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Friday, 26 February 2016

The Castaway's War: One Man's Battle against Imperial Japan by Stephen Harding

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

Military History and Survival                                                            My rating  3 out of 5
Publication Date:  May 2016

This is a tale of the USS Strong that was launched in May 1942, and sunk in July 1943.  It describes the building of the ship, the weaponry it carried and the preparation of the crew and ship for war.  Among the officers on the ship was Navy Lieutenant Hugh Barr Miller, who survived when the boat sunk and was eventually washed up on Arundel  Islet (Solomon Islands), where he not only survived but performed acts of great bravery. 

Lovers  of military history and detail about the US Navy's warships will find this a fascinating and riveting read, probably deserving of a 5 out of 5 rating.  Unfortunately the detail regarding the building and commissioning of the ship held little personal interest for me, and though the tale of survival on Arundel was  exciting, interesting and page turning it was not enough for me to rate the book higher.  

Monday, 22 February 2016

Code Name Papa: My Extraordinary Life while Hiding in Plain Sight by John Murray,Sharon Murray and Abby Jones

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

Real life is more scary than fiction                 My rating:  5 out of 5
This memoir is written by a former undercover agent working for the US, Canada and various European Governments.  He calls himself "Papa".   His story starts in 1965 when Papa joins the Marines, and goes through to 2012 when he retires.  Imbetween these times Papa has carried out numerous operations - often eliminating people who present a security risk to a government, risking his life (and that of his team) to follow the instructions he has been given.   His operations take place all over the world, from Russia to Italy, from Austria to Rendlesham Forest in England. 

The book covers his recruitment, dealing with moles, gunfights and the planning and execution of many assignments that are shocking and frightening in nature.  It also shows the effect that this sort of work has on his home and family life.  Due to the covert and sensitive nature of his work, many of the details are sparse, but enough information is given to make the reader fully understand each operation he describes. 

I found this a fascinating, if very disturbing, book.  I would recommend it to everyone, to learn about a world out there that most of us have no idea about.  However the book is describing a team of highly committed and hard hitting people who carry out assignments without question.  Much of the action described is more scary than any fictional thriller, and may cause you to question that creak you hear downstairs in the dead of night!  

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Girl in Berlin by Elizabeth Wilson

(Book received from, and review written for,

Spies in London and Berlin                    My rating:  3 out of 5

It's May 1951 in England and Burgess and Maclean have recently disappeared.   Elisabeth Wilson's  novel is set against the background of the public's surprise and shock over the news of spies defecting, and concerns the hunt to find other spies, particularly the one believed to be in MI5

In London Anthony Blunt's staff at the Courtauld Institute of Art adore him, and are shocked at the suggestions that he could be involved in any spying scandal.  The book's character Dinah works at the Courtauld, so gives an insight into Blunt's life at this time.  Dinah's husband works at the BBC and  is also, unwittingly, drawn into the world of spies and espionage.  He, like many of the other characters in the book also has another side hidden from his wife and friends.   Wonderful examples are given of social behaviours in the 1950s, as the charade of normality covers investigations and goings on that are (according to the book) common at this time. 

The book is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction, leading the reader into various private gardens, along London canals, Wimbledon and the world of art.    Many of the fictitious characters in the book are not quite certain of what their exact role is and how the part they are playing fits into the desperate race to track down spies.  The subtleties of their recruitment, and operating methods, is quite fascinating. 

The reader is taken to East (and West) Berlin, at this time of enormous change, and many comparisons made with life in England.   Again all is in confusion there as to who can be trusted, who is working for who and what is safe.   The descriptions of life in the 1950s are fascinating, and the author certainly builds up suspense and interest as events evolve. 

Unfortunately I found that after a riveting start the characters failed to develop, and therefore the story lost its way (for me) in the middle, though the ending pulled everything together and was well worth reaching.    Having finished the book, I can now look back and think how much I learnt about life at that time during the Cold War, and how interesting the book was, however at the time of reading that was not so apparent.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A Stranger's House by Clare Chase

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

Enjoyable Romantic Mystery                       My rating:  3 out of 5

Ruby has had a falling out with her long term boyfriend, so is thrilled to get a house sitting job from her best friend's cousin, Nate.  Very soon the reader is wondering:  what did Ruby's boyfriend do? what happened in Nate's past? why are odd things happening at the house Ruby is looking after?
Then there is a murder.

 Ruby, due to her naturally curious nature (or is she just a bit nosey?) decides to find out more about what is going on.

This is an enjoyable gentle mystery set in Cambridge, England.  It has humour, romantic confusion and, of course, lots of guessing  as to Who Did It.   

Suitable for all the family. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Boy from Hell by Alison Thompson

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

A practical helpful book - for all parents!                    My Rating:  5 out of 5

This is the story of Alison and her two children, one of whom has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's.  However it is less a story about this wonderful, loving family, it is more a book  about how they can help you with behavioural challenges you may be experiencing  with your child! 

This short book takes the reader through the different types of ADHD, giving practical advice on how to obtain help from the UK schooling system, examples of ADHD behaviour, what to do if your child is facing exclusion from school, and lots and lots of useful tips and techniques on how to deal with a child who is presenting challenges to parents or teachers.

Although ADHD is a "genuine medical condition with biological roots" Alison frequently had to deal with people thinking that Daniel's behaviour was just a bad parenting issue, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.  As Daniel says "There are no benefits from having ADHD". 

This is not only a book of helpful advice on living with a child with ADHD, but also a book on living with any child who has meltdowns, or exhibits behaviour that is difficult to control.   It includes "tips for surviving as a parent" , a section about diets  and medication, ideas for dealing with parenting challenges,  plus appendices with loads of helpful information and contacts.

A book for anyone who spends time with young children!

Oh - and Daniel isn't from hell, it just sometimes seems that way to him and everyone else. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Death Comes First by Hilary Bonner

(Book received from, and review written for,

Who Can You Trust?                                    My rating:  4 out of 5

Six months ago Joyce's husband died whilst out sailing.  Now she has received a letter from him, written before his death, which turns her life upside down.  He writes that she should take the children and run away from everything and everybody.   

After this dramatic start, the book follows Joyce as she tries to make sense of the letter, at a time when her family is still struggling with the grief of losing a father/husband.  As her distrust of everyone around her grows, more drama happens and things get worse and worse, until the police become involved - but can Joyce trust the police.   

This is a clever psychological thriller - not scary book.  The tension builds up slowly, and I became as intrigued as Joyce as to what was going on.  A page turner as the thrills and twists develop, and suddenly there is a whole new level of mystery and interest added.

This book is all about who can you trust, and whether you really know the people you think you can trust.   I thoroughly  enjoyed this book, and was drawn into Joyce's life and worries.  A great read; my first by this author.