Colin Merrey Book Reviews December 2013
Tuesday, 24 December 2013 00:00
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Well – I hope you all had a good Christmas – I know I did – I also got in a lot of good reading during the Christmas holidays – too hot to do much apart from eat, drink, sleep and exercise (a little!!).  I have toiled long and hard to give you a lot to choose from especially for this issue so here goes.  You may also find some goodies in here to spend your Christmas monetary and book tokeny gifts on.  I sincerely hope so.

  Don’t forget that if you have problems finding a good new- or second hand bookseller, you can try my favourites which are (in no particular order of preference) Dymocks at Whitford City – I particularly find Tracy to be extremely helpful when trying to source the latest book recently to add to my personal collection.  They also have stores in Subiaco Belmont (all part of the same franchise holder’s “armoury”), Karrinyup and Fremantle amongst other branches both city and state-wide.  I also look to Mark at the Corona Books shop at Warwick Shopping Centre for good service – I find him, too, to be extremely helpful and obliging and with a good knowledge of books and authors.  In the realm of Second Hand book sellers, you can’t go past Pulp Fiction – who have stores (again) at Whitford City and also at Floreat Forum Shopping Centre or the Elizabeth’s Bookshop chain which has shops in Fremantle, Perth City (Murray Street) and Subiaco to name but a few branches.  I also look to the Guildford Book Exchange for good service.  Also please remember to let the various stores know who pointed you in their direction.  The feedback is great for them and it shows me that you are actually taking the time to read what I have prepared for your enjoyment with each issue.  Then my work will not have been in vain, as it were!

  Firstly, to my book of the month – I have chosen this one, because the subject is one of the most talked about people n the history of Australia – notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly. 

NED KELLY – PETER FITZSIMONS
Random House Hardback $49.95
  This is a wonderful insight into this man by one of our most prolific and erudite investigative journalists her in the Land of Oz.  Peter has written some brilliant historical tomes over the years (including a review of the Eureka stockade that you may recall I told you about some time back in an earlier edition of the Scene).  This one is no exception as he delves into the mystery of this enigmatic and larger than life character – was he a thief, a remorseless killer, a hero, and Aussie Robin Hood or a political revolutionary?  Through extensive research, Peter has set out to peel away the layers of this man’s persona to try to get to the bottom of the mysteries that surround the man that was Ned Kelly.
  A truly fascinating read.

 
And now to continue – it would seem that there are a lot of people (entertainers, actors, media personalities and their like) who have set down their life stories in print for the benefit of all those (like me, in fact) who have an interest in such matters.  That said, there has been of late an absolute epidemic of biographies and auto biographies that have passed though my portals so I thought I would give you a heads up in that regard and list some of them for you.  All I may add have been very well written by the persons themselves (sometimes with the aid of a co- or ghost-writer) and make on the whole very engrossing reading. I must say that I found out quite a bit about them that I hadn’t previously been aware of – their personal struggles before achieving overnight success, etc.
  I don’t think that I need to go into any real detail about these books because they really speak for themselves.

  So here goes!

  THE REAL MRS BROWN – BRIAN BEACOM
Hodder and Stoughton Paperback $29.99
  The story of Brendan O’Carroll – the wonderful Mrs Brown who has graced our TV screens of late (sometimes with mixed reviews – although I make no bones of the fact that I think he/she is extremely entertaining) 

 AFTER ALL THESE YEARS – FOSTER AND ALLEN
Virgin Books Hardback $35.00
  There is an interesting photograph included herein of a young(er) Tom Gilmore who is a sometime contributor to these pages and a friend of the Irish Scene. 

 JOHNNY CASH – THE LIFE – BOBERT HILBURN
Hachette Paperback $32.99
    Late country and western and US Folk megastar. 

 MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY – ALEX FERGUSON
Hodder and Stoughton Hardback $39.99
  The long time and recently retired manager of Manchester United football club – arguably the best football club in the World for a long, long time.

 DAVID BECKHAM – BY HIMSELF
Hachette Hardback $49.99
  Arguably one of the best footballers ever to have pulled on a pair of soccer boots! 

 IT’S BEEN EMOTIONAL – VINNIES JONES
Simon + Schuster Paperback $29.99
  Controversial ex-footballer turned action movie star (remember “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”? 

 SEFENTY SEVEN – ANDY MURRAY
Hachette Hardback $39.99
  Scottish tennis superstar. 

 A STORY LATELY TOLD – ANJELICA HUSTON
Simon and Schuster Paperback $29.99
  Movie superstar – known for being the former partner of Jack Nicholson and also for some brilliant movie roles.  Remember “Agnes Brown” (Brendan O’Carroll’s movie that pre dated Mrs Brown’s Boys) and the Addams Family movies. 

 UNDER A MACKEREL SKY – RICK STEIN
Ebury Press Paperback $34.95
  Celebrity chef famed especially for his seafood dishes and restaurants – the man who seems to own most of Padstow village and Cornwall (UK). 

THE BEATLES: ALL THESE YEARS – MARK LEWISOHN
Little Brown Hardback $50.00
  A great deal has been written about the Fab Four over the years (a good selection of which is in my personal library at this time).  This however is not just “another book on the Beatles”.  Mark Lewisohn is a World acknowledged authority on the Band and has put together a three-part biography of which this is volume one subtitled “Tune In”.  Here is a warts and all well researched account of the crucial and lesser know early period of the Beatles that covers the Liverpool and Hamburg days of this hungry pub Rock and Roll band.
  It makes fascinating reading and covers a LOT of areas that I had not previously seen in any other Beatles Book that I have read to date – and that is quite a few.
  I have always been fascinated by the Fab Four and relish any new material that comes out about the band   I found it a really gripping and fascinating read. This is an important book and is essential reading for all Beatle-o-philes.
  Can’t wait for the next two volumes. 

THE BUTLER – WIL HAYGOOD
Simon and Schuster Hardback $24.00
  The book that celebrates the life of Eugene Allen, who was a butler in the White House and who served eight US Presidents during his lifetime of service.  This book inspired the wonderful movie of the same name starring Forrest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey to name but two of the many famous names that grace the screen.  A wonderfully inspiring book and movie both. 

 PRISCILLA – NICHOLAS SHAKESPEARE
Random House Paperback $24.95
  This is another inspiring book that tells the story of the hidden life of an Englishwoman living in France during the Second World War.  This book evolved from some letters and diaries that Nicholas found when he was going through the effects of his late Aunt.  Great stuff – hope you enjoy it 

 And now for a few books that are best described as “Coffee Table Books” – they can be easily left out on your coffee tables to impress and entertain your visitors whilst also being incredibly fascinating reads.  Most have beautiful pictures and would make great additions to your personal libraries. 

 THE VATICAN: ALL THE PAINTINGS – ANJA GREBE
Black Dog and Leventhal Hardback $79.99
  Anja Grebe is a teacher of art history at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg/Germany and has compiled a beautiful book that forms the definitive guide to the art collection of the Vatican.  It is a complete treasure trove of one of the World’s most exquisite an important art collections.
  You will find all 976 works of art reproduced here and fully annotated.  I know that this book will give you many hours of pleasure poring over its beautiful pages. 

 THE BEAUTY OF THE CAT – TAMSIN PICKERAL
Allen and Unwin Hardback $49.99
  As many of you will already know (while some won’t) I am passionately fond of animals – in particular cats.  A wise man said once (can’t remember who at this time) that you own a dog but A CAT OWNS YOU!
  How very true!  This wonderfully illustrated book by one of our leading animal authors is an inspiring new study of the cat and its history, full of both sensitive and exquisite images of cats, that forms an excellent reference book whilst remaining a unique visual experience as a result of these engaging photographic images. 

 And now for a bit of self indulgence on my part with my next selections. 

 ALL THE SONGS – PHILIPPE MARGOTIN AND JEAN-MICHEL GUESDON
Black Dog and Leventhal Hardback $55.00
  Written by two acclaimed musical historians, this HUGE book continues my Beatles theme for this issue by documenting all of the songs recorded by the Beatles on every album from “Please Please Me” to “Let It Be’ and explaining the context of each song, how it came to be written and how it came to be recorded.  It also contains some great photographs of the Band taken at various stages during their recording career.
  It touches on the Polydor records (pre the group’s Parlophone signing) but doesn’t cover all of that period extensively or the famous Decca audition tapes (where they were rejected because “there were too many guitar groups already”.  What a cost o Decca Records!
  I loved this book and found it more than informative.  It is an absolute must for all lovers of the Beatles who have a desire to find out all about their writing and recording prowess, etc. 

YEAH YEAH YEAH” THE STORY OF MODERN POP – BOB STANLEY

Faber and Faber Paperback $35.00
  Still on the subject of music (as with the next two books also) this lovely little book attempts to chronicle how today’s pop music evolved from past eras.  The journey leads us from “Rock Around the Clock” to “Crazy in Love” via Chuck Berry, Sonny and Cher, Beatles, Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Slade, Pet Shop Boys, Madonna and too many others to list here.  You will just have to read the book to find out.
  It doesn’t claim to be a definitive guide but I found it to be more than just a good indication of the heady days of popular music.  Loved it and will have a good prominent place in my music book library. Hope you like it as much as I did. 

 

 1001 ALBUMS TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE – ROBERT DIMERY
Pier 9 Paperback $ 39.99 

1001 SONGS TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE – ROBERT DIMERY
Pier 9 Paperback $ 39.99 

1001 GUITARS TO DREAM OF PLAYING BEFORE YOU DIE – TERRY BURROWS
Murdoch Books Hardback $49.99
  I have grouped these three books together because to me they are on a similar theme in that each covers one man’s opinion of the definitive record collection (both single song and complete album) and the ideal guitar collection.
  The Songs/Albums guide covers every decade from the pre-1950’s right up to 2013 and, whilst  had heard of, but not necessarily heard, all of the songs and albums mentioned in the ‘50’s to the ‘70’s, I came up a bit short in the later more current decades. I now have a target to attain in the next few years and look forward to doing so. I won’t catalogue them here as it would take too long and would I believe spoil your enjoyment of the book when you buy it.  It is virtually the soundtrack to our growing up.  It was certainly to mine!
  The third book is essentially for guitar aficionados and I found it fascinating.  Over the years I have owned (and chiefly on-sold) more guitars than I care to think about,   some of which I have long since regretted and some I have to this day (and some of those are included in these pages too).  I have indeed coveted several of the guitars included in these pages but again I will not list them here – suffice it to say that there are some mouth-watering examples herein.  This is a must for ALL guitar lovers everywhere.  Enjoy!!! 

 OCTOPUS’S GARDEN – RINGO STARR
Simon and Schuster Hardback $19.99
  Well – this is a great one for the littlies!  Either for your children or grandchildren – this will be a great storybook for the School Holidays.  You may recall the song of the same name which was written and sung by Ringo and which was featured on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album.  To my recollection, it is the only song written by Ringo that was recorded by the Beatles.  The song’s imagery is well worth revisiting here and letting the children hear it too.  Then let them read and appreciate the book (with which you also get a CD that contains Ringo reading the story and also a never before released recording of the song itself) for themselves – or perhaps with your assistance.
  I loved this one and my grandchildren did too. I found it enchanting altogether and hope your littlies do too and thus perhaps create a new market for my/our beloved Beatles. 

 CLUETOPIA – DAVID ASTLE
Allen and Unwin Paperback $29.99
  Some of you may know (and others may not) that I am a lover of crossword puzzles – in particular the cryptic variety. As a lover of the English language, I really enjoy these explorations into words, etc and in solving these sometimes elusive clues.  I am seldom seen without either a book from my reading library or a book of cryptic puzzles – I am assured that they keep the mind active and (hopefully) keep the dreaded Alzheimer’s at bay for a least a bit longer.
  What you may NOT know is that 2013 celebrates the invention of the crossword puzzle and this book is a great insight into how they were first compiled and how they have developed over the intervening decades.  Here you will find almost 100 chapters – each with a clue to crack – I found it completely engrossing and loved every moment I spent reading it and working out the many clues I found inside.
  If you love crosswords and indeed words in general then this one is definitely for you.  I hope you enjoy it – read it till your brain hurts!!!! 

 5 DAYS IN NOVEMBER – CLINT HILL with LISA McCUBBIN
Simon and Schuster Hardback $39.99 

JFK: THE SMOKING GUN – COLIN McLAREN
Hachette Paperback $29.99
  As you may be aware, 22nd November 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the 35th president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  There have been may books and movies made about this singular event in our modern history – in fact its said that everyone can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard about this awful tragedy. There have also been many conspiracy theories in this regard – some credible and others not so credible.
  The first mentioned is by Clint Hill, the Secret Service Agent assigned to protect Jacqueline Kennedy for the four years from 1960.  He was the lone agent to jump onto the car carrying the Kennedys after the assassination shot(s) had been fired.  This book is his recollections and feelings about the event that shocked the USA in particular and the whole World in general.  It contains some glorious pictures some of which have never been seen in print before and is a testament to the Kennedys and their memory.
  The second mentioned book is by Colin Mclaren who is an ex policeman turned author who has used his forensic eye to examine many thousands of pages of transcripts, exhibits and testimonies that were hidden until now.  He has also uncovered many witnesses who were not called by the Warren Commission into the tragic death and having done so has, he believes, uncovered the answer to the long asked question “Who killed JFK?”
  There has been an enthralling TV documentary co-commissioned by SBS television and shown in Australia on 3rd November 2013 to much critical acclaim.
  I found the book really detailed and eye-opening and was indeed surprised at who Colin has deduced actually killed Kennedy.
  But I am not going to reveal the answer to this mystery here – I will leave you to read this great volume to find out for yourselves.  There is so much more here than can be shown in a TV programme and I urge you to read this – if only because this is the answer to one of the biggest mysteries of our generation.  Or is it?  I will leave you to make up your own minds. 

 DARK WITCH – NORA ROBERTS
Piatkus Paperback $29.99
  This is from the prolific pen of Nora Roberts writing as herself (her new book writing as J. D. Robb will be addressed in the crime section below) and is the first in a new series being an Irish trilogy (the “Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy”).  Iona Sheehan and her two cousins, Connor and Branna O’Dwyer, have inherited a gift that is to transform their lives – they have inherited from an ancestor known as  “The Dark Witch” and they are about to find that legends of the past can indeed return to haunt the present.  Throw in Iona’s being drawn into a romance with the hot-tempered but charismatic Boyle McGrath and you have a mix that is sure to stir the emotions of avid readers of romantic and historical fiction.  I quite enjoyed this one – I found it a change from my usual blood and gore crime stories.  Hope you like it too. 

 WAKING FROM A DREAM – LAWRENCE CLARKE
  I have said it before and I will say it again – Lawrence Clarke is a great undiscovered talent and the variety of his writing never fails to surprise and satisfy me. He has in the past had varied subjects ranging from the serial killer genre to adventure stories to American detective novels.  Here he delves into the realms of fantasy - yet another genre to add to his growing list – this time it is the story of Chester Hanley, an American man who was born in 1907 and who is given an unusual birthing gift by a friend of his father’s.  It is a small orange tree that gives two fruits each year – when he eats them it trigger dreams that portray both the present and sometimes future events.  The only condition is that he can help others by his foreknowledge but cannot benefit from it himself.
  When he is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2002, he decides to write down his incredible life story (having previously been a best selling author up until the 1960’s but having stopped writing after that time) – a tale that encompasses the lives of his three younger siblings, three ex-wives, his involvement in World War 2 and his ongoing battles with his mother.  I find it hard to describe fully the machinations of this story – suffice it to say I found it thoroughly enchanting and enthralling – I truly found it hard to put down.  Lawrence my friend, you’ve done it again!
  This is a really different kind of biography and (that being a genre I also find fascinating) although the characters and story are fictional the reader finds himself drawn into this tangled but totally engrossing tale of a very different life.  It is a well written and thoroughly enjoyable book and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it – to be quite honest I am at a loss to understand why an author of this calibre and so obvious talent has not been snapped up by one of the larger publishing houses instead of having to self publish his own books.  If you would like a copy (and I urge you to do so – you won’t regret it I assure you) then you can get one from Amazon.com or from Lawrence himself via his self publishing website This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  Please do yourself a big favour by supporting this wonderful local author and if you know any publishers or people at publishing houses then please pass on his contact details to them.  Let’s get Lawrence Clarke published!   

 

MURDER MYSTERY AND MAYHEM…….PLUS

 MURDER AND MEDNDELSSOHN – KERRY GREENWOOD
Allen and Unwin Paperback $22.99
  This is the new Phryne Fisher outing (I hope you are enjoying the current series of TV adaptations of her earlier escapades on Friday nights on ABCTV) and is the 20th book in this enchanting series.

  Set in the Melbourne of the 1920’s, this time Phryne has to solve the case of the orchestral conductor of the Melbourne Harmony Choir by stuffing several sheets of Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” down his throat.  Inspector Jack Robinson is again at hand to “help” her to solve the case – there is the usual amount of crime drama liberally laced with some comedic banter and light hearted funny business that I find so great about these books.
  I loved it and know you will thoroughly enjoy it – crime noir with a delightfully light hearted twist.

  THANKLESS IN DEATH – JD ROBB
Piatkus Paperback $29.99.
  Here we have Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb, her crime noir alter ego (as I promised above) and again as all of the Eve Dallas thrillers, it is set in the future of the 2050’s.  This time Eve is chasing a killer who is hell-bent on revenge for the treatment he received at the hands of his parents and from some of his family and friends.  Set against the back drop of the USA’s Thanksgiving holiday, Eve knows she has to track down this killer before he kills again – but how can she predict who is next on his list???
  Loved it tremendously – lots of intriguing plot twists to keep you guessing and maintain your interest. 

 THE OCTOBER LIST – JEFFERY DEAVER
Hodder Paperback $32.99
  I always look forward to a new Jeffery Deaver book and this is no exception.  Although this one I think you’ll find a little different.  Here, the book starts with the final chapter (the story’s outcome) and ends with the first chapter (how the story began).  Quite a premise and quite a story, too.  When you get to the end, it all makes perfect sense as in the last few pages it all becomes crystal clear.
  I thought it was a really good story once I made sense of the format but I am not too sure whether I thought the tale worked in this unconventional back to front presentation.  Jeffery has never disappointed me – don’t get me wrong about that – this is a good fast paced tale but I am not too sure whether the format worked too well for my taste.
  I look forward to hearing what some of you think of this one – I did enjoy it though overall. 

 THE QUEST – NELSON DEMILLE
Sphere Paperback $29.99
  I love Nelson’s books – they are really good “Boys Own Paper” edge of the seat thrillers – and this one is no exception.  It is set in 1970’s in North Africa and essentially it is an updating in modern times of the quest for the Holy Grail.
  This is a really good adventure tale and one that I enjoyed being set in and around Ethiopia – I loved it and if you like this type of adventure yarn, then this one is a must for you.  It has a great premise and a really surprising ending – I didn’t see it coming at all. 

 THE WAYS OF THE WORLD – ROBERT GODDARD
Random House Paperback $24.95
  I discovered Robert Goddard only a few years back and since doing so have read a good many of his books, including some from his back catalogue.  This latest one is set in Paris in 1919 at the end of the First World War and is destined to be a best seller if ever I have read one!
  Sir Henry Maxted, father of WW1 flying ace James Maxted, falls to his death from the roof of a Parisian hotel – why does no-one seem to want to pursue this fact beyond “this is just a terrible accident”?
  James is not satisfied by this believing that his father has been murdered and, in spite of objections and interference from British and Parisian police sets out to find out who is responsible for his father’s death.
  This book is extremely fast paced and has many plot twists and possibly the best cliff-hanger I have read in a very long time.  I loved this one – read it and enjoy it too. 

 I have saved the two most outstanding books of this genre for this issue until last. 

 CROSS AND BURN – VAL McDERMID
Little Brown Paperback $29.99
  I always look forward to Val’s books – I find them without exception extremely riveting and very hard to put down.  This one is certainly no exception.
  Consultant psychologist Tony Hill (who we first met in the wonderful “Wire in the Blood” some years back) comes back in this story of a person who has started killing women who all look remarkably like ex DCI Carol Jordan, the estranged former colleague of Tony Hill – these days the two are not on speaking terms and this tale is as much as the relationship between them (will it be repaired and their friendship resurrected after the events in their previous book together) as it is about finding out who the killer is.
  Wow!  I loved every minute – every word – of this one – if any book is genuinely unputdownable then this is it!  I know you will just love this one as much as I did – you won’t believe who the murderer is and why he has started killing.  Enjoy. 

 REVENGE – MARTINA COLE
Hachette Paperback $29.99
  I have saved the best till last – the new one from Martina Cole.  I was introduced to her work a few years back by my good friend and erstwhile musical confederate Barbara Stephenson and I must say I haven’t enjoyed reading a new author (at that time) quite as much before.
  Her novels are certainly violent and gritty but they differ from the usual crime genre (where the detective seeks out the criminal element) in that the central characters of Martina’s books are strong women.  Set in the East End of London and in her native Essex, the stories centre around various different crime families (sort of like an English “Godfather”) where the protagonists are the crims and their opponents are the “straight” cops (they already having bought and paid for the “bent” ones). 
  Quite a turnaround – however in this tale, unlike in some of her earlier books, the crims don’t get it all their own way.  Michael Flynn considers he is untouchable because of his position in the East London gangworld.  That is until his vulnerability is brought to the fore when his daughter is kidnapped.  Who would do such a thing to a known “Face”?  Again the story is fast paced and very bloody as Flynn fights to keep his position and to find and punish the person who has taken his daughter – ostensibly for no reason known to him.  Loved it – buy and enjoy this one – I know you’ll love it too!  

Well that’s it for books this issue.  Remember, if I haven’t heard of an author before or if it is a new author, I hope you will take my recommendations into consideration when selecting your reading matter and give them a good go.  I will say no more at this juncture and wish you happy reading, and see you all in the next issue.  I hope you enjoy my recommendations as much as I have enjoyed reading them on both your and my own behalf.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 December 2013 11:13 )