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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Body in Barcelona by Jason Webster

(Book received from, and review written for,
Politics of Catalonia, with a murder                      My rating:  3/5

Based in Barcelona, and Valencia, this murder mystery is set against a background of politics as the people of Catalonia hope for independence, in contrast to the many Spanish who (according to the book) do not want the country to be divided.    It is set in the current day, with the recession biting and tensions rising. 

The first half of the book clarifies the politics, the policing and why Camara (the police officer) is thinking and acting as he does.  Very interesting for those who want to learn something about the question of the independence of Catalonia.  However, it is not until Chapter 8 that a body is found and not until the middle of the book that the action really gets going, and it becomes a thrilling read.  The description of the farming life around Valencia is wonderful, and other areas explored include the various police and intelligence agencies, paella making, the LegiĆ³n,  government agricultural grants, social problems and anarchists.

There are numerous strands to the plot, which makes the book seem to jump around in the first half, but gradually they all come together, as the book races through a thrilling second half.  Camara is an interesting character, needing to decide between upholding his moral values or letting them go in order to assist in solving a case in which he has no leads.    

For the tourist a few places of interest in Barcelona are mentioned, including a wonderful (according to the book) fish restaurant that still exists.  However the main interest for tourists will be the political background that is described.

This is the first book in the Camara series that I have read (this is the 5th novel), and I found it difficult to get through the first half - interesting as it was (too much politics, too little action).  However once all the explanations had been completed and I had reached the second half, it was brilliant and difficult to put down.  I'm glad I kept reading. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Staying Sharp by Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Fascinating, Informative and Practical              
My rating:  5 out of 5

A fascinating book on how the brain works, and how to keep it working to its full capacity.  Although containing a massive amount of attention grabbing material, it is written in an easy, sometimes amusing, and always riveting style.  Each chapter is prefaced with "Key Concepts", and broken up into small sections, all clearly labelled.    I strongly advise having page markers ready to insert, as there are many sections here that you are going to want to revisit.

Following an explanation of how the brain works , including new research and discoveries about it, the 9 key lessons of the "Youthful Brain Program" are explored.   These include sections on exercise, excellent nutrition advice (exactly what I had been looking for) and sleep, explaining why these are so important for the brain, with ideas on how to improve each. Also included are ideas for flexibility of mind, empathy, being positive plus many other sections regarding how "the brain and mind impact health and daily functioning".  In each section there are plenty of reasons given as to why the activities suggested, including mindfulness, are good for the brain, including references to research and further resources.  What makes this book particularly special, is the number and variety of suggestions given to help the reader improve/maintain  brain function,  for example in the movement chapter a range of suggestions are given for those that like to do a lot of exercise right through to the people who just want to make one small change, like standing up more often.

This book is packed full of so much fascinating, informative, motivating and realistic ideas that it is impossible here, in a few words, to describe it with justice.  Suffice to say that I think this is a book that everyone will benefit from and enjoy.  Not just the people reaching middle life that it appears to be aimed at, but also younger people - who too can learn much from  the advice given, and who may wish to buy a second copy for their older relatives, or friends who are about to retire.  

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Lost Girl by Liz Harris

I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Life in a Wyoming Mining Town in the mid 1800's               My rating:  4 out of 5

This historical novel tells the tale of a Chinese baby taken in by an American family of coal miners, and her life over the next 17 years.     The story shows the difficulty of growing up in a town where you are "different" and no-one wants to be your friend because of that.   The American miners feel the Chinese are taking their livelihood away, and with no-one "tryin' to understand anyone else" racial tensions rise as the book progresses.   Liz Harris skillfully takes the reader into the heart of American mining households in the mid 1800's and the book's themes include schooling, the everyday life of the miners, shopkeepers and others in the community plus the lives of women in such a town. 

This is the second book by Liz Harris that I have read (the first being "A Bargain Struck"), and again with this book you feel that you are there observing the action from just outside an open window.  Through the writing you can visualise the town and the homes, and the everyday lives of folk, and it is this attention to historical detail that makes her novels come alive for me.  

Saturday, 5 September 2015

1989 The Berlin Wall (My Part in its Downfall) by Peter Millar

   (Book received from, and review written for,

A fascinating and clear explanation                       My rating:  4 out of 5

This excellent autobiography of Peter Millar's life as a reporter takes the reader through the years before, during and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a clear, easy to read manner.

Although this book is primarily about East / West Berlin, it includes what was going on in the rest of the Eastern bloc before the Wall came down.  In doing so Peter takes us through his early days working for Reuters at Fleet Street, before moving to East Berlin as their correspondent.  There he meets many people, mostly at his local bar, who give him the story of the building of the Wall, and the appalling outcomes.  He mentions, almost in passing, the surveillance and bugging of his flat - although this becomes much more scary when, many years later,  he actually gets to read his Stasi file. 

It is not all horror and misery though, we are given amusing anecdotes about the reality of Germans versus the British stereotype of them.   There are some laugh out loud moments when the author returns to the UK and works for the Daily Telegraph foreign desk where life was not as exciting as he had imagined it would be, despite the revelation that they had "a special way of using paperclips"

There are references to the marital strain that being a frequently travelling reporter brings, including an instance of attempting to put snow chains on their stuck in the mud vehicle in the -10C Soviet Union - and the annoyance that just when you need a surveillance team to be following you, there isn't one.  I would have been interested to hear more detail of what it was like for his wife living in East Germany, but this is very much Peter's story and not seen from the perspective of his wife.

The story moves between Germany, Poland and the birth of the Solidarity Trades Union, to the Soviet Union plus many other countries in the communist bloc, giving the full picture of  the lead up to the fall of the Wall and "The Domino Effect" the Wall's coming down had. 

For the visitor to Berlin there are lots of references to places and monuments, including the bar the author frequented which is, according to the book, still there, "substantially unchanged, and remains the best bar in Berlin."

At a first glance into the book my heart sank at the print style used, but this was soon forgotten when I started reading.  There are some great photos included.  Any German words/phrases used are immediately translated afterwards (thank you!).

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how the Wall came to fall, and about the events going on around that time. 

The Girl with No Past by Kathryn Croft

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Gripping, a real page turner                      My rating: 4 out of 5

A psychological thriller, based in London,  with plenty of twists and turns and mystery.   What happened in Leah's past and why is it catching up with her now?   The narrative moves between  Leah's school days and the present, when she is aged 30.  Excellent plot, and gripping stuff, that keeps the reader guessing until the end. 

Sadly I found the writing style very irritating.  However the storyline was so good that I forgot about this when about halfway through the book, and raced to the end to find out what was happening and how it would all end.   Glad I read it - what a storyteller Kathryn Croft is!