Friday, 29 July 2016

Scandal In Prior's Ford (The Prior's Ford Series) by Eve Houston

Paperback:  The villagers have more than a few home truths to share.

There is a storm brewing at the Women's Rural Institute in Prior's Ford.  When WI president Moira Melrose is defeated in an election by village newcomer Alma Parr, the two neighbours are soon caught up in a bitter dispute - and are dragging their husbands, families and the entire village into battle with them.

At Tarbethill Farm, things are going from bad to worse both on the land and at the family table.  Bert McNair refuses to forgive his son Victor for selling some of their farmland to developers and things take a dramatic turn that no one could have predicted.

When poison-pen letters appear on the doormats of the villagers, the residents are forced to face some of their darkest secrets.  But just who wrote the letters?  And what do they have to gain by causing so much scandal?

Scandal in Prior's Ford (2011) is the fourth instalment in the delightful Prior's Ford series set in a pretty Scottish border village.

About the author:  A former journalist, Evelyn Hood is best known for family sagas mainly set in her home town of Paisley (Renfrewshire) and on the Clyde Coast, although she is also the author of 'Forward by Degrees', a history of the University of Paisley.  The history was commissioned to mark the University's centenary as a place of further education and was published in April 1997.

Evelyn has also published six one-act stage plays, a Scottish pantomime, a children's musical and a number of short stories and articles.  Unpublished but performed stage work includes a full length play, three pantomimes, six children's musicals, and a large number of monologues and sketches.

Her hobbies include reading and amateur drama, and she lives in West Kilbride, Ayrshire with her husband.  They have two grown sons.

Eve Houston is Evelyn's pseudonym.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Hiking Is A Bit Like Life

Trouble in Prior's Ford (The Prior's Ford Series) by Eve Houston

Paperback:  The residents are facing more upheaval in a village where hidden truths do not stay hidden for long.

Taking advantage of the tourist interest caused by the peregrine falcons, the villagers decide to hold a scarecrow festival.  Maggie, the rebellious teenager, now has a very undesirable boyfriend, and he and his friends decide to sabotage the festival.  But the residents are quick to fight back against these vandals.

Things are going from bad to worse at Tarbethill Farm.  Victor, the elder son, has taken over one of the fields and breaks his promise not to sell it to developers.  When his father finds out he finally loses heart altogether.

At the big house, Lewis is besotted by his baby daughter, though his mother and Jinty are still wondering if she really is his.  And Ginny loves him in silence.  And as Molly starts to take advantage of Lewis' good nature, can Ginny bear to keep silent about her feelings for him?

Trouble in Prior's Ford (2009) is the third book in the appealing and well written Prior's Ford series set in a pretty Scottish border village.

About the author:  A former journalist, Evelyn Hood is best known for family sagas mainly set in her home town of Paisley (Renfrewshire) and on the Clyde Coast, although she is also the author of 'Forward by Degrees', a history of the University of Paisley.  The history was commissioned to mark the University's centenary as a place of further education and was published in April 1997.

Evelyn has also published six one-act stage plays, a Scottish pantomime, a children's musical and a number of short stories and articles.  Unpublished but performed stage work includes a full length play, three pantomimes, six children's musicals, and a large number of monologues and sketches.

Her hobbies include reading and amateur drama, and she lives in West Kilbride, Ayrshire with her husband.  They have two grown sons.

Eve Houston is Evelyn's pseudonym.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Recipes For Love And Murder (Tannie Maria Mystery Series) by Sally Andrew

Paperback:  Meet Tannie Maria:  the loveable writer of recipes in her local paper, the Klein Karoo Gazette.

One Sunday morning, as Maria stirs apricot jam, she hears her editor Harriet on the stoep.  What Maria doesn't realise is that Harriet is about to deliver a whole basketful of challenges and the first ingredient in two new recipes - recipes for love and murder.

A delicious blend of intrigue, milk tart and friendship, join Tannie Maria in her first investigation. Consider your appetite whetted for a whole new series of mysteries set in South Africa.

Recipes for Love and Murder (2015) is the 'amusing' and 'chock full of good food and interesting characters' debut in the Tannie Maria Mystery series published in at least twelve languages across five continents.

The Satanic Mechanic (2016), the sequel, is out now in both paperback and Kindle forms.

About the author:  Sally Andrew lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo, South Africa, with her partner, artist Bowen Boshier, and other wildlife (including a giant eland and a secretive leopard).  She also spends time in the wilderness of southern Africa and the seaside suburb of Muizenberg.  She has a Masters in Adult Education from the University of Cape Town.

For some decades she was a social and environmental activist, then the manager of Bowens art business, before she settled down to write full-time.  Recipes for Love and Murder is her first novel.

Sally Andrew lives in a wilderness area where internet access is difficult.  She is unfortunately unable to respond to mail from readers.  She does occasionally climb a mountain and Tweet.  Join the discussion on Twitter@TannieSall or visit

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Drama Comes To Prior's Ford (The Prior's Ford Series) by Eve Houston

Paperback:  The village has some new arrivals and long-buried secrets are about to be uncovered in this enjoyable and well written second book through village life in the Prior's Ford series, Drama Comes to Prior's Ford (2009).

Actress Meredith Whitelaw, axed from a popular television soap, has descended upon Prior's Ford to 'rest' - but instead she creates havoc for the local dramatic society.

Clarissa Ramsey, travelling the world, keeps in contact with her friend Alastair Marshall, who finds himself missing her more with each letter that arrives.  Then Clarissa's aloof stepdaughter Alexandra bursts into his life, in search of refuge and consolation.

At Tarbethill Farm, the McNair family is struggling to make ends meet, and face the prospect of losing the livelihood that has been in their family for generations.

Unexpected news for Lewis Ralston-Kerr causes alarm and apprehension to his parents, busy refurbishing their tumbledown manor house.  And Jenny Forsyth and her husband Andrew discover, when Jenny's long-lost stepdaughter Maggie moves in, that the sweet little toddler has become a difficult teenager with a grudge to settle and determined to cause trouble.

About the author:  A former journalist, Evelyn Hood is best known for family sagas mainly set in her home town of Paisley (Renfrewshire) and on the Clyde Coast, although she is also the author of 'Forward by Degrees', a history of the University of Paisley.  The history was commissioned to mark the University's centenary as a place of further education and was published in April 1997.

Evelyn has also published six one-act stage plays, a Scottish pantomime, a children's musical and a number of short stories and articles.  Unpublished but performed stage work includes a full length play, three pantomimes, six children's musicals, and a large number of monologues and sketches.

Her hobbies include reading and amateur drama, and she lives in West Kilbride, Ayrshire with her husband.  They have two grown sons.

Eve Houston is Evelyn's pseudonym.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 25 July 2016

Esther "Etty" Hillesum (1914-1943)

Let's Kill Mom (True Crime) by Donna Fielder

Paperback:  In September 2008, Roanoke, Texas, police discovered a house of horrors:  poisoned pudding, a bathtub set up for electrocution, a bloody butcher knife and a hank of chopped-off hair.  The worst was yet to come.

Days before, seventeen-year-old Jennifer Bailey, her thirteen-year-old brother, David, and their friends Paul Henson, 16, and Merrilee White, 14, had made a gruesome pact:  they would kill their parents, steal their cars and credit cards and flee to Canada.

Paul and Merrilee's parents thwarted their fates but Jennifer and David's mother, Susan Bailey, 43, was not so lucky.  When the devoted mother returned home from work, her two children and Paul took turns stabbing her and slicing her throat.  When they were done, they fled in Susan's car.  They made it as far as South Dakota before being arrested.

What really led them to make such a despicable pact?  The answers would cast a disturbing new light on the way we see the all-American family, our neighbours, our children and the society that nurtured them.

In Texas, capital murder is a death penalty case.  If the kids had murdered Susan, and if they did it in the course of committing another felony, such as stealing her car or credit cards, that would qualify as a capital case.  An alternative to the death penalty would be life in prison without parole.  If everything was as it appeared right then - a combination of brutal violence and childish fantasy, they qualified for a charge of first-degree murder.

Let's Kill Mom (2015) is thorough account about four Texas teens and a horrifying murder pact but the heart of this story is Susan Bailey's mother who relived the anguish of the events in 2008 so that the author might recreate the emotions of a woman torn between love for her grandchildren and grief and anger over the death of her daughter.  The author has dedicated it to all the mothers who have sacrificed so much for their children.

In 2009, both Jennifer and Paul were sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder in the stabbing death of her mother.  However, Jennifer and Paul must serve at least 30 years before they are eligible for parole in 2038.  Assistant prosecutor Jamie Beck said Jennifer’s brother, David, who was 13 at the time of the stabbing, faces a capital murder charge in the juvenile system.  The teenager will not face the death penalty.  He pled guilty to murder in a plea agreement and was sentenced to twenty-six years, first in juvenile custody and then in adult felony prison.  He would continue to be incarcerated until either his sentence was completed or he was released from parole in 2021.  However, law enforcement officers do not think he will be paroled that soon.

Merrilee White, who was not present when the murder occurred, was charged with aggravated assault, family violence, and held in a juvenile detention centre for trying to stab her mom in a separate incident days before Susan Bailey's murder.  Eventually, her parents bailed her out of the detention centre.  Fort Worth police believed she was part of the conspiracy to murder their mothers and a long prison term could be her fate if she did not cooperate with the police.  After months of negotiations, Merrilee eventually pleaded "true" (equivalent of guilty) to aggravated assault in juvenile court and was assessed five years of probation.  She and her mother moved to another school district.  Since then, she has completed that probation and now has no criminal record.

About the author:  Donna Fielder, a national bestselling author of Ladykiller (2012), is an award-winning veteran journalist in the areas of investigative reporting, crime, courts, lifestyle and arts.  She has been featured on Dateline NBC, Women Behind Bars and Psychic Detectives.  She has worked with 48 Hours and has had weekly columns in the Denton Record-Chronicle and her crime stories have regularly appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

The Bank Manager by Roger Monk

Paperback:  Detective Sergeant Brian Shaw is transferred to a country town.

Just an ordinary, average Australian country town where nothing ever happens - except blackmail, fornication, embezzlement, revenge, avarice, brutality, snobbery, rape and murder.

Like any other ordinary, average Australian country town in God-fearing 1950.

The Bank Manager (2016) is the second book in the Detective Sergeant Brian Shaw series set in a fictional country town in South Australia.  Roger’s first novel, The Bank Inspector (2014), is a crime/thriller story that will appeal to lovers of the genre and certainly all bankers all over the world.  Currently, The Bank Inspector is only available on

About the author:  Roger Monk was born in Adelaide and grew up on the Yorke Peninsula and Lower North of South Australia.  He spent over twenty-five years in banking, latterly as bank secretary, and five years in management development in the Australian automotive manufacturing industry before joining the University of South Australia.  For many years, he has specialised in managerial and organisational behaviour and the psychological implications of business practices, and as a supervisor of Honours, Masters and PhD students.  He also works with tertiary students with Aspergers syndrome problems and on the preparation of textual case studies.

Roger holds a BA, a Master’s degree in Organisational Behaviour, an MBA, a PhD in Human and Organisational Psychology and is a Fellow of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia.  He has done substantial overseas research, lectured extensively in Hong Kong, and Singapore and has worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Cornell University.

Roger lives in the foothills above Adelaide with his wife, Valerie, a registered nurse, and enjoys writing, reading historical biographies and murder mysteries, gardening and fishing.  He has grown and made his own dry Eden Valley Riesling at their property in the Barossa hills.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A Croft In The Hills (Non-Fiction) by Katharine Stewart

Paperback:  "If the human being is to hold to his identity, he must, somehow or other, keep on making his own discoveries.  The tragedy of today is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to do so.  He is even in danger of becoming a back number, for the powers that would govern his life have found that the machine is, for competitive purposes, so much more efficient and reliable than he is.  When you have lived for a few years in the bare uplands, where life has been precarious from the start, you learn, first, not to panic.  Then you are ready to love wholeheartedly what need no longer be feared.  You become so deeply involved in the true drama of cherishing life itself that mere attitudes and the pursuit of possessions are discarded as absurd.  You discover that under snow there is bread, the secret bread, that sustains.  Panic gone, you can plot a course with steady hand and eye.  And, after all, human steadfastness is the only ultimate weapon fit to guarantee survival in a real sense.  That is why I thought it worthwhile to record the process by which three small human beings, completely re-enchanted with their world, found the strength to walk without fear among the astonishing beauty of its wilderness," wrote Katharine Stewart in her Introduction to the First Edition.

A Croft In The Hills, first published in 1960, is now acknowledged as a classic among Highland books.  It captures, in simple, moving descriptions, what it was really like trying to make a living out of a hill croft near Loch Ness fifty years ago.

A couple and their young daughter, fresh from city life, immerse themselves in the practicalities of looking after sheep, cattle and hens, mending fences, baking bread and surviving the worst that Scottish winters can throw at them.

Their neighbours are few, but among them they find the generosity and community spirit that has survived in the Highlands for generations.  Working as a tight family unit, they learn to cope and in time grow to love their little croft.

As Neil Gunn writes in his Foreword, their lives gain extra dimensions that 'give the book its unusual quality, its brightness and its wisdom'.

This reprint was published in 2012.

About the author:  Katharine Stewart (1914-2013) was one of the Highlands' most celebrated author, a crofting champion, a local historian and lecturer and postmistress.  She published her last book in 2010 but continued alert and working to the end.  It is hardly surprising she became a writer. Her father, Richard Dark, was a school master at Loretto and a published author, and her mother a teacher of modern languages.  The young Katharine Dark read French and Romance Philology at Edinburgh, graduating in 1937 before moving to Paris for a diploma at the Sorbonne.  She was still in France and Italy in 1939, skiing and climbing in the Alps and working at Perugia University, and was lucky to get home on one of the last boats at the outbreak of the Second World War.

After the war she came home to Edinburgh where she met and married Sam Stewart, commencing their married life by running a small hotel at Balerno on the edge of the Pentlands.  When their daughter was born in 1947 they determined to try to find a life in farming, something that had been a latent passion for both of them.  With a three-year-old at heel they headed north and made the move that would define the rest of her life and career.

Of the dozens of books by crofters and about crofting published in the 20th century, none is as enduring and celebrated as A Croft in the Hills, first published by Oliver and Boyd in 1960 with a foreword by her friend Neil Gunn, and still selling consistently throughout Scotland.  It describes the life of her family in a remote croft in the 1950s.  After her husband died in 1979, other books followed - Crofts and Crofting (1980);  A Garden in the Hills (1995);  A School in the Hills (1996);  The Post in the Hills (1997);  The Crofting Way (1999);  Abriachan, The Story of an Upland Community (2000);  The Story of Loch Ness (2005);  Women of the Highlands (2006);  Cattle on a Thousand Hills (2010);  as well as regular newspaper columns and magazine articles, short stories for radio and a series of books for children.  Not content with this burgeoning career, she took a teacher training course so she could teach French at Inverness and Glenurquart high schools.

She was awarded The British Empire Medal for services to the community at Abriachan as postmistress, local librarian, election officer and keeper of the flame during the sad years of depopulation and A Saltire Society Award for her contribution to the understanding of Highland culture.

Her words and her unquestioning friendship touched the lives of tens of thousands, perhaps millions of people;  she would be sorely embarrassed to be told she had become the dramatic highlight of her own remarkable story.  Katharine Stewart leaves a daughter, grandchildren and great grand-children. She ended her long, full life at Abbeyfield House in Inverness sixteen months before her 100th birthday in 2013.

Chickens Eat Pasta (Non-Fiction) by Clare Pedrick

Paperback:  Chickens Eat Pasta (2015) is a story of escapism, coincidences, friendship and luck in Umbria.

Most of all, it is a story about love - for the man she meets and marries, the family they have and the old house on the hill where it all begins.

This is the tale of how a young Englishwoman starts a new life after watching a video showing a chicken eating spaghetti in a medieval hill village in central Itally.

Unlike some recent bestsellers, this is not simply an account of a foreigner's move to Italy.

As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life, with a supporting cast of memorable characters.  Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences - between the English and Italians but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour.

"People often ask me what made me do what I did.  I reply that life is not always a case of making conscious choices.  If I have learned one thing, it is that following your instincts often leads to happiness, even if it doesn't mean taking the easiest path you could have chosen," wrote Clare Pedrick.

Chickens Eat Pasta is the perfect summer read and especially if you are heading to Umbria this summer.  It is a Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2015 finalist.

About the author:  Clare Pedrick is a British journalist.  She studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter.  Her book describes how, as a young woman, she bought an old ruin in Umbria.  She went on to work as Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency.  She still lives in Italy with her husband whom she met in the village where she bought her house.  The couple have three children.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans

Paperback:  The Walk (2010) is a New York Times bestseller from one of today's most inspiring writers.

What would you do if you lost everything - your job, your home and the love of your life - all at the same time?

When it happens to advertising executive Alan Christoffersen, he is tempted by his darkest thoughts.  With a bottle of pills in his hand and nothing left to live for, he plans to end his misery.  But then Al decides instead to take a walk - no ordinary walk, but one that would lead him to the farthest point on his map:  Key West, Florida.

Taking with him only the barest of essentials and leaving behind all that he has ever known, Al heads off on a journey into the unknown.  The people he encounters along the way and the lessons they share with him will save his life - and inspire yours.

The Walk is the story of an unforgettable, life-changing journey and an inspiring account of one man's search for hope.

About the author:  Richard Paul Evans is the No1 bestselling author of The Christmas Box.  Each of his fourteen novels has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, there are more than fourteen million copies of his books in print worldwide.  His books have been translated into more than twenty-two languages and several have been international bestsellers.  Evans is the winner of the 1998 American Mothers Book Award, two first-place Storytelling World Awards for his children's books and the 2005 Romantic Times Best Women's Novel of the Year Award.  Four of his books have been produced as television movies.  Evans received the Washington Times Humanitarian of the Century Award and the Volunteers of America National Empathy Award for his work helping abused children.  He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and their five children.

You can learn more about Richard on Facebook at, or visit his website,

Rating:  3/5

Friday, 22 July 2016

Stallo (A Supernatural Thriller) by Stefan Spjut

Paperback:  What is something is out there?

'A fantastic novel in every sense of the word.  I was enthralled from the very first page, not only because the story is intensely riveting and constantly surprising...but also because he writes in a language that captures the everyday life we otherwise know inside and out.' - Karl Ove Knausgaard

In the summer of 1978, a young boy disappears without trace from a summer cabin in the Dalecarlian woods of Sweden.  His mother claims he was abducted by a giant.  The boy is never found.

The previous year, over in a Swedish National Park, Laponia, a wildlife photographer called Susso Myren, takes a strange picture from his small airplane, of a bear running over the marshes.  On its back sits a creature, which the photographer claims is something extraordinary.  It looks like a small monkey, but the photographer claims he has taken his first picture of a troll.

Twenty-five years later, and back in Laponia, Susso runs a much-maligned web page, one dedicated to searching for creatures whose existence have not yet been proven:  the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot.  But Susso has her own obsession, one inherited from her grandfather, the well-known wildlife photographer - Trolls, legendary giants known as stallo who can control human thoughts and assume animal form.

Convinced that the trolls are real, she follows the trail of missing children to northern Sweden.  But humans, some part stallo themselves, have been watching over the creatures for generations, and this hidden society of protectors won't hesitate to close its deadly ranks.  When an old woman claims that a small furry animal has been standing outside her house, observing her and her five year old grandson for hours, Susso picks up her camera and leaves for what will become a terrifying adventure into the unknown.

Mixing folklore and history, suspense and the supernatural, Stallo (2015) is a haunting thriller into a frozen land where myth bleeds into reality.  Fans of Let The Right One In (2004) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, The Passage (2010) by Justin Cronin and Salem's Lot (1975) by Stephen King will almost certainly love it.

Stallo is translated from the Swedish by Susan Beard.

About the author:  Stefan Spjut has worked as a literary critic and culture editor.  His debut novel Fiskarens garn (Fisherman's Yarn) was published in 2008.  He lives in Stockholm and has two children, a girl and a boy.  He holds a black belt in taekwondo and considers himself a reprobate MMA-junkie.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Dead Souls (Ex-Convict Peter Boutrup Series) by Elsebeth Egholm

Paperback:  Two brutal killings and a missing boy are only the beginning...

On All Hallows' Eve, ex-convict Peter Boutrup is visiting his best friend's grave when her estranged mother appears.  Her son, Magnus, has disappeared, and she begs Peter to look for him.  The next day a young nun is pulled out of the moat at the convent in Djursland.  She has been garrotted and Peter, who works there as a carpenter, was the last person to see her alive.  Meanwhile, diver Kir Rojel finds an old box resting on the seabed.  Inside are human bones.  They are sixty years old, but the victim had also been garrotted.

While Peter is looking for Magnus, Detective Mark Bille Hansen is assigned to the case.  He is determined to link the bones in the box with the girl in the moat - but the hunt for the truth leads both he and Peter down a path so dark, they fear they may never return.

Dead Souls (2014) is the second book in the thrilling and brutal ex-convict Peter Boutrup series.  It is translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund and Don Bartlett.

About the author:  Elsebeth Egholm is a best-selling Danish author and journalist who lives in Jutland, Denmark.  She has written ten books and in 2011, published Three Dog Night which was the start of a new series introducing ex-convict Peter Boutrup and was an instant bestseller.  She is known internationally as the creator of the 10-episode television series Those Who Kill (2012), first broadcast in Denmark as Dem som dræber (2011).  Dicte, a series about a heroine journalist Dicte Svendson's exploits, was first broadcast in Denmark in 2013.  There are now six novels in this best-selling series.  Translation rights to the Dicte Svendsen series have been sold in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Norway, Iceland and France.  Elsebeth Egholm lives in Aarhus, Denmark.

Rating:  5/5

Three Dog Night (Ex-Convict Peter Boutrup Series) by Elsebeth Egholm

Paperback:  Meet Peter Boutrup.  He thought he was finished with the past.  But it was not finished with him.

In the small town of Grenå, once the murders start, no one knows who to trust.

Ex-convict Peter Boutrup is trying to build a new life.  It is the coldest winter in memory as Peter Boutrup moves to remote, rural Denmark to start a new life.  But then a young woman goes missing on New Year's Eve, and Peter discovers the body of Ramses, an old acquaintance from prison, on the beach.

Two days after the disappearance, a woman's body is found in the harbour - naked, attached to an anchor with her face torn off.  Is this the body of the missing woman and is it connected with Ramses' murder?  And could Peter's strange new neighbour, Felix, be involved?  Peter Boutrup just wants peace and quiet but he must accept that the truth lies hidden in the past he is trying to forget.

Populated by a cast of characters from the underbelly of Danish society, Three Dog Night (2013) is a fast-paced thriller that paints a picture of a rarely seen side of Denmark.  It is the first book in the ex-convict Peter Boutrup series.

Three Dog Night is translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund and Don Bartlett.

About the author:  Elsebeth Egholm is a best-selling Danish author and journalist who lives in Jutland, Denmark.  She has written ten books and in 2011, published Three Dog Night which was the start of a new series introducing ex-convict Peter Boutrup and was an instant bestseller.  She is known internationally as the creator of the 10-episode television series Those Who Kill (2012), first broadcast in Denmark as Dem som dræber (2011).  Dicte, a series about a heroine journalist Dicte Svendson's exploits, was first broadcast in Denmark in 2013.  There are now six novels in this best-selling series.  Translation rights to the Dicte Svendsen series have been sold in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Norway, Iceland and France.  Elsebeth Egholm lives in Aarhus, Denmark.

Rating:  5/5

Warsan Shire, London–based Somali Writer, Poet, Editor, Teacher and a Brunel University's African Poetry Prize 2013 Winner

Monday, 18 July 2016

News of a Kidnapping (True Crime) by Gabriel García Márquez

Hardback:  Gabriel García Márquez's book begins in November 1990 in Bogotá, Colombia, when a group of gunmen ambush a car and kidnap its two women passengers.  The gunmen were working for Pablo Escobar, boss of the Medellin cocaine cartel, who in the early nineties kidnapped the relatives of a number of Colombian politicians in order to pressurise the government to suspend the policy of extraditing drug traffickers to the USA.

New of a Kidnapping (1997) is at once an angry, disturbing account of how Escobar undermined all Colombia's civil institutions by murder or bribery, and a moving exploration of the fate of Escobar's hostages, who were mostly middle-aged or elderly women.  Márquez has talked to the survivors, read their diaries and reconstructed their ordeal in a way that only a great novelist could do.

As John Butt said in the Times Literary Supplement, the book is 'a non-fictional record of real events but one so transformed by a brilliant story-teller that it must be called a novel...'

'The novel's central image is of a few middle-aged or elderly women, lying day after day on filthy mattresses on the floor in a fetid, smoke-filled room a few feet square, with two or three hooded louts with machine-guns squatting in the corner watching their every move, alternately taunting, threatening, sulking, reassuring, apologizing.

The thugs seem torn between a desire to reduce their captives to insanity and a fear that they might turn hysterical.  The courage and dignity of the victims is worthy only of a story-teller of the stature of García Márquez, who has the gift of transforming journalism into art, thanks to his uniquely infallible eye for the dramatically necessary detail.

The publication of this novel in English will be a major event and will surely transform the outside world's awareness of how a country has been destroyed by insane greed and excessive personal wealth.  It should also remind us that if we do not take note, the fate of Colombia could be the future of millions of others.' - John Butt, Times Literary Supplement, reviewing the Spanish edition.

News of a Kidnapping was translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

About the author:  Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was a Colombian novelist, reporter, foreign correspondent and one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, mostly for his masterpiece Cien años de soledad (1967;  One Hundred Years of Solitude).  He was the fourth Latin American to be so honoured, having been preceded by Chilean poets Gabriela Mistral in 1945 and Pablo Neruda in 1971 and by Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias in 1967.  With Jorge Luis Borges, García Márquez is the best-known Latin American writer in history.  In addition to his masterly approach to the novel, he was a superb crafter of short stories and an accomplished journalist.  In both his shorter and longer fictions, García Márquez achieved the rare feat of being accessible to the common reader while satisfying the most demanding of sophisticated critics.

Before 1967 García Márquez had published two novels, La hojarasca (1955;  The Leaf Storm) and La mala hora (1962;  In Evil Hour);  a novella, El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (1961;  No One Writes to the Colonel);  and a few short stories.  Then came One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which García Márquez tells the story of Macondo, an isolated town whose history is like the history of Latin America on a reduced scale.  While the setting is realistic, there are fantastic episodes, a combination that has come to be known as “magic realism,” wrongly thought to be the peculiar feature of all Latin American literature.  Mixing historical facts and stories with instances of the fantastic is a practice that García Márquez derived from Cuban master Alejo Carpentier, considered to be one of the founders of magic realism.  The inhabitants of Macondo are driven by elemental passions—lust, greed, thirst for power - which are thwarted by crude societal, political, or natural forces, as in Greek tragedy and myth.

Continuing his magisterial output, García Márquez issued El otoño del patriarca (1975;  The Autumn of the Patriarch), Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981;  Chronicle of a Death Foretold), El amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985;  Love in the Time of Cholera;  filmed 2007), El general en su laberinto (1989;  The General in His Labyrinth), and Del amor y otros demonios (1994;  Of Love and Other Demons).  The best among those books are Love in the Time of Cholera, about a touching love affair that takes decades to be consummated, and The General in His Labyrinth, a chronicle of Simón Bolívar’s last days.  In 1996 García Márquez published a journalistic chronicle of drug-related kidnappings in his native Colombia, Noticia de un secuestro (News of a Kidnapping).

After being diagnosed with cancer in 1999, García Márquez wrote the memoir Vivir para contarla (2002;  Living to Tell the Tale), which focuses on his first 30 years.  He returned to fiction with Memoria de mis putas tristes (2004;  Memories of My Melancholy Whores), a novel about a lonely man who finally discovers the meaning of love when he hires a virginal prostitute to celebrate his 90th birthday.

García Márquez was known for his capacity to create vast, minutely woven plots and brief, tightly knit narratives in the fashion of his two North American models, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.  The easy flow of even the most intricate of his stories has been compared to that of Miguel de Cervantes, as have his irony and overall humour.  García Márquez’s novelistic world is mostly that of provincial Colombia, where medieval and modern practices and beliefs clash both comically and tragically. (biography compiled by Roberto González Echevarría for Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Saturday, 16 July 2016

An Italian Home: Settling by Lake Como (Travel/Autobiography) by Paul Wright

Paperback:  Just what is it like for a foreigner to live and work in a northern Italian village and become part of the community?

How tough is it to leave your home country and settle in a new one?

What do you have to do to be accepted by the people who live in a village that has existed for over five hundred years?

Award-winning artist and stage designer Paul Wright and his partner Nicola found out the hard way, working, playing, laughing, eating and drinking alongside the residents of a beautiful lakeside village.

Enjoy Paul's dry Liverpudlian sense of humour as he conveys a vivid word picture of life beside the lake with their colourful and resourceful neighbours.

An Italian Home, Paul Wright's first book, was published in 2011.  His second book - An Italian Village - a sequel to An Italian Home, is available on 28 November 2016.

About the author:  Paul Wright is an award-winning English artist who specialises in large scale murals, Trompe l'Oeil painted furniture, contemporary oil paintings and watercolour landscapes.

In 1982, following a period spent designing theatre sets around the UK, Paul started his own art studio in Surrey, where he specialised in hand painted interiors for private homes and commercial premises.

In 1991, he moved to northern Italy with his partner, Nicola, where he continues to work from his studio and art gallery base in the beautiful medieval village of Argegno on the shores of Lake Como, and from where he travels to other European countries and to the USA.

Paul's work has been featured in many art exhibitions in the UK and on two programmes for Italian television, plus dozens of periodicals and newspapers worldwide, notably The Sunday Times, Architectural Digest, The Wall Street Journal and The Arts Review.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Secrets in Prior's Ford (The Prior's Ford Series) by Eve Houston

Paperback:  The Prior's Ford Books is set in Dumfries and Galloway, the southernmost county in Scotland, an area of some of the most beautiful countryside to be found in the UK.  It is rich in wildlife and its hills and valleys are scattered with farmland, attractive villages and towns of architectural beauty as well as abbeys, castles and great houses and gardens bearing witness to its long history.  It is a land of lochs, streams and rivers, and its southernmost border is the wild and magnificent Solway Firth.  Dumfries and Galloway, in short, has everything.  What better place to set a book?

There is consternation among the villagers of pretty Scottish Borders town Prior's Ford when a firm expresses interest in reopening an old granite quarry.  Almost overnight, neighbours and friends fall out, with some welcoming the work the quarry will bring while others are ready to fight to preserve the village's peace.

Publican Glen Mason organises a protest group but when a local newspaper takes an interest in him and the story, he starts to feel very nervous indeed.  And when Jenny Forsyth attends a protest meeting, she is shocked to discover the quarry surveyor is an unwelcome face from her past.

Clarissa Ramsay, newly widowed, is too preoccupied to care much about the threat facing the village.  She has discovered her husband Keith had a secret life and has resolved to make some radical changes to her own.

While up at Linn Hall, the impoverished Ralston-Kerrs, struggling to keep the estate that is their ancestral heritage from going under, find that the changes threatened by the quarry represent a test of loyalty to the village that regards them as its lairds.

Secrets in Prior's Ford (2008) is the first book in the intriguing and scandalous Prior's Ford series.  There are seven books in the series.

About the author:  A former journalist, Evelyn Hood is best known for family sagas mainly set in her home town of Paisley (Renfrewshire) and on the Clyde Coast, although she is also the author of 'Forward by Degrees', a history of the University of Paisley.  The history was commissioned to mark the University's centenary as a place of further education and was published in April 1997.

Evelyn has also published six one-act stage plays, a Scottish pantomime, a children's musical and a number of short stories and articles.  Unpublished but performed stage work includes a full length play, three pantomimes, six children's musicals, and a large number of monologues and sketches.

Her hobbies include reading and amateur drama, and she lives in West Kilbride, Ayrshire with her husband.  They have two grown sons.

Eve Houston is Evelyn's pseudonym.

Rating:  5/5

Lana Del Rey Lyrics

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), The Pen Name and Legal Name of the Chilean Poet-Diplomat and Politician Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto

What Everybody Needs

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene

Paperback:  Water is the mother of tea, a teapot its father and fire the teacher. - Chinese proverb

The Seafront Tea Rooms is a peaceful hideaway, away from the bustle of the seaside, and in this quiet place a group of women find exactly what they've been searching for.

Charismatic journalist Charlotte is on a mission to scope out Britain's best tea rooms.  She knows she has found something special in the Seafront Tea Rooms but is it a secret she should share?

Kathryn, a single mother whose only sanctuary is the 'Seafront', convinces Charlie to keep the place out of her article by agreeing to join her on her search.

Together with another regular, Séraphine, a culture-shocked French au pair with a passion for pastry-making, they travel around the country discovering quaint hideaways and hidden gems.

But what none of them expect is for their journey to surprise them with discoveries of a different kind.  Full of romance and friendship, tea and cake, The Seafront Tea Rooms (2014) is a heart-warming, quintessentially British tale about the strength found in true friendship.

About the author:  Vanessa Greene hosted her first tea party at eight, to a select gathering of stuffed bears.  Since then she has trawled antiques markets from Portobello to Paris, Brighton to Buenos Aires, to build her teacup collection and feed her addiction to all things vintage.  She still loves an excuse to bring friends together - but nowadays her guests are less shy about trying the cake.  Her perfect weekend would feature chocolate muffins, good friends and of course a perfect cup of tea.  Vanessa is in her thirties and lives in north London with her partner. The Vintage Teacup Club (2012), her first novel, was published to rave reader reviews and won an instant place in their hearts.  Her latest book, The Little Pieces of You and Me (2016), a story about old friends and new beginnings, is out now.  She loves to hear from readers so drop her a line on Twitter (@VanessaGBooks) or Facebook (VanessaGreeneBooks).

Rating:  3/5

The Privilege

A Society In Monologue

Saturday, 9 July 2016

I Pray


"This lady saw me parked at a City park this morning and decided to stop.  She exited her vehicle with her two children and approached me as I was seated in my patrol car.  She simply stated that she wanted to pray for me.  Specifically for my safety.  I expressed my gratitude the best I could, but she really has no idea how much that meant to me.  Her little boy handed me a wilted flower that looked as if it had been in his pocket for a week.  At that moment, it was the most beautiful flower I'd ever seen.  My prayer is that sharing this encounter will encourage many to give people a chance, regardless of race or profession.  You simply cannot judge an entire group of people because of the actions of some.  Don't hate evil more than you love good."

Source -

Pancho and Lefty

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Failure of Justice: A Brutal Murder, An Obsessed Cope, Six Wrongful Convictions (True Crime) by John Ferak

Paperback/Introduction:  In the spring of 2006, a terrorizing double murder happened along a gravel road inside a two-story farmhouse.  Blood was sprayed everywhere and several red ammunition shells were left at the scene.  Everybody near the tiny town of Murdock, Minnesota, knew the victims, a middle-aged farm couple who were slaughtered in their upstairs bedroom on Easter Sunday night.  About a week later, the local Cass County Sheriff's Office arrested two relatives for the shotgun slayings.  There was great relief across the region and people expressed their gratitude toward the sheriff and his fast-working handful of investigators.

Six months later, the author drove to the historic Cass County Courthouse in downtown Plattsmouth to report on a stunning development.  The prosecutor was dismissing double murder charges against the public defender's indigent client, Nick Sampson.  Charges against co-defendant Matt Livers were dismissed weeks later as well.  Those two cousins who had been dished up by the sheriff's office were not the real killers at all.

Until the double-murder case debacle occurred in Murdock, most of Nebraska had been in a state of denial when it came to social justice topics such as false confessions, wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations.

Sometime in 2008, something huge was brewing behind the scenes of Nebraska's criminal justice system.  It was a history-in-the-making episode.  Three men and three women, dubbed the "Beatrice 6," were having their long-ago murder convictions set aside in the 1985 murder of a widow.  The public defender involved in the case helped achieve exonerations for not just one, but an astonishing six people in a lone murder case.  DNA tests revealed that Nebraska had a colossal FAILURE OF JUSTICE on its hands.  What would that mean for the Beatrice 6?

It was a remarkably tragic story.  Helen Wilson, a widow, did not have an ounce of meanness inside her body.  On 5 February 1985, one of the coldest nights on record, the unthinkable happened.  The sixty-eight-year-old resident was raped and murdered inside her second-floor apartment.  The trail of evidence turned frustratingly cold until an astonishing breakthrough occurred four years later.  The news of six arrests was absolutely stunning to the locals in this easy-going, blue-collar community of 12 000 residents.  Why were six loosely connected misfits who lived as far away as Alabama, Colorado and North Carolina being linked to the brutal crime?

As they sat in jail, the constant threat of Nebraska's barbaric electric chair scared the daylights out of these troubled souls except for one of them.  Joseph White remained defiant in his fight to prove his innocence.  At the time it did not matter;  all six were convicted of murder and sent to spend the rest of their lives in prison.  Six people in their prime whose lives were ruined, all caught up in a web of deceit, all because of a series of faulty assumptions by one man, a former Nebraska police officer, with a burning desire to solve the murder himself.  Innocent people became brainwashed into believing they shared some blame, thanks to the help of a psychologist who moonlighted as a sheriff's deputy.

At the time of Failure of Justice's (2016) publication, the Beatrice 6 case marks the largest mass exoneration case in the country due to newly tested DNA evidence but not many people are familiar with the case.  Hopefully, readers of Failure of Justice will be more mindful that false confessions tend to be magnified in states where elected prosecutors and small-town sheriff's departments can run around using the death penalty as an interrogation threat.  As a consequence, weak-willed, mentally challenged people are sometimes prone to confessing to a brutal crime, even murder, with little regard as to whether their confession meshes with the actual crime.

Failure of Justice is dedicated to public defender Jerry Soucie, a true crusader for Nebraska's wrongly condemned.

About the author:  A native of Plainfield, Illinois, John Ferak's first true crime book, Bloody Lies:  A CSI Scandal in the Heartland (2014) was the runner-up in the 2014 Foreword Review for true-crime book of the year.  Ferak's first book for WildBlue Press, Dixie's Last Stand:  Was It Murder or Self-Defense? (2015) was an Amazon bestseller and Hot New Release.  Since 2012, Ferak has worked as an award-winning investigative team member for Gannett Wisconsin Media, based at The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin.  He is the lead investigative reporter chronicling the Steven Avery case, the case featured in the Netflix documentary "Making a Murderer."

Sicily: A Short History from the Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra (Non-Fiction) by John Julius Norwich

Hardback:  Sicily is the key to everything. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The stepping stone between Europe and Africa, the gateway between the East and the West, at once a stronghold, clearing-house and observation post, Sicily has been invaded and fought over by Phoenicians and Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, Goths and Byzantines, Arabs and Normans, Germans, Spaniards and the French for thousands of years.  It has belonged to them all - and yet has properly been part of none.

John Julius Norwich was inspired to become a writer by his first visit in 1961 and Sicily is the result of a fascination that has lasted over half a century.  In tracing its dark story, he attempts to explain the enigma that lies at the heart of the Mediterranean's largest island.

"I discovered Sicily almost by mistake...  We drove as far as Naples, then put the car on the night ferry to Palermo.  There was a degree of excitement in the early hours when we passed Stromboli, emitting a rich glow every half-minute or so like an ogre puffing on an immense cigar;  and a few hours later, in the early morning sunshine, we sailed into the Conca d'Oro, the Golden Shell, in which the city lies.  Apart from the beauty of the setting, I remember being instantly struck by a change in atmosphere.  The Strait of Messina is only a couple of miles across and the island is politically part of Italy;  yet somehow one feels that one has entered a different world...  This book, is among other things, an attempt to analyse why this should be," wrote John Julius Norwich in the Preface.

This vivid, short history covers everything from erupting volcanoes to the assassination of Byzantine emperors, from Nelson's affair with Emma Hamilton to Garibaldi and the rise of the Mafia.  Taking in the key buildings and towns, and packed with fascinating stories and unforgettable characters, Sicily (2015) is the book John Julius Norwich was born to write.

'We are old, Chevalley, very old.  For over twenty-five centuries we've been bearing the weight of superb and heterogeneous civilizations, all from outside, none made by ourselves, none that we could call our own.  We're as white as you are, Chevalley, and as the Queen of England;  and yet for two thousand five hundred years we've been a colony.  I don't say that in complaint;  it's our own fault.  But even so we're worn out and exhausted...'

'This violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and even these monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing round us like lovely mute ghost;  all those rulers who landed by main force from every direction, who were at once obeyed, soon detested and always misunderstood.  Their only expressions were works of art we couldn't understand and taxes which we understood only too well and which they spent elsewhere.  All these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind.' - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (trans. Archibald Colquhoun), The Leopard.

About the author:  John Julius Norwich was born in 1929.  He is an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality.  After National Service, he took a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford.  In 1952, he joined the Foreign Service, serving at the embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and with the British Delegation to the Disarmament Conference at Geneva.

His publications include The Normans in Sicily, Mount Athos (with Reresby Sitwell), Sahara, The Architecture of Southern England, Glyndebourne and A History of Venice.  He is also the author of a three-volume history of the Byzantine Empire.  He has written and presented some thirty historical documentaries for television, and is a regular lecturer on Venice and numerous other subjects.

Lord Norwich is former chairman of the Venice in Peril Fund, co-chairman of the World Monuments Fund and a former member of the Executive Committee of the National Trust.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Geographical Society and the Society of Antiquaries, and a Commendatore of the Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.  He was made The Right Honourable The Viscount Norwich, CVO, in 1993.