Monday, September 30, 2013

September Book Review # 3

I have always been a fan of Hollywood autobiographies and biographies especially of the older stars ie. The Golden Years.
Debbie is just on the cusp of that era having seen out the old studio system 

Unsinkable is quite an entertaining (and light) read with all the details of her three failed marriages (Eddie Fisher...the rat!) and the trauma of her gone wrong business deals with her LasVegas hotel and attempts to set up a Hollywood memorabilia museum for her extensive collection.
The last part of the book details all her movies with some amusing anecdotes and a smattering of 'dirt' on some of her co stars as well as directors.
Her children are especially important to her and she dedicates some time discussing the problems her daughter, Carrie Fisher, has with her fight with a bi polar condition.
All in all an interesting read but by far not the best of that genre.
Sam and Ben live the ideal suburban life in Canberra (Australia's capital city) when one day, by chance, Sam finds out Ben has been cheating on her.
She kicks him out and falls initially into depression before the anger surfaces.
She then heads off into the country (Eden-Monaro region south of Canberra) to confront Rachael, the other woman.

On arriving at the old sheep farm, she finds out that the husband, Tim, knows about the affair and has sent Rachael packing.
They obviously have a lot in common.
Sam decides to stay (as you would always do under the circumstances).
Both Rachael and Ben realize they may have made a mistake and want to make amends.
Will they or will they not be forgiven?
There is a lot of dialogue in this book. The author sure does have a handle on the emotional swings that a person cheated on goes through.
And the descriptions of life on a farm in rural Australia for a townie also ring true and are often quite amusing.
Grey Jack Road can be a little bit tedious in parts but is worth the perseverance.
WARNING: Lots of strong language which may border on the gratuitous for some.
Back in 1989, Peter Mayle wrote A Year in Provence. This was probably the first of a new sub genre of travel books that was concerned with people giving up their current lives and moving to a new country almost always with a new language and a completely different culture. The stories normally include renovations of a run down house while dealing with local tradesmen and the red tape associated with government building authorities, strange and eccentric characters living in the neighbouring area, mistakes with a new language and the struggle fitting into a new way of life. And, yes, also visits from friends and family who never really understand the madness that caused this sea change to happen.
One of the most famous was Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and more recently Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Happier Than A Billionaire and Happier Than A Billionaire: The Sequel are two books written by Nadine Hays Pisani about a couple escaping the rigours of living in NewYork and taking up residency in Costa Rica.
Lots of the common cliches of the genre are applied here but, despite that, the story is well and humorously told with a cast of characters that continually having you chuckling out loud.
While the countryside sounds stunning, life is Costa Rica sounds a little daunting but in the end you begin to feel the positives could outweigh the negatives.

I read the sequel before the first book.
Didn’t matter.
Both are recommended.
The author also has a blog. 
The Book of the Bush Containing Many Truthful Sketches Of The Early Colonial Life Of Squatters, Whalers, Convicts, Diggers, And Others Who Left Their Native Land And Never Returned by George Dunderdale was written in the late 19th century about colonial life in Australia in the mid 1800s.
It covers convict life in Van Diemans Land (Tasmania), life on the Victorian gold fields and the exploration and settling of the Western District and Gippsland in Victoria.

I'll Try the Possum is the autobiography of a mid west American guy who grew up in the 60s in a large loving family. He covers his education through from kindergarten to college where he just scraped through with a journalism degree, his trials and tribulations with sport during that period, an eye opening student exchange trip to Thailand as well as coming to terms with his homosexuality.
For a time his post college life comprised of living off food stamps, dealing in in prescription drugs and hanging out in gay bars in Atlanta. Finally realizing he needed a purpose in  life (and probably to stay out of jail), he found work in the Hilton Hotel chain (where he met lots of celebs who were not all nice) and eventually found his niche as a flight attendant for a major airline.

This story is both funny and sad but always entertaining. Patrick never takes himself very seriously and is always a 'glass half full' person. The characters are very real. His conservative but understanding parents are a product of their time and his friends can be quite outrageous.
Never a dull moment in this book and plenty of laugh out loud plus a few cringing moments.
Highly recommended.
Cooking Up Trouble is a fast moving story set in outback Australia.
Lots of larconic characters, food, mystery, missing gemstones and a little bit of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

An easy read once you get the number of characters and their relationships sorted out.
It seems there is a plethora of these types of novels on the Kindle site. 
Amazon keeps sending me 'recommendations' based on my past purchases.
Reading the synopsis of each suggests a 'sameness' of plot and characterization.
Maybe it's time, now, to head back to the non fiction history category.

Monday, September 16, 2013

September Book Review # 2

Life in colonial Victoria, Australia was always going to be tough for Ned Kelly.
Born to Irish Catholic parents, his father an ex transported convict, the family were second class citizens in a English Protestant dominated society.
Scratching to make a living on 80 poor acres near Greta in rural Victoria after his father's death, Ned resorted to a little horse and cattle stealing to make ends meet. He had been in trouble with the law from the age of fourteen and was to spend some time in gaol for his sins. His continued criminal activity brought him under the watchful eye of the local constabulary. In fact it's safe to say they were out too get him.
Ned (falsely?) accused of attempted murder of a policeman eventually went into hiding with his brother Dan where they were later joined by friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart and would be forever known as "The Kelly Gang".

While on the run they shot and killed three policemen, committed two major bank hold ups and murdered a police informant.
After the latter event, the gang rode openly through Beechworth to the small railway town of Glenrowan to wreck a special police train that had been sent up from Melbourne with a force thought to be large enough to finally capture them. .
It was here the classic siege with multiple inhabitants taken hostage and a long drawn out shoot out with police took place. And it was here that the gang wore their famous armour.
Ned was the only member of the gang to survive and was captured.
He was hanged on 11th November 1880 at Melbourne Gaol.
Ned Kelly is Australia's most famous bushranger (outlaw).
He is considered by some to be merely a cold-blooded killer, while others consider him to be a folk hero and symbol of Irish Australian resistance against the Anglo-Australian ruling class.
The expression 'as game as Ned Kelly' is a ingrained in the Australian language.

Glenrowan is a detailed account of Ned's life, the siege and his ultimate demise. There are also details of the bizarre aftermath. Suffice to say his remains (minus his skull) were finally laid to rest on 20th January 2013.
It has been meticulously researched and despite the huge amount of factual content is entertainingly written. The personal portraits of all the major players are particularly insightful.
Australians learn about Ned from an early age. Most of us think we know it all. But reading this it's obvious we don't. Highly recommended for those interested in this facet of Australian history or for those who appreciate a good rollicking tale, the Australian version of 'a western'.
For those who want an abridged version, you can read that here.

Not another Civil War book I hear you cry!
Well, it IS the most written about event in world history.
1861 The Civil War Awakening was published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the war and covers a relatively short period leading up to and including the first few months of the conflict.
And for me it introduced a whole new cast of little-known Civil War heroes—among them an acrobatic militia colonel, an explorer’s wife, an idealistic band of German immigrants, a regiment of New York City firemen, a community of Virginia slaves, and a young college professor who would one day become president. 
As examples, Major Robert Anderson, a southerner who remained loyal to the Union and moved his small garrison without orders from the indefensible Fort Moultrie in Charlestown Harbor to the more secure Fort Sumpter and managed to hold out for two days under withering bombardment before honorably surrendering.....with no loss of life (on either side).
Elmer Ellsworth, a showman, friend of Lincoln and former of the first Zouave union army unit to see combat where he was killed removing a confederate flag from a hotel in Alexandria.
Major General Butler who accepted the escaped slaves from the Confederate side into Fort Monroe with know intention of returning them to their 'owners' (much against Lincoln's policy at the time), designating them as contraband.
Goodheart shifts focus away from the power centers of Washington and Charleston to look at the actions and reactions of citizens from Boston to New York City, from Hampton Roads to St. Louis and San Francisco, emphasizing the cultural rather than military clash between those wanting the country to move forward and those clinging to the old ways.
One of the best books on this subject for me so far.
And was this my last 'real' book?

Space Chronicles was my first Kindle book which I can read on my iPad mini too. It's all a bit weird at first but you soon get used to it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of my favorite 'scientists'. His official title is astrophysicist and science communicator.
Funny, educational and the ability to write about complicated issues with such simplicity makes his books a joy to read. I reviewed his book on Pluto (the now dwarf planet, not the puppy) some time ago.
His interviews on the 'Daily Show' are always entertaining and when reading him you can almost hear him talking to you.
This book contains everything you ever wanted to know about space and space exploration, scientifically, and politically; past, present and future.
It can be a bit rambling and repetitive at times (did the the credited editor go MIA occasionally?) but de Grasse Tyson's enthusiasm for the subject shines through and you can easily forgive the transgressions.
Sometimes I get the feeling that I don't read enough Australian books.
The selection for this category on Amazon for Kindle is fairly limited but a plough through the listings one night highlighted a local author I had never heard of, Drew Lindsay.
He writes detective novels and the first of his Ben Hood Series was a free download.
Despite not being into that genre, some of the reviews convinced me I should give it a go.

Coral Sea Affair turned out to good easy read with familiar settings in Sydney and Far North Queensland. Dialogue was typically Australian, the characters real enough, the plot was a bit far fetched but, hey, it doesn't hurt to suspend reality occasionally.
The author is an ex cop, security officer and insurance fraud investigator as well as a diver and pilot.
All these life's experiences are well utilized.
There are apparently nine more books in the Ben Hood Series.
We shall see!
Samantha arrives in a small country town to start a new life. She has emotional baggage.
The first person she meets is Ethan the town vet. He also has a lot of baggage.
But the sparks fly. They circle each other.
WiIl they or won't they?
Will the mountain of baggage get in the way?

The House on Burra Burra Lane has a plot ripe for a Universal (Hallmark) Channel movie adaptation except it's set in the foothills of Australia's Snowy Mountains not Smalltown, USA.
A lightweight read with little character development, a simple plot despite the small twist and a very predictable ending.
One to wizz through while taking a breather from more serious material.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

September Book Review # 1

One Day started out as an amusing read centered around two characters, from different sides of the tracks, who met and made a connection during their university years in the late 1980s.
Despite a mutual attraction their lives take different courses and while the occasional meeting fires up the repressed emotions, destiny and other relationships kept them apart.

This was all very intriguing for the first two thirds of the book.
Then I got the feeling 'what is up with these two twits...they don't seem to own a brain between them.'
I never did find out what happened to either Emma or Dexter.
Got sick of them both and didn't finish the book.
In 2010, the novel was named Popular Fiction Book of the Year at the UK's annual Galaxy National Book Awards ceremony, and was later granted the accolade of Galaxy Book of the Year.
They have subsequently made a film of the book so many others must have thought it was OK.
If you like Nicholas Spark type books, I am sure you will love One Day.
Tried by War was written by James M McPherson, the author of my Civil War 'bible', Battle Cry of Freedom. This is the story of how Lincoln, with almost no previous military experience before entering the White House, assumed the powers associated with the role of commander in chief and through his strategic insight and will to fight changed the course of the war and saved the Union.

The Confederate States of America had already been formed by the time Lincoln was inaugurated.
and he was faced with dealing with  'war powers" that were quite vague under the Constitution.
This was indeed a steep learning curve to develop a strategy to preserve the United States, all the time hindered by the fact that he could not find, initially, a military commander who could win victories on the battlefield.
When it became clear that the South with slavery in tact would not be brought back into the fold and the war was dragging on, Lincoln emancipated the slaves as a military measure, adding black freedom to the Union cause.
Under constant criticism for his failures Lincoln finally found Ulysses S. Grant, William T Sherman and Philip A. Sheridan to bring him success on the battlefield and consequent re election with a large majority.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I found the story of Lincoln's troubled relationship with his generals particularly enlightening.
Probably a book for the Civil War affectionado but it is definitely not a dry read for those who are interested in delving deeper into the life of a man who shaped the future of an entire nation....and probably the world.
Many people think Australia was 'discovered' by the British in 1770.
In fact Europeans became aware of the great south land much earlier with the Dutch navigator Willem Janzsoon's landing on Cape York in 1606.
The Dutch, a little later, became well aware of the west coast of the continent and used it as a 'navigation aid' for their newly found faster trade route from Holland via the southern Indian Ocean to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), better known then as the Spice Islands.
In 1629, the pride of the Dutch East India Company, 'Batavia', set out on its maiden voyage en route from Amsterdam to the Dutch East Indies, laden down with the greatest treasure to leave Holland.
The ship is already seething with a mutinous plot that is just about to break when, just off the coast of what is now Western Australia, it strikes an already chartered but unseen reef in the middle of the night.
Commandeur Francisco Pelsaert decides to take the long-boat across 2000 miles of open sea for help, and his second-in-command Jeronimus Cornelisz takes over.
Cornelisz quickly decides that 250 people on a small island is unwieldy for the small number of supplies they have.

He puts forward a plan to the 40 odd mutineers how they could save themselves by killing most of the rest and sparing only a half-dozen or so women to service their 'needs'.
A reign of terror begins, countered only by an anonymous soldier Wiebbe Hayes, who begins to gather to him those who are prepared to do what it takes to survive.
Will their Commandeur come back for them with the rescue ship before it is all too late?
Peter FitzSimons has long maintained that this is "far and away the greatest story in Australia's history, if not the world's."
His unique writing style has made him one of Australia's best-selling non-fiction writer over the last ten years and he makes this bloody, chilling and stunning tale come alive.
Batavia is a great read and a  'can't put it down' book.
We usually buy DK Eyewitness Guides to research our travel. They are full of information on where to go, what to do and where to stay and eat as well as a full history of the destination.
And beautiful pictures too.
The Vienna Guide was no exception.

And as an addition, we downloaded a Kindle version of another guide, Maximilian Just's Vienna Under the Surface.
Although not as comprehensive as the DK it was chocked full of useful information, historical facts and detailed information on the historical Viennese buildings and their contents.

Not that we traipse around places, guide book in hand, but it's always nice to have a reference just in case.
Hopefully both these books will make our upcoming trip to Austria more enjoyable.