Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Kate (Unauthorized Biography) by Sean Smith

When the author was approached by the commissioning editor at Simon & Schuster to write a book about Catherine Middleton, he said he was surprised as he was more a writer of world famous pop stars like Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue than a biographer of royalty.  However, the editor convinced him that Catherine was the "biggest celebrity" around today and so, this book was born.

Catherine or Kate, as the whole world knows her, is living the dream of every little girl by winning the heart of a Prince and marrying him.  Recently, on 29 April 2012, she and her Prince celebrated their first wedding anniversary quietly with their family and close friends.

Smith's book delves on the reality behind this fairy tale.  He retraces the steps of Kate's journey from a rural childhood in Berkshire to her unhappy time as a victim of school bullies and to her transformation from a plain, gangly girl into a royal beauty.  He reveals the true story of how she and William fell in love and what actually happened when their relationship hit the rocks.  He also examines her emergence as a fashion icon and her relationship with her sister, Philippa (Pippa) Middleton.

It also reveals the ups and downs of her first royal year, including her successful North American triumph, her first Christmas at Sandringham with the Queen and her future as a queen consort.

Born Catherine Elizabeth Middleton into a middle-class family, her marriage to Prince William transformed her - as the newest member of the British Royal Family - into Catherine, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.

There are quite a number of books out there on the Duchess of Cambridge but Smith's Kate (2011) is a true and factual account or as close of an account as it can get of Catherine.  More significantly, Smith has presented his book without any gossipy characteristics or innuendos.  If one were a fan of Catherine and wanted to know what she was like and how a girl from Reading ended up being a future queen, I would recommend starting with this book.  It is well-written and -researched and made a good read.

About the author:  Sean Smith is the UK's leading celebrity biographer and the author of the number one bestseller Cheryl (2009), the definitive biographer of Cheryl Cole, as well as a bestselling biography of Robbie Williams.  His books about the most famous people of our times have been translated throughout the world.  His subjects include Kylie Minogue, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and J K Rowling.  Described by the Independent as a 'fearless chronicler', he specialises in meticulous research, going 'on the road' to find the real person behind the star image.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Books Can Be Deceiving (Book One, A Library Lover's Mystery) by Jenn McKinlay

Paperback blurb:  Linsey Norris is a recently single librarian and lives in Briar Creek, Connecticut.  She is just getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a vacationing New York editor brings a little buzz to the small town.  It's the perfect chance for her friend Beth to sell the children's book she's written.

Unfortunately, Beth's boyfriend, Rick, a famous author and local celebrity, tries to stop her.  When Lindsey and Beth meet the editor, they uncover the real reason for Rick's bad attitude.

They go to confront Rick at his house on the storied and mysterious Thumb Islands, only to find him murdered.  The local chief of police likes Beth for the murderer and isn't interested in looking elsewhere.  Now Lindsey has to act fast before they throw the book at the wrong person...

About the author:  The hardest decision Jenn McKinlay ever had to make was what to major in during college.  Then she discovered the sanctuary of the library and library science - a major that allowed her to study all the subjects.  She loves working as a librarian.  Jenn is also the author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, in a house that is overrun with books, pets, kids, and her husband's guitars.  Books Can Be Deceiving (2011) is the first in the Library Lover's mystery series.  The second book in the series entitled Due Or Die was just released in March 2012.

Happy cosy reading!

Rating:  3/5

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

Unbelievable!  This is the first book of a true crime story ever written where the authors were stupefyingly and atrociously enmeshed in the middle and were accused of being the killer and an accessory to murder.  As the author himself wrote, "A story in a category all its own" and no doubt about it.

Today, the killer famously known as Il Mostro di Firenze is still at large, if not dead, and as far as the case and police are concerned, remains unsolved.  What or who is il Mostro di Firenze?  What is the motive for the killings?  And the inevitable question when a harrowing crime occurs - why?  Some of the following are taken from the book.

It is not uncommon for young people to drive up to a secluded spot somewhere to make out and enjoy each other's company.  In Italy, most young people live at home with their parents until they marry and most marry late.  As a result, making out in parked cars is a national pastime as premarital sex in a deeply religious country is frowned upon.  And so it is in the lovely hills surrounding Florence where if you walk through the shadowy lanes, dirt turnouts, olive groves and farmers' fields, you will find these couples out and about on a lovers' tryst.

Inevitably, when sex is involved, you will also discover that voyeurism exists in many forms, not least Peeping Toms.

One hot quiet Sunday morning in June 1981, a policeman enjoying a Sunday morning walk in Via dell'Arrigo came across two bodies.  A man, thirty years old, was found slumped in a car with a little black mark on his temple apparently from a gunshot wound.  Shells from a pistol could be seen scattered at the scene of the crime.  A woman's naked body lay some distance away.  She had also been shot and mutilated.  She was only twenty-one years old.  The couple were engaged to be married.

The next day, during a staff meeting at the office of La Nazione - the daily paper of Tuscany and central Italy - a novice journalist suddenly remembered a similar crime - a double homicide - that took place near Borgo San Lorenzo, thirty kilometres north of Florence, in 1974.  The couple were also engaged to be married.  The two victims, Stefania Pettini, eighteen years old, and Pasquale Gentilcore, nineteen, were killed on a Saturday night with no moon.  Shells from a gun were recovered from the scene.  The female victim was mutilated.  The resemblances and the modus operandi were striking.  Later on, the police lab report concluded that the same pistol had been used in both crimes.

It did not take long for investigators to arrest a Peeping Tom who had been "having a look" at the time of the double homicide.  After hours of questioning, Enzo Spalletti, an ambulance driver, was charged with being the killer.  However, the author, when covering the story, became skeptical and pointed out many holes in the case against Spalletti, among them the fact that there was no direct evidence linking him to the crime, nor did the accused have any connection to the 1974 double homicide.  This was the first of many blunders made by the police.

Four months later, when Spalletti was still safely ensconced in Florence's Le Murate prison, the real il Mostro di Firenze reared its ugly head again when a young couple was found brutally murdered in a farmer's field.

Consequently, two undisputed facts existed right there and then.  One, Spalletti was innocent despite his Peeping Tom fetish and two, a serial killer was stalking the Florentine hills.  Thus, the Monster of Florence was born.  Spalletti was released the day after.

At this point, one should ask whether this was the work of a lone wolf or the work of several mad men.  An investigation into a long-forgotten double homicide on 23 August 1968 - where similarities to the present killings were detected - uncovered clues that a group of men had committed the killings and that it was not the work of a single murderer.  For reasons that no one could fully understand, the clues were either ignored or dismissed by the police and the carabinieri.

In the absence of new developments, rumours, conspiracy theories, accusations and mass hysteria abounded.  A man committed suicide out of desperation.  The countryside at night reclaimed its serenity and isolation.  Seances were held.  Innocent men including priests and doctors were suspected and much later on, four "quasi-illiterate inebriates of marginal intelligence" were wrongfully jailed.  The right questions and the central motive were never addressed by law enforcement because, basically, there were no evidence, no clues and no proofs.  And so, the list of blunders went on and on and on.

Between 1974 and 1985, seven helpless couples were savagely murdered while making love in parked cars in the beautiful hills surrounding Florence.  Preston wrote that the case has become "the longest and most expensive criminal investigation in Italian history."

This book is an accurate and scrupulous story of the search, the authors' eventual meeting with the man they believe may be il Mostro di Firenze and their own shocking involvement in it.  It is also about the obscure workings of the Italian judicial system where according to a Financial Times' review, "the incompetence of the Italian police terrifies the reader more than the violence of the killer himself."  One highly placed carabinieri officer even saw through the brouhaha surrounding the investigation when he asked "whether the trial might be nothing more than a case of the acquisition and management of power in the police force."

Italy's Monster of Florence is as perplexing as it comes and will forever remain an enigma.  There is always conflict and rarely any accord where human depravity is concerned.  Cardinal Benelli, the archbishop of Florence, concluded that these senseless murders were "...one of the worst ever defeats of all that is good in mankind."  The book is very well-written, well-researched, well-informed and leaves no room for doubt as to who the Monster of Florence is.  Read and decide for yourself.

About the authors:

Douglas Preston worked as a writer and editor for the American Museum of Natural History and taught writing at Princeton University.  He has written for The New Yorker, Natural History, National Geographic, Harper's, Smithsonian, and The Atlantic.  The author of several acclaimed nonfiction books, Preston is also the cowriter with Lincoln Child of the bestselling series of novels featuring FBI agent Pendergast.

Mario Spezi, a highly decorated journalist, has covered many of the most important criminal cases in Italy, including those involving terrorism and the Mafia, and has been investigating the Monster of Florence case since its beginning.  He has also published both fiction and nonfiction books in Italy and several other countries.

The Monster of Florence is a nonfiction book first published in 2008.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Michelle Obama In Her Own Words edited by Lisa Rogak

Michelle Obama is First Lady of the United States of America.

But she is also a mother, a wife, a lawyer and a campaigner.  Her glamorous looks, down-to-earth personality and quirky sense of humour have captivated the world since she first appeared on the public stage.

Now this inspiring, often-funny and sometimes-controversial collection of quotations from the history-making First Lady gives a revealing insight into her life.

From thoughts on her role in the White House to reflections on the juggling act between work and motherhood and her own journey from a working class neighbourhood to the White House, as well as her opinion on a range of controversial issues, this is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of this extraordinary and history-making woman.

On the editor:  Lisa Rogak is the author and magazine journalist of more than forty books on a wide variety of subjects, including Barack Obama In His Own Words (2007).  She lives in Charleston, South Carolina.  Michelle Obama In Her Own Words was first published in 2009.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Martha Stewart: Just Desserts by Jerry Oppenheimer

Because I had enjoyed reading Oppenheimer's (unauthorized) biography on Anna Wintour, I went out to get hold of his biography on another equally formidable and domineering editrix and who needs no introduction at this point.  She is the one and only Martha Stewart, well known as America's Diva of Domesticity, the undisputed doyenne of domesticity.  Her name epitomizes the kind of elegant lifestyle which everyone yearns and longs for.  She has mesmerized millions with her bestselling books and television shows.  She has become the ultimate human commodity.  More than just a household name, Martha Stewart is a global brand-name.

At the pinnacle of her success, as the head of a billion-dollar public corporation, Martha became ensnared in the ImClone insider trading case.  She was indicted on a range of federal criminal and civil charges.  Released without posting bail, Martha immediately stepped down as chief executive and chairwoman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. and remained as a director and chief creative officer.

With her ambition and drive and fortune, what did Martha do next?  Will Martha be vindicated or convicted?

Most readers would know the answer by now and what had gone on in Martha's "perfect" life since but at the time of publication of this book in 2003, the author's aim was to tell a definitive and candid story of Martha based on hundreds of exclusive interviews with colleagues, friends, business associates and family members - how her driving ambition for power and fame shattered her marriage, destroyed relationships with close and loyal friends, and strained her bond with her only child.

At the same time, it's an all-American story of how a one-time poor girl from Jersey who grew up in a cramped three-bedroom, one bath house with five other competitive siblings leaped to incredible heights, from an unknown model, to stockbroker, to caterer, to the head of a lifestyle-multimedia-merchandising conglomerate.

If you want to know more about Martha, you can catch up with the domestic goddess on her official blog, her official website, YouTube and Twitter.

Just Desserts is a scrupulously researched and well-written book and I recommend it to all.  Some of the above information have been taken from the paperback.  Happy reading.

On the author:  Jerry Oppenheimer is an author, journalist, investigative reporter and a producer of television news programs and documentaries.  His latest book is Madoff with the Money (2009).

Monday, 21 May 2012

Where's Peter? Unravelling the Falconio Mystery by Roger Maynard

What happened on that lonely desert road in the middle of the Australian outback on 14 July 2001?

How did two young British travellers find themselves caught up in a terrifying attack on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs?  What sort of people were they?  And why did the young woman who survived such a frightening experience, which attracted the sympathy and understanding of all those who read about her ordeal, behave so oddly in the weeks, months and years that followed?  What was the motive for the killing?  Was it a random crime that nobody could explain?  Why were there inconsistencies in the young woman's story?  Had the police contaminated the evidence?  Could drugs have been involved?  Why had they been specifically targeted?  These are some of the questions posed by the author of the book published in 2005.  While some of these questions were eventually answered, some remained a mystery.

Until today, Peter Falconio has not been found or more precisely, his body, that is if the accounts of the events were true.  However, a man from Adelaide, Bradley John Murdoch was accused and convicted of Falconio's murder in 2005 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of twenty-eight years.  Could a man possibly be convicted of murder without a body?  Apparently so, but quite unheard of.  Was he set up?  Was he innocent?  Or was he wrongly imprisoned?

What about Peter?  Was it even possible he was still alive today - eleven years on - judging from the rumours going around?  After all, he had only been presumed dead.

For years, veteran English journalist Roger Maynard travelled throughout Australia and the United Kingdom uncovering evidence about this extraordinary case and addressing the key questions.  He pieced together evidence, statements and the courtroom cross-examinations of the key players and witnesses in an effort to establish a factual account of what was to have been the dream journey of a lifetime for a young couple but which turned into a terrifying nightmare.  This is perhaps one of the most eerie of unsolved murder cases in this day and age.  Expertly written and meticulously researched, I would recommend Where's Peter? (2005) to all who are interested in real-life unsolved crimes based on facts and reality.

Latest news on the Peter Falconio case from Yahoo!7 News on 29 January 2014:


About the author:  Roger Maynard has worked as a journalist for more than forty years in Britain and Australia.  After nearly twenty years with the BBC, in 1987 he moved to Sydney, where he worked as Australian correspondent for a number of British media outlets, including the London Daily Express and Independent Television News.  Since 1993 he has been Sydney correspondent for the London Times and CNBC, the global business and finance television channel.  His previous books include Milat (1996), based on the serial killer who murdered seven young travellers in New South Wales during the 1990s.  He is married with three children and two grandchildren and lives on Sydney's Northern Beaches.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Murder: A Family Affair by Ernie Dorling

This is a true story of a murder-for-hire crime that befell two families where the saying 'love unites' did not singularly apply but where love eventually divided into obsession, degraded lust, revenge and tragically, resulted in murder.

Here is the gist:  10 March 1994.  Anson 'Buzz' Clinton III was gunned down on a dark road along the highway in East Lyme, Connecticut.  His 1986 Pontiac FireBird was still idling nearby.  In the weeks, months and years that followed, investigators gradually uncovered the shocking truth that Clinton was killed over a child custody-and-visitation battle with his wife's parents.

The murder, masterminded by Buzz' sister-in-law, Beth Carpenter, a lawyer, and arranged by her lover and employer, Haiman Clein, is not just about a domestic battle gone terribly wrong.  It is part of a story of tangled and sordid lives with a bizarre and strange cast of characters that include a devil-worshipping hit man and his son, a drug-addicted prostitute, among others, and features the omnipresent triumvirate - sex, money and drugs.

On the good side, it is also the story of how one mother, Dee Clinton (now deceased) dealt with the loss of her son and her uncompromising effort, along with the relentless pursuit of two dedicated Connecticut State Police detectives and determined prosecutors, who, for nine years, pursued those responsible for the murder of Buzz Clinton.

The trial was held in February 2001, seven years after the devil-worshipping hit man, Mark Dupres, pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton.

More than a year later, on 12 April 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty of capital felony, murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced her to life in prison without parole.  Polling of the jury indicated that they found Beth Carpenter guilty on all counts.  She is now incarcerated at the Janet S York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut.

Her ex-lover, Haiman Clein, is serving a thirty-five year sentence and the hit man, Mark Despres, is serving a forty-five year sentence.  As recently as October 2010, Beth Carpenter filed a petition of habeas corpus to reduce her life sentence but her current status remains unchanged.

This book, published in 2004, is divided into four sections - the events leading up to the murder;  the investigation that follows;  Beth Carpenter's flight to England and Ireland to escape arrest and her extradition charges;  and lastly, the courtroom trial.

Murder-for-hire is a crime of desperation and ruination and is an act that can only be committed by none other than fools.  In many ways, it is a sad true story.  Judge Robert Devlin Jr could not have put it better when he, during the sentencing of Beth Carpenter, said that "this case is largely about a tremendous loss of human potential."

About the author:  Ernie Dorling spent over twenty-five years in local and federal law enforcement.  He has taught and lectured on various criminal justice courses in Germany and the US including the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, in Glynco, Georgia.  Ernie is also the author of With Consciousness of Guilt: the Sexual Predator Among Us (2000).  He currently teaches criminal justice at Tunxis Community College and lives with his wife in Connecticut.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II And Her People by Andrew Marr

"I declare, before you all, that my whole life, whether long or short, shall be devoted to your service."

As the Queen plays host to a gathering of sovereign monarchs from near and afar for her Diamond Jubilee lunch at Windsor Castle on 18 May 2012, I thought it appropriate to read a book about the Queen to celebrate and congratulate her for having reigned sixty years on the English throne.  She is Britain's second-longest-serving-reigning monarch after Queen Victoria and the longest-lived monarch in her country's history.  The dinner will be the largest reunion of kings and queens in one place in a decade.  May God Bless and Save The Queen.

(from the book blurb)  As Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, Andrew Marr turns his attention to the monarch - and to the monarchy, chronicling the Queen's pivotal role at the centre of the state and making a strong case for the institution itself.  If you are expecting a gossipy life story of Queen Elizabeth II, this is not the book for you.

Arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, Marr dissects the Queen's political relationships, crucially those with her prime ministers;  he examines her role as Head of Commonwealth, and her deep commitment to that Commonwealth of Nations;  he looks at what the Queen actually does - from walkabouts and opening hospitals to meetings with visiting heads of state and other dignitaries - and looks at why she spends three hours everyday reading the contents of the red boxes sent over from Downing Street.

He also looks at the drastic changes in the media since her accession in 1952 and how the monarchy has had to adapt as a result.  Indeed, he argues that under her watchful eye, the monarchy has been thoroughly modernized and made as fit for purpose in the twenty-first century as it was when she came to the throne and a 'new Elizabethan age' was ushered in.

About the author:  Andrew Marr presents the weekly Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 and Start the Week on Radio 4.  He was the BBC's Political Editor from 2000 to 2005 and is the author of several bestselling history books, including The Making of Modern Britain (2009).

An introduction to the three-part BBC television series on the Diamond Queen:

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

White Death by Tobias Jones

This story, fictitious as it is, is a true depiction of what society is like not only in Italy - where the story is set - but in every community, country and nation around the world.  Playing politics and exercising greed are evidently the cause of so much turmoil and unrepentant loss in this world.  Needless to say, money is always involved.  It keeps the cogs churning and leaves no one empty-handed.

There is a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots and, as is most usually the case, the have-nots are the ones who lose out.  It is never the other way round because, as we all know, seeking justice is not at all a straightforward and unencumbered task.

As for the denouement, it makes the perfect end to a well-written story simply because it reflects true life, where problems are left to fester, where bad people almost always get away with their discreditable acts, where good guys' intentions are not always honoured and where crimes, at times, remain unsolved.

Briefly, the plot goes like this:  an owner of a factory hired Castagnetti to find out who had torched his car and why.  What set out to be mindless vandalism wasn't mindless at all but a case of arson and systematic intimidation.  It seemed that elements within a construction company had been burning the property of people who owned land that was about to be re-designated as residential.  Where did their information come from?  Castagnetti needs to solve the case before his client, and his city, are both buried in cement.

White Death (2011) is the second and latest book in the Private Investigator Castagnetti series.  It is not as edgy and intriguing as the first in the series, The Salati Case (2009), but still makes for an enjoyable read.  For more information on the author and his books, visit www.tobias-jones.com

Rating:  3/5

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith

Respect, morality, courtesy, virtue and personal integrity are McCall Smith's strong suit when writing his No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  The latest and the thirteenth book, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection (29 March 2012), is full of simple lessons we all need to revive in today's temporal society.  Enjoy it.

Hardcover:  Mma Ramotswe, normally a sound and peaceful sleeper, finds her slumbers disturbed by a dream of a tall man beneath an acacia tree.  But she is not quite ready to discover what this vision may portend.

Soon even Mma Makutsi, now in the first flush of married bliss, has to admit that untoward things are occurring around the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, not least with the construction of her new home.

At Speedy Motors, the irreproachable Fanwell finds himself in trouble with the law and, even more dramatically, Mma Potokwani, defender of Botswana's weak and downtrodden, disappears from her post at the orphan farm.  It is into all this that there steps the tall stranger of Mma Ramotswe's dream - revealed as none other than Mr Clovis Andersen, author of The Principles of Private Detection and keeper of a surprising secret.

Mma Ramotswe is not easily frightened, and armed with courage, kindness and a keen instinct for the truth, she and Mma Makutsi venture into unknown territory to pursue the guilty and restore justice.

The fourteenth book, The Limpopo Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013), is out now.

About the author:  For more information, go to www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Where The Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath

I am awed and fascinated by this book.  Never before have I read fiction set in Iceland until today and I loved it; not only does it enthrall me with its pure beauty geographically but I am amazed by its unique culture, people and the Icelandic legends.  However, what strikes me most is their literature specifically the Icelanders' sagas which describe events that took place in Iceland in the tenth and early eleventh centuries during the so-called Saga Age.  Some are well-known like Njals Saga and some are less well-known like Gaukur's Saga.  Nobody knows who the authors of the sagas are.

What are they?  The sagas are family histories dealing with the three or four generations of Vikings who had settled in Iceland around 900 AD until the coming of Christianity in 1000.  They are Iceland's best-known classical works of literature.  According to Ridpath, "the heroes were complex men with many weaknesses as well as strengths, but they had a clear moral code, a sense of honour and a respect for the laws."  The author wrote that there had been many a scholarly debate about how historically accurate Iceland's sagas really were.  He maintains, "Most of the people and many of the events mentioned in them had really existed, but then there were also passages that were obviously pure invention."

And so, one thousand years ago, an Icelandic warrior returns from battle, bearing a ring cut from the right hand of his foe.

Much later, seventy years ago, J R R Tolkein, the Oxford professor and writer, working from a secret source, creates the twentieth century's most pervasive legend.

Presently, at the time this story takes place in modern Iceland, Agnar Haraldsson, an expert on Old Icelandic literature, is murdered.

Everything is connected, but to discover how, you will have to tread the path of the protagonist, Detective Magnus Jonson, from Boston to Reykjavik to solve this combination of a modern murder mystery mixed with more than a handful of Iceland folklore.  It is a great read, superbly written, very imaginative and I should have picked up this book long ago.  Highly recommended.

About the author:  Michael Ridpath grew up in Yorkshire and read History at Oxford.  He then spent eight years as a bond trader in London before giving up his job to write financial thrillers.  He lives with his wife and children in north London.  Visit his website at www.michaelridpath.com for more information on the Detective Magnus Jonson/Fire and Ice series.

Where The Shadows Lie is the debut in the Fire and Ice series published in 2010.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 7 May 2012

Front Row: Anna Wintour by Jerry Oppenheimer

They say the best and most inspiring stories are true ones and which better true story to pick to read this May Bank holiday than Jerry Oppenheimer's book on Anna Wintour OBE - the American Vogue's Editor-in-Chief since 1988 - where he gives us candid and objective insights into the life of the most influential woman in fashion.

(from the hardcover)  Anna Wintour is ambitious, driven, insecure, needy, and a perfectionist - and she's considered the most powerful force in the more than $100 billion global industry.

With her signature Louise Brooks bob, trademark sunglasses, Manolo Blahnik stilettos, Chanel suits, and glamorous furs, she's a sexy international diva, gossiped about from New York to Milan, from Paris to Tokyo.

As famed designer Oscar de la Renta raves, "...She is a star.  There has never been a Vogue as important as Vogue is now."

How did Wintour, who quit school over disputes regarding her miniskirt's length, and who had no real writing or communication skills, rise to the pinnacle of the fashion magazine world?

Based on scores of interviews with present and former friends and colleagues, Front Row is the scrupulously researched, often shocking story of the cool life and hot times of this enigmatic icon - a candid portrait of a fashion-obsessed teenager in Swinging Sixties London who claws her way up the ivory tower in New York, always artfully crafting and reinventing herself.

Front Row is also an intimate examination of Wintour's personal passions and needs, her loves lost and won, and her feuds and achievements.  It is an inside look at one of the world's most influential women as well as at the catty, competitive, bitch-eat-bitch world of fashion.

About the author:  Jerry Oppenheimer has been writing definitive, bestselling unauthorized biographies of American icons since the mideighties.  He has worked in all facets of journalism, from national investigative reporting in Washington DC to producing TV news and documentaries.  His other books on public figures include Martha Stewart, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ethel Skakel Kennedy and Bernie Madoff.  Front Row was published back in 2005 and is the first and, as far as can be ascertained, only biography of Anna Wintour.

Vogue was founded in 1892.

I am SO happy

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Skinnydipping by Bethenny Frankel with Eve Adamson

Beloved by countless fans (including me!) for being devilishly dishy, outrageously funny, and always giving it to us straight, three-time New York Times bestselling author Bethenny Frankel now makes her fiction debut with the story of Faith Brightstone.

Faith is an aspiring actress just out of college, who moves to LA determined to have it all - a job on the most popular TV show, a beach house in Malibu, and a gorgeous producer boyfriend.  But when reality hits, she finds herself with a gig as a glorified servant, a role that has more to do with T&A than acting, and a dead-end relationship.  Finally, Faith decides she's had enough of La La Land and moves back to New York with just a suitcase and her dog, Muffin.

Five years later, Faith has finally found her groove as an entrepreneur and manages to land a spot on a new reality TV show hosted by her idol - the legendary businesswoman and domestic goddess Sybil Hunter.  Diving into the bizarre world of reality TV, Faith's loud mouth and tell-it-like-it-is style immediately get her in trouble with her fellow contestants - the delusional socialite;  the boozy lifestyle coach;  the moody headband designer;  and her closest friend, the ambitious housewife who eventually betrays her.  Even Sybil is not what she appears.

As the show comes to a dramatic close, Faith discovers that the man of her dreams may have just walked into her life.  Will she choose fame or love?  Or can she have it all?  (from the hardcover)

About the author:  Bethenny Frankel is the three-time bestselling author of A Place of Yes (2011), Naturally Thin (2009), and The Skinnygirl Dish (2000).  She is the creator of the Skinnygirl brand - which extends to cocktails, beauty, fitness, and health - and the star of her own Bravo TV show.  In 2011, Bethenny won a Glamour Women of the Year Award and was named one of the Top 100 World's Most Powerful Celebrities by Forbes magazine.  She is a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts.  Bethenny lives in New York with her husband, daughter and dog.  Skinnydipping (5 January 2012) is also available on Kindle and audio.

About the co-author:  Eve Adamson is a professional writer and has authored and coauthored more than forty books.  She lives with her family in Iowa, where she cooks, gardens and writes about food and holistic health.

Frankel introduces her fiction debut Skinnydipping:

Rating:  5/5

Thank God

Friday, 4 May 2012

I'm not lonely, silly...

A Florentine Death by Michele Giuttari

(from the paperback) Meet Michele Ferrara.  Lover of a good bottle of local Rossi di Montalcino, smoker of Antico Toscano cigars - and head of Florence's elite police force, the Squadra Mobile.  With a rising murder rate and high levels of Mafia activity, Ferrara has an unenviable job.

The first novel by real-life police chief Michele Giuttari, A Florentine Death (2007) offers a fascinating insight into both the beauty and the darkness of everyday life in Florence, Italy.  I highly recommend the Michele Ferrara mystery series to all.

The translation from the Italian into the English by Howard Curtis reads very smoothly and retains an Italian lilt and sensitivity.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Stay Close by Harlan Coben

Global bestseller Harlan Coben Coben is well known for writing about the intricacies and hypocrisies of human nature in his thrillers.  He returns with a new standalone novel, Stay Close (29 March 2012) - a powerful psychological thriller that explores how our decisions define us and how our present selves are inescapably shaped by our past.  Three people.  A second chance to put things right.  However, they will discover the hard truth that the line between one kind of life and another can be as whisper thin as a heartbeat.  (from the hardback)

About the author:  Harlan Coben is the author of twenty-one previous novels, including the No 1 New York Times bestsellers Live Wire (2011), Caught (2010), Long Lost (2009), and Hold Tight (2008), as well as Play Dead (1990) and the popular Myron Bolitar series.  He is the first author to win all three Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Awards.  His novel Tell No One (2001) was turned into the smash hit French film of the same name, and received the highly coveted Lumiere (French Golden Globe) for best picture as well as four Cesars (French Oscar).  He lives in New Jersey with his family.  Visit Harlan Coben's official website for more information.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Inspector Singh Investigates: A Curious Indian Cadaver by Shamini Flint

Portly Inspector Singh is back and is stopping in India this time, his fifth outing into Asia to bust crimes.  Well, bust crime he is not as he has been dragged to Mumbai to attend a wedding of Mrs Singh's well-connected relative but no sooner had he stepped upon Indian soil, he is brought short with the apparent suicide of the beautiful bride-to-be on the eve of her wedding.  When a corpse is found, burnt beyond recognition except for a pair of glinting ruby earring which more or less identified her, her family is baffled and doesn't believe that their beloved daughter would have killed herself in such a dreadful way.  They inevitably suspect foul play.  Thus, Inspector Singh, in a private investigator capacity, sets out to uncover the truth and rattle a few skeletons but not without some intervention from his formidable wife.  Yes, it's never going to be easy especially when family's involved.

Witty and thoroughly entertaining with lots of references to India's diverse culture, A Curious Indian Cadaver (5 April 2012) is a compelling page-turning whodunit read.  I look forward to Inspector Singh's next foray.

Visit Shamini Flint's website at www.shaminiflint.com for the other books in the Inspector Singh Investigates series.

Rating:  5/5

On Reading

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Two Years On The Blog

Happy second anniversary to Choose and Book.  Has it been two years already?  It has been another exciting ride with discoveries of new authors, new books, book purchases, visits to bookshops in Europe and most of all, plenty and plenty of front-to-back reading.  Thank you to those who dropped by religiously or sporadically.  Here's to another year of abundant reading and discoveries.

Cheers and happy reading and booking!

Blood On The Altar: In Search of a Serial Killer by Tobias Jones

This book is a combination of a true crime that took place almost twenty years ago and also an exploration into the heart of a small town's ills where the simplest thing becomes extraordinarily corrupted and perverse.  Some of the following are taken from the hardback blurb.

Years ago there was a young man in Potenza, Basilicata, the rugged and remote land in south Italy, who had an odd habit of cutting young girls' hair on the back of buses.  Later on, because of his fetish, he became known as the Barber of Potenza.  Who is he?  Why did he do what he did?  Let's go back to the beginning.

On 12 September 1993, a sixteen-year-old girl went missing in a church in the centre of Potenza.  Elisa Claps, a much loved, responsible and only daughter of a good family, had met a young man, Danilo Restivo, one Sunday morning but had then vanished without a trace.  Her family were convinced that Restivo, a strange boy with a fetish for cutting women's hair, was responsible.  He was said to suffer from mental problems and had a morbid behaviour towards girls.  When questioned by the authorities, Restivo produced a far-fetched and a well-rehearsed alibi.  A tiny cut on his hand between the thumb and the index finger without any bruises and other injuries looked absurdly incompatible with what he told the investigators as a rolling-head-over-heels fall down an entire flight of steps at a building site.

But Restivo was inexplicably protected by local big-wigs:  by his powerful Sicilian father, by the priest of the church who had vices of his own, and by a magistrate in charge of the case with rumoured links to organised crime.

Years went by, but Elisa's family could only find false leads.  There were sightings and tip-offs and attempted extortions.  Clearly, the investigation had no direction - the church where Elisa was last seen at was never searched - and Elisa's older brother, Gildo, summed it up tersely, "It's a joke...how is it not possible to single out the person responsible when we had so many elements and certainties about the case?"

By 2002 Restivo had moved to Bournemouth, Dorset in England.  On 12 November that year, his next-door neighbour, Heather Barnett, was found brutally mutilated with strands of hair in both of her hands.  Four months before that inhumane murder, in the early hours of 12 January 2002, twenty-six-year-old Jong-Ok Shin, an English student from South Korea, was stabbed.  Before she succumbed to her injuries, she told the police that the attacker had worn a mask.  But once again, the police could pin nothing on Restivo.  Even the FBI in Virginia could not come up with a profile of the killer.  It was only on 17 March 2010, seventeen years after her disappearance, when Elisa's decomposed body was finally found, that the pieces of the jigsaw finally began to fit together.

In May 2011, Restivo was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Heather Barnett by the court of Winchester.

In November 2011, Restivo was sentenced in absentia to thirty years for the murder of Elisa Claps by an Italian court.

Blood on the Altar (1 March 2012) is more than just a gripping true crime story.  It's a portrait of Basilicata, the most remote and fascinating region in Italy;  it's an investigation into why Italy appears to offer impunity to the powerful;  it's a hunt for a serial killer;  and most of all, it's an appreciation of one courageous and determined family who refused to accept the injustice of Italian society.  It is beautifully written and expertly researched, at once a haunting yet evocative piece of writing by a very fine writer.  Anyone hoping for a modicum of justice in a mad, mad world where wealth, connections and power can escape punishment despite murder and other atrocious crimes would want to read this book.  

About the author:  Tobias Jones is the author of two travel books, The Dark Heart of Italy (2003) and Utopian Dreams:  In Search of a Good Life (2007), and two novels, The Salati Case (2009) and White Death (2011).  He currently runs a woodland shelter in Somerset with his wife.  Do visit his websites for more information:  www.tobias-jones.com and www.windsorhillwood.co.uk

A quick take of the author on his book:

The Salati Case by Tobias Jones

More Italian crime fiction, this time featuring Castagnetti or known informally as Casta, a bee-keeping private detective who is based in an unnamed city but which from the descriptions and names of places in the book sounds like Parma, Italy.  According to the book blurb, fourteen years ago Silvia Salati's son went missing while waiting for a train.  When Silvia dies, the mystery of her son's circumstances becomes an obstacle to disposing of her estate.  Her other heirs demand action, and so Castagnetti is commissioned by a notary to change the son's status from 'missing' to 'presumed dead'.

But Castagnetti, who lost his parents and optimism long ago, isn't the sort to content himself with presumption.  He likes certainty, and wants justice.  Before long he is reopening wounds, exposing family secrets and uncovering a plot as thick and chilling as Italian fog.

The Salati Case (2009) is the debut in the Italian PI Castagnetti series.  Another highly satisfying read of an ever-changing Italy with its juxtaposition of the past and the modern which I highly recommend.

About the author:  Tobias Jones studied at Jesus College, Oxford.  He was on the staff of the London Review of Books and the Independent on Sunday before moving to Parma in Italy in 1999.  Since the publication of his bestseller The Dark Heart of Italy (2003), he has written and presented documentaries for BBC TV and radio and for RAI 3.  He is the regular contributor for the British and Italian press and is a columnist for Internazionale.  Do check out his website for more information on his other books.

Rating:  5/5

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