Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Yuki has travelled from Japan to visit Bronte Country on a special mission.  She's a "psychic detective" who's trying to see if she can find answers regarding her late mother in Yuki Chan in Bronte Country. We learn that Yuki's mother has died, but not many details about what happened.  Yuki is a 20-something woman who has no particular affinity for the Bronte sisters, but she does have a smattering of photos that her mother took while on a visit to northern England a decade before.  Luckily, she has an older sister, Kumiko who lives in London, so she has a base from which to begin her journey.

Yuki starts out on an organized bus tour to Haworth.  Most of the other people on the bus are elderly Japanese women who are reverently interested in all things Bronte.  Yuki really is just using the bus tour as a way to get her to the correct area to investigate her mother's photos.  After a tour of the house where the Bronte sisters lived, Yuki hides until the bus departs.  She then sets about finding the hotel where her mother stayed on her visit long ago.  It turns out to now be a B&B so Yuki checks in and attempts to see if she can figure out which room her mother occupied.

Once that's done, she takes the photos she has and attempts to recreate the exact pose or angle that her mother saw when the photo was taken.  She's hoping that by doing this, she'll have some psychic connection to her mother and what she was doing when she was there.  While sneaking back into the parsonage where the Brontes lived one night (the better to re-create the situation in the photo without prying eyes), Yuki notices that her movements are being observed by a strange girl.  This girl watches Yuki silently, and seems to turn up wherever she is. Most strangely of all, while Yuki is attempting to find a particular body of water from one of the photographs, she discovers the girl is also out there in the wilderness.  Eventually, she finds that the girl, Denny, has her brother's motorbike (and a gun) and is familiar enough with the local area to be able to take Yuki around to the remaining spots from her photos.  Denny becomes a sidekick as Yuki continues to try to discover the secrets behind her mother's photos.

I found the story of Yuki to be rather odd.  There were strange asides about how she would reopen and re-purpose the old Post Office Tower in London, her experiments with snow, how she fainted on two occasions as a child, intense contemplation of a -Beatle-mania photo from the 1960s, etc. that seem to have nothing to do with the story.  Yuki also visits the "Institute of Psychic Studies" in London, where she believes her mother visited long ago, only to find out she needs an appointment to view their collection of photos.  Since she's already there, she spends a great deal of time poking around aimlessly in the library. There is also an incident with a dog bite that starts out on her thigh, but mysteriously is later on her "ass."  (?)  Overall, the story is about a young woman's attempts to come to terms with the death of her mother -- although going half-way around the world and re-creating old photos that had nothing to do with the death would seem to be an odd way to go about it.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Yuki Chan in Bronte Country from Faber & Faber in exchange for this review

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mark Douglas is having a bad day.  He's trying to get some photos of whales that might be getting ready to beach themselves but he's unable to get a good shot.  Mark is a freelance photographer who's hoping to sell his photos to the Edinburgh Evening Standard.  Then his phone rings and he's informed his wife hasn't picked up their son Nathan from school.  Assuming that Lauren has been delayed somewhere along the way, Mark picks up Nathan and begins trying to track Lauren down.  So begins Gone Again, a novel about a man's search for his missing wife by author Doug Johnstone.

At first, the police are reluctant to believe that there is anything to investigate. Lauren is an adult, and if she needs a few days on her own, there's nothing criminal in that.  Mark begins to look more interesting to them after a few days when Lauren still hasn't returned, and it turns out that Mark has a history of violence -- he's had a restraining order taken out against him by none other than Lauren's mother.

At the same time, Lauren herself has a bit of history.  Soon after Nathan was born 6 years ago, she disappeared for 10 days while suffering from terrible post-natal depression.  She seems to have recovered and settled into motherhood and her job at a local estate agency, but recently she's found out that she's expecting another baby.  Has the thought of another round of depression caused her to take off again?

Since the police aren't too keen to get involved, Mark starts his own investigation.  He begins at Lauren's office, where her boss Gavin Taylor assures him that Lauren seemed fine the day she disappeared, even though she took a half day off work.  Mark has an uneasy feeling about Gavin and thinks he knows more about what happened to Lauren than he's letting on.  When someone breaks in to his home and steals Lauren's laptop, Mark really begins to wonder if she was involved in something she shouldn't have been.

I enjoyed reading about Mark's growing desperation as he attempts to track down Lauren while trying to keep things as normal as possible for their son Nathan.  His anger at the police eventually causes him to team up with Lauren's mother in an effort to locate the missing woman, something he never expected that he would do.  The story builds to a very exciting conclusion as Mark finally finds out what caused Lauren to disappear, and why some people are willing to go to extreme lengths to keep him from knowing the truth.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Gone Again from Faber & Faber in exchange for this review

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nabeel Qureshi was an 18 year old American Muslim when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred.  In the wake of the events of that terrible day, he was shocked that fellow Muslims had decided to use their faith (which he had always heard referred to as "a religion of peace") as justification for their actions.  He was also dismayed at the very real prospect of his friends or family becoming victims of vigilante attacks.  In the book Answering Jihad, he looks at the roots of Islam and how a small minority of Muslims use events portrayed in the Quran to justify jihad.  He also answers many questions that people have asked him relating to the issue, as well as proposing a response.

In his research into the roots of Islam, Qureshi discovered that the origins of the "religion of peace" statements only go back to the 1930s.  His further research into the roots of the religion and the life of Muhammad show that on the contrary, violence was always present. His exploration of the term jihad also uncovers the difficulty of establishing one accepted meaning, but he does agree that it refers to "military action" to spread or defend Islam.  From its written origins, sections on jihad immediately followed sections on the Five Pillars of Islam, which detail the rules all Muslims must follow.  This gave credence to the notion that violent action in the name of the religion was called for by followers.

Qureshi himself sees only three avenues when one begins to study the origins of Islam: apostasy, apathy or radicalization.  He himself eventually rejected the violent foundations of Islam and converted to Christianity.  While he acknowledges that those who interpret the Quran and its call for jihad literally are a small minority of Muslims, he does not deny that those who choose violence in the name of religion will continue to try to recruit others to their cause. He calls for everyone to work together to interact with each other in understanding and friendship, and not to give in to fear or suspicion.  While pockets of radicals may continue to exist, focusing on our mutual desire for peace and friendship will eventually overcome those who cling unquestionably to a violent past. The book also contains several helpful appendices in the back, including a timeline of jihad and a glossary.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Answering Jihad from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When we first meet Britt-Marie, she can be a little hard to like.  She comes across as rather uptight and prim, and throws out criticisms disguised as compliments.  Still, she has her reasons for all her personality quirks, which we find out in Britt-Marie Was Here, the latest book from the Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman.

Britt-Marie has recently suffered a great upheaval in her previously well-ordered (if uneventful) life.  Her husband Kent suffered a heart attack and Britt-Marie found out about it when his mistress called to tell her.  Britt-Marie had often suspected something was going on, due to Kent's frequent perfume-scented shirts being discarded on the floor, but she refused to think about it.  Once it's been confirmed, however, she leaves immediately.

Prior to being slapped across the face by reality, Britt-Marie was a stay-at-home wife, looking after Kent and his two children from a previous marriage.  The kids are grown now so Britt-Marie fills her days with cleaning (she has an fanatical devotion to baking soda and a window cleaner called Faxin).  Now she has to consider her options, so she stops in at the local unemployment office.  The counselor she meets there is not overly optimistic about Britt-Marie's employment options.  She has no formal training and hasn't worked since she did a short stint as a waitress before her marriage.  Still, Britt-Marie is not one to take no for an answer, so she makes such a nuisance of herself that she's finally offered a job in Borg.

Borg is a town that has definitely seen better days.  The main employer has closed and everyone who can leave has.  Nearly everyone else has a "For Sale" sign in their yards.  The town council (or rather, the council in the larger town over which has say over the affairs of Borg) has closed the soccer field and is in the process of closing the recreation center.  Britt-Marie is offered the job of being caretaker of the center until it's permanently closed -- expected to be in a few months at most.

Britt-Marie has no other option, so she heads off to Borg.  She soon discovers that the one business in town is operating as a cafe, store, car repair center, and anything else the town needs. It's run by a woman in a wheelchair who's only ever referred to as Somebody.  Somebody is a blunt, no-nonsense sort of person, but she's also friendly to Britt-Marie and fills her in on the goings on in town.  Britt-Marie sets about doing what she does best -- cleaning the recreation center.  She soon notices that all the children in town are obsessed with soccer, a game Britt-Marie knows nothing about.  Still, she washes the uniforms of the "team" and allows the children to watch matches on the TV in the recreation center.

At first she sleeps in the recreation center, but she soon moves in with a seemingly blind woman named Bank (who can miraculously "accidentally" hit people with her stick).  Bank's late father was a legendary soccer coach, but she claims to not be interested in the sport. That is until the children need a registered coach to participate in the local soccer league. Britt-Marie is roped in to be the coach on paper, but as Bank observes Britt-Marie's attempts at training the team, she gradually begins to take over more of the duties.

Britt-Marie also begins something of a flirtation with Sven, the local policeman.  Just as Britt-Marie seems to be settling in to life in Borg, Kent makes a reappearance.  He's recovered from his heart attack and seemingly can't live without Britt-Marie (although he has failed to notice or appreciate her for most of their marriage).  As he attempts to convince Britt-Marie to return home, she is faced with making a decision about her future: return to the life she's always known, continue her new life in Borg, or set out on a completely new adventure.

I enjoyed reading about the prickly Britt-Marie, who never relaxed her grip on her handbag or stopped cleaning for very long.  I didn't like her odd manner of speech, which included putting "Ha" (or "Ha?" if she was asking a question) before every sentence.  Also, Somebody had a strange way of speaking, and I never ascertained if that was just to add to her strangeness, or to imply that perhaps she was also a "foreigner" in Borg?  I also wish the book had ended on a different note, but that's just my own preference for tidy endings.  Overall, this is an enjoyable look at a woman who finally explores new possibilities after 63 years.

Disclaimer:  I received an Advance Reader's Edition of Britt-Marie Was Here from the publisher in exchange for this review

Monday, April 4, 2016

Lance Hahn is a man who understands fear.  His book How to Live in Fear discusses his own personal struggles with fear and the resulting panic attacks that have plagued him for his entire life.  He works as a pastor, and in 2014 hit rock bottom with panic, anxiety and fear to the extent that he had to take a leave from his job.

After suffering so long himself, Hahn is in a position to be able to analyze and discuss the causes and treatments of fear.  He lists three main parts of fear:  root cause, core catalysts and situational triggers. Since the root cause of irrational fear may be a genetic disposition toward the condition, Hahn urges exceedingly fearful people not to be ashamed of their illness.  Some of the catalysts that he outlines which might cause fear include childhood trauma, distorted world view, having a "high-functioning mind" (and I'd like to meet someone who doesn't feel their mind is high-functioning!) and being overly sensitive to threats that don't exist. He advises people to try to explore what causes their fears to see if there is a specific time of day or group of people that cause you to be anxious, and attempt to take measures to avoid or anticipate these triggers.

The statistics Hahn quotes about the effect of fear on people in the US speak for themselves: nearly 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, but most suffer symptoms for over 10 years before seeking help.  He gives some possible reactions to stressful situations, and how they can be managed.  In the management category, he takes a look at the pros and cons of using medication to manage symptoms.  There are also internal (distraction, journaling, counseling, etc.) and external (getting plenty of exercise, rest, pursuing hobbies, etc.) that can be employed to help ward off or minimize symptoms. As a minister, he also devotes a good deal of the book to Biblical examples and remedies which he relies on when fear takes hold.

I enjoyed reading about the author's attempts to analyze and remedy his struggles with fear and anxiety.  It seems as if his life-long struggle will continue, but at least he's taking ownership of his disorder and looking at all possible remedies for living with this sometimes crippling affliction

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of How to Live in Fear from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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