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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Point of Control by LJ Sellers

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.).  

Excitement and Interest in a Thriller                
 My rating:  4 out of 5

As scientists go missing, Special Agent Andra Bailey (a sociopath) struggles to find out where they are and who is behind it all.  All the action (and there's plenty of it) takes place between 13th and 25 March, and includes threats from North Korea as Bailey puts her job on the line to save the scientists.   

Bailey is a great character, and as she rushes between Washington DC and California I got fully involved in the story.  Lots of twists, lots of interesting parts - about being a sociopath, mobile phones etc., and lots of excitement. 


A great book




Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Better with Age: The Ultimate Guide to Brain Training by Phyllis Strupp

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

The Brain Explained                                            My rating  4 out of 5

This is a fascinating, easy to read, book for the ordinary person who wants to know how the brain works, and would like some ideas about how to get it working even better.  It has lots of clear explanations - like why we feel stress after the cause has gone, and lots of diagrams and pictures to complement the text. 

At the end of each of the 7 chapters there are questions to ponder on, and at the end of the book there is a list of further resources that relate to each chapter. 

There are many interesting facts/statements such as "95% of Alheimers' cases are not linked to the genes you are born with"  and there are many case histories given, including some which have been in the public eye. 

The main message (I got) is "Use it or Lose it", or work hard to regain/learn it.  Therefore it is important to continuously train your brain.  The book suggests you need work each part of your brain, and provides a few worksheets to help you understand which parts you are currently using effectively, and then offers a lot of ideas on how to get the other parts working better.  There are also examples of neuroplasticity where people who have lost the use of parts of their brains, have been able to retrain other parts of their brain to take over these lost functions. 

The book is clearly set out, so it is easy to refer back to particular sections of interest - helped by an extensive Index at the back.  There is also a useful glossary of terms - though I (with no medical background) had no need of the glossary whilst reading the book.


A fascinating book, that I shall certainly be referring back to again and again.  I'm not sure how well it would work on an e-reader, give that there are various worksheets - which once completed need cross-referencing with activity sheets.  Colour is also important for the diagrams.  

Friday, 11 December 2015

My Own Dear Brother by Holly Müller

   
Misery in 1940s Austria             My rating:  4 out of 5*


 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)


Through Ursula's teenage eyes the reader is given a glimpse of the impact of the Nazi occupation of an Austrian rural village, and the incarceration of Russians in the nearby camp.  The disappearance of her friend brings out Ursula's strengths, however later the Russian army arrive, and life gets even worse. 

An interesting, but harrowing, look at life for Austrian villagers during these terrible years.  The horrifying nature of the story is made almost unbearable by the appalling characters of many of the lead figures, who almost quench any glimmer of hope that the few decent villagers give.  
  
The prologue about the visit of St Nicholas and the Krampus might appear like fantasy writing  to those unfamiliar with this ongoing tradition.  It is explained fully later in the book.    

* I veered between rating this book a 5, for telling a story that needs to be told, to a rating of 3 because of the unpleasantness of many of the characters - this is after all a novel.  Therefore I ended up with an unsatisfactory (to my mind) rating of 4.   


Monday, 7 December 2015

Passenger 19 by Ward Larsen

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Exciting thriller based in Columbia              My rating:  4 out of 5

Jammer Davis is called to investigate the crash of a small plane in the Columbian jungle.  He travels down to Bogotá, and quickly discovers that the crash was un-survivable - except two passengers are missing, one of whom is his daughter.    

From a relatively slow start, as Larsen gives quite a bit of (interesting) detail about small planes and plane crashes, the plot speeds up with many twists and turns as it flies towards an exciting climax.


This is a thriller with substance, more than just an exciting story, and I (who have absolutely no interest in planes) really enjoyed it.  As I write this I am already looking for my next Ward Larsen/Jammer Davis book! 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Lost Girls by Angela Marsons

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Gripping Suspense Thriller, BUT ...               My rating:  4 out of 5

Two 9 year old girls are kidnapped in similar circumstances to a kidnapping the previous year.  That time only 1 girl came back. 

Based in the West Midlands and narrated mostly from the perspective of the police, the parents and the captors, this is a fast moving thriller, with short chapters and lots of suspense and twists.


BUT the characters are portrayed so well, that some violent scenes I found deeply disturbing, and at times nearly made me give up reading.  My final rating of a "4" therefore says a lot about the quality of the story and the writing.  Only read if you are made of stronger stuff than me though!  


Friday, 27 November 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

(Book received from, and reviewed for, TripFiction.com      
     

Family Saga set in Baltimore                 My rating:  4 out of 5

4 generations of the Whitshanks have all been model citizens of their local communities, respected and admired by all.  Except, of course, for Denny Whitshank.  However is everyone quite as they seem?

A considerable part of the action of this novel is based in the family home; it is as if the world outside scarcely exists.  Abby and her husband Red bring up their children, enjoy their  grandchildren and make a welcome home for family and acquaintances in need.   However family get-togethers gradually begin to reveal undercurrents and secrets, and why after decades of beach holidays next to the same family have they never spoken to them?

The book moves seamlessly from the 1920s to 2012, not always in chronological order, gradually exploring why things are as they are, and the family history and relationships.  As Abby talks about the "circularity" of family life, so the various Whitshank roles over time become clearer, and it is evident that first impressions are not always correct. 

The house is an important part of the story - almost a character in itself.   The author takes the reader through the building of the house, including some very witty anecdotes, how Red's father came to own it, and how it changes over time in parallel with the occupiers and the events going on in their lives.  As the house is lived in by the different generations, so wonderful descriptions of the goings on within emerge and so the characters of the home owners are drawn.  As with the house, one wonders how much of the external facade of the occupants is just for show, and how much is at their real heart?

There are some interesting underlying themes, such as what makes a family - relationships, arguments ... certainly a lot more than just blood ties.   Does one every fully understand one's own role in a family unit?   Are some secrets best kept forever?

The characters, although not particularly likeable, are very real - and most readers will know people like them - perhaps that is what makes this book very readable. 

At the back of the book are a list of questions for discussion - beware these questions contain storyline spoilers! 

For lovers of this genre, this book is a winner.  As the story builds, new perspectives are added as the time shifts reveal hitherto unknown details.   By the final few chapters the storyline is moving very fast, with revelations undoing previously held assumptions about the characters.  This is a book that many may like to re-read, as what is revealed by the end of the book changes the reader's perspective of characters' actions earlier in the book. 

Suitable for all the family, this is a book that can be read and enjoyed just for itself, or provide much material for thought and discussion.  Either way its sure to be another success for Anne Tyler, and has already been on the Sunday Times bestseller list.  

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Published by Archipelago Books
Beautiful and Thought Provoking    My rating  5 out of 5

Mattis and his sister Hege live together on the edge of a lake, eking out a living from Hege's knitting.  Mattis, whom the locals refer to as "Simple Simon" worries that his sister will leave him, whilst being extraordinarily aware of the beauty of birds.

Narrated from Mattis' perspective, with all his confusions and worries, Mattis tries to understand others but finds it very difficult.  He is also frustrated that others don't seem to follow his line of thinking, or understand about the really important things. 

One day he rows a man across the lake and back to his home, and everything changes.

A moving tale of how others think differently, and how Mattis by trying to conform to expected behaviours only causes more confusion and difficulties - as well as some joyous successes in life.  

Beautifully translated, this book takes the reader straight to the shores of the lake where they, like Mattis, might like to sit and think a while on the messages in this poignant novel.  

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fallout by Sadie Jones

(Book received from, and review written for, Tripfiction.com)  

The 1970's Revisited                      My rating:  3 out of 5

A novel based in the theatre world of London, with nostalgia, parties and all the confusions, failures and successes of just starting out.

Luke has been brought up in a family with problems.  Nina has also been brought up in a non-conventional family setting.  It seems they are destined to be together; their paths first crossing in 1961, when they are both very young, and then again eleven years later.    

In 1972 Luke leaves his predictable and unfulfilling future in his home town, and moves to London to follow his dreams.  He lives in a flat with Paul and Paul's girlfriend, and joins the world of theatre as a playwright (with a second job of a dustman).  He changes his name, puts his past behind him - for the most part - and starts again.  Meanwhile Nina has also moved to London with her (very) part time actress mother and Luke and Nina's paths are about to cross again. 

Wonderful reminiscences of the 1970's are included in this novel - the power cuts, the winding steps leading upstairs on a bus, kaftans, chicken kiev etc. etc. etc.  Life in London, living in a flat, constant parties, making mistakes, falling in love and finding yourself are all covered in this engrossing book, where following your dreams are more important than doing a "proper" job and earning enough to impress your family.

The life of small theatres is presented wonderfully, describing the glamour and thrill of the performances, plus the background rewrites, the rehearsals in shabby rooms and funding problems.    I shall never watch a play in quite the same way again! 

There were times when the emotions in the novel leapt out and caught me, plus there were times when Luke just needed to sit down work out how much of his life was real, and how much was just an act.  But perhaps a lot of that is what life in 1970's London was all about, and certainly the atmosphere of London at that time is portrayed extremely well.

Throughout it all there is Nina, sometimes in the background, sometimes to the fore - always a presence for better or worse.   

In the 400 pages of this book the only chapter headings are the years.  As over 300 pages are set in 1972 I found the lack of chapters made the book quite  irritating to read, and really distracted from the storyline.  There are some lines drawn between paragraphs, but I spent quite a bit of time wondering where would be a good time to pause, and then, later, trying to find my place again.   The first third of the book I found absorbing, but then there was perhaps a little too much about theatre life (for me) and the storyline rather dragged for a while.  After that, thought the storyline picked up,  I failed to get fully involved again. 

An interesting novel  for those interested in London life in the 1970s and the realities of working in the theatre. 


Monday, 2 November 2015

Pegasus Down by Philip Donlay

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Non-Stop Action All the Way                        My rating:  4 out of 5

Lauren's top secret CIA mission goes wrong, and she is trapped in enemy territory.  Her husband, Donovan, is in a race to rescue her - but racing against him are other parties who will stop at nothing to find her first.

This is a non-stop action movie in a book.  It starts with "The flash of the explosion lit up the night sky".  Near the end there is "a muffled boom that sent glowing hot debris tumbling away from the helicopter".  Imbetween are water, land and sky chases across Europe, with plenty of excitement and heart stopping moments. 


This is the 6th book in the Donovan Nash Thriller series, and the first one I have read.  It stands alone well, but I found the non-stop action detracted from the storyline behind the characters, which is why I gave it a personal 4 out of 5 rating.   Anyone who likes "all action" thrillers will love this, and I am sure feel it deserves a 5 out of 5.  I shall certainly be queuing up at the cinema if it is made into a film!


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)


What's in a name?       My rating:  4 out of 5 





One day Ellie agrees to swap names (and clothes etc.) with her 6 year old twin Helen.  This book is about what happens when Ellie refused to swap back.

The story alternates chapters between Helen's story from that day forward, and Helen's life many years later.  It is a gritty, realistic read depicting descent into mental illness, and the struggle to survive in desperate circumstances. 

This is a harrowing and disturbing read, with little in the way of uplifting content.  It explores the question of how much other people's expectations of us shape what we do and how we act, and in doing so takes the reader into some pretty dark areas of life. 


Though too "dark" for me, this is an excellent, and well written, psychological thriller.  The ending wraps everything up well and though the book as a whole  left me fairly dejected, it has introduced me to areas of society that I know little about.    I shall certainly look out for Ann Morgan's next book, but check if the content  is a little more positive before I read it. 


Friday, 23 October 2015

Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

 How do you judge others?                         My rating:  5 out of 5

10 years ago, in 2003, Ruth and Aubrey's life was turned upside down by the return of their brother from fighting in Iraq with the US military, after only 3.5 months.  He was not injured.  He had refused to obey orders.  The family unit already had lots of "boundaries, with not a lot of permission to cross", and here was yet another reason for more silence.

The story is narrated by Ruth and Aubrey looking back at what happened in 2013 when they were  15 and 13 years old, and the devastating outcome of that event on the whole family.  Themes explored include how people feel they have the right to make derogatory judgements on events they have no personal knowledge of and how secrets, guilt and regrets are poisonous things that grow within a person.

The book then moves onto 2013.  Much has changed over the years for Ruth and Aubrey - but how much of the change is just  skin deep, and how are the events of the past still influencing their lives?

I loved this book.   I was immediately drawn to the characters, and their narration of events, as they saw them,  is enthralling.   The book is so well written; it draws you to compare what is happening to Ruth and Aubrey in connection to current events, and made me wonder (again) why people write such terrible things on the internet under the cloak of anonymity.  The small section on being  in the US army in Iraq is also very thought provoking.

With no sex or violence this book will appeal to a wide age group.


Written by the same author of Pay It Forward - if you loved that, I think you will love this. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Fatal Complications by John Benedict

  
 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)


Can you trust your surgeon?               My rating: 4 out of 5

Luke is surprised by a few things when he attends a hospital operating room emergency.  Can he be  mistaken in his suspicions that the patient is not suffering from the complications suggested?  Anyway,  with his wife close to giving birth to their first child he has other things to think about.   

This spine tingling, and at times chilling, medical thriller provides a heart racing read.  No difficult medical terminology, and the operating scenes are not too gory.  However there are a few unpleasant violent scenes - which are appropriate to the story. 


I found it difficult to remember who some of the characters were - and there are only a few main characters! - but this did not stop my enjoyment of this unputdownable thriller. 
Highly recommended for a fast moving, exciting read. 

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Family Divided by Anne Allen

(Book received from, and review written for, TripFiction.com)

Romance and Relationship Rifts                       My rating:  3 out of 5

Charlotte suffering from writer's block, and her recent divorce, returns to La Folie retreat for some inner healing, and finds herself helping others with their troubles.

Whilst at La Folie Charlotte meets Andy, who she describes as "rather delicious", and offers to help him research a family rift that started back in the time of the German occupation.  Is romance on the cards or will this be purely a business relationship?  Meanwhile she helps her friend Louisa who has relationship problems, and tries to solve her own problems with her mother.   

Based in Guernsey this is the 4th book in the series (and the first that I have read).  Although the first few chapters refer to things that (presumably) happened in earlier books, this is cleverly done so that new readers catch up and those following the series don't get bored.   The book gently moves through the plot, with a few cliff hanger chapter endings.  The ending is cleverly done bringing together all the threads of the story.   No violence or bad language and very mild sex scenes, with an easy to read style.

For the tourist, the book is full of references to restaurants, so do keep a note of them as they include wonderful details of the names, locations and reasons for visiting ie: seafood restaurant, stunning views etc.  In addition there are a few walks around the coast referred to, and various other things to do and see in St Peter Port and other locations on the island.   In addition there is a brief visit to the nearby island of Herm described.  

Whilst I am certain that this will be a popular book for the author's fans, for me it was lacking in action with too much chatty dialogue and inconsequential detail included.    Sadly there was little depth of information about the Occupation.  On a positive note, the chapters are short and the print and paper used in my paperback version are lovely - really enhancing the reading experience.  For me the writing style is similar to that of Nora Roberts - so if you love her, this series may be a great read for you.     


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

How to be Brave by Louise Beech

(Book received from, and review written for, TripFiction.com)

 Uplifting and Compelling              My rating:  5 out of 5

Rose, aged 9, collapses and Diabetes 1 is diagnosed.  Rose's great-grandfather is adrift on the Atlantic ocean.  This is an uplifting book about how what is important in life and survival through exceptionally hard times. 

This brilliant book commences with the diagnosis of Rose, and her mother's struggle to cope with the medical regime alone.  She needs help, as does Rose, and they find it in the amazing story of Rose's great grandfather (Colin) stranded in a lifeboat, in the South Atlantic back in 1943.  All 3 main characters are struggling to survive, and their stories have many parallels.   These 3 characters, and the others (though there are not many in the story), are wonderfully portrayed drawing the reader into their lives, thoughts and hopes, and the realisation that it is ok to ask for help. 

The boat that Colin Armitage jumped from was the SS Lulworth Hill, and there is plenty on the internet about his part of this story, but do read the book before you look it up so as not to ruin the story.  Much of the book is true (the author's daughter was diagnosed with Diabetes, and Colin is the author's grandfather), and some of it is fiction.  "In the end all you can do is believe the parts that sound right to you" as Rose says in the book. 

The descriptions of coming to terms with a Diabetes 1 are very moving, and the narration about the tests and injections stirring.   Meanwhile the struggle for survival in the lifeboat is shocking, compelling and emotional.  Yet through these two terrible struggles the author portrays positivity and warmth. 

For the tourist this is a book that will take away any stresses of travel;  it is so engrossing you will find any journey whizzes by as you avidly turn the pages.  A fantastic holiday read, and equally good for snuggling down in the safety of your sofa whilst you escape to the turbulent Atlantic seas,

I loved this book!  The mix of fact, fiction and memoir were perfect, and the stories of lives intertwined were gripping from the first page to the last.  There were few characters, so easy to follow, and those characters were very skilfully portrayed.  Despite the subject matter it was an uplifting book overall, though the hardship both on the lifeboat, and in getting accustomed to diabetes are clearly portrayed.  Hope shines through. 


With no sex or violence, though there are moments of anger, this book is suitable for all the family.  

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

A Gentle, and Charming,  Detective Story                  My rating:  4 out of 5

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Inspector Chopra's retirement day has arrived.  However the discovery of a body and the unexpected delivery of a baby elephant to his apartment mean that his transition into quiet retirement does not go quite as his wife would have liked.

Wonderful descriptions of life in Mumbai, including culture, monsoon problems, corruption and the everyday trials of having a tyrannical apartment Managing Committee President. 


This is the first Inspector Chopra book I have read.  I found the characters very engaging (including the elephant), and the storyline - though lightweight - strangely compelling.  A book for when you want an easy read, or to get an idea of Mumbai before visiting.  Suitable for all the family. 


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Give Us This Day by Tom Avitabile

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Fast Action Thriller        My rating  5 out of 5
  
Can Brooke (ex FBI) work out what the terrorists are up to in time to stop them?

Based in the current time, mostly in New York, this action packed thriller starts as a US Government security operation comes to a climax - though not quite the one expected.  Brooke is torn between returning to her relaxed lifestyle in Hawaii, or the excitement of working at the highest level of national security, and meanwhile the countdown to "the attack" continues.

Included in the action are reference to hedge funds, the diversion of money to terrorists, Isis terrorist cells and security procedures.    Brooke is an engaging character that I hope will be returning in future books.  There are a lot of characters in the thriller, but when they reappear it is obvious who they are, so there is no need to try to remember their names.

This is the first book I have read by this author, and I loved it so much I have already ordered another!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Body in Barcelona by Jason Webster

(Book received from, and review written for, Tripfiction.com)
    
Politics of Catalonia, with a murder                      My rating:  3/5

Based in Barcelona, and Valencia, this murder mystery is set against a background of politics as the people of Catalonia hope for independence, in contrast to the many Spanish who (according to the book) do not want the country to be divided.    It is set in the current day, with the recession biting and tensions rising. 

The first half of the book clarifies the politics, the policing and why Camara (the police officer) is thinking and acting as he does.  Very interesting for those who want to learn something about the question of the independence of Catalonia.  However, it is not until Chapter 8 that a body is found and not until the middle of the book that the action really gets going, and it becomes a thrilling read.  The description of the farming life around Valencia is wonderful, and other areas explored include the various police and intelligence agencies, paella making, the Legión,  government agricultural grants, social problems and anarchists.

There are numerous strands to the plot, which makes the book seem to jump around in the first half, but gradually they all come together, as the book races through a thrilling second half.  Camara is an interesting character, needing to decide between upholding his moral values or letting them go in order to assist in solving a case in which he has no leads.    

For the tourist a few places of interest in Barcelona are mentioned, including a wonderful (according to the book) fish restaurant that still exists.  However the main interest for tourists will be the political background that is described.


This is the first book in the Camara series that I have read (this is the 5th novel), and I found it difficult to get through the first half - interesting as it was (too much politics, too little action).  However once all the explanations had been completed and I had reached the second half, it was brilliant and difficult to put down.  I'm glad I kept reading. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Staying Sharp by Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Fascinating, Informative and Practical              
My rating:  5 out of 5


A fascinating book on how the brain works, and how to keep it working to its full capacity.  Although containing a massive amount of attention grabbing material, it is written in an easy, sometimes amusing, and always riveting style.  Each chapter is prefaced with "Key Concepts", and broken up into small sections, all clearly labelled.    I strongly advise having page markers ready to insert, as there are many sections here that you are going to want to revisit.

Following an explanation of how the brain works , including new research and discoveries about it, the 9 key lessons of the "Youthful Brain Program" are explored.   These include sections on exercise, excellent nutrition advice (exactly what I had been looking for) and sleep, explaining why these are so important for the brain, with ideas on how to improve each. Also included are ideas for flexibility of mind, empathy, being positive plus many other sections regarding how "the brain and mind impact health and daily functioning".  In each section there are plenty of reasons given as to why the activities suggested, including mindfulness, are good for the brain, including references to research and further resources.  What makes this book particularly special, is the number and variety of suggestions given to help the reader improve/maintain  brain function,  for example in the movement chapter a range of suggestions are given for those that like to do a lot of exercise right through to the people who just want to make one small change, like standing up more often.


This book is packed full of so much fascinating, informative, motivating and realistic ideas that it is impossible here, in a few words, to describe it with justice.  Suffice to say that I think this is a book that everyone will benefit from and enjoy.  Not just the people reaching middle life that it appears to be aimed at, but also younger people - who too can learn much from  the advice given, and who may wish to buy a second copy for their older relatives, or friends who are about to retire.  


Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Lost Girl by Liz Harris

I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)


Life in a Wyoming Mining Town in the mid 1800's               My rating:  4 out of 5

This historical novel tells the tale of a Chinese baby taken in by an American family of coal miners, and her life over the next 17 years.     The story shows the difficulty of growing up in a town where you are "different" and no-one wants to be your friend because of that.   The American miners feel the Chinese are taking their livelihood away, and with no-one "tryin' to understand anyone else" racial tensions rise as the book progresses.   Liz Harris skillfully takes the reader into the heart of American mining households in the mid 1800's and the book's themes include schooling, the everyday life of the miners, shopkeepers and others in the community plus the lives of women in such a town. 


This is the second book by Liz Harris that I have read (the first being "A Bargain Struck"), and again with this book you feel that you are there observing the action from just outside an open window.  Through the writing you can visualise the town and the homes, and the everyday lives of folk, and it is this attention to historical detail that makes her novels come alive for me.  

Saturday, 5 September 2015

1989 The Berlin Wall (My Part in its Downfall) by Peter Millar

   (Book received from, and review written for, TripFiction.com)


A fascinating and clear explanation                       My rating:  4 out of 5

This excellent autobiography of Peter Millar's life as a reporter takes the reader through the years before, during and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a clear, easy to read manner.

Although this book is primarily about East / West Berlin, it includes what was going on in the rest of the Eastern bloc before the Wall came down.  In doing so Peter takes us through his early days working for Reuters at Fleet Street, before moving to East Berlin as their correspondent.  There he meets many people, mostly at his local bar, who give him the story of the building of the Wall, and the appalling outcomes.  He mentions, almost in passing, the surveillance and bugging of his flat - although this becomes much more scary when, many years later,  he actually gets to read his Stasi file. 

It is not all horror and misery though, we are given amusing anecdotes about the reality of Germans versus the British stereotype of them.   There are some laugh out loud moments when the author returns to the UK and works for the Daily Telegraph foreign desk where life was not as exciting as he had imagined it would be, despite the revelation that they had "a special way of using paperclips"

There are references to the marital strain that being a frequently travelling reporter brings, including an instance of attempting to put snow chains on their stuck in the mud vehicle in the -10C Soviet Union - and the annoyance that just when you need a surveillance team to be following you, there isn't one.  I would have been interested to hear more detail of what it was like for his wife living in East Germany, but this is very much Peter's story and not seen from the perspective of his wife.

The story moves between Germany, Poland and the birth of the Solidarity Trades Union, to the Soviet Union plus many other countries in the communist bloc, giving the full picture of  the lead up to the fall of the Wall and "The Domino Effect" the Wall's coming down had. 

For the visitor to Berlin there are lots of references to places and monuments, including the bar the author frequented which is, according to the book, still there, "substantially unchanged, and remains the best bar in Berlin."

At a first glance into the book my heart sank at the print style used, but this was soon forgotten when I started reading.  There are some great photos included.  Any German words/phrases used are immediately translated afterwards (thank you!).

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how the Wall came to fall, and about the events going on around that time. 

The Girl with No Past by Kathryn Croft

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Gripping, a real page turner                      My rating: 4 out of 5


A psychological thriller, based in London,  with plenty of twists and turns and mystery.   What happened in Leah's past and why is it catching up with her now?   The narrative moves between  Leah's school days and the present, when she is aged 30.  Excellent plot, and gripping stuff, that keeps the reader guessing until the end. 

Sadly I found the writing style very irritating.  However the storyline was so good that I forgot about this when about halfway through the book, and raced to the end to find out what was happening and how it would all end.   Glad I read it - what a storyteller Kathryn Croft is!


Sunday, 23 August 2015

The War Came Home With Him by Catherine Madison

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Moving, Positive and Totally Gripping Memoir               My rating:  5/5

This is the story of Doc, a Korean War survivor; how he survived the War (and being a POW) and family life during his absence and on his return.  It is also the story of his daughter Cathy, the author. Useful background information for readers unfamiliar with the Korean War is given as part of the narrative.  

The book starts in the 1950s and continues up to 2002.  Chapters alternate between the father's story in Korea and the daughter's story growing up, mainly in the US, with her returned father's authoritarian parenting style.  The changes between timelines are smooth and work well - there are no sudden break offs, or cliff hangers at the end of chapters.   There are only 3 main characters, Cathy and her parents.  Other family members, friends and POW survivors and non-survivors play a peripheral, albeit essential, role in the book. 

Themes that stood out for me included  the chaos of war (from the soldier's perspective), the importance of friends, how a positive outlook at times of unimaginable suffering really does make a difference, and of course an insight into the Korean War.   Also, of course, how to survive growing up with an overly strict, and often frightening, father.     

What really drew me to this book, was the author's writing style.  She uses brevity to give the information pertinent to the action, but does not embellish it.  There are moments of total awfulness in some of the Korean scenes, and moments of wit - such as when Cathy has to clear her plate of unwanted asparagus "Chewed until I couldn't chew anymore, then swallowed.  ... When it wouldn't go down, its friends came back up."  Few emotions are described as the writing is so clear that the reader knows how the person is feeling. 

I found this book totally gripping.  I empathised with Cathy trying to cope with her parents, enjoyed the scenes of her growing up, felt sad at the struggles her father was obviously going through, and was shocked at many of the Korean scenes.  However, despite all,  this is a positive book - and quite possibly the best book I have read so far this year!


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Baptism by Max Kinnings

(Book received from, and review written for, TripFiction.com)


488 pages of non-stop excitement!                              My rating:  5/5 

A dramatic start to this thriller, followed by the murder of a monk in Snowdonia which  leads to 16 hours of fast moving action.

For George it is just another ordinary, albeit hot, start to a day.  All his life he has felt a failure, his dreams have come to nothing, and life, apart from his wife and children, has been a bit of a mundane disappointment to him.  However today will be different, but he has no idea of this as he commences his day as an underground driver and leaves Morden station.

Tommy, unlike George, is on a high.  Today, guided by God (he believes), is the day to make a difference.  He, along with his sister, will perform a great deed.

Ed Mallory, Special Branch, has the role of trying to stop the deaths of over 300 people stuck on an underground train somewhere between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road.  But can he make the right decisions to satisfy the police, the government, the military, those stuck in the tunnel and their families? 

This is a fast moving book, with short chapters, and action all the time (not just cliff hangers).  There is quite a bit of violence, but this is in keeping with the story, and not overly gory.  Each chapter is headed by the time of day, and, apart from the first chapter/prologue, moves in chronological order.   I can't say anything more about the story, for fear of giving any of the plot away.

Most of the action takes place on the underground in London, which is depicted well.  I would be surprised if anyone using the underground shortly after reading this book, is not unnerved by it.  I just hope your underground train does not stop between Leicester Sq. and Tottenham Court Rd!     Action takes place in Snowdonia at the beginning of the book, but gives almost no information about the area for visitors. 

I was riveted to this book from page one, right to the end.  It is  great to read a book where the action continues right to the penultimate page, no long winded explanations to the reader by a detective here!  I loved the fast paced action, and having commuted on the London Underground for many years was right there with those people in the tunnel.

I thoroughly recommend this book if  you enjoy a true thriller, and are ok with the views of a religious psychopath!