 workbook format, with space for notes and annotations. It covers the festal season of Thanksgiving, the traditional western Christian season of Advent and the Christmas period right up to Epiphany, allowing us to start with giving thanks and ending with giving thanks, as well as looking forward to the blessings of a fresh New Year.

Poetry, hymns, lyrics, psalms, bible readings, discussions, prayers and points to ponder combine beautifully to bring light to dispel the darkness and remind us always of the Light of Christ. This inexpensive book, only £3.77 on Amazon.co.uk,  has a clean, simple and basic layout; it may lack glitz, bells and whistles and a huge advertising/marketing campaign for its recent launch but do not be deceived  - it packs some real punches and has great depths within its covers.  Definitely a keeper!



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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Their Pretend Amish Courtship




Their Pretend Amish Courtship

By Patricia Davids

Love Inspired/Harlequin, 2017



It seemed like such a brilliantly inspired idea which would help them both, but the best-laid plans can go wildly astray, as Fannie Erb and her childhood friend Noah Bowman find out all too quickly.

Fannie is a dedicated and talented horsewoman, determined to help her Englisch friend Connie save her horse-breeding and training business from potential ruin. Her parents want her to settle down and get married; they feel the only way she will find a suitable husband will be to go outside her church area to visit her grandparents in Florida.

Fannie is appalled by the idea and approaches her old friend Noah to ask him to agree to a fake courtship which will convince their families to leave them in peace to pursue their apparent courtship. Fannie could then continue to help Connie with her horses and  Noah could pursue his dream of competing in baseball tournaments without being hounded by his parents to give up his worldly pursuit in favour of settling down with a nice Amish girl.

Their plan was simple and fool-proof. Or so they thought, until it becomes obvious that a number of other people will be affected by their decision, and hearts will be broken and feelings hurt. Can such a deception ever lead to happiness? Will they be able to walk away from their faked relationship at the end of the allotted time, or will they each come to terms with truly seeking and following God's Will for their lives, no matter where or with whom that might be? Their childhood friendship and constant teasing of each other leads to misunderstandings and assumptions which need to be clarified and put right, and Fannie's faith is tested to the limit towards the end of the book when tragedy strikes and their plans fall apart at the seams.

This is a charming book with episodes which made me laugh out loud in several places. Both Fannie and Noah are real and lovable characters who grow throughout the story and I finished the book with a satisfied sigh.
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Opening My Heart






Opening My Heart

By Tilda Shalof

Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd, 2011

I have no idea how I missed this great book, or indeed the many others Tilda Shalof has written about her nursing experiences, but I am glad to have finally discovered her as an author.

Tilda is an ICU Nurse, working with some of the sickest patients in the hospital. She is active, busy, constantly on the go, combining her life as a nurse with her family life, pushing into the background that her own long-term heart valve problem is getting worse and her cardiac health is deteriorating. Eventually she is forced to confront reality and is advised that her only option is open-heart surgery to replace the defective valve.

She is now on the other side of the bed-sheets, having to adjust to the thought of having a serious albeit relatively routine operation, and she is afraid, despite of  - or more likely because of - her knowledge and experience. How she comes to terms with that fear, documents her thoughts and wishes should things go wrong, informs her family and friends of her impending operation and prepares for surgery makes fascinating reading.

Even more fascinating is her experiences as a post-operative patient, seeing things very differently now that she is ill, dependent and helpless, and how frightening this can be. She skilfully interweaves her current thoughts with reminisences of experiences, patients and colleagues from her nursing past and has created an absorbing diary of this turbulent and traumatic time in her life.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Christmas Is Coming! But Waiting Is Hard!








Christmas Is Coming!
But Waiting Is Hard!


Family Activities and Devotions for Advent

By Karen Whiting

Abingdon Press, 2016


Unfortunately I was too late to review this last year, but liked it so much that I was determined I would review it for this coming Advent!

 From the highly appealing cover to the very last page, this book is crammed full of wonderful activities, ideas, hymns, songs, prayers, points to ponder, bible verses to study, Christmas facts and ideas on how to implement the Christmas message into everyday life in Advent.

The very first activity is to make your own Advent wreath from scratch. This does involve some finicky work on the part of a helpful adult/parent/godparent, but very complete instructions are given, and this wreath then sets the scene for the rest of Advent.

This is an ideal book for families with young children, but there is no reason at all why the ideas and activities could not be slightly adapted for older children too, and if I am absolutely honest, this is the sort of book I would be perfectly happy to buy and use just for myself.  

There are lots of craft activities to make and do, with reproducible templates to be photocopied and then cut up, coloured in etc. Make garlands, snowflakes, Christmas gift tags, Jesse tree ornaments, cards, quick Christmas breads and so much more, all with Christian symbolism and messages to enjoy.

This is a most welcome addition to my Christmas collection.






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Return of the Magi



Return of the Magi
By P.J. Tracy
Published by Penguin UK/Michael Joseph
15th November 2017


We first meet Emil Rice as a delightful, kind and very sweet little boy in the prologue, gently sharing his blanket with Baby Jesus at an outdoor Nativity scene. 

This delightful family vignette is shattered when we fast-forward and meet Emil again as an adult. He is up before the court yet again in another episode of petty crime and he cannot manage to wriggle his way out of punishment this time. Even his long-suffering probation officer has given up and joined the "book" among his colleagues as to how soon Emil will be in trouble yet again...

But Emil is not sent to a correctional facility this time; he is sent to spend time working at a mental health care facility, much to his horror. He has no idea how to deal with the inmates, who have a variety of psychiatric problems , some more serious and complex than others. 

Gradually, Emil begins to see them as individuals, to help them, to care for them and not actively fear them. He is still a petty crook, out to feather his own nest, but gradually we see glimpses of the sweet and loving Emil begin to reappear. Emil finds two sisters take a special shine to him, absolutely convinced that he and they have a major role to play in the Biblical tale of the Nativity, and when they engineer a jailbreak, he goes with them. His life will never be the same again....but neither will the lives of a whole group of people Emil and his companion Magi encounter.

This is an absolute gem of a Christmas read - and I loved every page.



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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Amish Christmas Twins







Amish Christmas Twins

By Patricia Davids

Published by Love Inspired/Harlequin, September 2017

With the death of her Englisch husband, Willa Chase returns to her Amish roots to see if her grandfather will shelter her, her young twin daughters and her soon-to-arrive infant. He will not do so and encourages her to seek out other family members.

 An encounter with the kindly but introspective and grieving blacksmith John Miller seems destined never to be repeated, but as chance would have it, their paths cross again in a dramatic fashion and soon John Miller finds his life changing as the energetic and curious twins encounter farm animals and Amish ways for the very first time as the family seeks shelter at his home.

Willa is convinced she is being followed and that her daughters will be taken away from her because of her past medical history, which is slowly revealed as the story unfolds. Will she let John help her? Or will John and his loving and lovable mother Vera have to stand by and watch Willa lose her children?

It's always a delight to read the first Christmas-themed books each year, and I have a real soft spot for the immensely talented Patricia Davids and her Amish stories. As always, she delivers the goods - well-crafted, filled with humour, some clever twists and quirks and characters that I would dearly love to meet, especially these precious little girls, Megan and Lucy!










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Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Catholic Hipster Handbook





The Catholic Hipster Handbook
By Tommy Tighe
Published by Ave Maria Press, September 2017

Christianity as a whole is not often regarded as cool or trendy by modern young people, but this book aims to make a dent in Catholicism's un-cool image by looking at alternative but still very traditionally Catholic attitudes, prayers and practices which have gradually fallen into disuse and attempting to popularise them again amongst youngsters and young adults. Topic chapters come from a variety of contributors ranging from clergy and religious to bloggers, parents, musicians and more.

Many topics work extremely well -  looking at beards biblically and historically, cultivating an appropriate sense of humour, looking at both ancient and modern saints in a new light and including prayers many people may not have heard of (including me!) What shoes would a Catholic Hipster wear?  The ensuing discussion about Vans or sandals leads to mention of a religious community then quite naturally to the life of St Teresa of Avila and the Discalced Carmelites. Neat and clever.

Beer, music, beards, clothing, music, people to follow on Twitter and the value of modern media give way to chapters discussing discovering the Rosary and the Scapular, valuable prayer apps for your mobile phone and ascetic practices. Coming from an Orthodox Christian background, I cannot get to grips with or enjoy Ignatian meditation. so the chapter in which Melissa Keating described imagining herself at the Last Supper struck a discordant chord for me, but that is always a potential problem reading books from differing religious traditions to one's own and does not detract from the undoubted value of the book as a whole.

Some of the activities relating to each topic covered are not quite so effective, such as making up Catholic slang and decorating the outline of a crown, which seemed to be aimed at a very much younger age group than those who would be sporting beards, but these are minor grouses and don't detract from what it is a clever and enjoyable book for anyone looking at learning more about Catholicism and how relevant it still can be in the modern world while still using its ancient traditions.










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Praying The Rosary Like Never Before




Praying The Rosary Like Never Before
By Edward Sri
Published by Franciscan Media, July 2017

 Many Christians - and not just Catholics -  like the Rosary, love the Rosary, want to pray it more often or for longer, but worry that they are somehow doing it "wrong" and that they are not getting as much out of the spiritual practice as they would have hoped.

 In this easily readable and surprisingly deep book, Dr Sri tells us he feels that two and a half minutes is enough time to pray a single decade, and that there are very, very few people who are so truly incredibly busy that they cannot give God that length of time in the course of a day.

He urges us not to fret if we struggle with praying a five decade rosary as many saintly people have found that they can only manage a few decades at a time, and that too is fine. There is no single "right way" to pray the Rosary and different people  may need different techniques or need to change techniques at different times in their lives or spiritual journeys. The Rosary has proven to be eminently adaptable to individual  and contemporary needs, but Dr Sri is careful to point out that it is important to remember not to gabble and to show reverence and due respect to the Holy Name of Jesus whenever it occurs in prayers.

He provides very nice meditations and selections from Scripture for meditative pondering which can be used before, during and/or after each Mystery, for those who find it easiest to pray in this way.
A particular problem for Orthodox Western Rite Christians would be the use of the traditional Ignatian method of using the imagination to picture scenes relating to the Mysteries, but I do know devout Western Rite Orthodox who happily use  the Scriptural Rosary technique.  I really like the sometimes unusual scripture verses for meditation and prayer using this technique at the end of the book.

This was a most interesting read, and is a useful and informative book which could be used and adapted for Anglicans, Catholics and Western Rite Orthodox alike.




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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Shtum
















 



Shtum
By Jem Lester
An Orion paperback, 2017



This is an incredibly difficult book to review without giving away enormous chunks of the plot, which I always hate doing.

Ben and Emma Jewell are the parents of Jonah, who is ten and profoundly autistic. Ben and Emma appear to be just about coping with the rigid complexities of dealing with Jonah's daily needs, their work committments and their marriage, but when the question arises as to what school Jonah will attend when he leaves his current school, absolutely everything falls apart, quite literally.

 In one fell swoop, Ben finds himself wifeless, homeless and sole parent to Jonah, and in despair, he turns to his father, Georg, for help. It seems that Ben's descent into alcoholism is racing unchecked, and it is only when he discovers that somehow Jonah is unlocking the secrets of his family's past from his grandfather Georg that Ben begins to tentatively repair his relationship with his father......

For a book which deals with the Holocaust and the issues which surround the care of children with severely complex autism, this is a book with great touches of humour with scenes which made me laugh out loud and all too many scenes which made me cry. Jonah may not be able to talk, but he speaks to his family in many different ways and on many different levels, and they all talk back to him in their own ways too. But will they all ever learn to talk to each other?

This is a profoundly moving book about life, marriage, love, families and the struggles which the parents of every disabled child face in their determination to get their children the very best care they possibly can, and the battles which they face in doing so.

A troubling yet hopeful book, very well worth the read.
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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Traybakes


                                                



Traybakes: 40 Brilliant One-Tin Bakes For Enjoying, Giving And Selling

By Hannah Miles

Lorenz Books, March 2017



I found this book in my local library and simply had to check it out and bring it home! 

 My daughter very kindly offered to do a test bake of one of the recipes, so she made the Apple Shortcake bars, which were absolutely delicious. 

The only downside was that these really are large traybakes, and we ended up eating the bars quite literally for days. 

An absolutely wonderful book if you need to cater on a large scale for school/parish events, bake sales, parties etc, but otherwise the recipes really do need to be scaled down dramatically for normal domestic use which I did not feel confident doing.
 Recipes were varied and fun,  including Brownies, Blondies, a variety of Flapjacks, some appropriately Healthy Eating recipes and some gluten-free recipes too.




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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Silent Weapon




Silent Weapon
By Andy McNab
Published by Doubleday, August 2017


This is the second in the "Street Soldier" Young Adult series about Sean Harker, former gang lad and petty criminal, who gets recruited into the Army in the first book.

Sean has made good, turned his life around and created a whole new life for himself in the Army, after an admittedly pretty rocky start. Fresh from a tour of duty abroad, he is expecting to arrive safely back in Britain and then prepare for some holiday leave in sunny Tenerife, but things do not go according to plan. Their civilian plane is diverted and then the airport is attacked by terrorists.

Caught right in the middle of it all, Sean and his companions fight back....but this is not the end of the problem, in fact it is just the very beginning of a desperate search against time to track down the terrorists and disable their deadly biological weapon hidden on Sean's own home turf by people he knows from his past.

This made utterly compelling  and eye-opening reading; I found I was rapidly sharing Harker's concern, anger, disbelief and fear that radicalisation and terrorism could take place on his estate in London, among the people he knows and has grown up with. Everything he has believed about terrorism until now is turned on its head and he has very limited time to use his local knowledge of places and people to find those responsible and discover exactly what the weapon is before it is too late and a pandemic is unleashed.

An excellent story, which I ended up reading in one sitting and couldn't put it down. How on earth he is going to top this particular book, I have no idea, but I am equally sure that he will manage it.




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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Almost A Minyan








Almost A Minyan

By Lori S. Kline &  Susan Simon

Published by Sociosights Press, April 2017



Jewish synagogue worship requires a quorum of ten adults - a minyan - in order for Torah to be read and some services to be held.  Our young heroine is keen and eager to grow up and fulfil her ambition to join her beloved father and grandfather as part of the minyan at her local shul.

Sometimes the congregation struggles to find ten adults to make up the minyan and being able to take part herself seems a long way off as she wistfully describes the joy her father and grandfather feel as they attend services at the synagogue and observe the Jewish religious requirements.

Her life continues as normal, until her grandfather falls ill and sadly dies. Her world is turned upside down by this sad loss. However, it is not too long until the wonderful day arrives when her father reminds her that her Hebrew birthday is here and she is at last old enough to count as one of the minyan for morning prayers at the synagogue.

When she gets there, she is now officially part of the minyan, and to her utter joy and delight, she receives another wonderful gift too.....

The story describes Jewish life, bereavement, grief, worship and happiness, all seamlessly integrated in this lovely book,  told in verse throughout and delightfully illustrated. It has been an absolute delight and a pleasure to review!

Many thanks to Sociosights Press for sending me a digital copy to read and review.

http://www.sociosights.com/




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