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S. Robinson "Read more at Amazon's S.C.Skillman Page" (Warwick, UK)
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Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life
Price: £6.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge Both Intellectual and Spiritual, 2 Feb. 2015
Metaxas is renowned as the author of a much-admired book on Dietrich Boenhoffer (published in 2011). In this new book, he turns his attention to a vitally important subject: our worldview and how it affects our perception of reality.

In the first half of the book Metaxas examines the rules by which we may determine that an event is “a miracle”. One of his most compelling early chapters is about the miracle of life on earth. As a counterpoint to Stephen Hawking’s observation that "We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star" Metaxas gives us a taster of the vast number of fine-tuned characteristics which are necessary to support life. As I read this chapter it put me in mind of one of my own favourite quotes, which comes from Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim:

"This is Nature – the balance of colossal forces… the mighty Cosmos in perfect equilibrium produces – this."

Beyond this, Metaxas goes on to consider the picture of God breaking through into the natural world with miracles, like a great tree bursting through concrete. He examines the questions of God’s apparent “selectivity” – why do some people’s lives benefit from miraculous intervention, and others not?

In the second half of the book Metaxas gives accounts of miracles which happened to himself and to people he knows personally. These stories of miracles are robust and compelling. Some are disturbing, creepy and challenging. Near the end of the book he relates a 9/11 story which holds you transfixed. And he ends with a challenge both intellectual and spiritual.

I found this book thrilling, uplifting and enormously encouraging. Throughout my life there have been times when I’ve instinctively felt something to be true, without having the necessary resources of intellectual argument to lay it on the table before others. In this book, Metaxas encourages us to fully engage our minds on a subject which is far too easy to talk or think about in a “loose” or “woolly” way.

If you possibly can, find time to read this book and to consider what Metaxas says.


The House at Midnight
The House at Midnight
by Lucie Whitehouse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Great potential but sadly flawed, 13 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The House at Midnight (Paperback)
I liked the idea of this story, a sinister and disturbing atmosphere in an old house, gradually controlling and driving the actions of the people who come together in it, but although the novel did keep me reading, I felt it was flawed. The major problem seemed to be the characters' behaviour, which constantly balanced on the edge, just about to be tipped over into "unconvincing". I felt it was important for me to like Jo, the narrator, but found her strangely flat and I didn't quite believe in her actions or her motivation. Yet there was something there in this novel which did keep me reading, as if I was expecting the author to explore Jo more deeply and reveal her true angst.

The novel is too long and slow. It read to me as if the author had had several different editors/beta readers saying to her, "You must go deeper into this and that character.... but show us, don't tell us!" And then the author added another carefully crafted chapter, taking her characters swimming in a woodland pool, sending her 2 lovers on a camping break - and it adds nothing to the plot. Instead it slows the novel down, and it doesn't deepen the characters either.

As I tried to work out what the problem was with the book, I felt that Jo the narrator was just not sharing with the reader about herself in the way the reader wants her to. I didn't feel that the author properly built up Jo's desire for Greg before they came together. When they did, in London, I felt her love for Greg and her regret for Lucas were not fully explored, and I didn't quite believe in them, and certainly didn't feel that the things going wrong with her relationships were anything to do with the house in the Cotswolds.

In addition I felt none of the characters took responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and that irritated me. And there were too many passages of self-indulgent descriptive writing. As I read through the story one thing in particular nagged me; why should Lucas be so important to Jo that she would allow him to emotionally manipulate her. I didn't feel Lucas's fascination or pulling power. We are told that Jo identifies him with her university years and her twenties, but that alone did not convince me.

Danny was a malicious manipulator; Lucas came across as weak. It was only at the end - which was shocking and very tense and strong - that I got a real sense of Lucas' inner torment. Ultimately, as I considered the problem with the novel, I felt it might have helped if the paranormal element had been pointed up much more strongly, driving the characters' actions.

Altogether a novel with great potential but, for me, sadly flawed.


Killer's Countdown (A DI Shona McKenzie Mystery) (The DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries)
Killer's Countdown (A DI Shona McKenzie Mystery) (The DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries)
by Wendy H Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting and Unputdownable, 7 Jan. 2015
I found this book riveting and unputdownable. Police procedurals are not a genre I am at all familiar with and I found this aspect of the book fascinating and illuminating. I liked the repartee of the police and the development of their different characters and relationships, along with the clear depiction of the hierarchical structure and the tensions that arise and pressures that are upon the police. I loved the movement of the story, the pace of the narrative, and I warmed to Shona's character. I found the writing earthy and robust with plenty of flashes of humour. I particularly enjoyed the references to the food the police eat when under all the stress and challenge of an ongoing murder investigation! The amount of doughnuts, cakes, pizza, and bacon and egg rolls they put away certainly gave me a sense of the energy they need to keep going under intense pressure. I also liked the cameo of the vagrant who comes into the station for a feed; and of course he is very significant to the denouement of the plot.
Only one thing let this novel down, and I am not going to blame the author for it; it lies in the copy-editing. I found a number of typos and repeated phrases that a professional copy-editor should have picked up. I also felt the ending could have been tauter. Nevertheless, this is Wendy Jones' debut novel and she has achieved in this book everything we can ask of a skilled story-teller.


Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Sherlock Holmes (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts)
Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Sherlock Holmes (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts)
by Nicholas Utechin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Compendium of Quirky Information, 27 Dec. 2014
A compendium of quirky information highlighting the impact Sherlock Holmes has made on the public imagination since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first story for Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. The story is taken right up to the appearance of the current BBC series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. An astonishing sequence of events demonstrating a cycle of rebirth which Conan Doyle could never have imagined or believed possible for his hero - and, as Utechin points out in his book - certainly would not have embraced.

This little book is a delight to read, and a very effective resource for lovers and students of Sherlock Holmes either to dip into, or to read through from cover to cover as I did.


Being Miss
Being Miss
Price: £2.16

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly, sometimes painfully funny, 24 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Being Miss (Kindle Edition)
I found this account brilliantly and sometimes painfully funny. Fran has the classic stance of the comic writer; that self-deprecating humour, that gift for presenting yourself as "no better than you should be".. I feel this short book should be required reading for anyone on a B. Ed. course, so that they might have a true sense of the realities of life as a schoolteacher. Although I don't believe, of course, that any teacher would genuinely encounter all these situations in one day, and it's clear Fran has amalgamated probably several months' worth of experiences in one intense, highly comical day, nevertheless this does give fascinating insights into the life of a schoolteacher. I haver a sense that to succeed in this profession you have to be a master of mind-games and psychological tricks; for those unskilled in this, it must be unbelievably stressful! I particularly loved Fran's dialogues with her Scottish colleague in the staffroom, and some of the more picaresque tales in the book, including the moment when you as the reader think, "Oh no, she isn't going to do what I think she's going to do...." and then of course she does do it.

Her account of invigilation was particularly amusing; though I must admit, from my own personal experience of invigilation, I have confined myself to switching my attention to the faces, hairstyles, body-language, clothes and make-up of several students in the room, wondering about what their futures hold for them, and what mistakes they will make in their lives and whether any of them are destined to make the same mistakes that I've done. I have never deliberately set off down an aisle while another invigilator is heading up it in my direction, with the intention of sweeping a student's exam paper and stationery off onto the floor. However, having read Fran's anecdotes, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief that she has actually done the things she describes! (Or maybe there is some use of poetic licence here).

I'd love to see this kind of comic observation within the structure of a well-plotted full-length novel. There's a challenge for you, Fran, as an English teacher! You may even be able to steal and subtly adjust some of those wonderful Gothic ideas presented by your brilliant pupils in their essays for you...


Earthed: Christian Perspectives on Nature Connection
Earthed: Christian Perspectives on Nature Connection
by Bruce Stanley
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bridging the Gap Between Christianity and Paganism, 19 Nov. 2014
This fascinating book came into my hands because I belong to a Facebook group called Mystic Christ and heard about the publication of this collection of essays by authors with both Christian affiliation and a desire to express spirituality through nature connection. It sounded like a book after my own heart. For many years I was greatly drawn to a spirituality very close to pantheism/nature mysticism; and one of my chief objections then to the Christian faith was what I saw as its “black and white” stance and its refusal to recognise the validity of this kind of spirituality.

I remember years ago a certain Tory politician being asked if he was religious or a churchgoer, to which he replied, “No, I don’t go to church, I feel much closer to God walking in the Yorkshire Dales”. In the view of the authors of “Earthed” this is a valid spiritual position to take. The book, edited by Bruce Stanley and Steve Holllinghurst, brings together the views and experiences of several authors who have a range of different approaches and outlooks but all believe that Christianity’s relationship with nature matters. The earlier essays provide an overview and then move on to more detailed accounts of personal experiences. I must admit I found some of these read a little like vicars seeking to justify to their evangelical colleagues why they are moved by pagan religious rituals in nature.

However, I was pleased to see a chapter by Annie Heppenstall, “Do I Not Fill Heaven and Earth?” Annie led the Celtic Christian celebrations I attended at Morton Bagot church in Warwickshire. There is also a very good article by Anne Hollinghurst about St Francis of Assisi. “A creation-centred spirituality,” she writes, “should also include St Francis’ rule of compassion for the poor, a rejection of the pursuit of wealth, status or reputation in favour of simplicity and poverty of spirit.”

To me there’s no problem in the idea of worshipping God in and through nature.This has always been a spirituality very close to my heart. But I do acknowledge that some people find the natural world wild, disorderly and threatening. I enjoyed the chapter about The Green Man by Simon Cross, in which he draws a thread connecting the story of the Garden of Eden with the Legend of the Holy Rood, the Frankenstein story, North American Indian spirituality and its understanding of the Great Spirit, through the 1800′s resurgence of interest in occultism and onto fear of little green men from Mars, space research and exploration and the current fascination with wilderness survival skills (as demonstrated in various TV programmes).

The theme of this book was highlighted from a different source on Sun 16 November 2014: I was watching a BBC TV programme presented by Sue Perkins from a remote rural community in Cambodia, where she was spending time with people who have “a relationship with the natural world that many of us crave.”

Another outstanding chapter for me in this book is “Oceanic God” in which author Nick Thorpe writes about things he has learned from the power of the sea and from the people who earn their living by chancing their lives upon the sea. “After my sea pilgrimage,” he says, “I resolved to allow myself a broader, more open-handed belief; less fretful about the details of doctrine, more willing to let complex realities clash, and mysteries remain.”

There is also a lovely piece by Paul Cudby on “Friendships Across the Divide: A Theology of Encounter” which I strongly identified with. I have myself felt the spiritual sense of nature connection which he describes, on several occasions throughout my life. The experiences he describes follow the principle that whatever you practice regularly becomes almost intuitive and then new possibilities spring up.

In conclusion I’d say that the premise of this book is correct: that in western forms of Christian worship many habitually cut themselves off from this kind of nature connection; and this is a totally unnecessary source of alienation from those who find themselves naturally drawn to pagan and mystical spirituality.Instead, we end up creating a division between those whose spiritual practices might otherwise find many points of similarity. If any of this rings a bell with you, I highly recommend this book.


Death in Leamington
Death in Leamington
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ingenious crime suspense novel, 17 Nov. 2014
Following on from Searching for Amber , which I greatly enjoyed, I found this second novel from David Smith took some adjusting to. Death in Leamington novel lacked the lyrical writing of Searching for Amber, which for me had been one of the most outstanding elements of Smith’s debut novel, lifting the events of the story onto another level. However, in fairness to the author, this is a different genre. And he has written an ingenious crime suspense novel, set very close to my own home town. In fact the setting is one of the things I enjoyed the most: different scenes of the story unfolded in so many locations familiar to me, that I could visualise them easily: especially when those events were grisly.
Initially I found Death in Leamington difficult in the early part of the novel because so many different characters were introduced. However, I came to like Penny, Alice and Hunter very much, as they worked in their different fields to unravel the story behind the murders. I wasn’t quite so sure about the way the author handled his use of the first person for Penny and Alice, interspersed with third person narrative. Although, on principle, I enjoyed hearing the narrative through Penny’s viewpoint, on occasions I found the mechanics of it disruptive of the narrative and also this made it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief.
Further on in the novel I became gripped by the plot, and the unravelling of the story behind the murders was totally absorbing. I was gunning for the 3 characters I’ve mentioned above, and was genuinely surprised by the outcome.


Classic Tales of the Macabre (Collectors Library)
Classic Tales of the Macabre (Collectors Library)
by David Stuart Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A dazzlling display of atmospheric writing from masters of the craft, 9 Nov. 2014
A dazzling display of atmospheric writing from masters of the craft, that demonstrate the art of suspense, with the build-up of horror. The stories in this book are must-reads for anyone seeking to write in the genre nowadays; they range from supernatural to psychological subjects, and all of them are beautifully-written.


Elizabeth, The Queen
Elizabeth, The Queen
by Alison Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant account, by turns moving, harrowing and sobering, 9 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Elizabeth, The Queen (Paperback)
Alison Weir has fleshed out Elizabeth's character to a powerful degree, through the close examination of the events for which her reign is both famed and notorious, so now I feel I understand and can empathise with the woman behind the historic events, her humanity, her strengths and weaknesses. It makes me, too, fully conscious of the pressures that were upon Elizabeth, and it fills me with admiration at the way she responded, both as a woman and as a ruler, to key events such as the threat posed by the behaviour of Mary Queen of Scots. The way Elizabeth reacted, in particular, to the massacre of St Bartholomew in France, reminds me of the position the West is currently in, having to compromise with Assad against a worse evil. Elizabeth I was constantly having to choose between the lesser of two evils.

I found the book by turns moving, harrowing and sobering. You cannot help seeing correspondences between the pressures on Elizabeth and those on today's politicians. If she was in charge now we'd probably have avoided several of the conflicts we've seen since the Second World War. How, for example, would we respond to Islamist extremism if we had the personality, the strength, and the particular quirks of Elizabeth I to drive events? I feel that, in very different times, she would have found a card to play, equally clever and appropriate as the ones she played in sixteenth century England.

A brilliant account of this great monarch.


Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers (44 Scotland Street)
Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers (44 Scotland Street)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer delight!, 10 Oct. 2014
Sheer delight! I was first introduced to these whimsical but discerning stories of Edinburgh life through listening to an audio book "Love Over Scotland" whilst driving to Edinburgh for a holiday this summer. My favourite character then was 6 year old Bertie and his wry observations of life with a very challenging, politically-correct mother. So I was keen to read this book as soon as I saw the title. All the familiar characters are here, and the situations are sometimes gently amusing and sometimes hilarious, as in the account of Bruce's visit to the waxing salon. And having spent some time in Edinburgh now, it's all the more enjoyable to read these books and to feel some sense of familiarity with the locations the author describes.


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