Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gearing up for Downton Abbey's return

January 3 is the date for the PBS premier of the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey.  Fans are anxious to find out what has been happening with the inhabitants of Downton, both upstairs and downstairs.  To get ready for the final season, fans will enjoy this Ultimate Map of Downton Abbey Locations from

Clicking on the icon for each location will show you a photo and more information about the place, including how it was shown in Downton Abbey.  The icon at the top right of the map also shows what types of locale are included (museum, castle, etc.) and whether or not they allow visitors.

This great map will surely give fans of the series plenty of ideas of places to visit during their next visit to the UK! In the meantime, enjoy the map and see if you can spot any of the places when series 6 begins in a few weeks!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Put the drugs down!

It's no secret that bad habits (including negative self-talk) are hard to break.   The revised and expanded edition of Change Your Brain Change Your Life explores how to make lasting changes that will help you overcome behaviors and compulsions that are holding you back from living a productive, fulfilling life.

The author, Daniel G. Amen, is the head of a group of clinics that use SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) studies to scan the brains of patients to determine if there are biological issues causing such problems as anxiety, weight control, or ADHD. Most patients he sees have never had studies taken of their brains, but have rather immediately been prescribed numerous medications in an effort to attack their symptoms, without ever trying to get at the root of the problem. Dr. Amen's philosophy is to see if non-pharmaceutical therapies might not work better and be long-term solutions for many of his patients. He does this by seeing what parts of the brain suffer from decreased blood flow or activity, and developing an individualized plan for treatment of that specific condition.

Even if you don't have access to a center where a SPECT scan can be done of your brain, Dr. Amen uses what he has learned from studying brain scans over the years to give advice to people suffering from various behavioral and emotional problems.  Various conditions are explored (including anxiety, impulsiveness, worry, etc.) including what part of the brain controls such behavior.  Then, strategies for dealing with each condition are outlined in 4 areas: biological, psychological, social and spiritual.  Plenty of examples involving real people and situations are used to demonstrate how each condition might manifest itself followed by coping strategies in each of the 4 areas.

Even if you suffer from a condition, such as ADHD, there are differing types.  Chapter 16 goes into detail about the various types of ADHD, anxiety and depression, addition and overeating.  If you suffer from any of these conditions, you will probably see yourself in one of the descriptions. One thing I found surprising was how resistant the medical community was toward using brain scans to diagnose biological causes of medical problems.  As Dr. Amen says, psychiatrists are the only doctors who don't get a look at the organ that is troubling their patients.  His advice is useful for everyone and likely will help to reduce the number of unnecessary medications that are taken by people with problems caused by underlying biological conditions.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Change Your Brain Change Your Life from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Escaping from tyranny

Most days the news brings us a story of some compelling human interest. While we are riveted for a few days, invariably another story grabs the headlines and we soon forget about the people whose story fascinated us just a few days ago.  It's rare that we get to revisit these people and find out what happened to them once the spotlight faded. The book "My Name is Mahtob" involves a young woman whose name we might not know, but whose story is likely familiar.

Mahtob Mahmoody was born in Texas in 1979 to an American mother and an Iranian father.  Her story eventually was told in the movie "Not Without My Daughter" starring Sally Field.  This book is the story of the young girl who was the center of that drama, and what has happened to her since the events in the book.

At age five, the family went to Tehran to visit her father's family, but he had no intention of coming back to the United States.  He was unpredictably violent and abusive, and refused to allow Mahtob and her mother to return to the United States.  He also censored their mail from relatives back home, and forced them to write letters about how much they loved their new lives in Iran.  At the same time, the war between Iran and Iraq was escalating, and bombings were a frequent occurrence.  Mahtob's controlling father at first refused to allow his wife and daughter out of his sight, but eventually he relaxed control enough for them to go out shopping for daily necessities, which ended up taking most of every day.  They planned an escape and when the time was right, they were able to flee and return to her mother's family in Michigan.

They went by new names and Mahtob's mother achieved some degree of closure by working on the book "Not Without My Daughter."  Mahtob was negatively affected by her experiences, and grew to hate everything to do with Iran, and her father especially.  Much to her mother's credit, she tries to get Mahtob to remember some good times with her father, mainly to keep Mahtob from becoming bitter and angry.  Her mother wanted a divorce, but filing would open them up to all sorts of dangers -- their location would be revealed to her father, and likely he would be granted unsupervised visits with his daughter, leaving him free to take her out of the country again.

This situation allowed Mahtob's mother to become a vocal advocate for safeguarding the rights of parents whose children were taken to other countries by estranged parents.  Mahtob spent her childhood afraid of being abducted by her father, yet at the same time sad about her estrangement from other members of her family.  This book is a very interesting look behind the headlines into the live of a resilient young woman who overcame huge obstacles to live a fulfilling life.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of My Name is Mahtob from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

Monday, December 7, 2015

My tongue has some more things to say

Fans of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency will be happy to see there are new adventures for the hardworking sleuths in The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine.  The detective agency is pretty much in the same spot where we left it: co-managers Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, and assistant Charlie are waiting in the office for clients to appear while drinking endless pots of red bush tea.

All this changes, however, when Mma Makutsi gets it into her head that Mma Ramotswe needs a vacation.  It's never easy to argue with her, and when Mr. JLB Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe's husband, endorses the plan, there seems to be no option but to take time off.  Luckily, Mr. Polopetsi, who teaches part-time at the local high school, is called upon to fill in during Mma Ramotswe's absence.

Soon this enforced leisure begins to take its toll on Mma Ramotswe.  Just why, she wonders, was Mma Makutsi so insistent that she remove herself from the office?  Is she planning a takeover of some sort?  This seems unlikely, as Mma Makutsi is already a partner and is married to the successful furniture store owner Phuti Radiphuti.  Still, the whole thing doesn't sit well . . .

The opportunity for dropping by to check on things crops up, and her visit to the office does nothing to calm Mma Ramotswe's fears.  Mma Makutsi seems to be acting in a rather strange and secretive manner, although she insists nothing is wrong and she has everything under control.  Luckily, Mr. Polopetsi contacts her with a plea for help, and that gives Mma Ramotswe the opening she needs to immerse herself in the current case, which involves trying to find out if there is any scandal attached to a Mr. Government Keboneng, who is recently late.  The case seems a little complicated, so why would Mma Makutsi pawn it off on the relatively inexperienced Mr. Polopetsi?

At the same time, the evil Violet Sephotho makes an appearance as she tries to steal some of Mma Ramotswe's thunder by opening the No. 1 Ladies' College of Secretarial and Business Studies -- a development that offends Mma Makutsi as well (as a proud graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College).  And the tiny white van is still going strong, although, as usual, it suffers some injuries in the course of the adventures of its driver.

As always, it's wonderful to take a step back and enjoy a visit with the beloved cast of characters in Zebra Drive and Tlokweng Road.  The people are friendly, their manners polite, and there's no problem so big that can't be solved over a cup of red bush tea and a slice of fruitcake.  I'm anxiously awaiting the next adventures of the No. 1 Detectives!

Final Verdict for The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine Four Gherkins, for being a pleasant trip to visit old friends

I have to write about this on my blog!

Little Miss Overshare is so excited about every little thing that happens in her life that she's sure you'll want to hear about it, too.  It doesn't matter if you are a long-suffering roommate, co-workers in a professional setting, or strangers asking directions, Little Miss Overshare will gladly and openly provide details of her life that no one wants to hear.  Not that this slows her down at all!

Little Miss Overshare is a parody in a series of books by the author Dan Zevin.  Some other titles include Mr. Selfie and Mr. Humblebrag.  While each small book no doubt reveals characters that we all encounter on a daily basis, for sheer self-absorption and cluelessness, it would be hard to top Little Miss Overshare.

The book is very tiny, only about 5 inches square and 30 pages long.  Each page of "oversharing" is accompanied by a drawing of an excited looking Little Miss Overshare along with pained looking recipients of her pronouncements.  The book is cute and entertaining, and I'm sure it will call to mind people in our own lives who are fond of imparting TMI in social settings.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Little Miss Overshare from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Did you attend Nazi Confectionary College?

If you've ever wished you could hire someone for a good argument, or dispute the health of a parrot, or felt the irresistible urge to get from point A to B via a funny walk, you can thank John Cleese.  His memoir So Anyway . . . chronicles his life from his upbringing in a small English seaside town, to his worldwide fame as a comedian in Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers.

Cleese was born when his parents were already in their 40s.  He describes them as overprotective and suggests this was the reason he was somewhat reserved and "unmanly" during his youth.  The family surname had started out as "Cheese" but his father changed it when he enlisted in World War I (although Cleese says this didn't stop him from being called Cheese during his school years).  His father was calm, patient and kind but his mother could be unpredictable, difficult and anxious.  Therefore, he had a hard time with his relationships to women throughout his life.

The book details his early days at a boys school, where he was a day pupil rather than a boarder.  Eventually he discovered a love and talent for cricket, which helped him find his place in school.  He eventually went to Cambridge, originally to study science but later switching to law.  Before he started his university studies, he taught history to elementary school boys, an experience he greatly enjoyed.  While at Cambridge, he became involved in the Footlights committee, a theatrical group, and really got his start writing and performing comedy.  He still intended to make a career in law, but  after meeting Graham Chapman, he changed direction.

He goes on to describe his years in television and his collaboration with other entertainment greats such as his fellow Monty Python actors, Peter Sellers and David Frost.  He also discusses his meeting and work with his first wife, Connie Booth, known to TV audiences as the long suffering maid Polly in Fawlty Towers.  The book basically ends as Monty Python gets started, but there is an afterward where Cleese discusses the reunion shows that the surviving members performed in 2013.  They were unsure of the reception they'd receive, but the fact that they were able to sell out all the shows is a testament to the enduring fondness the public has for the zany antics of the Python crew.

This book is an interesting look at how a comedy legend got his start.  It is told in an amusing, self-depreciating way, and is quite entertaining. Perhaps the details of his career leading up to forming the Python group are a bit too long, but overall, for anyone who is a fan, this is a pleasant visit with someone who feels like a somewhat eccentric uncle.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of So Anyway . . . from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ringing the dinner bell

With the holidays coming around, many people will be getting ready to prepare special foods for friends and family.  While there are certainly family favorites that will be prepared time and time again, every table can benefit from a new recipe or two.  Whitney Miller's New Southern Table features recipes from the Masterchef winner's family as well as inspiration from her world travels.

The book as all the usual categories, including Breakfast, Sunday Dinners and "Somethin' Sweet," as well as directions for preparing "Essentials and Enhancers" (such things as ketchup, various types of pesto and peanut butter).  There's also a helpful section titled "My Southern Pantry" that includes staple items that everyone should have on hand.

The recipes include such favorites as Turkey Potpie, Fried Green Tomatoes and Pork Ribs.  Many of the recipes have been tweaked to include lower fat/sugar/calorie options from ones Miller grew up enjoying (such as using olive oil to make biscuits).

Most of the recipes include delicious-looking photos of the finished dishes to entice would-be cooks to get busy!  There are also a large number of photos of the author's family (some identified by captions -- I just assume the non-captioned photos contain members of her family).  If you aren't related to her, I fail to see the appeal of all the photos.  Each recipe is introduced with a small explanation of why it's included or how she's updated a recipe (again, lots of "I remember back when my grandma . . ." type asides thrown in that will be of limited appeal to those outside her inner circle).

Overall, it's a very nice cookbook, with appealing recipes that don't require a lot of specialized ingredients or equipment (she recommends using a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off for piping, for instance).  Plenty of substitutions are included as well, in case every ingredient isn't to your liking.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Whitney Miller's New Southern Table from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review