Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The twelve tribes of ancient Israel have been in the promised land for nearly a hundred years, but theirs is not a peaceful existence. The Canaanites have never ceased to harass the tribes, attacking small villages, stealing livestock and killing any Israelite they come across. The only safety is in numbers and the Israelites have retreated behind the walls of their towns.

The prophetess Deborah, a mother in her thirties, has been a powerful voice for the Israelites for years. She is known far and wide for her fair judgement and is a respected leader. She has received a vision that she must bring peace with the Canaanites. When her diplomatic efforts fail, she is forced to call the tribes together under a warrior who will lead them to victory. If the Canaanites will not agree to a truce, Israel must subdue them by force.

Barak is a young warrior who has been very successful in retaliatory raids against the Canaanites. He has built up quite a bit of wealth, is strong and a natural leader of men. He is Deborah’s choice to lead the Israelites. Unfortunately Barak has a reputation that precedes him. He is a lover of women, many women. This does not sit well with Lapidoth, Deborah’s husband. He does not trust Barak and does not want Deborah anywhere near him. They have a huge fight and Lapidoth’s anger and jealousy get the better of him, he divorces Deborah on the spot, after sixteen years of marriage.

Despite the problems in her personal life, Deborah agrees to accompany the army to the battle against the Canaanites. While the war is a resounding success, it creates further problems for Deborah, who has developed a bit of a crush on Barak. He demands sexual favors of her in return for his participation in the war and she surprises herself by enjoying their encounter. Then he manages to capture two of the Canaanite king’s daughters, Asherah and Nogah. Thus a love triangle (rectangle?) is born. Untangling the motivations and emotions of everyone involved will have a great impact on future events.

What a great premise for a novel, to take biblical women who have little known background information and breathe life into their stories. The author does it beautifully, creating the landscape of ancient Israel so that the reader can experience it. She then brings her characters to life with human needs and emotions so that they shake off the dust of history and can be related to as people, just as if they were living today. It’s the best kind of historical fiction and I recommend it!

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The Psychics Bible – Jane Struthers

Synopsis from Amazon:
This comprehensive book will teach you everything you need to know about how to activate and develop your psychic skills. Starting with a questionnaire to test how much psychic power you already have, “The Psychic’s Bible” leads you through a variety of techniques from grounding and balancing yourself to energy healing, psychic protection, scrying, contacting your spirit guides and much more. Full of practical advice and step-by-step exercises, this is the perfect reference for anyone who would like to explore their psychic abilities.

My thoughts:

A good informative book. Everything you could possibly want to know for the training psychic. Definately a book I will refer to again and again.

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Hope – Lesley Pearse

Synopsis from Amazon:
Somerset, 1836, and baby Hope is cast out from a world of privilege as living proof of her mother’s adultery…Smuggled away from the Harveys and Briargate House to a nearby village, Hope grows up in the arms of the warm and loving Renton family, unaware of her true identity. But fate has harsh plans for Hope and a chain of events sees her forced to lead a vagabond’s existence until she finds the courage to fight back and prove herself a fearless and able nurse, a vocation that takes her to the horrific battlefields of the Crimea. But, the secrets of the past are not yet done with Hope Renton and she must return to England to face the legacy of her birth…With the storytelling magic that has won Lesley Pearse millions of fans, “Hope” is the portrait of a remarkable woman who will never let the world – or injustice – bring her down.

My thoughts:

Another great read by Lesley Pearse. Full of great characters and good descriptions of the time.

Super!

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Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

This is the second novel I have read by Tracy Chevalier, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is the synopsis from Amazon on Girl With A Pearl Earring:

The Dutch painter Vermeer has remained one of the great enigmas of 17th-century Dutch art. While little is known of his personal life, his extraordinary paintings of natural and domestic life, with their subtle play of light and colour, have come to define the Dutch Golden Age. The mysterious portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has fascinated art historians for centuries, and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier’s second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centres on Vermeer’s prosperous household in Delft in the 1660s. The appointment of the quiet, perceptive heroine of the novel, the servant Griet, gradually throws the household into turmoil as Vermeer and Griet become increasingly intimate, an increasingly tense situation that culminates in her working for Vermeer as his assistant, and ultimately sitting for him as a model. Chevalier deliberately cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style in homage to Vermeer, and the complex domestic tensions of the Vermeer household are vividly evoked, from the jealous, vain, young wife to the wise, taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic, but Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist in its tail. Chevalier acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama’s classic study of the Dutch Golden Age, The Embarrassment of Riches, and the novel comes hard on the heels of Deborah Moggach’s similar tale of domestic intrigue behind the easel of 17th-century Dutch painting, Tulip Fever.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, but how much more can novelists extract from the Dutch Golden Age? –Jerry Brotton –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and gripping. There were no boring parts and I read this book so quickly.

Chevalier’s descriptions were amazing. I could easily picture the marketplace and the eight-tipped star, as well as the house the Vermeer’s lived in and his studio. The book was written in a way that made me feel like I was there watching the events unfold before my very eyes.

There were characters I liked, such as Pieter the son. I loved how he sought out Griet and never gave up. And characters I disliked, such as van Ruijven who believed he could have whatever he wanted because he was rich. I found myself getting angry at him as I read the book, which is good, as a book should spark emotions in the reader.

My only complaint was the ending – it was a little abrupt for my liking. I still have questions that I would have liked answered, but with the ending as it is, that won’t happen.

This was a quick, enjoyable read.

9/10

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Thank God it’s Monday by Mark Greene

This is a Christian book about work. Greene raises issues for both the employer and the employee. It is not a long book, only 159 pages and is fast-paced. It did not take me long to read it. Greene talks about how we are around colleagues and our boss. He explains how power and authority is God-given, but the choices made are not from God. He made me think how I relate to the people I work with, how much I know about them and care about them, and how well I work. Employment is something we all have to experience, and this is a good little book which will help me be more positive and shine in the workplace. If you are struggling at work it may be worth reading this gem as it will refocus your thinking and maybe help with your grievances.

8/10

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The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart

Poor Guillaume Ladoucette. He has been an excellent barber for his small French town for twenty years. But now he has a problem. Well, two problems, really. The population of the town has not changed much over the years. It stands, in fact, at thirty-three. (That includes the pharmacist who has been missing since the mini-tornado of 1999.) The population’s hair is aging. You know what happens to aging hair. That’s right, it falls out. Some of Guillaume’s customers are going bald!
To make matters worse, a new snazzy barber has set up shop in a neighboring town and some folks have been lured away by the fashionable haircuts that he is offering. Guillaume feels that he must remain true to conventional barbering wisdom and not be swayed by popular attitudes. But the fact remains, he has almost no customers left. What is he to do?
He decides to make a clean break. Start over in an entirely new profession. Despite his own bachelor status and his inability to proclaim his feelings to the woman he has been in love with his entire life, he decides what the town needs most is a matchmaker. And he’s the man for the job. He tears the sink out of his shop and, after a quick makeover, re-opens his shop as “Heart’s Desire”.
Unfortunately, business is a bit slow at the start. Prospective clients looking for love are matched up with people that they are already VERY familiar with. It is a small town, people have already formed opinions about each other, getting them to change is difficult. Things aren’t going so well for Guillaume. Then, suddenly, he seems to have a success! The postman has found someone he really likes! Poor Guillaume, the woman in question turns out to be the same one he has been in love with his whole life. Now it looks like he will lose her forever, to the postman. Will he ever muster up the courage to admit his feelings?
What a fun book this is. It is witty and warm, filled with eccentric, endearing characters and fantastic descriptions of French food and pastries. It is a wonderful ‘cassoulet’ of a novel. Enjoy!
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Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Blurb from Amazon;

In one of the wittiest novels of them all, Nancy Mitford casts a finely gauged net to capture perfectly the foibles and fancies of the English upper class. Set in the privileged world of the county house party and the London season, the story of coldly beautiful Polly Hampton and her aristocratic parents is a comedy of English manners between the wars by one of the most individual, beguiling and creative users of the language.

I received this book from Penguin Books to review as a summer read. I thoroughly enjoyed it to my surprise. The story is set in the 1920-30’s and is narrated by young Fanny who commentates for us on the lives and times of the very rich and wealthy.
Central to the story is Polly the daughter of Lord and Lady Montdore who are main characters in themselves. They dote on their daughter and arrange an amazing social life for her in London and their main home of Hampton.
The book revolves mainly around gossip, how you look, how mainy jewels you can show off and how well you can marry. Sonia Montdore has a vicious tongue and dictates who is in socially and who is out. The lives of the women come across as stultifyingly dull however the gossip is really good and keeps you reading.
Later in the story we are introduced to another main character called Cedric Hampton who is quite divinely camp. He reminded me of Graham Norton. He captivates all those that he meets, is very sociable with a sharp wit. He and Sonia Montdore become inseparable as he replaces Polly in her affections. Excellent little book

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Seesaw by Deborah Moggach

Blurb from the back of the book;

Take an ordinary, well-off family like the Prices. Watch what happens when one Sunday seventeen-year old Hannah disappears without a trace. See how the family rallies when a ransome note demands half a million pounds for Hannah,s safe return.

But it’s when Hannah comes home that the story really begins.

Now observe what happens to a family when they lose their house, their status, all their wealth. Note how they disintegrate under the pressures of guilt and poverty and are forced to confront their true selves.

And wait to hear about Hannah, who has the most shocking surprise in store of all.

I have read Deborah Moggach in the long distant past and watched some of her TV work too so this book caught my eye in the second hand shop. I really enjoyed reading this book made better for me as I am familiar with the location of Stanmore and some of the other places in the book.
The story is about a wealthy and successful family whose eldest daughter is kidnapped and ransomed for money. The personal and financial repercussions are devastating but it is the detailed characters and their responses to their circumstances which hold the readers attention. In a bizzare turn of events by the end of the book I was rooting for Hannah and one of her kidnappers Jon to end up together and live happily ever after! Great writing and a thoroughly good read.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This is a very moving story which made me feel angry and sad while I was reading it.

The book is narrated by Chief Bromden, a patient at a mental institution.  He is believed by staff and fellow patients to be deaf and dumb, but the truth (as we find out on page one) is that he is not, and is therefore perhaps more aware of what is going on around him some of the other patients.

Nurse Ratched rules her ward in the institution with a system of fear and intimidation.  Her coldness and cruelty is very apparent early on in the story.  Such is her reign of fear that none of the inmates dare stand up to her.  Even the ward Doctor – her superior – is terrified of defying her.

Into this regime comes Randle P McMurphy, criminal, gambler and unlikely hero.  McMurphy has chosen to come to the institution in lieu of serving a custodial sentence on a work farm.  He believes that it will be a breeze, and expects almost a holiday camp.  As he finds out, the reality is very different.  He is shocked, not only by the nurse’s treatment of the patients, but by the way they just accept it.

McMurphy encourages to the men to start thinking for themselves, but this is something which does not go down at all well with the nurse, and her effort to maintain control over the patients leads to a drastic conclusion.

Well written, touching and even funny at times, this is a book I wish I had read a long time ago, and certainly intend to read again in the future.

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Leading With Billy Graham by Jay Dennis

I have never come across the author Jay Dennis before but we are often being encouraged to read biographies of leading and influential Christian’s, so when I saw Leading With Billy Graham, T.W. Wilson’s biography, I thought I would give it a go, and on the whole it is a good, useful book.

Amazon synopsis:

Now available in trade paper, “Leading with Billy Graham” will help readers discover a new way to lead – from the background. Many Christians who want to impact the world mistakenly assume that influence belongs only to the front-man. But the life of T. W. Wilson proves otherwise. As Billy Graham’s closest friend and longtime personal assistant, T. W. Wilson turned his own valuable leadership skills to the task of supporting Billy and ended up influencing thousands of lives both directly and indirectly. His life is an inspiring testimony to the power of “next-level” servanthood to maximize the power of the church for the twenty-first century. Filled with interviews and stories from many of Billy Graham’s associates and eight pages of photographs, this book offers a fascinating look inside the most successful evangelistic ministry of modern times as well as an inspiring blueprint for purposeful servant-leadership.

Overall, this is a good book. Dennis retraces Wilson’s life as he serves God and helps Billy Graham in his ministry. Dennis teaches how to be a next-level influencer – someone who is there helping people and doing God’s work, but without recognition. I found a lot of this teaching helpful and have already put some into practice, such as daily Bible reading and sorting out being accountable to someone.

Dennis explores Wilson’s life well through interviews and extracts, however, I sometimes got lost and didn’t understand where the story fitted in with what Dennis was saying.

It is not a long book, 200 pages, but there were times when I felt the book dragged a bit and Dennis seemed to repeat himself a little.

7/10 – it was a helpful and interesting book, but not the easiest to read

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