Monday, 18 September 2017

Missing, Presumed (DS Manon Bradshaw Series) by Susie Steiner


Hardback:  At thirty-nine, Manon Bradshaw is a devoted and respected member of the Cambridgeshire police force, and though she loves her job, what she longs for is a personal life. Single and distant from her family, she wants a husband and children of her own.  One night, after yet another disastrous Internet date, she turns on her police radio to help herself fall asleep - and receives an alert that sends her to a puzzling crime scene.

Edith Hind - a beautiful graduate student at Cambridge University and daughter of the surgeon to the Royal Family - has been missing for nearly twenty-four hours. Her home offers few clues: a smattering of blood in the kitchen, her keys and phone left behind, the front door ajar but showing no signs of forced entry.  Manon instantly knows that this case will be big - and that every second is crucial to finding Edith alive.

The investigation starts with Edith's loved ones:  her attentive boyfriend, her reserved best friend, her patrician parents.  As the search widens and press coverage reaches a frenzied pitch, secrets begin to emerge about Edith's tangled love life and her erratic behaviour leading up to her disappearance.

With no clear leads, Manon summons every last bit of her skill and intuition to close the case, and what she discovers will have shocking consequences not just for Edith's family but for Manon herself.

Suspenseful, beautifully and stylishly written and keenly observed, Missing, Presumed (2016) - the first instalment in the DS Manon series set in Cambridgeshire, England - is a brilliantly twisting novel of how we seek connection, grant forgiveness, and reveal the truth about who we are.

About the author:  Susie Steiner grew up in north London, studied English at university and trained as a journalist.  She worked in newspapers for twenty years, eleven of them on staff at The Guardian. Her first novel, Homecoming, was published by Faber & Faber to critical acclaim in 2013.  Her second, Missing, Presumed was a Sunday Times bestseller which introduced detective Manon Bradshaw.  It was a Richard & Judy book club pick and has sold 200 000 copies to date in the UK.

Missing, Presumed was selected as one of the Guardian’s, Wall Street Journal’s and NPR's standout books of 2016.  It was longlisted for the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year and the 2017 Barry Awards Best First Novel.  Persons Unknown (2017), the sequel to Missing, Presumed, is her third novel.  Susie has written extensively about losing her eyesight to Retinitis Pigmentosa.  She lives in London with her husband and two children and is currently working on a third Manon Bradshaw mystery.

Rating:  5/5

A Twisted Society


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe's Deep Establishment (Memoir/Politics) by Yanis Varoufakis


Hardback:  "There are two kinds of politicians," he said:  "insiders and outsiders.  The outsiders prioritize their freedom to speak their version of the truth.  The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions.  The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule:  never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do.  Their reward?  Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes."

With that Summers arrived at his question.  "So, Yanis," he said, "which of the two are you?"

What happens when you take on the establishment?

In this blistering, personal account, world-famous economist Yanis Varoufakis blows the lid on Europe's hidden agenda and exposes what actually goes on in its corridors of power.

Varoufakis sparked one of the most spectacular and controversial battles in recent political history when, as finance minister of Greece, he attempted to re-negotiate his country’s relationship with the EU.  Despite the mass support of the Greek people and the simple logic of his arguments, he succeeded only in provoking the fury of Europe’s political, financial and media elite.  But the true story of what happened is almost entirely unknown - not least because so much of the EU’s real business takes place behind closed doors.

In this fearless account, Varoufakis reveals all:  an extraordinary tale of brinkmanship, hypocrisy, collusion and betrayal that will shake the deep establishment to its foundations.

As is now clear, the same policies that required the tragic and brutal suppression of Greece’s democratic uprising have led directly to authoritarianism, populist revolt and instability throughout the Western world.

Adults In The Room (2017), hailed as one of the greatest political memoirs of all time (Guardian) and a Number One Sunday Times Bestseller, is an urgent wake-up call to renew European democracy before it is too late.

About the author:  Yanis Varoufakis is the former finance minister of Greece and the author of several international bestselling books.

And the Weak Suffer What They Must?:  Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability (2016) reveals the underlying problems that led to the Eurozone crisis and its ongoing catastrophic mishandling.

Adults In the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment (2017) is an explosive memoir that reveals what goes on behind the scenes in Europe's corridors of power.

Talking To My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism (2014) explains through vivid stories and easily graspable concepts what economics actually is and why it is so dangerous in the form of a letter to his teenage daughter.

Born in Athens in 1961, Yanis Varoufakis was for many years a professor of economics in Britain, Australia and the USA before he entered government and is currently Professor of Economics at the University of Athens.  Since resigning from Greece's finance ministry, he has co-founded an international grassroots movement, DiEM25, campaigning for the revival of democracy in Europe and speaks to audiences of thousands worldwide.

yanisvaroufakis.eu/@yanisvaroufakis

Our Natural State of Being


Book Gifts Are The Best


Getting At The Root Of Things


Friday, 8 September 2017

Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion (Religion) by Janet Reitman


Paperback:  Scientology is known for its celebrity believers and its team of "volunteer ministers" at disaster sites such as the World Trade Center;  its notably aggressive response to criticism or its attacks on psychiatry;  its requirement that believers pay as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach the highest levels of salvation.

But for all its notoriety, Scientology has remained America's least understood new religion, even as it has been one of its most successful.

Now Janet Reitman tells its riveting full story in the first objective modern history of Scientology, at last revealing the astonishing truth about life within the controversial religion for its members and ex-members.

The book covers the history of Scientology and discusses prominent Scientologists such as L Ron Hubbard (creator of Scientology) and Tom Cruise.  It details the church's business model under the leadership of David Miscavige.  It also describes Scientology controversies, such as the death of Lisa McPherson.  The book devotes some attention to Scientology's broader teachings including Scientology’s development from the birth of Dianetics to today, following its metamorphosis from a pseudoscientific self-help group to a global spiritual corporation with profound control over its followers and ex-followers.

After its release, the book was criticized by the Church of Scientology.  A spokesperson for the church alleged that the book was poorly researched and contained numerous inaccuracies.  Reitman disputed their claims, maintaining that she did extensive research.

According to a review published on The Village Voice, Reitman's book is a "stunning overview of everything" and calls the author a "thorough, brave journalist."

Based on five years of research - which began in 2006 when she published an article in Rolling Stone about Scientology - confidential documents, and extensive interviews with current and former Scientologists, this is an utterly compelling work of nonfiction and the defining work on an elusive faith.

Inside Scientology:  The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion (2011) has been nominated as a New York Times Notable Book, an Amazon.com Best Nonfiction Book of the Year and a San Francisco Chronicle Top Ten Book of the Year.

About the author:  Janet Reitman is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and the author of Inside Scientology, which was based on her National Magazine Award-nominated story of the same name published in Rolling Stone in March, 2006.  She is the first American journalist to publish a major book on Scientology, and the only writer to have charted its full history.

Reitman also covered the war in Iraq for Rolling Stone and has reported on a wide range of other topics, including the failure of US and international recovery efforts in post-earthquake Haiti;  the Duke lacrosse scandal;  the death of American aid worker Marla Ruzicka in Baghdad;  and the national childhood obesity crisis.  She has also reported extensively in Africa, profiling Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, and covering conflicts in Sudan and Sierra Leone.

In addition to Rolling Stone, Reitman's work has appeared in GQ, Men's Journal, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and Salon, among other publications.  She and journalist L Christopher Smith live in Brooklyn, New York, with their French sheepdog, Bode.

Or Reading Enough?


Comes The Dawn by Veronica A Shoffstall


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Colors of the Wind by Alan Menken and Stephen Laurence Schwartz

You think I'm an ignorant savage
And you've been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don't know
You don't know

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sun sweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow
If you cut it down, then you'll never know
And you'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Walt Disney Music Company

Final Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Shanghai Redemption (An Inspector Chen Series) by Qiu Xiaolong


Paperback:  "The system has no place for a cop who puts justice above the interests of the Party.  It's a miracle that I survived as long as I did."

For years, Inspector Chen Cao managed to balance the interests of the Communist Party and the promises made by his job.  He was both a Chief Inspector of Special Investigations of the Shanghai Police Department and the deputy party secretary of the bureau.  He was considered a potential rising star in the Party until, after one too many controversial cases that embarrassed powerful elements in the Party, Inspector Chen found himself neutralized.

Under the guise of a major promotion, a new position with a substantial title but no power, he is stripped of his job duties and isolated.  But that is still not enough, as it becomes increasingly clear that someone is attempting to set him up, for public disgrace and possibly worse.

The threat increases when Inspector Chen is charged with the investigation into a 'Red Prince' - a high Party figure who embodies the greed and corruption of modern China.  This 'Red Prince' has the kind of connections and power to deflect any attempts to bring him to justice.  With no power and few allies, the former Inspector Chen knows he is facing the most dangerous case of his career and his life.

Shanghai Redemption (2015) is the ninth instalment in the marvellous, engrossing, unpredictable and immensely readable Inspector Chen series set in China.  The series portray an honest cop whose personal ethics often conflict with the politically expedient orders from above.  The protagonist embodies the confusion - both ideological and spiritual - that haunts modern China.  Qiu captures China in transition elegantly and with clarity as well as gives a fresh perspective on the forces shaping a new China and the influences of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen in 1989.

About the author:  Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai.  The Cultural Revolution began in his last year of elementary school, and out of school, out of a job, he studied English by himself in a local park.  In 1977, he began his studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, and then the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing.  He was selected for membership of the Chinese Writers' Association and published poetry, translations and criticism in China.  In 1988, he came to Washington University in St Louis, US as a Ford foundation fellow to do a project on TS Eliot.  After the Tiananmen tragedy of 1989, he decided to stay on.  He lives there still with his wife and daughter.

Rating:  5/5

A Well-Stocked Library


Friday, 1 September 2017

Yesterday's Thought Of The Day


You Don't Know What You Don't Know


Blood Med (Chief Inspector Max Cámara Series) by Jason Webster


Hardback:  Spain is corrupt and on the brink of collapse.  The king is ill, banks are closing, hospitals are in chaos, homes are lost, demonstrators riot and rightwing thugs patrol the street.  The tunnels beneath the streets are at once a refuge and a source of anger.  And as the blood flows, Cámara roars in on his motorbike.

Cámara is back in Valencia with his partner Alicia and his anarchist, marijuana-growing grandfather Hilario.  In the old police headquarters, the mood is tense as the chief hunts for cuts - who will go, Camara or his friend Torres?

The two men are flung into action investigating the suicide of an ex-bank clerk and the brutal murder of a young American woman.  As the city erupts around them, their case takes them into the heart of the trouble.

Blood Med (2014) is the fourth instalment in this brilliant Chief Inspector Max Cámara series set in Spain.  It is highly recommended.

About the author:  Jason Webster is a highly acclaimed Anglo-American author and authority on Spain whose work ranges from biography to travel, crime fiction and history.  His books have sold in over a dozen countries, including the US, the UK and China, and have been nominated both for the Guardian First Book Award and the Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Dagger Award.  He has been favourably compared with writers such as Bruce Chatwin (The Daily Mail), Gerald Brenan (El País) and Ernest Hemingway (Sunday Telegraph).

Webster was born near San Francisco and brought up in the UK, Germany and Italy.  After finishing a degree in Arabic and Islamic History at the University of Oxford, he worked as an editor at the BBC World Service for several years before becoming a full-time writer and moving to Spain.  He is married to the flamenco dancer Salud and they have two sons.  They currently divide their time between Valencia and the UK.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Without A Voice: One Woman's Fight for Justice (Non-Fiction) by Michelle Nicholson


Paperback:  Young, vulnerable, naïve.  Twenty two year old Michelle Nicholson had no idea how to deal with the strange and menacing stranger who seemed to be taking over her life.  He had sucked friends and family into believing his fantasy that he was a good, kind man, trying to offer Michelle a better life.

But beneath the façade lurked a dangerous and deadly psychopath, hell bent on revenge for Michelle’s rejection of him.

Twenty four years later, still fighting to clear her name, Michelle tells, with raw honesty, the true and horrifying story of the murder of her beloved father and how she was framed for that murder, losing her youth, her young daughter, her freedom and almost her sanity.

"I prayed and still had hope that one day I could clear my name.  I would continue to fight, that fight would go on until I took my last breath.  I didn't consider that it might take that long.  Perhaps the system is designed in a way that innocent people can't fight back.  It's a hard thing to bear that actually, no one really cares, or at least, very few, even though you have experienced a great injustice.  Until, like me, you are in it yourself, but at that point it's too late;  your voice is meaningless.  Your voice has been silenced.  You are a criminal.  You are nothing.  You are without a voice," wrote Michelle.

Without A Voice:  One Woman's Fight for Justice (2017) is "an incredible story of life inside a criminal justice system where the scales of justice are tipped.  Michelle's story is inspiring, everyone on every side of the criminal justice system would do well to read.  It shines with compassion and above all, humanity in the hands of one of life's unsung heroines." - Sital Dhillon, Barrister, Head Department of Law and Criminology

About the author:  Michelle Nicholson is the founder and Director of Key Changes - Unlocking Women’s Potential.  Michelle is responsible for the strategic planning and development of the organisation.  Her own experience of the criminal justice system led to an understanding of social injustices for women;  this has shaped the charity’s vision and its aims and objectives.  She holds a BSc in Social Science with psychology and crime, order and social control (Open University).
To tackle social inequalities, Michelle gives educational presentations to a range of audiences to enable them to better understand women’s needs and issues such as resettlement into the community.
Michelle has also had a number of articles published in this area and her very own story is told without the harsh and unforgiving process by which our communities are often encouraged and shaped to become in her book, Without A Voice:  One Woman's Fight for Justice.

Michelle won the High Sheriff’s Award 2015 for her leadership skills to promote change for women.
Key Changes - Unlocking Women’s potential is a multi-award winning charity.

Happiness #30817


Monday, 28 August 2017

Loungewear


Upon Reflection


Do What Makes You Happy


Fever by Deon Meyer


Hardback:  Nico Storm and his father, Willem Storm, drive a truck filled with essential supplies through a desolate land.  They are among the few in the world, as far as they know, to have survived a devastating virus that has swept over the planet.  Their lives turned upside down, Nico realizes that his superb marksmanship and cool head mean he is destined to be his father's protector, even though he is still only a boy.

Willem Storm, though not a fighter, is both a thinker and a leader, a wise and compassionate man with a vision for a new community that survivors will rebuild from the ruins.  And so Amanzi is founded, drawing Storm's "homeless and tempest-tost" - starting with Melinda Swanevelder, whom they rescue from brutal thugs;  Hennie Fly, with his vital Cessna plane;  Beryl Fortuin and her ragtag group of orphans;  and Domingo, the man with the tattooed hand, whom Nico immediately recognizes as someone you want on your side.

And then Sofia Bergman arrives, the most beautiful girl Nico has ever seen, who changes everything.

So the community grows, and with each step forward, as resources increase, so do the challenges they must face - not just from the attacks of biker brigands, but also from within.  Nico undergoes an extraordinary rite of passage in this brand new world, testing his loyalty to the limits.  Looking back later in life, he recounts the traumatic events that led to the greatest rupture of all - the murder of the person he loves most.

Propulsively readable, Fever (2017) is a gripping epic of humanity striving for a noble vision against its basest impulses.  It is a searing story of a group of people determined to carve a city out of chaos.  As bold and sweeping in its power as the majestic landscape it describes, as intimate and fragile as the relationship between a father and a teenage son, Fever is a novel of power and politics, love and friendship, fear, betrayal, suspense and surprise.  Fever is simply an excellent read.

Fever is translated from the Afrikaans by K L Seegers.

About the author:  Deon Meyer was born in the South African town of Paarl in the winelands of the Western Cape in 1958, and grew up in Klerksdorp, in the gold mining region of Northwest Province.  After military duty and studying at the Potchefstroom University, he joined Die Volksblad, a daily newspaper in Bloemfontein as a reporter.  Since then, he has worked as press liaison, advertising copywriter, creative director, web manager, Internet strategist, and brand consultant.

Deon wrote his first book when he was fourteen years old, and bribed and blackmailed his two brothers into reading it.  They were not impressed!  Heeding their wisdom, he did not write fiction again until he was in his early thirties, when he started publishing short stories in South African magazines.

"I still believe that is the best way to learn the craft of writing.  Short stories teach you a lot about story structure - and you have limited space to develop character and plot," says Deon.

In 1994, he published his first Afrikaans novel, which has not been translated, "simply because it was not good enough to compete on the international market.  However, it was a wonderful learning experience".

All later novels have been translated into several languages, including English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Finnish, Czech, Romanian, Slovakian and Bulgarian.

Deon lives in Melkbosstrand on the South African West Coast with his wife, Anita, and they have four children to keep them busy:  Lida, Liam, Johan and Konstanz.  Other than his family, his big passions are motorcycling, music (he is a Mozart fanatic, but loves rock 'n roll too), reading, cooking and rugby (he unconditionally supports the national Springbok team and the Free State Cheetahs provincial team).

Rating:  6/5

The Thing About Brexit


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A Time of Love and Tartan (A 44 Scotland Street Series) by Alexander McCall Smith


Hardback:  With customary charm and deftness, Alexander McCall Smith gives us another instalment - A Time of Love and Tartan (2017) - in this popular series, now running in its twelfth season in the Scotsman, making it the longest running serial novel ever.  What trials are in store for Bertie and the gang this year?

Changes are afoot in Scotland Street, where small things can be of great consequence.  A colossal embarrassment follows Pat Macgregor's ill-advised coffee with narcissistic ex-boyfriend Bruce.  If Matthew, her boss at the art gallery, had not wandered into his local bookshop and picked up a particular book at a particular time, he would never have knocked over his former English teacher or attracted the attention of the police.

Meanwhile, other residents are moving onwards and upwards.  Stuart's application for promotion and his wife Irene's decision to study for a PhD in Aberdeen mean alterations to life in serial fiction's favourite street.  But, as Stuart's son Bertie finds out, sometimes change can lead to sudden, unexpected happiness too.

Alexander McCall Smith's delightfully witty, wise and sometimes surreal comedy spirals out to include bogus head-hunters in Papua New Guinea, an exchange visit of Rwandan forest people and the adventures of a class of seven-year-olds with Waiting for Godot.  And its heart remains where it has always been - true to life, love and laughter in Edinburgh's New Town.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world's most prolific and most popular authors.  For many years, he was a professor of medical law, then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty-five million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty-six languages and become bestsellers throughout the world.

These include the 44 Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in the Scotsman, the Isabel Dalhousie novels, the von Igelfeld series and the Corduroy Mansions novels.  His novel, Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, was winner of the 2015 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.

Alexander McCall Smith is Professor Emeritus of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and holds honorary doctorates from thirteen universities.  In 2017, he received the National Arts Club of America Medal of Honor for Achievement in Literature.

Rating:  5/5

The Bertie Project (A 44 Scotland Street Series) by Alexander McCall Smith


Paperback:  When Irene returns to Scotland Street from an involuntary holiday abroad, she discovers that her sweet little Bertie has been exposed to exactly those things of which she strongly disapproves, including sentimental movies and multi-topping pizza.  Her wrath falls upon her unfortunate husband, Stuart, leaving Bertie to consider moving out of Scotland Street altogether to live with his grandmother.

Will Bertie move, and can irene and Stuart's marriage survive?

Bruce falls in love - with an Australian extreme sports enthusiast - but will it last?

And, elsewhere, Matthew and Elspeth host the mysterious Duke of Johannesburg for supper.  Can the deliciously entertaining residents of Edinburgh's most beloved street negotiate all these challenges and find happiness once again?

The Bertie Project (2016) is the eleventh book in the light-hearted and gently insightful 44 Scotland Street series set in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The series move beyond its setting to deal with deep moral issues and love, desire and friendship, city life and human foibles.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world's most prolific and most popular authors.  For many years, he was a professor of medical law, then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty-five million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty-six languages and become bestsellers throughout the world.

These include the 44 Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in the Scotsman, the Isabel Dalhousie novels, the von Igelfeld series and the Corduroy Mansions novels.  His novel, Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, was winner of the 2015 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.

Alexander McCall Smith is Professor Emeritus of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and holds honorary doctorates from thirteen universities.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 21 August 2017

Criminal Minds


Individuality


Who Watcheth (An Inspector Irene Huss Investigation Series) by Helen Tursten


Hardback:  He watches the women from the shadows.  He has an understanding with them;  as long as they follow his rules, they are safe.  But when they sin, he sentences them to death.

A woman is found dead in a cemetery, strangled and covered in plastic.  Just a few days before her death, the victim had received a flower, an unintelligible note, and a photograph of herself.

Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues on the Violent Crimes Unit in Göteborg, Sweden, have neither clue nor motive to pursue, and when similar murders follow, their search for the killer becomes increasingly desperate.

Meanwhile, strange things have been going on at home for Irene:  first the rose bush in her garden is mangled, then she receives a threatening package with no return address.

Is Irene being paranoid, or is she next on the killer's list?

Who Watcheth (2016) is the latest and ninth instalment in one of the best feminine hardboiled Inspector Irene Huss investigation series currently being written with a much-loved heroine.

Who Watcheth is translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy.

A new Inspector Irene Huss book and the tenth chronologically - Protected by the Shadows - will be released on 14 December 2017.

About the author:  Helene Tursten was a nurse and a dentist before she turned to writing.  Her books have been translated into eighteen languages and made into a television series.  She was born in Göteborg, Sweden, where she now lives with her husband and daughter.

Marlaine Delargy works as a translator and adult learning support tutor.  She has translated novels by Åsa  Larsson and Johan Theorin, among others, and serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review.  She lives in Shropshire, England.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Secrets of My Life by Caitlyn Jenner


Hardback:  In this remarkable memoir - written with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger during her pivotal first years of rebirth - Caitlyn Jenner reflects on her past as she looks to her future.

"The juxtaposition of Bruce and Caitlyn is shocking even to me.  How could one become the other and the other become the one?  I know that Caitlyn was my gender at birth, waiting for the right moment to subsume Bruce.  Imagine defying your core and soul.  Then add to it he most impossible expectations that people have for you because you are the personification of The American Male Athlete."

Bruce Jenner, the celebrated Olympic icon and later the patriarch of one of the most famous families in the world, seemed to be living a dream life of success, fame, and prosperity.  But the all-American image and million-dollar smile belied a lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria, and it was not until the sensational Diane Sawyer interview that the public mask of Bruce Jenner was finally retired, and through the memorable Vanity Fair piece by Buzz Bissinger, that Caitlyn Jenner was introduced to the world and set free to exist on her own terms.  Since then, Caitlyn has undertaken an arduous emotional and physical odyssey to achieve the completeness she always felt was missing.

In The Secrets of My Life (2017), Caitlyn reflects on the inner conflict she experienced growing up in an era of rigidly defined gender identities, and the cruel irony of being hailed by an entire nation as the ultimate symbol of manhood.  She recounts her Olympic triumph, her rise to fame, and relates how her sense of frustration and shame grew with the passing years and the lengths to which she had to go to conceal her true self.  Caitlyn in turn uncovers the toll that these personal struggles had on her three marriages and, subsequently, the relationships with her children.  She also talks candidly about her life in the public eye as a member of the Kardashian clan, what led to her decision to become Caitlyn, and how she, her family, the transgender community, and the rest of the world has since embraced her new life.

Filled with incredibly personal and moving stories of struggle and victory, of anxiety and fear, and, finally, of surrender and acceptance, The Secrets of My Life reveals the real Caitlyn Jenner by tracing her long and eventful journey to becoming herself.

About the authors:  Caitlyn Jenner broke the work record in the decathlon by scoring 8634 points at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.  She subsequently became a broadcaster for ABC and NBC, regularly appeared on Good Morning America, and became one of the country's most-sought-after inspirational speakers in detailing her remarkable Olympic success.

Since revealing her true self, Caitlyn executive-produced I Am Cait, the award-winning series on E! hailed for raising public awareness of transgender issues.  She was named Barbara Walters' Most Fascinating Person of the Year in 2015, honoured as one of Glamour magazine's Women of the Year, and received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2015 ESPY Awards for her transition from Olympic athlete to transgender activist.

Buzz Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize winner and the author of the iconic Friday Night Lights.  His other nonfiction books include A Prayer for the City, Three Nights in August, and Father's Day.  He has been a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair and wrote the magazine's landmark cover story on Caitlyn for the July 2015 issue.  He is also a professor of nonfiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Distant View of Everything (The Isabel Dalhousie Series) by Alexander McCall Smith


Hardback:  Recently distracted by the arrival of her and Jamie's second son, Magnus, Isabel Dalhousie - philanthropic editor of the Review of Applied Ethics - is anxious. The next issue of the Review is far from ready, her eldest, Charlie, is jealous, and their housekeeper, Grace, has an officious approach to childcare.  With some relief, Isabel returns to helping out at her niece Cat's delicatessen, where surely the most taxing duty is the preparation of sandwiches.

It is not long before Isabel's helpful, philosophical nature draws her into customers' problems, specifically that of ambitious, self-proclaimed matchmaker, Bea Shandon.  Bea has staged a potentially dangerous liaison involving enigmatic plastic surgeon, Tony MacUspaig, who may not be quite who he claims to be - and Isabel's help is required in getting to the truth of the matter.

Good-hearted Isabel proceeds with her usual thorough attention to task, and on Bea's advice talks to her friend Rob, a trustworthy regular on Bea's dinner party circuit, and known to have deep suspicions about MacUspaig.  It becomes clear, however, that Rob has an agenda of his own and Isabel is now contending with that, along with a mysterious medical condition of Jamie's and some frustrating dead ends when it comes to Bea's predicament.

When the truth finally reveals itself, Isabel must conclude that along with MacUspaig, Bea, Jamie - and even Cat - she herself is not immune to misunderstandings, or the neurotic fantasies that arise from keeping secrets.

A Distant View of Everything (2017) is the latest and eleventh book in the philosophical and much-loved Isabel Dalhousie series set in Edinburgh, Scotland.

About the author:  Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world's most prolific and most popular authors.  For many years, he was a professor of medical law, then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty-five million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty-six languages and become bestsellers throughout the world.

These include the 44 Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in the Scotsman, the Isabel Dalhousie novels, the von Igelfeld series and the Corduroy Mansions novels.  His novel, Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, was winner of the 2015 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.

Alexander McCall Smith is Professor Emeritus of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and holds honorary doctorates from thirteen universities.

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Mountain Parks


Charlottesville


Deadfall (Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper Series) by Linda Fairstein


Hardback:  Amid the concrete and skyscrapers of New York City, the Wildlife Conservation Society works to preserve and protect the animal kingdom.  But dangerous creatures do not always have claws and fangs, as Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper and NYPD detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace know all too well.

Predators lurk close to home, and in the aftermath of the shocking drive-by murder of someone Alex has worked with for years, the trio must discover who the bigger snake is:  the killer of the victim.

Investigations into the death provide more questions than answers, as a tangled mess of secrets slowly comes to light.

From bribes to secret societies, from big-game hunting to the illegal animal trade, from New York City zoos to behind closed doors in government buildings, Alex will have her work cut out for her if she wants to uncover the truth and uphold the integrity of the office she has so proudly served.

Deadfall (2017) is the latest and nineteenth book in the Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper series set within New York City.

About the author:  Linda Fairstein (born 1947) is one of America's foremost legal experts on crimes of violence against women and children.  She served as head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office from 1976 until 2002 and is the author of a series of novels featuring Manhattan prosecutor Alexandra Cooper.

Ms Fairstein is an honours graduate of Vassar College (1969) and the University of Virginia School of Law (1972).  She joined the Manhattan District Attorney's office in 1972 as an Assistant District Attorney.  She was promoted to the head of the sex crimes unit in 1976.  During her tenure, she prosecuted several highly publicised cases, including the "Preppy Murder" case against Robert Chambers in 1986.

Linda Fairstein left the District Attorney's office in 2002, and has continued to consult, write, lecture and serve as a sex crimes expert for a wide variety of print and television media outlets, including the major networks, CNN, MSNBC among others.  Ms Fairstein is often called to provide her opinion on high profile prosecutions including:  Michael Jackson's molestation charges in 2004, Kobe Bryant's sexual assault charges, and Scott Peterson's trial.  She is also a frequent speaker on issues surrounding domestic abuse.

Ms Fairstein lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard with her husband, Michael Goldberg.  Her novels draw on Ms Fairstein's legal expertise as well as her knowledge of and affection for the rich history of the city of New York.

Rating:  5/5