Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What You See Is What You Get: My Autobiography by Lord Alan Sugar

When I am stuck in a reading rut, I tend to look for books that come under the heading of 'non-fiction', like travel books, food-adventures books, true crime, autobiographies, etc, or I tend to give reading a complete rest.  Well, What You See Is What You Get:  My Autobiography (2010) has been in my to-be-read pile for quite some time and it is high time I rescue it and give it the attention it deserves.  

To many of us, Lord Alan Sugar is not an unfamiliar figure.  He is the boy from a tiny council house in East London whose first job was to sell sacks of wool as a kid!  Today, he is a lord, a market leader, the owner of Amshold Group Ltd and the popular star of the award-winning BBC series The Apprentice, and the more recent The Junior Apprentice.  He has two honorary Doctor of Science degrees and was knighted in 2000.  In 2008 he was appointed to the Government Business Council by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and in 2009 he led the government's Apprenticeship advertising campaign and roadshow seminars.  In the same year the (former) Prime Minister appointed him Enterprise Champion to advise the government on small business and enterprise, and he was also awarded a life peerage, becoming Alan, Baron Sugar of Clapton in the London Borough of Hackney.

Now he is telling his story, his way, charting his journey from a humble background to his meteoric rise to fame and fortune.  He is never less than his genuine, blunt and gutsy self.  He is a man who says things as it is.  It is true that what you see of Lord Sugar is what you get!  His outlook on life is old-fashioned and simple but inarguably full of wisdom.  His advice is pure common sense and they do make sense if you think about it.  Through the ups and downs of his career, he never falters or gives up hope and in fact, the lowlights of his life make him stronger.  He is a gentleman who will always advocate that hard work and hard work only is the realistic way to success, none of those instant fame or overnight success much publicized by reality television nowadays.  The book is a truly inspirational read and this autobiography will tell you more about who the real Lord Sugar is  - a man of integrity, a respected businessman and more importantly, a decent family man and loyal friend.  I cannot help but be full of admiration for this old boy from Clapton.  You can follow Lord Sugar on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.  I do not rate books of this nature.  Happy reading!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Death in Perugia by John Follain

I thought it is time I read true crime based on a hugely intriguing murder that occurred more than four years ago in the hilltop city of Perugia in the heart of Umbria, Italy.  I did not take too much notice of the case when it unfolded.  It was not until Amanda Knox made news on television in October 2011, when the Italian court acquitted both her and Raffaele Sollecito of all the charges made against them, including murder, sexual assault and staging a break-in, that I first took more than a slight interest in the case.  

Guilty or innocent, I cannot come to a definitive conclusion even after closing the book and putting it away.  Why?  Because the motive for the murder is not clear.  There are no reliable witnesses as far as the case is concerned.  There is the lack of DNA, hardly any forensic evidence, conflicting witness statements, a very confusing crime scene and a lot of questions which bore more questions and more questions.  Prosecution made it easy for the public to believe that Amanda and Raffaele were linked to the murder due to their odd behaviour - they were photographed kissing - immediately after the crime.  However, an important but overlooked fact is that there was no evidence - blood and DNA - that connected Amanda and Raffaele to the crime scene at all.

When top criminal defense investigator, Paul Ciolino, reviewed the pile of evidence, he changed his mind from thinking Amanda Knox was probably guilty to concluding that the prosecution of Amanda was a "police-generated fairy tale and a railroad job from hell".  Police corruption of the evidence and crime scene was obvious from the crime-scene videotapes and deemed worthless and inadmissible.  There were lies, distortions and innuendo, so much so that the whole case was thrown into disarray.  An important discovery was covered up by the police and the prosecutor's office.  Certain people became afraid and were induced to keep what they knew to themselves for fear of reprisals.  

The only real victim in this four-year saga is Meredith Kercher.  

As for the others who were directly or peripherally involved, were they guilty, were they innocent, who knows?  Right from the beginning of the book, the flow of the story very clearly points the finger of guilt towards Amanda Knox and if so, why?  On the other hand, one can't help but ask whether Meredith had just been unlucky.  Perhaps she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  If this were a work of fiction, it would be termed the "perfect murder" and I guess it was "the perfect murder" because the perpetrator was allowed to slip through the fingers of the law.  Any booklover who has read anything and everything under the sun will find this book, or more accurately this murder, completely unfathomable.  I certainly did.  Do read it and decide for yourselves.  

Presently, Amanda Knox is back at home in Seattle and has reportedly signed a book deal with HarperCollins worth $4million(!) to tell her side of the events surrounding her initial arrest and conviction, incarceration and the trials that followed.  Her book will be out next year ie 2013.  Her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, has followed suit with a book deal with Simon and Schuster's Gallery Books scheduled to come out earlier than Amanda's this autumn.  His book will be called Presumed Guilty:  My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox.  

From the paperback:  John Follain, who covers Italy for The Sunday Times, tells the definitive account of the Meredith Kercher case from her murder to the acquittal of Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox.  Shortly after 12.30pm on 2 November 2007, Italian police were called to the Perugia home of 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher.  They found her body on the floor under a beige quilt.  Her throat had been cut.

Four days later, the prosecutor jailed Meredith's flatmate American student Amanda Knox, and Raffaele Sollecito, her Italian boyfriend.  He also jailed Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast drifter.  Four years later Knox and Sollecito were acquitted amid chaotic scenes in front of the world's media.

Uniquely based on four years of reporting and access to the complete case files, Death in Perugia (2011) takes readers on a riveting journey behind the scenes of the investigation, as John Follain shares the drama of the trials and appeal hearings he lived through.  Including exclusive interviews with Meredith's friends and other key sources, Death in Perugia reveals how the Italian dream turned into a nightmare. 

John Follain was voted runner-up for the 2006 Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism, and nominated for the 2008 Magazine Journalism Awards for his interview with the Knox family.   

Breaking news update (30 January 2014):  The Amanda Knox retrial began in September 2013.  Today, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are found guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007, for a second time.  Amanda is sentenced to 28 years and 6 months in jail whereas Raffaele received 25 years.  The judges ordered that damages should be paid by Amanda and Raffaele to the family of Meredith.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Sweet Life In Paris by David Lebovitz

A line from the book:  I believe in taking advantage of my decision to live in a foreign country by making myself open to new adventures whenever the opportunity arises. - A Fish Out Of Water, p94.

From the paperback:  Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited in the 1980s.  Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to the City of Light to start a new life.  Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighbourhood.

But he soon discovered it's a different world en France.

From the illogical rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men's footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the nightmare of unchecked bureaucracy and the arcane etiquette of the cheese plate, The Sweet Life In Paris:  Delicious Adventures In The World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City (2009), is a story of how he came to fall in love with - and even understand - this glorious, maddening city.

Here is David Lebovitz talking to RedVisitor - The Essential Guide for Discerning Travellers - based in Paris, France:

My take:  If you have never been to Paris (I doubt that) or have been a few times and are thinking of going again or if you just want to read about Paris from an insider's point of view, then perhaps this is the book you have been looking for.  Travel guides don't tell you the nitty-gritties and this book does.  It is a "deliciously funny, offbeat, and irreverent look at the city of light, cheese, chocolate, and other divine confections."  Food lovers will also enjoy this book as it is filled with Lebovitz's fine French recipes covering starters, mains, sides, desserts, sauces, etc.  It is a much-welcomed read after an unending stream of crime fiction books since the beginning of this year.  Nothing beats reading about food and life, wouldn't you agree?  There are more colourful and fascinating videos on David Lebovitz's Youtube Channel or you can sign up to David Lebovitz's popular Paris-based blog here to find out more about him and his food adventures in the City of Light.  I do not rate books of this nature.  Enjoy getting to know the real Paris never mind the food - yum!

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Mozart Conspiracy by Scott Mariani

Do visit Scott Mariani's official website for more information on The Mozart Conspiracy, the second book in the Ben Hope series, published in 2008.

Click here to listen to Mariani talking (from Wales) on WNYC radio about the elusive circumstances surrounding the death of the prodigious composer back in March 2011.

This is an excellent action-packed thriller which grips you from start to finish.  Mariani's books have great entertainment value.  I shall look forward to the third book in the series.

Rating:  3/5

Friday, 17 February 2012

Secret Sins by Kate Charles

Paperback blurb:  Life may not be getting any easier for curate Callie Anson, but it is definitely getting more interesting.

When a young man goes missing - with a heavily pregnant wife at home - the local police are baffled.  Has he run away from his imminent new responsibilities?  Or does his disappearance have a more sinister explanation?

And just when the police think they've solved the mystery, someone else goes missing:  a troubled teenager and granddaughter of one of Callie's parishioners.

An absorbing and chilling mystery, Secret Sins (2007), the second book in the Callie Anson series, explores the power of passion, morality and loss, and the things people do in the name of love.  For more information, go to www.katecharles.com

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Deep Waters by Kate Charles

This is a deeply satisfying read and I enjoyed making Callie Anson's acquaintance again.  A very well-written mystery combining police procedural, complex familial relationships including marriage and religious faith.  I hope that there will be a fourth book out sometime and meanwhile, will explore the author's David Middleton-Brown series.  Deep Waters (2009) is the third book in the Deacon Callie Anson mystery series set in London.  Do visit Kate Charles' website for more information.

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Time Gone By by William Heffernan

A Time Gone By (2003) is a excellently written noir thriller spanning the years 1945-1975 with a good atmosphere, sense of place and time, plot and pace but unfortunately, it did not draw me in because it can sometimes seem contrived;  nevertheless, it is a powerfully evocative piece of work which is worth checking out including the author's other works, eg, the New York Times bestseller, The Dinosaur Club (1997), published by Hale.   For more information on William Heffernan, do check out his Wikipedia page.

Hardback:  William Heffernan is one of the most respected and critically acclaimed authors writing today.  Now, in his sixteenth novel, he uses his powerful, atmospheric style to pay homage to the noir thriller and the great mystery writers of the forties and early fifties.

A Time Gone By begins in the glitter of cafe society in the 1940s as it weaves a complex tale of murder and corruption involving one of New York City's most powerful political families.  Crime fighting judge Wallace Reed, destined to be the next governor of New York, is found bludgeoned to death in his post East Side townhouse.  Thirty years later, Chief of Detectives Jake Downing is still haunted by that murder.  It is the very crime that launched his meteorite police career.  But it is also the crime that sent an innocent man to the electric chair and destroyed Downing's personal world by driving away everyone he had ever loved.  Now, as he faces retirement, Downing decides to set the record and his conscience straight - no matter what it costs;  no matter whom it hurts.

What really happened on that rainy night in 1945?  Who wanted the judge killed?  Certainly the sultry young widow, Cynthia Reed, had questionable reasons for marrying the judge - but did she also want him dead?  Jake Downing knew Cynthia was trouble the moment he saw her;  he knew, but he didn't care.  She was beautiful and vulnerable, and it was Jake's responsibility to protect her.  It was an assignment that would forever alter his life of an idealistic young detective.

Now, three decades later, as he struggles to find the real murderer of Judge Reed, Jake Downing is opening a door he will never be able to close.  But is it the truth Jake really wants, or is it revenge?

Rating:  4/5

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Book Bench

I marvel at this book bench and will look out for more bookish inventions of this kind.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Birthdays For The Dead by Stuart MacBride

From the hardcover:  Detective Constable Ash Henderson has a dark secret...

Five years ago his daughter, Rebecca, went missing on the eve of her thirteenth birthday.  A year later the first card arrived:  homemade, with a Polaroid picture stuck to the front - Rebecca, strapped to a chair, gagged and terrified.  Every year another card:  each one worse than the last.

The tabloids call him 'The Birthday Boy'.  He's been snatching girls for twelve years, always in the run-up to their thirteenth birthday, sending the families his homemade cards showing their daughters being slowly tortured to death.

But Ash hasn't told anyone about Rebecca's birthday cards - they all think she's just run away from home - because if anyone finds out, he'll be taken off the investigation.  And he's sacrificed too much to give up before his daughter's killer gets what he deserves...

My take:  MacBride's second stand-alone novel is very different to the Logan McRae series that I have grown accustomed to.  I am relieved to find that the level of swearing is non-critical.  All in all, Birthdays for the Dead (2012) is a top rate and excellent Scottish police procedural with taut plotting and witty dialogue, among others.  A much enjoyable read, certainly so much better than Shatter The Bones (2011), but must say that if you have read MacBride's books before, you would know his plots are sinister and dark and not recommended for the faint-hearted.  I look forward to more from this award-winning author.

More information can be found on the author's official website at www.StuartMacBride.com

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Purgatory (Prison Diaries, Volume II) by Jeffrey Archer

An excerpt from the book:  Day 38.  Saturday 25 August 2001.  5.11am.  I wake and think about how I would be spending the August bank holiday weekend if I were not in prison.  I also begin to consider whether there are any advantages to being in jail.  Certainly, incarceration is something to be added to one's experiences, particularly as it has come at a period in life when I felt I was marking time.  I've also have to stretch myself - unfortunate pun.  But I've already reached a stage where I am gaining little from the experience.  As I could be stuck here for a while longer, it might be wise to have an escape plan - escape of the mind.  I've already completed Belmarsh:  Hell, and have penned 44 000 words of Wayland:  Purgatory.  I can't wait to get to heaven, whenever and wherever that might be.

After reading Hell (2002), Archer continues his prison diaries series in a second volume entitled Purgatory (2003).  On 9 August 2001, he was transferred to HMP Wayland, a Category C establishment in Norfolk where he served for sixty-seven days and during that time, continued his frank and dry account of his incarceration and daily degradations inside the British penal system.  This is an eye-opener read full of information on drug pushing in prisons.  It is a corruptible read.  Recommended.  For more information, go to www.jeffreyarcher.co.uk

I do not rate books of this nature.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Today, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall attended a ceremony at Westminster Abbey to celebrate the bicentenary of the British novelist's birth.  His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales laid a wreath at Dickens' grave at the Poets' Corner.  Dickens' many well-known works reflected Victoria era Britain and focused on social injustices and the plight of the British working class.  Actor Ralph Fiennes read an extract from Bleak House (1852-1853):

Monday, 6 February 2012

Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride

Out of all the books in the Logan McRae series, I find the seventh book, Shatter The Bones (2011), very hard going and depressing in terms of the swearing and the subject matter but MacBride can write, oh yes, he is a fine writer.  It is ironic that this is probably his best work so far and yet I cannot wash the outpouring of vitriol from my ears.  Seriously, his writing has logical organization and direction, consistency, intelligence and a mish-mash kind of humour which does not make you want to laugh all the time.  I highly recommend the Logan McRae series to all and sundry but be warned.        

Paperback blurb:  Aberdeen's own mother-daughter singing sensation are through to the semi-finals of TV smash-hit Britain's Next Big Star.  But their reality-TV dream has turned into a real-life nightmare.

The ransom demand appears in all the papers, on the TV, and the internet, telling the nation to dig deep if they want to keep Alison and Jenny alive.

Time is running out, but DS Logan McRae and his colleagues have nothing to go on:  the kidnappers haven't left a single piece of forensic evidence and there are no witnesses.

It looks as if the price of fame just got a lot higher...

For more information, go to www.stuartmacbride.com

Rating:  3/5

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore (animation video)

I love it!  For more information on this clever video, go to Vimeo (Moonbot Studios).  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore has been nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 2012 Oscar Academy Awards.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope

Joanna Trollope's new book, The Soldier's Wife, is out today.  I have already booked my copy.  She tells us what it is about here:

Link is lost, apologies.

The Sin of a Reader - Part Two

This picture is taken outside Shakespeare & Company Bookstore in Paris.