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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fire on the Track by Roseanne Montillo

By Unknown (Library of Congress) - [1], Public Domain,

I don't usually read books about sports but this true story of the first women track and field stars kept my interest. It tells the tale of several women who went to the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, including Helen Stevens, Babe Didrikson and Stella Walsh. The main story, however, is that of Betty Robinson who was the first women to win an Olympic track and field gold medal.

Pretty and popular, Betty Robinson loved to wear attractive clothes so when a determined coach accidentally discovered her, one of her main problems was finding the right shoes to wear on the field. She sailed through her first Olympic games, capturing gold.  But a terrible event would cause her much hardship and pain. She wondered whether she would ever walk again, let alone run...

The stories of the other athletes are not as enjoyable, but still interesting. All of them have to deal with opposition to women being in the Olympics at all, let alone running. Some have to struggle with questions about their sexuality and gender. Most have a hard time scraping money together.

This was a well-written book. I did find some of the information in it rather detailed and personal, though. However, it's well-worth reading, especially if you like reading about sports.

I got this free ebook from Crown Publishing via
Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Making Room for God Decluttering and the Spiritual Life by Mary Elizabeth Sperry

G.K. Chesterton once wrote: 'There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.'  These are extremely wise words for pack rats, and Mary Elizabeth Sperry's book will not only help you to declutter. It will also help you to desire less. 

Some early Church Fathers, such as Saint Anthony, escaped from the Roman Empire, to live ascetic lives and become closer to God.  They owned nothing and ate very little. This was partly because they wanted to separate themselves from attachment to material possessions so that they could become closer to God.  As Sperry writes, they were the true forerunners of today's minimalists.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin as 'failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods'. (CCC, 1849) (Buddhism states that misery is caused by attachment). Possessions can separate us from God and from other people. Sperry explains how and why this is so, and combines the spiritual advantages and reasons for decluttering and gives practical tips in this well-written book. She writes about spiritual discipline, gratitude and generosity as well as how sins, such as envy, can lead to accumulating more 'stuff'. There are exercises at the end of each chapter to help.

I also found Sperry's struggles with her own clutter similar to mine, and rather endearing. For example, she sometimes has to look through several cabinets and drawers to find a utensil. She also almost lost a job opportunity because the offer got mixed up with the spam! It was good to read this, and know that I am not alone!

This is highly recommended for Catholics, or indeed, any Christians who feel that they need a more spiritual approach to getting rid of clutter.


Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

When Alex, a handsome young writer, tries to defend successful chef Rachel from an awful allegation, it leads to disaster. Rachel makes a mistatement on social media anbd ruins an interview leading to the shattering of her career. Luckily, she has good friends but she is only 30 and now she has to start again. Alex comes to the rescue but can Rachel really trust him?

This is a well-written and moving romance with likeable characters who struggle with their ambitions and their consciences. Both Rachel and Alex have also had problems with their families. Alex comes from a Russian Orthodox family but he is searching for a different kind of Christianity and his parents are also upset that he didn't become a psychologist. Rachel left home for various reasons at a very young age.

I also liked the sometimes glamorous setting of Denver's thriving food scene. Some of Rachel's recipes sound scrumptious! I suggest that it's a bad idea to read this novel if you are hungry - unless it inspires you to try to cook like Rachel.

The criticism of social media is also timely. People can easily lose their careers or be publicly shamed all over the world by one mistaken or even false tweet. Judgment is swift and there are very rarely second chances.  It's a dangerous technology and this book highlights the problems associated with it, even for totally innocent people with good intentions.

I love Carla Laureano's writing. This is highly recommended if you like light romances with some depth.

EDITION  Other format

ISBN         9781496428271

PRICE       $24.99 (USD)

Monday, January 08, 2018

They Came For Freedom by Jay Milbrandt

This is an interesting story, but, unfortunately it is written in  a rather 'textbookish' manner. Still, it's
an important part of American history which has been somewhat neglected, surprisingly.  I am not American but I like to read American history and I have been to Plymouth a few times so I am very interested in the Pilgrims.

The Pilgrims are often regarded as quaint and backward. Milbrandt shows that they were the opposite. Most, if not all, were well-educated and some came from moneyed backgrounds. They found the relgious laws of England oppressive to Non-Conformists and they faced a difficult struggle because of their beliefs leading to their fateful journey to the U.S. Although their experiment was a failure, they created a 'remarkably ordered society,' established the rule of law and separated church and state.

Milbrandt writes in detail about their terrible difficulties. Even before they arrived in America, many had to endure prison terms in England and  working in harsh factories in Holland. Once they arrived, there were fights with the Indians, severe weather conditions and near-starvation. It's certainly harrowing to read!

This is worth reading, especially if you like American history.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Cousins by Salley Vickers

I know that this book was given good review and I usually like the wonderful Salley Vicker's novels, especially when they have references to Catholicism, but I just couldn't get into this one at all, and I tried to read it about three times. It was just too dreary and depressing. I also found most of the characters a bit unlikable and not well-drawn.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.


Princess Margaret by Theo Aronson

William Timym [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Margaret saw Tommy Lascelles (the Queen's Private Secretary) walking by one day and remarked: ‘There goes the man who ruined my life’.  She blamed him for preventing her marrying handsome and divorced Captain Peter Townsend, the great love of her life. She could have married him, but it would have meant a civil marriage, giving up her title and privileges and a long exile overseas. It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway, but it was extremely unfair.

Theo Aronson in this rather factual and not terribly sympathetic biography, written while the Princess was still alive, rightly emphasizes this love affair and the huge effect that it had on her life. For example, he writes that she only accepted Lord Snowden’s proposal after she learned of Townsend’s engagement.  As her remark showed, the Princess probably never got over Townsend, not a good way to start a marriage!

Aronson discusses Princess Margaret’s personality, which seems to have been full of contradictions. Her royal duties were underestimated, for example, and she was also very religious with a preference for Anglo-Catholicism. However, this didn’t prevent her living a rather purposeless and jet-setting life which made headlines in the press and having affairs, including a strange one with a much younger and unknown man called Roddy Llewellyn.  She could also be extremely rude, according to this book, and stand very much on privilege.

This is worth reading if you are interested in the Royals or just Princess Margaret. I couldn’t help feeling that some of the anecdotes were rather nasty, however.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

EDITION  Paperback


PRICE$16.99 (USD)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Teenage Resistance Fighter with the Maquisards in Occupied France by Hubert Verneret

When Hitler invades Poland, 14-year old Hubert Verneret watches the French soldiers leaving South Morvan to fight, thinking that they will soon be marching victoriously through German cities. How little the Boy Scout knows! As the Germans march through France instead, he sees hordes of refugees fleeing their approach and he tries to help them. He also sees the French soldiers in a complete rout.

The brave young boy joins the Maquis and his adventures begin as he learns to shoot, attempts to prevent Germans retreating to the Rhine and looks for soldiers to take prisoner.  Much of his war, to his disappointment, consists of watching and waiting, and there is a nasty episode where he almost shoots one of his own.

This was written in the middle of the war and it provides a vivid picture of the suffering of the French and the courage of the Maquis and Resistance.  Some of the writing is quite beautiful and makes one wish that Verneret had written more books.  There are interviews with some of the major characters in his group at the back to provide more background. It's certainly worth reading if you are interested in the French Resistance. And as Catholics are often criticised for their role in the war, I was glad to see that an Abbott was involved in Verneret's group.

I received this free ebook from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

EDITION  Hardcover
ISBN         9781612005508
PRICE      $24.95 (USD)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

To Light A Fire On The Earth. Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age. Bishop Robert Barron in conversation with John L. Allen, Jr.

When I went into a Catholic cathedral overseas a long time ago, someone started muttering about 'superstition and ignorance'. Unfortunately, this is an increasingly common view of Christianity and Catholicism in particular.  As Allen writes, Catholics 'have to cope with an elite snobbery that says religion is backward, benighted, superstitious, and dangerous...'  It's good, then, that Barron can actually stand up to the cleverest people of our increasingly secular world and argue about his beliefs in depth.

This book provides an interesting look at how Barron sees the Catholic faith, what he thinks about the Pope, and how to bring Catholics back into the fold.  He especially emphasizes showing someone the beauty of the Catholic world. He thinks that many people today find too much talk about 'truth' a turn-off.  Instead, it's more important to get them to look at the glorious Chartres Cathedral or Sainte Chapelle. Bishop Barron certainly has a wonderful point here. No doubt, there are many who just see these buildings as examples of great architecture, but others will be inspired by their radiance and begin to wonder whether there is something more...

Allen also talks to Barron about the Catholic Church's teachings on sex. This is an important part of the book but Barron's explanations may not convince a lot of people.  However, it is the clearest exposition that I have read.  Barron also argues that the Church's over-emphasis on sexuality has probably turned many people away, and it's a good idea to place more importance on different aspects of its teachings.

He also looks at other controversies, such as the scandals, and dealing with aggressive atheism.  This all becomes quite theological.  Barron discusses Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God, for example.  I may read this part of the book again, although by chance I read AJ Cronin's anecdote much simpler!

This is a good book to read if you are interested in Bishop Barron and Catholicism.

I received this free ebook from Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.