Archive | October 2017

Review: Birdcage Walk, by Helen Dunmore. Grove Atlantic: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Description (from NetGalley)


It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.


My Review:


I think it is important to consider carefully the messages found in the beginning and ending sections of this book: Prelude, which sets the scene from a modern-day perspective, and Afterword. It transpires that Birdcage Walk is in fact Helen Dunmore’s Swan Song, and that she knew that to be the case. In the Afterword she gives us a concise statement of what she hoped to accomplish with Birdcage Walk and indeed with much of her literary work: “In this novel I am writing not only about a particular period of history but also about the ways in which the individual vanishes from historical record. This is something which has preoccupied me for many years.”


Birdcage Walk is a densely atmospheric tale brimming with a wealth of carefully delineated characters. Chief among these is Lizzie, daughter of British author Julia Fawkes and second wife of the enigmatic John Diner Tredevant. We know from the start (through the Prelude) that the story we are going to hear does not end well, at least for some. Thus a sense of foreboding shadows the story throughout. The story is eloquently and masterfully told, but does not always make for comfortable reading. Still in all, in retrospect this author delivers to us exactly what she promises in weaving a story of individuals caught in an intense period of history.


As always, my thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: Healing Arthritis: Your 3-Step Guide to Conquering Arthritis Naturally, by Susan Blum. Scribner.

Book Description (from NetGalley):


The author of the bestselling The Immune System Recovery Plan shares her science-based, drug-free treatment plan for the almost fifty million people who suffer from arthritis: an amazing 3-step guide to eliminate the disease naturally.

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the world—greater than both back pain and heart disease. One example, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), is the most common autoimmune disease, affecting 1% of the US population, and almost 68 million people worldwide. Conventional medicine tends to treat arthritis with strong, gut-damaging, immune-suppressing pain medications, temporarily relieving the symptoms of the disease without addressing its root causes. Now, in her groundbreaking new book, Dr. Susan Blum, a leading expert in functional medicine, offers a better approach to healing arthritis permanently.

Dr. Blum’s groundbreaking three-step protocol is designed to address the underlying causes of the condition and heal the body permanently by:

-Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, and more
-Healing your gut to heal your joints
-Reducing inflammation without medication

Dr. Blum’s innovative method includes a two-week plan to quickly reduce pain through anti-inflammatory foods and supplements; followed by an intensive gut repair to rid the body of bad bacteria and strengthen the gastrointestinal system for a dramatic improvement in arthritis symptoms and inflammation; and then addresses the emotional issues that contribute to inflammation, and eating a simple, Mediterranean inspired diet to maintain a healthy gut.

Featuring detailed case studies, including Dr. Blum’s own inspiring personal story, Healing Arthritis offers a revolutionary way to heal your gut, repair your immune system, control inflammation, and live a happier, healthier life…arthritis-free.


My Review:


I am a licensed psychotherapist, and I know several people (patients, family members, and friends) who are struggling to deal with arthritis, so I was very pleased to find this book that is full of specific information and detailed plans for dealing with arthritis.


Dr. Blum shares with her readers that she herself has used this material with her patients, and indeed for herself as well. The information and plans offered here are quite detailed and complete, and well worth reading. The information on how diet can affect arthritis was eye-opening, to say the least.


I would recommend this book to anyone coping with arthritis. But in view of the caveats that Dr. Blum herself offers, I would counsel the reader to present these materials to their physician before undertaking any self-directed action, in the interests of best practice for each individual patient. For those able to avail themselves of the services of Dr. Blum’s program directly, I would think that to be the best course of action. I cannot in good conscience recommend medical treatment for anyone, as that is outside my area of expertise. But Dr. Blum surely provides food for thought and material deserving of serious consideration.


My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.



Book Description: A Place to Call Home

by Tania Crosse. Aria.

The heart-warming sequel to Nobody’s Girl.

An intense and emotive WWII story of love, courage and friendship in the face of the horrors and hardships of war.

Thrown together by tragic circumstances some years previously, Meg and Clarrie’s hard-won friendship eventually brought them both some sense of peace. But how deep do their feelings run, and how long can their happiness last?

The outbreak of war brings a new set of concerns and emotions, especially with the arrival of the evacuees who come to share their home and lives. Can they unite to form a bond powerful enough to sustain them through the darkest days of war? And what will happen when an enemy from Meg’s past comes back to haunt her?

Review: A Place to Call Home, by Tania Crosse. Aria.


England in World War II has given us much material for stories and books. This story starts in Summer, 1939 before war is officially declared, and ends in 1946 after the war has ended. The two central characters are Meg and Clarrie, and this book is a sequel to a story started in a previous book, Nobody’s Girl.


A Place to Call Home is billed as “an intense and emotive WW2 saga of love, courage and friendship” which is certainly true. This book starts three years after young Meg, orphaned in a tragic accident, came to live with Clarissa (Clarrie) and her husband Wigmore (Wig). But while the story of Clarrie and Meg is clearly central, there are other story lines here that tug at our hearts.


Clarrie has agreed to accept evacuees from London to her country home–a program that sent many children away from their parents to live in safer surroundings away from the bombings and trauma of London. We meet an endearing bunch of children, each coming with their own story, and then making new stories as their relationships in their new temporary home develop.


We have read much about the war, but the author has given us individual tales that are developed and appeal to our hearts, as many threads are woven into a complex tapestry of history and everyday life. Reading this brought home to me the realities of ordinary people carrying on their lives in extraordinary times. We in the US came a bit late to the WWII story, so we sometimes forget how the people of Europe and Britain were affected by this terrible story before 1941, when Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the midst of the conflict.


I myself was an infant in 1941, so my memories of those wartime days are those of a very small child. But I recall that my father, over age for military service, was foreman at a steel mill providing materials for the ships being built in San Francisco’s Hunter Point Shipyard; my mother became very creative in providing us with good meals while coping with rationing (the only time in my life I can remember eating mutton!). So perhaps my experience helped me to feel closer to the events in this book, particularly to the children’s stories.


Crosse is a gifted storyteller who has given us a warm and endearing story of people we come to care about. There is much detail that makes the experiences of the characters in historic times feel very real.


About the Author: Tania Crosse


Delaying her childhood dream of writing historical novels until her family had grown up, Tania eventually completed a series of published stories based on her beloved Dartmoor. She is now setting her future sagas in London and the south east.

Follow Tania


Twitter: @taniacrosse


Review: Best-Laid Plants: A Potting Shed Mystery, by Marty Wingate. Random House Publishing Group – Alibi

Description (from NetGalley)

A trip to the English countryside turns into a brush with death for Pru Parke, the only gardener whose holiday wouldn’t be complete without a murder to solve.

Pru and her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, are long overdue for a getaway. So when Pru is invited to redesign an Arts and Crafts garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, she and Christopher jump at the chance. Unfortunately, their B&B is more ramshackle than charming, and the once thriving garden, with its lovely Thyme Walk, has fallen into heartbreaking neglect. With the garden’s owner and designer, Batsford Bede, under the weather, Pru tackles the renovation alone. But just as she’s starting to make headway, she stumbles upon Batsford’s body in the garden—dead and pinned beneath one of his limestone statues.

With such a small police force in the area, Christopher is called upon to lead the investigation. Pru can’t imagine anyone murdering Batsford Bede, a gentle man who preferred to spend his time in quiet contemplation, surrounded by nature. But as her work on the garden turns up one ominous clue after another, Pru discovers that the scenery is more dangerous than she or Christopher could have anticipated.


My Review:


After reading and reviewing several of Marty Wingate’s books, I am convinced that she is the Real Deal–an author to be watched and appreciated. This story starts small–with what seems a satisfying assignment and pleasant break for Pru and her husband. But the plot soon thickens, as they say, and we find ourselves enthralled in an intriguing and puzzling story.


Wingate’s books all read so smoothly, and flow so seamlessly that our attention is caught and held. That is true of Best-Laid Plants (and by the way, the witty titles are part of the charm of this author’s work). Without providing spoilers, I would just comment that it has a most glorious ending. I found this book thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable.

Review: The Prague Sonata, by Bradford Morrow. Grove Atlantic.

Description (from NetGalley)

Music and war, war and music – these are the twin motifs around which Bradford Morrow, recipient of the Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, has composed his magnum opus, The Prague Sonata, a novel nearly two decades in the making. In the early days of the new millennium, pages of a worn and weathered original sonata manuscript – the gift of a Czech immigrant living out her final days in Queens – come into the hands of Meta Taverner, a young musicologist whose concert piano career was cut short by an injury. To Meta’s eye, it appears to be an authentic eighteenth-century work; to her discerning ear, the music rendered there is commanding, hauntingly beautiful, clearly the undiscovered composition of a master. But there is no indication of who the composer might be. The gift comes with the request that Meta attempt to find the manuscript’s true owner – a Prague friend the old woman has not heard from since the Second World War forced them apart – and to make the three-part sonata whole again. Leaving New York behind for the land of Dvorak and Kafka, Meta sets out on an unforgettable search to locate the remaining movements of the sonata and uncover a story that has influenced the course of many lives, even as it becomes clear that she isn’t the only one after the music’s secrets. Magisterially evoking decades of Prague’s tragic and triumphant history, from the First World War through the soaring days of the Velvet Revolution, and moving from postwar London to the heartland of immigrant America, The Prague Sonata is both epic and intimate, evoking the ways in which individual notes of love and sacrifice become part of the celebratory symphony of life.


My review:

As a lifelong musician, I was drawn into this epic tale immediately. Also, I was interested in the Prague setting, which becomes very real as the author leads us on a journey filled with vivid description of the setting and fueled by a thorough knowledge of the history and events in this notable city. The story is told in such a dense fashion, moving randomly from past events to more recent without preamble, that it became challenging to keep track of all the threads, when what I really wanted to know was the fate of this sonata that our heroine Meta makes such a concerted effort to reunite. Does she succeed? No spoilers here–you’ll have to read the book. But it’s well worth the effort!

Review: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker. Scribner.

Description (from NetGalley)


The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

But an explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Among so many other things, within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and immensely accessible, Why We Sleep is the crucial account on sleep that will forever change readers’ minds on the subject.


My Review:

A good night’s sleep. Something we all want, but for many it proves elusive. As a practicing psychotherapist, difficulties with sleep are something that nearly all my patients report. Until now, I really didn’t know what to tell them.


The material is admirably arranged into four parts. Part 1 “This Thing Called Sleep” is all about what sleep is; Part 2 “Why Should You Sleep” enumerates the benefits of sleep, and the negative effects of insufficient sleep; Part 3 “How and Why We Dream” is, clearly, about dreaming; Part 4 “From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed” is all about what keeps us from sleep and what can help–and how important sleep is to our society as a whole.


This is an important book. I am so impressed with it, I feel it should be required reading for everyone. I certainly plan to recommend it to all my patients. I also plan to read it again; Dr. Walker offers so much here that one reading can’t really take it all in. And this publication is certainly timely: it has just been announced that the Nobel Prize this year for Medicine is given to three circadian rhythm researchers. What is so important about circadian rhythm? Read this book, and find out!