Thursday, 31 December 2015

Favourite Biography - History of Music 2015

My favourite biography in the history of music category is:-

From a Storm to a Hurricane: Anthony Hogan

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

What an excellent book!  It's clear that Anthony Hogan, now emerging as one of Liverpool's finest historians, has written this book straight from the heart and has thoroughly researched the story of one of most important bands from the Merseybeat era in Liverpool.

At the end of the book, we discover just why Rory Storm (real name Alan Caldwell) and the Hurricanes had such an impact on the author and became such an important factor in his life, but first he chronicles the story and events of that time starting when the group were feted as the best band in Liverpool. Ringo Starr, who of course went on to worldwide fame as a member of the Beatles, was their drummer. The Liverpool bands, including the Beatles, who then had Pete Best as their drummer, were all known to each other at that time and their lives intermingled. They played at the same venues at home in Liverpool and abroad in Hamburg and gathered at Rory Storm's home, where they were all made welcome by Violet Caldwell, Alan's mother.

Iris Caldwell, Alan's sister who was very close to her brother, had dated Paul McCartney at the time, and was friends with many of the people who are included here, has invaluably helped the author of this book with his research and provided much to the background story, as well as numerous photographs of Rory (Alan) and the band. Others, including surviving former band members and friends and family have also contributed interesting information and memories of that era

We learn about what really happened in Hamburg, and how so many of the books written about the Beatles, are factually incorrect. Anthony Hogan, with the help of those who were around at that time has set the record straight here with this important book. Such a sad ending and leaves the reader wondering about what might have been, if circumstances had been different.

Favourite Contemporary Memoirs 2015

My favourite Contemporary Memoirs 2015. In no particular order and to be continued.........

Too Young To Be Old: From Clapham to Kathmandu: 

Frank Kusy

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

As a huge fan of Frank Kusy's writing, I couldn't wait for this book to come out and it certainly didn't disappoint. I'd already read the three travel memoirs written by Frank about his time spent travelling in India, that were all published prior to this one.
In this book Frank goes back to his time spent working as an administrator in an elderly residents home in Clapham. There are quite a few colourful eccentric characters, both staff and residents and Frank describes them and his encounters with them in his usual self-effacing hilarious way. As a nurse who has spent time caring for the elderly, one of the greatest gifts you can give them is time and Frank gives them plenty of this because he listens to them, but not only that he records their memories on his trusty Sony Walkman and they certainly loved to talk.
Throughout the book Frank is painfully honest about what he sees as his many faults and all described in such an entertaining way. In this book we find out more about Frank's conversion to Buddhism, that is a feature in the other books in the series.
I didn't want this book to end, it's another Frank Kusy cracker and I'm now reading his other books again to be entertained once more by the author's unique writing style.

Inadmissible: Tamer Elsayed

My rating 5 out of 5 stars *****

A gripping and fascinating account written by an exceptionally intelligent young man. Tamer could easily have glossed over or omitted certain aspects of his story and presented himself in a more flattering and heroic way, but he didn't. He admits he made mistakes and errors of judgement that did eventually affect and change the course of his life. I admired his honesty and determination as a convicted felon who only had a limited time to gain his desired qualifications before possible deportation to be accepted into and work his way through degree, masters and Phd courses at top class universities in the US. I'm totally in awe of his intelligence and application to the extremely difficult courses he undertook. I couldn't even begin to name them all but even following the story of how he progressed was fascinating. I won't give anything more away. A truly inspirational memoir written by a man from a modest virtually one-parent background in Egypt. Highly recommended.

Fat Dogs And French Estates - Part 1 (Fat Dogs): Beth Haslam

My rating 5 out of 5 stars *****

Just finished Beth Haslam's book 'Fat dogs and French estates: Part 1' and really enjoyed it. A very funny and entertaining 5* read about a couple from the UK looking to purchase a domaine in France. I was going to include a funny quote, but the humerous quotes are too numerous to highlight just one. Beth writes with an exceptionally observant sense of humour about the search for a property, the colourful characters they meet along the way and her husband, who let's just say is entirely unintentionally hilariously funny! (Read this during a stressful time and it was very good therapy) Highly recommended. Looking forward to Part 2

Fat Dogs And French Estates Part 2: Beth Haslam

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

After reading the first book in the series 'Fat Dogs and French Estates Part I, I was absolutely bursting to read the second one and it didn't disappoint. Beth and her husband Jack, accompanied by their two dogs, are still searching for a French domaine to buy and as in the first book, estate agents seem intent on showing them some very undesirable properties with the most peculiar owners. I love Beth's humorous descriptions of the seemingly never ending quest to find the perfect property, their adventures along the way and Jack's irascible and often hilarious outbursts of grumpiness. Jack is funnier, wittier and perhaps a bit grumpier than the character of Victor Meldrew ever was. As a bit of a fan of military history, his scathing remarks about such matters throughout their journey really made me laugh out loud on occasion. Unfortunately, I read the book far too quickly and have now finished it. Bereft, but I'll wait patiently for the next one in the series.

Sell the Pig: Tottie Limejuice

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

Right from the start, I became totally absorbed in this book, so much so that I quickly read right through each book and then onto the next one to find out what happened next.
This is the first book in the series and chronicles the planning stages of the author Tottie Limejuice's move to France along with her very elderly, increasingly frail mother, old dog and an alcoholic brother. 

Tottie and her brother were not happy with the standard of care their elderly mother was having in the UK and they wanted a better quality of life and care for her in the remaining time she had left. Moving to France was considered to be the best option at that time, although it appeared to be a very daunting and not entirely logical prospect.

There are difficulties all along the way at each stage and Tottie, who should have the nickname of "Toughie" Limejuice (I'm sure I'm not the only one to suggest that :-)) ), somehow manages to cope with them all, retaining a real warmth and humour that makes this book and series so enjoyable to read.

I also enjoyed all the books in this series, which can all be found by following the author page link Here. The latest book in the series Biff The Useless Mention I have only just read over Christmas and haven't got around to reviewing yet, but would happily give it a 5 star rating

The Diary of a Single Parent Abroad: Jill Pennington

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

 I was blown away by this book and read it in a few sittings. The book had been on my kindle for a while and I really hadn't expected it to be so good, but it turned out to be such a cracker of a read that I could hardly put it down. Jill Pennington and her husband have experience of renovating "doer upper" old houses and decide to buy one in a mountain village in Italy. Unfortunately, Jill's husband flits too often back and forth between his various business interests in other countries and also unbeknown to his wife has frequent visits to his long term mistress. Eventually the feckless husband leaves Jill and their children more or less to fend for themselves in their newly adopted country and living in a house only partly renovated. How Jill and her children adapt to their circumstances is truly remarkable. Living on very little and through an enormous amount of hard graft Jill provides for her family, single-handedly renovates the house, grows and rears their food to give them a fantastic lifestyle in a country they all love. A highly recommended inspiring read. I really hope there is a sequel

I don't read that many 'celebrity' memoirs these days, but this one I did enjoy

Spectacles: Sue Perkins

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

really enjoyed reading this rather brave and honest memoir. Sue Perkins is a very witty, funny lady and this certainly comes across in her writing. Parts of the book are laugh out loud, hilariously funny and other bits are glimpses of Sue's personal life and struggles. I enjoy watching Sue and her comedy partner Mel in the Great British Bake-off TV programme and the book has made me respect her even more. We need to see more of Sue and Mel on our screens
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First World War favourite books 2015

My First World War favourites for 2015, are (so far, more to be included) :-

Dorothea's War: The Diaries of a First World War Nurse: Dorothea Crewdson and Richard Crewsdon (editor)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars*****

Very few diaries or accounts of nursing in the First World War have survived, and if they did, many were unpublished, or retained by family members. No doubt there are a fair few lurking in various archives

Thanks to the nephew of Dorothea Crewdson, Richard Crewdson, who discovered and edited his aunt's diaries, we now have the pleasure of reading them. There is much that can be learned from reading this diary. Written by a young nurse, who started the diary as a newly trained Red Cross VAD in 1915; the diary chronicles her time during the subsequent years of the First World War, both at work and off duty. Written in an energetic, spirited and interesting way by someone who obviously had a good sense of humour. The diary also includes Dorothea's own drawings.

Sadly Dorothea died in March 1919 after contracting peritonitis, just before she was due to return home to England, which makes the diary an even more poignant read, knowing that as a reader you are in fact reading about the last events of a young girl's life. A valuable contribution to the social history of those times and a book that should be on the school curriculum.

Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars *****

This book was such a rewarding read. Kate Luard was in her forties in 1914 with experience of nursing during the Second Boer War. Kate enlisted in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on August 6, 1914, two days after war was declared. She served in France & Belgium until 1918, first on the ambulance trains and then in Casualty Clearing Stations. She was awarded the RRC (Royal Red Cross) and Bar (rare distinction) and was twice mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field. The book tells her remarkable story through her own war diary and the prolific amount of letters to her family at home.

One of 13 children, Kate came from a loving and close-knit family. She wasn't a dewy eyed young girl shocked or overwhelmed by her experiences and what she was witnessing as some First World War nurses have been depicted in recent TV drama. This is really how it was and the family of Kate Luard have done a remarkable job in re-publishing Unknown Warriors, first published in 1930, now virtually impossible to obtain a copy of and including an extra chapter. 

Kate Luard was without doubt a talented writer. The book is so rich in descriptive detail, making it a most fascinating read. The scarcity of diaries or accounts written by trained military nurses during the 14-18 conflict means that this a rare and quite unique record chronicling the events of the lives, work and off duty of nurses on the Western Front. 

Anyone studying or researching the war would find this book to be an invaluable read and it should be on the required reading list for any student of First World War history, either in school or higher education.

Merseyside at War: Anthony Hogan

My rating 5 out of 5 stars *****

Anthony Hogan certainly knows how to research and his empathy towards the subject and those he writes about shines through in this very well researched book about Merseyside and Merseysiders in the two world wars between the years 1914-18 and 1939-45. 

Often heartbreaking, sometimes humorous, personal stories are included in this book along with detailed factual research from recognised sources.

Many residents of Merseyside lost their lives during both conflicts both in active combat and as a result of the heavy bombing inflicted on Merseyside during the blitz. 

As one of Britain's largest cities and a strategic sea port, Liverpool was heavily targeted during the second world war. The blitz of Liverpool isn't something mentioned too much in the media, when the subject of the second world war is featured, nor is it adequately represented in documentaries or indeed fictional representation of the war. Much more is reported and featured about the London blitz. This book more than redresses the balance.

An absorbing, fascinating read full of facts and personal stories, tragedy, hardship and courage, author Anthony Hogan has preserved the memory of many Merseyside men, women and children caught up in two terrible conflicts during the history of the 20th Century. I really hope to read more from this author. Anthony Hogan has certainly emerged as one of the best historians of Merseyside history in recent times.

The Quick and the Dead: Richard Van Emden

My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

After a dry spell of not reading any Great War related books, this was on my 'to read' list and I finally got around to reading it. Took a Kindle version with me to read on a battlefield trip to the Somme, but didn't get around to reading it until I returned and it was probably not the best time to read it as I was feeling very emotional about it all. Will buy a paper copy at some point as a 'keeper' for my bookshelves

An excellent book about an aspect of the war that has interested me for a while. The effect the war had on those left behind. I can see why the 'pebble in the pond' effect of this terrible period in time has rippled down through the years and had an impact on subsequent generations, including family members of mine

Thought I wouldn't be able to get past the part about Lily Baron, the ninety-eight year old lady visiting her father's grave at Bourlon Wood. 'He had been killed during the Battle of Cambrai back in November 1917 when she was just five years old. She left a little note on his grave, "Thank-you for five years of real happiness - I've missed you all my life' That really affected me, as did other accounts and I had to stop reading for a time.

There is a lot of previously unpublished source material from letters and diaries etc.
There is a chapter on The Missing and how so many were lost and remain so today and the heart-rending and fruitless search for family members for the loved ones who never came home.

It's easy to forget while researching individual service personnel that for every name, rank and number there were family members back home who suffered terribly because of their loss and not only emotionally but financially too. This bit sums it up for me, written by Private Stephen Graham '...For dying was not the hardest thing; the hardest thing was plunging one's home into sorrow.'

*We came across the grave of Roland Leighton by chance on a recent trip and the amount of crosses next to it drew our attention to it and then I remembered who he was

Favourite Novel 2015

The favourite novel, I've read this year is:-

The Invention of Wings: Sue Monk Kidd.
My rating 5 out of 5 stars*****

My favourite book of the year by far. I simply couldn't stop reading this moving tale of slavery in the Deep South during the early nineteenth century. A beautifully written, absorbing fictionalised account of abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké, written in chapters alternating between Sarah's account and the account of the young slave Handful gifted to her on her eleventh birthday. The book reads like a joint memoir written by both women.
Sue Monk Kidd gives Handful a voice as she writes about the realities of her life and that of her mother Charlotte 'mauma' the Grimke family seamstress; both slaves owned by the family and both mistreated and punished by the elder Grimké 'missus', wife of Judge Grimké and mother to Sarah and Angelina.

The book begins with Sarah's abhorrence at the thought of 'owning' another person, after she was 'given' Handful on her eleventh birthday as her own personal maid and reveals her feelings of revulsion for the keeping of slaves, the punishments metered out to them on an almost daily basis and the the slave trade as a whole.

Sarah takes Handful under her wing, tries to look out for her welfare and teaches her to read.
Sarah is an intelligent, well read young girl, bored with the education she is given as a young lady preparing for society and marriage as her only options. She reads the law books in her father's library and her prime aim is to become a lawyer. Female lawyers were unheard of at that time. Indulged by her father at first, who finds her entertaining and enjoys her debate, he eventually prevents her from accessing his library and stifles her ambition.
As Sarah matures, she becomes both godmother and mentor to her younger sister 'Nina' Angelina and finds a kindred spirit to pass on her thoughts and educate.

The writer Sue Monk Kidd used primary sources, letters, books, essays, and articles about the Grimkés, slavery, abolition, quilts and African textiles, and early nineteenth-century history for her research towards writing this literary classic

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Crime Fiction favourites 2015

I have posted the following reviews on US & UK Amazon and Goodreads.
In no particular order:

By far, one of my favourite newly discovered Crime Fiction series has been the DI Ted Darling Series, written by L M Krier

Baby's Got Blue Eyes: Introducing DI Ted L.M. Krier
My rating 5 of 5 stars *****

I enjoyed reading this crime cracker. At last, a normal copper who isn't constantly in trouble with his superiors. DI Ted Darling lives with his very understanding and talented partner Trev. There are grisly murders in the locality. The storyline, the DI's likeability and approach to solving the crimes had me gripped from the start and left me wanting to return to reading the book if I had to put it down.I've been a fan of crime fiction from an early age and have read a fair bit of it, so I think I can recognise good crime writing when I see it and this book definitely ticks all the boxes for me.
Very few crime fiction novels hold my interest these days because I'm a little tired of reading books that appear to follow the newer trend in crime fiction with go it alone heavy drinking detectives who somehow manage to hunt down the killer single-handedly, while barely holding onto their jobs. DI Darling follows procedure, works with his team of detectives and has earned their respect and that of his superiors. This doesn't make him boring by any means because there is a real warmth and depth to his character.
The book reminded me of some of the old classic crime writing. I'm looking forward to reading more in the series. DI Ted Darling has restored my faith that good crime fiction can still be written. Hallelujah!

Two Little Boys: DI Ted Darling Book II L M Krier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars *****

Crime fiction fanatics - there's a new crime writer on the block and a new detective series to follow!
L M Krier is an experienced writer, former journalist and copy editor with a series of successful books about her move and life in France.

This is the second book in the DI Ted Darling series and although I enjoyed the first book, I liked this one even better. Once more we have the endearing cop with a warm heart and martial arts skills, who follows procedure and actually gets on with his superiors.

The subject is a difficult one and topical at the moment, with high profile people coming under investigation and serving sentences for the most heinous of crimes.

Murder is always nasty but one involving the vulnerable young even more so. The author L M Krier covers the subject of child abuse and murder with great sensitivity. The book focuses on the procedural and background side of the investigation, without inflicting on the reader gratuitous violence, or gruesome details.
There is more about the warm and loving relationship between Ted Darling and his partner Trev, although the investigation brings to the surface one of the DI's own personal demons putting a strain on the relationship.
The introduction of the new female Detective Superintendent known as 'The Ice Queen' is a good addition to the team.
I liked the format of the book, with evenly spaced shorter paragraphs, making it easier to read. The twist at the end of the book was a good 'un and stopped me in my tracks!
As a fan of crime fiction I love finding a new detective series to follow.Looking forward to the next one in the series!

When I'm Old and Grey: DI Ted Darling Book III L M Krier
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars *****

I couldn't wait to read this book because after reading the first two in the series, I'm now a huge fan of DI Ted Darling and his partner Trev. It certainly didn't disappoint. I think this one is my favourite book of the series. There are so many twists and turns that I ended up suspecting about five different people of the murders.

Any of the books in the DI Ted Darling series could be read as a stand alone, so if you see this book, or any of the others in the series on offer, then grab it quick but I can guarantee that you'll be hooked and will then need to read the whole series, because in each book, as the story unfolds, we learn more and more about the two central characters, DI Ted Darling and his partner Trev. Different layers of their individual backgrounds are revealed and in this book we meet two important characters from both of their pasts. Also we are introduced to the new and intriguing character of the female officer DC Vine.

L M Krier is a gifted storyteller, who reveals the plot in such a way that holds the attention of the reader right through to the end. I couldn't put the book down. Wanted to savour it but found myself racing through to the final denouement. Now I can't wait for the next one!

Another huge favourite from this year is: In Bitter Chill Sarah Ward. Can't wait to read more from this author!
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars *****

I found this book to be a thoroughly absorbing book from start to finish, with quite a few clever plot twists throughout. The reader never quite knows which way the plot will unfold and exactly what happened to two abducted young schoolgirls in a historic 30 year old case and the story is revealed in cleverly crafted, sometimes hazy layers bit by bit.

Beautifully written and without any scenes of sickening gratuitous violence, in a style reminiscent of some of the classic crime writers with the focus on inhabitants of a small town, in this case one in Derbyshire.

The only survivor of the abduction Rachel, who has very limited recollections of the fateful day, makes a living as a genealogist, unravelling the mysteries of the family history of her clients and it is through her research experience that she begins to unravel the details of the case and discovers exactly what happened and who was responsible. Rachel isn't the only one though who methodically works through the clues and background details, there are others, including the detectives working on the case particularly Connie Childs, the young DC.

The denouement towards the end is both clever and chilling as the perpetrators are revealed and one of the characters faces danger.

I hope to read more from this author. For a debut novel, this one is a cracker and was very hard to put down

Another favourite: Wicked Game  Matt Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars *****

I first heard about Matt Johnson's debut Crime Fiction novel when he followed me on Twitter. I followed back and noticed that his book had a lot of positive feedback. Downloaded the book and read it in a few sessions. An absorbing and well written read that had me staying up late to finish the book.

Matt's career as a soldier and then later as a police officer for twenty five years gave him valuable insight into the aspects of both services, add that to his ability as a writer who can craft a good story and it's a winner. He is up there with the top notch crime writers. A real cracker of a book and I have no hesitation to give it five stars.
I  look forward to reading more books from this gifted writer
Dance With The Enemy Rob Sinclair
My rating: 5 of 5 stars *****

I found this book to be a fast paced, well written thriller. The writer, Rob Sinclair is up there on the same level as other more successful and well known writers of thrillers. A cracker of a book, and I will be reading the other books in the series.

One of the most interesting books I've ever read is Signal Red Robert Ryan, so although a fictionalised account of a true crime, most definitely deserves a mention here.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars *****

Signal Red is one of the most interesting books I've ever read.
Robert Ryan really captures and recreates the atmosphere of 1960's and the essence of the key players in one of the most daring robberies this country has ever seen.

The characters involved in what became known as The Great Train Robbery, have rightly or wrongly become legends in their own lifetime and have been the subject of film, TV drama and countless other books. The robbery was planned in minute military detail by the mastermind behind it all, Bruce Reynolds, who according to varying accounts, was horrified by the violent attack on the guard during the robbery.

The behaviour before, during and after the robbery by some of the others in the gang, led them to being rounded up and arrested not very long after the event. But were they all caught?

Signal Red, with a mix of fiction and fact, delves right inside the lives of the characters behind the Great Train Robbery and their significant others and the author brings them to life in this account that draws from his extensive research into the subject and meetings with various faces and names from the past.
Bruce Reynolds himself approved of the book, it's authenticity and background and wrote an afterword for the book.
There was TV dramatisation of this book that was excellent but the book delves so much deeper and was an absolutely fascinating read. Highly recommended 5*

Hiding the Past: Nathan Dylan Goodwin

My rating 4 out of 5 stars *****

quite enjoyed this book and thought it was well written and researched. Genealogy was an interest of mine for a number of years and I obtained a certificate in the subject from the IHGS, who briefly feature in the book. 
It was an absorbing, interesting read and I loved the descriptions of the various characters working in local archives - I've met a few similar ones!
It was a little farcical at times, with some unbelievable plot twists, but I did read all three books in quick succession, one after the other. Found them completely addictive and look forward to more books from the author.

The America Ground Nathan Dylan Goodwin
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars *****

Although I enjoyed all three books in the Morton Farrier series, this is by far my favourite. Well written and researched. A REALLY cold murder mystery case for Morton Farrier, the forensic genealogist to investigate. A mystery and a historical novel all rolled into one. The plot goes backward and forward from the old to the present very smoothly.
It felt as if the author is getting more into his stride as a writer with this book. I look forward to reading more very addictive books from Nathan Dylan Goodwin

About this blog

We love Memoirs FB group reviewer

Nominated for Best Blogger Newcomer of the year. (I won't win - too much tough competition, but good to be nominated)

Professional Reader I'm an average reader - hence the title of the blog. Actually, I'm an avid reader and a complete bookaholic. My name is Caryl and I'm a retired nurse.  I try to review the books I read and flit about between genre. I also post all reviews on Amazon US & UK and Goodreads. I'm now a supporter of Indie authors, so a fair few reviews will be for Indie books I've enjoyed - although I didn't realise some of them were Indie authors at first, the writing is so good. I read a mix of Indie and published more established authors. I'm very new to book blogging and really only started this one because books are a passion to put it mildly :) So I'm learning as I go along!
I only review books that I like, so most of my reviews will be 4* or 5*. 
I never accept payment for a review. I'm totally independent and just do my own thing.

I have a Twitter account @MrsBloggsReader where I talk mainly about books (amongst other things) and post reviews. 
I'm passionate about family, wildlife, bees, the environment, the NHS and a lot of other subjects.
Favourite genres:  Crime Fiction, Memoirs, History, Wildlife, Military History, Classic novels, any well written contemporary novel - I read a lot of crime fiction - it's fair to say that I'm a crime fiction fanatic. My aim is to keep it simple on this blog with not too much waffle. 
 As I said I'm new to book blogging, so will probably make a fine mess of it now and then :) I appreciate any help, advice or constructive criticism (I think!)

Thank you for reading this blog.