Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Sting (True Crime) by Kate Kyriacou


Paperback:  The disappearance of Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe was one of the most heartbreaking and confounding child abduction and murder cases of the century, spanning almost a decade prior to the eventual arrest of known paedophile Brett Peter Cowan, one of the original persons of interest.

The story of the police sting that resulted in his confession reads like crime fiction, featuring an elaborately staged fake crime gang run by a 'Mr Big' that lured Cowan in with the promise of a hefty payout.

The Sting (2015) takes you on a journey behind Australia's most sensational undercover bust that caught Daniel Morcombe's killer, revealing extraordinary new details.  It is a shocking insight into one of the country's most evil killers, and the operation that brought him down.

"Immersing yourself in the world of a sadistic paedophile is not easy.  It's difficult to accept what some people are capable of.  It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for the covert team who spent hour after hour, day after day, in Brett Cowan's company, weaving their delicate trap.  I hope this book goes some way in recognising the important work they did," wrote Kyriacou.

Bruce and Denise Morcombe have dedicated their lives to arming children against such predators.  Their work is equally important.  If you would like to donate to the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, more information can be found here.

About the author:  Kate Kyriacou is the Brisbane Courier-Mail's chief crime reporter.  She has won awards, both at a state and national level, for her work as a crime writer.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest (Non-Fiction) by Anatoli Boukreev and G Weston DeWalt


Paperback:  Mountains have the power to call us into their realms and there, left forever, are our friends whose great souls were longing for the heights.  Do not forget the mountaineers who have not returned from the summits. - Anatoli Boukreev

The mountain doesn't play games.  It sits there unmoved. - Bruce Barcott, "Cliffhangers", Harper's Magazine, August 1996.

The Climb (1998) is a professional high-altitude guide's personal account of the Everest disaster.  The book is also partially a response to Krakauer's account of the same 1996 Everest climb in his book Into Thin Air (1997), which appeared to criticize some of Boukreev's actions during the climb.  After The Climb was published, DeWalt leveled many public criticisms at Krakauer concerning the accuracy of each man's account of what happened on the mountain during the 1996 climbs.  Krakauer detailed the disagreements and his rapprochement with Boukreev, in the postscript to the 1999 edition of Into Thin Air.  Reinhold Messner, widely regarded as perhaps the best climber in history, who mastered the first fast alpine-style ascents of Everest and multiple Himalayan peaks without oxygen, claimed he knows Boukreev, and he was like Krakauer describes - arrogant and unfeeling.  He dismissed this book as being ghost-written.

On 10 May 1996, three expeditions headed by expert leaders attempted to scale the world's largest peak - Mount Everest's Southeast Ridge - but as darkness approached, things went terribly wrong.  A ferocious and fatal blizzard caught twenty-three men and women, including leaders Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, rendering them completely disoriented and out of oxygen.

Moreover, crowded conditions and bad judgement, not to mention the bitter storm stopped many climbers in their tracks.  Others were left for dead, or stranded on the frigid mountain.  Alone and climbing blind, Anatoli Boukreev, head climbing guide for the Mountain Madness expedition, stepped into the heart of the storm and brought three of his clients down alive.

Here is his amazing and honest story of an expedition fated for disaster, of the blind ambition that drives people to attempt such dangerous ventures, and of a modern-day hero, who risked his own life to save others.  It also includes the transcript of the Mountain Madness debriefing, as well as G Weston DeWalt's history and analysis of the Boukreev-Krakauer debate.  Lastly, this edition of The Climb is dedicated to the memory of those who never made it back from the mountains.

About the authors:  Anatoli Boukreev (1958-1997) was one of the world's foremost high-altitude mountaineers.  Twenty-one times he went to the summit of the world's highest mountains.  For his heroic actions on Mount Everest in May 1996, he was awarded the American Alpine Club's highest honour, the David A Sowles Memorial Award.  He died in an avalanche in 1997 while attempting a winter assault on Annapurna in Nepal.

G Weston DeWalt is a writer and documentary filmmaker who lives in Pasadena, California.  He was not part of the expedition but provided accounts from other climbers and tied together the narrative of Boukreev's logbook.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Book Buffet


Dust


A Short Story by Shel Silverstein


Poisoned Love (True Crime) by Caitlin Rother


Paperback:  This new updated edition - Poisoned Love (2011) - provides sensational revelations about Kristin Rossum's claim of innocence, including a recent appeals court decision that may reopen the case to new investigations and media attention.

Accident, Suicide or Murder?

On 6 November 6 2000, paramedics answered a call to find Kristin Rossum, 24, sobbing.  Her husband, Greg de Villers, wasn't breathing and she claimed he had overdosed on drugs after learning she was leaving him.  But family and friends who knew of Greg's distaste for drugs weren't buying Kristin's story - particularly the idea that he would take his own life.

American Beauty

The daughter of a well-to-do California family, Rossum was a brainy blonde beauty whose talent for toxicology had won her a post at the San Diego Count Medical Examiner's Office.  But her sweet smile masked a dark side.  She had developed a taste for methamphetamine in high school, and six months after her marriage to Greg, she had begun seeking secret trysts with other men.

Toxic Passion

At the time of her husband's death, Rossum was engaged in an illicit affair with her married boss. Investigations found that the Medical Examiner's Office was missing supplies of meth and fentanyl, the narcotic that had killed her husband.  With each clue discovered, another piece of Rossum's "good girl" façade fell away.  What the world would eventually see was the true face of a murderer - and the hand of justice.

About the author:  Caitlin Rother, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, worked as an investigative reporter at daily newspapers for nineteen years before deciding to write books full-time.  Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Daily Beast.  She has appeared as a crime expert on E! Entertainment, the Oxygen Network, Investigation Discovery, Greta Van Susteren’s “On the Record,” XM Radio and the American Radio Network.  She also teaches narrative non-fiction, journalism, and creative writing at UCSD Extension in San Diego, CA, where she resides.  Rother covered the Rossum case from arrest to sentencing, did all new interviews after the trial, and has now brought readers up to date on the latest developments.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Red Jade (A Detective Jack Yu Investigation) by Henry Chang


Hardback:  The bodies of a young man and woman are discovered at an address on the Bloody Angle, Chinatown's historic Tong battleground.  NYPD Detective Jack Yu had thought he was done working in Chinatown but old allegiances pull him back in.  Is it a simple murder-suicide?

The grieving families want him to keep a lid on any stories that might further tarnish their names, but the Golden Galaxy club, where the young woman worked, is made for scandal.  Drugs, snakeheads, smuggled prostitutes:  "Girls don't last long before getting dirty."

As a series of puzzling links between the murders and the criminal underworld reveals itself, Yu's investigation takes him across the country to another Chinatown, this one in Seattle.  In the new city, stymied by the uncooperative local cops, he tracks a cold-blooded Chinese American gangster and a mysterious Hong Kong femme fatale.

Red Jade (2010) is the third noir suspense in the stunning Detective Jack Yu Investigation series.

About the author:  Henry Chang is a New Yorker, a native son of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.  His poems have appeared in the seminal Yellow Pearl anthology, and in Gangs In New York’s Chinatown.  He has written for Bridge Magazine, and his fiction has appeared in On A Bed Of Rice and in the NuyorAsian Anthology.  His debut novel Chinatown Beat (2006) garnered high praise from the New York Times Book Review, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, among others.

Henry Chang is a graduate of CCNY (City College of New York).  He has been a lighting consultant, and a Security Director for major hotels, commercial properties, and retail businesses in Manhattan.

He resides in the Chinatown area, and his ‘Chinatown Trilogy' of Chinatown Beat (2006), Year of the Dog (2008), and Red Jade (2010) are currently being developed for television and movies.  His fourth book featuring NYPD detective Jack Yu, - Death Money - published March 2014.

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Year of the Dog (A Detective Jack Yu Investigation Series) by Henry Chang


Hardback:  There are Chinatowns in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, London...in many different countries all around the globe.  But wherever they are located geographically, Chinatown is one community.  Fire a gun in New York's Chinatown and the echo reverberates seconds later in Hong Kong.  Political pressures emanating from Mainland China are felt by the new wave of immigrants on Mott, Hester, and Delancey Streets in hours.

American-born Jack Yu became one of the few ethnically Chinese officers in the NYPD.  Now he has been promoted out of the Chinatown Precinct.  But he cannot get away from Chinatown's criminals - his old friends - who are hooked up with Hong Kong based triads in a crooked scam of international proportions.

In this vivid evocation, Chang shows us the people he understands so well:  a Chinese yuppie whose loss of face ends in tragedy;  an ailing bookie with romance in his soul;  a would-be gang leader and the tough new immigrants from Fukien who confront him;  and the triad official, Grass Sandal, sent from Hong Kong to liase with local benevolent societies.  He also cannot escape the Chinese victims whose stories cry out for justice, like the teenage Chinese take-out delivery boy brutally murdered in the projects.

Year of the Dog (2008) - the second noir suspense in the impressive Detective Jack Yu series set in New York - shows us what exists beneath the surface of the tourists' Chinatown.

About the author:  Henry Chang is a New Yorker, a native son of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.  His poems have appeared in the seminal Yellow Pearl anthology, and in Gangs In New York’s Chinatown.  He has written for Bridge Magazine, and his fiction has appeared in On A Bed Of Rice and in the NuyorAsian Anthology.  His debut novel Chinatown Beat (2006) garnered high praise from the New York Times Book Review, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, among others.

Henry Chang is a graduate of CCNY (City College of New York).  He has been a lighting consultant, and a Security Director for major hotels, commercial properties, and retail businesses in Manhattan.

He resides in the Chinatown area, and his ‘Chinatown Trilogy' of Chinatown Beat (2006), Year of the Dog (2008), and Red Jade (2010) are currently being developed for television and movies.  His fourth book featuring NYPD detective Jack Yu, - Death Money - published March 2014.

Rating:  5/5

A Stunted Historical Progress


Definition: Tidsoptimist


Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Crossing (A Bosch Novel) by Michael Connellly


Hardback:  Harry Bosch teams up with Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller in this twentieth and latest Harry Bosch series, The Crossing (2015), from #1 New York Times bestselling author and one of the great crime writers of the twenty-first century, Michael Connelly.

The previous year, Bosch had been suspended from the LAPD on a trumped-up beef when he had picked the lock on a captain's office door so he could look at old police records connected to a murder investigation he was actively working.  It was a Sunday and Bosch did not want to have to wait for the captain to come in the next day.  The infraction was minor but could have been the first step in the firing process.

More important, to Bosch it was a suspension without pay that also halted payments to his Deferred Retirement Option Plan.  That meant he had no salary and no access to his DROP funds while he fought the suspension and took it to a Board of Rights - a process that would take a minimum of six months, pushing him past his retirement date anyway.

With no money coming in to cover living expenses and college around the corner for his daughter, Bosch retired so he could access his retirement and DROP funds.  He then hired Haller to file a lawsuit against the city, charging that the police department had engaged in unlawful tactics to force him into pulling the pin.

Presently, Harry Bosch, newly retired from the LAPD before they could fire him, finds himself idling in the slow lane, spending his days restoring a classic fifty-one Harley instead of chasing down murder suspects.

But then Mickey tells Harry about one of his cases:  a man accused of a brutal murder, who had no connection to the victim and yet DNA evidence points to his guilt.  Although he has nothing solid to support it, Mickey can smell a set-up and he needs Harry to help him prove it.

At first, Harry is reluctant.  The prosecution seem to have a cast-iron case, and crossing over to 'the dark side' to work for the defense would damn him forever in the eyes of his former colleagues - if not his own.  But as soon as he starts reviewing the case file, Harry's instincts kick in and with the help of his former LAPD partner Lucia Soto, the investigation soon turns towards the police department itself.

And as Bosch gets closer to discovering the truth, he makes himself a target which is when Harry realizes that taking the case could be the most dangerous mistake he has ever made.

About the author:  Michael Connelly is a former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the author of twenty acclaimed Harry Bosch thrillers and several courtroom dramas featuring Mickey Haller (the Lincoln Lawyer series), as well as stand-alone bestsellers such as The Poet (a crime reporter Jack McEvoy series, 1996).  Michael Connelly is a former President of the Mystery Writers of America.  His books have been translated into 31 languages and have won numerous awards.  He is the executive producer of the television series Bosch, starring Titus Welliver.  He spends his time in California and Florida.

Rating:  6/5

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick


Paperback:  Facebook is all information all the time.  Each month, more or less 20 billion pieces of content are posted there by members - including Web links, news stories, photos, etc.  It is by far the largest photo-sharing site on the Internet, for instance, with more or less 3 billion photos added each month.  Not to mention the innumerable trivial announcements, weight pronouncements, political provocations, birthday greetings, flirtations, invitations, insults, wisecracks, bad jokes, deep and profound thoughts, and of course, pokes.

Why should Facebook turn out to be a uniquely effective tool for political organizing?  How did founder Zuckerberg's decisions at crucial moments in the company's history increase its impact?  And in what ways do its unprecedented qualities help explain the rapidity with which Facebook has become a routine part of the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world?  As the rest of the book will explore, many of the answers lie in a set of phenomena the author calls the Facebook Effect.

As a fundamentally new form of communication since its inception at Harvard University in 2004, Facebook (the company's original name was Thefacebook) leads to fundamentally new interpersonal and social effects.  The Facebook Effect happens when the service puts people in touch with each other, often unexpectedly, about a common experience, interest, problem, or cause.  This can happen at a small or large scale - from a group of two or three friends or a family, to millions.  Facebook's software makes information viral.  Ideas on Facebook have the ability to rush through groups and make many people aware of something almost simultaneously, spreading from one person to another and on to many with unique ease - like a virus, or meme.  You can send messages to other people even if you are not explicitly trying to.

Popular though it may be, Facebook was never intended as a substitute for face-to-face communication.  Though many people do not use it this way, it has always been explicitly conceived and engineered by Zuckerberg and colleagues as a tool to enhance your relationships with the people you know in the flesh - your real-world friends, acquaintances, classmates or co-workers.

The social changes that will be brought about by the Facebook Effect will not all be positive.  What does it mean that we are increasingly living our lives in public?  Are we turning into a nation - and a world - of exhibitionists?  Many see Facebook as merely a celebration of the minutiae of our lives.  Such people view it as a platform for narcissism rather than a tool for communication.  Others ask how it might affect an individual's ability to grow and change if their actions and even their thoughts are constantly scrutinized by their friends.  Could it lead to greater conformity?

Are young people who spend their days on Facebook losing their ability to recognize and experience change and excitement in the real world?  Are we relying too heavily on our friends for information?  Does Facebook merely contribute to information overload?  And more importantly, could we thus become less informed?

What does being a "friend" on Facebook really mean?  The average Facebook user has about 130.  Can you really have 500 friends, as many do?  What about 5 000 Facebook's maximum?

Nonetheless, Facebook is bringing the world together.  It has become an overarching common cultural experience for people worldwide, especially young people.  Despite its modest beginnings as the college project of a nineteen-year-old, it has become a technological powerhouse with unprecedented influence across modern life, both private and public.  Its membership spans generations, geographies, languages and class.  It may in fact be the fastest-growing company of any type in history.

It changes how people communicate and interact, how marketers sell products, how governments reach out to citizens, even how companies operate.  It is altering the character of political activism, and in some countries it is starting to affect the processes of democracy itself.  It is no longer just a plaything for college students.

Unlike just about any other website or technology business, Facebook is profoundly, centrally, about people.  It is a platform for people to get more out of their lives.  It is a new form of communication, just as was instant messaging, email, the telephone, and the telegraph.  During the early days of the World Wide Web, people sometimes said that everyone would eventually have their own home page.  Now it is happening, but as part of a social network.

However, this scale, rate of growth, and social penetration raise complicated social, political, regulatory and policy questions.  How will Facebook alter users' real-world interactions?  How will repressive governments respond to this new form of citizen empowerment?  Should a service this large be regulated?  How do we feel about an entirely new form of communication used by hundreds of millions of people that is completely controlled by one company?  Are we risking our freedom by entrusting so much information about our identity to one commercial entity?  Tensions around these questions will grow if Facebook keeps extending its influence across more and more of the globe as it is doing now.

The Facebook Effect (2010) aims to explore these questions.  It tells the real inside story of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his company, and its social implications, but you can only understand how Facebook became such an amazing company and where it might go if you understand how it all got started in a dormitory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the brainchild of a restless and irreverent computer science major student.

The Facebook Effect was shortlisted for the Financial Times and the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2010.

About the author:  Founder, host, and CEO of Techonomy, David Kirkpatrick is a journalist, commentator about technology, and author of the New York Times bestselling book The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World published in 32 countries.  He spent 25 years at Fortune, and founded and hosted its Brainstorm and Brainstorm Tech conferences.  In addition to writing for Techonomy, he contributes to Forbes and Vanity Fair.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

In My Shoes: A Memoir by Tamara Mellon (Co-Founder of Jimmy Choo) with William Patrick


Hardback:  Who is Tamara Mellon?

"The Sunday Times once wrote that I seemed less an 'actual person than the heroine of some dicey Danielle Steel bonkathon'.  The basic Danielle Steel conceit is to take a plucky heroine, set her on a quest, and then subject her to every villain and viper and obstacle imaginable, which, I suppose is not an entirely bad summary of my life so far."

When Tamara Mellon's father lent her the money to start a high-end shoe company, he cautioned her:  "Don't let the accountants run your business."  Little did he know.  Over the next fifteen years, the struggle between 'the suits' and 'the creatives' would dominate, as Tamara Mellon's business savvy and design flair built Jimmy Choo into a premier name in the ultra-competitive fashion world.

Tamara Mellon grew Jimmy Choo into a billion dollar brand.  She became the Prime Minister's trade envoy and was honoured with an OBE for services to the fashion industry.  Vogue photographed her wedding, Vanity Fair covered her divorce and the criminal trial that followed.

It was never an easy road.  Her seemingly glamorous beginnings in the mansions of London and Beverly Hills were marked by a broken family life, battles with anxiety and depression, and a stint in rehab.  Determined not to end up penniless and under the control of her alcoholic mother, Mellon honed her natural business sense and invested in what she knew best:  fashion.

In creating the shoes that became a fixture on Sex and the City and Hollywood's red carpets, she relied on her own impeccable sense of what the customer wanted - because she was that customer.

Jimmy Choo's success came at a high price - including epic struggles with a first CEO, a turbulent marriage, a brutal takeover attempt, and a mother who tried to steal her hard-earned wealth.  Now, as she builds her next fashion venture, Tamara Mellon finally shares her whole larger-than-life story.

In My Shoes (2013) is a must-read for fashion aficionados, aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone who loves a juicy true story about sex, drugs, money, power, overcoming adversity and high heels.  In My Shoes is dedicated to Mellon's father, Thomas Yeardye, who inspired her through her darkest days, and to her daughter, Minty Mellon, who makes it all worthwhile.

In 2014, Mellon was presented with the Fashion Pioneer Award at the Women's Entrepreneurship Day Pioneer Awards held in New York City.

About the authors:  Tamara Mellon, OBE, is the co-founder and the former CEO and chief creative officer of Jimmy Choo, which she led for fifteen years.  Since selling her share of the company, she has focused on creating a new eponymous lifestyle brand.  She divides her time between London and New York.

William Patrick has co-written numerous memoirs, including Sidney Poitier's number one bestseller The Measure of a Man (2007).  He is an editor, book doctor and ghost-writer and has also written two well-regarded suspense novels.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, North Point Press, 1998


We Are Our Choices


The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and The Age of Amazon by Brad Stone


Hardback:  When you are eighty years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made.  In the end, we are our choices. - Jeff Bezos, commencement speech at Princeton University, 30 May 2010.

Amazon is increasingly a daily presence in modern life.  Millions of people regularly direct their Web browsers to its eponymous website or its satellite sites, like Zappos.com and Diapers.com, acting on the most basic impulse in any capitalist society:  to consume.

Amazon.com started off modestly as an online bookseller but its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn't content with simply being a bookseller.  He wanted Amazon to become 'the everything store', offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices.  To achieve this end, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that's never been cracked.

Until now.

Today, it is a smorgasbord of selection, offering movies, garden tools, furniture, food, toys, music, electronics, jewelry, software, clothes, apparel, sporting goods, automotive parts - you name it - and the occasional oddball items like an inflatable unicorn horn for cats and a thousand-pound electronic-lock gun safe that is available for delivery in three to five days.  The company has nearly perfected the art of instant gratification, delivering digital products in seconds and their physical incarnations in just a few days.

Amazon cleared $61 billion in sales in 2012, its seventeenth year of operation, and will likely be the fastest retailer in history to surpass $100 billion.  Even the name has informally entered the business lexicon, and not in an altogether favourable way.  To be Amazoned means "to watch helplessly as the online upstart from Seattle vacuums up the customers and profits of your traditional brick-and-mortar business."

In writing this book, Brad Stone has enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, to give readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon.  Even compared to tech's other elite innovators - the likes of Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg - Bezos is a very private man.  He stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way that Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.

The Everything Store (2013) is the revealing, definitive biography of the technology juggernaut that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and changed the way we shop and read for ever.  It is the tale of how one gifted child grew into an extraordinarily driven and versatile CEO and how he, his family, and his colleagues bet heavily on a revolutionary network called the Internet, and on the grandiose version of a single store that sells everything.  It is a long-anticipated, honest account of the company of our age, and a deeply personal look at the iconic entrepreneur who founded it.

The Everything Store is the winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Awards 2013.

About the author:  Brad Stone has covered Amazon and technology in Silicon Valley for such publications as Newsweek and the New York Times.  He is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and lives in San Francisco.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Death Under A Tuscan Sun by Michele Giuttari


Hardback:  For me, justice for the individual, be he the humblest, is everything.  All else comes after. - Gandhi

In his dark and fetid prison cell, serial killer Daniele de Robertis plans his retribution.  The betrayals he has suffered haunt his dreams until, one night, he escapes.

In a small, beautiful village in the Tuscan countryside a prominent lawyer and his wife are murdered.

As the police inspect the scene they find nine terrifying photographs:  nine women, slaughtered.

It is Florentine Police Chief Michele Ferrara's worst nightmare:  a case involving the untouchable men and women at the top of Italian society, a dark and powerful cult which knows no bounds, and mounting victims.

Amongst a web of obsession, manipulation and violence, Ferrara must face his demons.

Death Under a Tuscan Sun is an incredibly gripping and atmospheric work of detective fiction, written with incomparable authenticity by former Florentine police chief Michele Giuttari.

Death Under a Tuscan Sun (2015) is the seventh book in the clever and fast-moving Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara series set in Florence and translated from the Italian into the English by Isabelle Kaufeler.

About the author:  Michele Giuttari is former head of the Florence Police Force (1995-2003), where he was responsible for reopening the Monster of Florence case and jailing several key Mafia figures.  He is now a special advisor to the interior minister in Rome, with a remit to monitor Mafia activity.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Pope Francis: Untying The Knots by Paul Vallely


Paperback:  From his first appearance on a Vatican balcony on 13 March 2013, Pope Francis, the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, proved himself a Pope of Surprises.

With a series of potent gestures, history's first Jesuit pope - the first pope from the Americas, the first from the Southern hemisphere, and the first to take the name of Francis - declared a mission to restore authenticity and integrity to a Catholic Church bedevilled by sex abuse and secrecy, intrigue and in-fighting, ambition and arrogance.  He declared it should be 'a poor Church, for the poor'.

But there is a hidden past to this modest man with the winning smile.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was previously a bitterly divisive figure.  His decade as leader of Argentina's Jesuits left the religious order deeply split.  And his behaviour during Argentina's Dirty War, when military death squads snatched innocent people from the streets, raised serious questions - on which this book casts new light.

Yet something dramatic then happened to Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  He underwent an extraordinary transformation.  After a time of exile, he re-emerged having turned from a conservative authoritarian into a humble friend of the poor.  He changed his leadership style to allow consultation and participation, particularly among the poorest people.  He quadrupled the number of priests in the shanty-towns and earned himself the title of 'Bishop of the Slums', making enemies among Argentina's political classes in the process.

For Pope Francis:  Untying The Knots (2013), Paul Vallely travelled to Argentina and Rome to meet Bergoglio's intimates over the last four decades.  His book charts a remarkable journey.  It reveals what changed the man who was to become Pope Francis - from a reactionary into the revolutionary who is unnerving Rome's clerical careerists with the extent of his behind-the-scenes changes.  In this perceptive portrait, Paul Vallely offers both new evidence and penetrating insights into the kind of pope Francis could become.

About the author:  Paul Vallely is a writer and consultant on religion, international development, and business ethics.  He is the author of the internationally-acclaimed best-selling biography Pope Francis - Untying the Knots.  Its sequel Pope Francis - The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism is published by Bloomsbury in September 2015.

He is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics and Media at the University of Chester and Senior Honorary Fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester.  He has worked in newspapers, broadcasting, with aid agencies, government and church organisations for more than two decades.  He has produced award-winning reports from more than thirty countries in the developing world.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Revolving Door Of Life (A 44 Scotland Street Novel) by Alexander McCall Smith


Hardback:  The Revolving Door of Life (2015) is the tenth and latest book in the joyous and charming 44 Scotland Street series.

When I was a boy, not yesterday of course,
When life, I thought, was a whole lot
More certain than it is today,
I made a list of those I thought
Liked me as much as I liked them - 
For at that age we're loved
By just about everybody
Whom we care to love;  how different
It is in later years, when affection
Has no guarantee of reciprocation,
When we may spend so very long
Yearning for one who cannot
Love us back, or care not to,
Or who lives somewhere else
And has forgotten our address
And the way we looked or spoke.

The remarkable thing about love
Is that it is freely available,
Is as plentiful as oxygen,
Is as joyous as a burn in spate,
And need never run out.
And yet, for all its plenitude,
We ration it so strictly and forget
Its curative properties, its subtle
Ability to make the soul-injured
Whole again, to make the lonely
Somehow assured that their solitude
Will not last forever;  its promise
That if we open our heart
It is joy and resolution
That will march in triumphant
Through the gates we create.

When I look at Scotland,
At this country that possesses me,
I wonder what work love 
Has still to do;  and find the answer
Closer at hand than I thought -
In the images of contempt and disdain,
That are still there, as stubborn
As human imperfections can be;
In the coldness of heart
That sees nothing wrong
In indifference to want, in dislike
Of those who are different,
In the cutting, dismissive
Turn of phrase, in the sneer.

Love is not there, in all those places,
But it will be;  love cannot solve
Every human problem, but it makes
A start on a solution;  love
Is the only compass-point
We need to learn;  we need not
Be clever to know it, nor endowed
With unusual vision, love
Comes free, at least in those forms
Worth having, lasts as long
As anything human may last.
May Scotland, when it looks
Into its heart tomorrow
If not today, see the fingerprints
Of love, its signature, its presence,
Its promise of healing.

For seven-year-old Bertie Pollock, life in Edinburgh's most celebrated fictional street has just got immeasurably better.  The enforced absence of his endlessly pushy mother Irene - currently consciousness-raising in Bedouin harem (don't ask) - has manifold and immediate blessings:  no psychotherapy, no Italian lessons, and no yoga classes.  Bliss.

For Scotland Street's grown-ups, life throws up some new dilemmas.  Matthew makes a discovery that could make him even richer but also leaves him worried.  Pat makes one that could make her poorer and her father miserable - unless that über-narcissist, Bruce, can help her out.  And the Duke of Johannesburg, we discover, isn't exactly who he says he is.

From what happens behind Edinburgh Airport's luggage carousel to Machiavellian manoeuvrings at the Association of Scottish Nudists, Alexander McCall Smith guides us through the brighter, lighter, and frankly unexpected side of Edinburgh life.  As ever with his 44 Scotland Street series, his readers will make their own discovery:  that its blend of wit and wisdom mark it out as a comedic tour de force.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world’s most prolific and most popular authors.  His career has been a varied one:  for many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the United Kingdom and abroad.  Then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty languages and become bestsellers through the world.

The series include the Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, the Sunday Philosophy Club series starring Isabel Dalhousie, the von Igelfeld series, and the new Corduroy Mansions novels.

Alexander is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and over thirty books for children.  He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007.  He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America.  Alexander McCall Smith lives in Edinburgh.  He is married to a doctor and has two daughters.  Both he and his wife are members of an amateur orchestra, the Really Terrible Orchestra, in which he plays the contra-bassoon.

Discover the world of Alexander McCall Smith and his other books at AlexanderMcCallSmith.co.uk

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 9 November 2015

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham


Hardback:  My name is Sebastian Rudd, and though I am a well-known street lawyer, you will not see my name on billboards, on bus benches, or screaming at you from the yellow pages.  I don't pay to be seen on television, though I am often there.  

My name is not listed in any phone book.  I do not maintain a traditional office.  I carry a gun, legally, because my name and face tend to attract attention from the type of people who also carry guns and don't mind using them.  

I live alone, usually sleep alone, and do not possess the patience and understanding necessary to maintain friendships.  The law is my life, always consuming and occasionally fulfilling.  I wouldn't call it a "jealous mistress" as some forgotten person once so famously did.  It's more like an overbearing wife who controls the checkbook.  There's no way out.

In this end of the state, it is now well known in legal circles that if you can't find anybody else, call Sebastian Rudd.  He'll defend anybody!

Sebastian Rudd takes the cases no one else wants to take:  the drug-adled punk accused of murdering two little girls;  a homeowner who shot at a SWAT team;  a crime lord on death row.

Rudd believes that every person accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial - even if he has to cheat to get one.  He antagonizes people from both sides of the law:  his last office was fire-bombed, either by drug dealers or cops.  He doesn't know or care which.

But things are about to get even more complicated for Sebastian.  Arch Swanger is the prime suspect in the abduction and presumed murder of 21-year-old Jiliana Kemp, the daughter of the assistant chief of police.  When Swanger asks Sebastian to represent him, he lets Sebastian in on a terrible secret...one that will threaten everything Sebastian holds dear.

Gritty, witty and impossible to put down, Rogue Lawyer (2015) is the master of the legal thriller at his very best.

About the author:  John Grisham is the author of twenty-eight novels, one work of non-fiction, a collection of stories and five novels for young readers.  His works are translated into forty-two languages.  He lives in Virginia.  Find out more at jgrisham.com and stay in touch via Facebook at John Grisham Books.

Rating:  6/5