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Sally Walker (Eastbourne, UK)

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Frank: Fighting Back
Frank: Fighting Back
by Frank Bruno
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and moving in equal measure, 14 Aug 2014
This review is from: Frank: Fighting Back (Paperback)
I read Frank’s autobiography in response to seeing him recently in a Q & A session in London. I wanted to know his journey from prize fighter to bi-polar sufferer.

If you’ll pardon the pun Frank pulls no punches in his autobiography, he is candid about his life’s events. Its engagingly written, the co-author Kevin Mitchell has captured Frank’s unique character and his take on his life convincingly well. Indeed I found myself hardly being able to put the book down and found my life an interference.

I’m not at all a boxing fan, but I found the retrospective accounts of Frank’s major fights gripping. Even though you know the result of the fight I, nonetheless, found myself wanting to somehow change history, so that the losses were turned into victories. I found myself willing him on and this has to be a measure of how much his account is captivating. I learnt a lot too and began to realise that boxing is not simply two men going hell for leather at one another, but that actually it is a craft requiring skill.

Frank’s tenacity, drive and determination are indeed inspiring, but I can’t help feeling that whilst they enabled him to achieve his holy grail of being crowned the World’s Heavyweight Champion, they, or rather their subsequent absence have contributed to his downfall. Because since his retirement from boxing in 1996, following his defeat by Mike Tyson, Frank has had relatively little to get out of bed for in the morning.

Frank’s on-going and much more enduring and significant fight has been against his fluctuating mental health. His autobiography begins with a no holes barred account of his sectioning under the Mental Health Act and the few weeks he spent in Goodmayes’ Pathways clinic in 2003, where he struggled to come to terms with what had happened to him and a diagnosis of being a bi-polar sufferer. Whilst the closing Postscript chapter of his autobiography is fairly upbeat, his book was published in 2006 and in more recent years Frank has unfortunately spent further stints in clinics.

For a more recent impression of how well Frank is coping you might like to watch on Youtube Rachel Bruno My Dad & Me BBC Documentary 2013.

Unless you’re made of stone you can’t help feeling moved by Frank’s autobiography and developing an overwhelming wish that all goes well for him in the future.

You don’t have to be interested in sport, or boxing in particular, to find this book worthwhile, because it is about so much more – one man’s attempt to come to terms with adversity.

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
by Walter Isaacson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 22.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and commendable, 28 July 2014
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This is a very readable account of Steve Job’s life. Whilst it does go into some detail as to how each Apple product was produced this is not overly technical and so for me, as a non-techy, I did not find it boring. Rather I found that I developed a real appreciation for their products and to view them in a whole new light.

What shines through is Jobs’ unique personality which enabled him to achieve great things, namely ground breaking digital products combined with ground breaking designs with an emphasis on purity and simplicity. Uniquely Jobs worked at the interface of art and technology.

Oh, and did I fail to mention that he also, and at the same time! developed a world-class animation film company that slapped Disney around the face.

Now of course Jobs did not achieve all of these single-handedly he made great partnerships and then selected A players to be on his team. Jobs’ uniqueness is the way that he brought out the best of people’s abilities; he regularly made them go further than they thought they as people could go and that it was possible to go period. How he did this is not particularly pretty with a combination of staring, timed silences and simply telling somebody that what they had produced what s**t and that they could do a whole load better. Jobs’ world was black or white, something was either great or s**t and his opinion on a person or their work could vacillate between the two within the space of one working day! He said it like it was and regarded it as his job to do this.

He must have been a boss from hell but yet so great was his enthusiasm and so great was the product that was being developed that people stepped up to the plate to deliver. Their job satisfaction was in the delivery and getting that final ounce of praise, even if on occasion Jobs’ took all of the credit.

He was also a charismatic and fearless negotiator who would charm and bully the necessary people to get the best deal.

By him not shilly-shallying around and taking people’s feelings into account and being fearless he was able to achieve greatness.

Jobs’ attention to finite detail and laser-like focus was such that he would not baulk from going to a major re-design, just weeks away from the launch of a product. Design meant everything to him.

His laser-like focus enabled him to block out of his life things that he did not want to deal with. Most notably this occurred in his personal life when he was deciding whether to marry Laurenne Powel, or, most dramatically his own health. We’ll never know whether if Jobs had had the surgery on his pancreas when his doctors first advised him to have it, he would still be here continuing to develop great products.

The last one hundred pages left me with a heavy heart. It is within these pages that Jobs’ battle with cancer is recounted. I found myself willing him to beat the cancer, whilst knowing that he was already dead. His passing is a great loss because of the uniqueness that I have described above, namely the dove-tailing of art and technology.

So even if you’re a non-techy you will still enjoy this book. I highly commend it to you.

One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Helmand
One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Helmand
by Pen Farthing
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars It will warm the cockles of your heart, 29 April 2014
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I’m a real sucker for this kind of book. One Dog at a Time is an autobiographical account by a Royal Marine, Pen Farthing, of his tour of duty in Nowzad, Afghanistan, focussing on his rescuing stray and bedraggled Afghan dogs. I have read this fairly soon after reading Treo which is about a military sniffer dog that goes with his handler to Afghanistan to search out mines.

One Dog at a Time is nice easy reading that will warm the cockles of your heart and get you teary in the final pages, if not before depending on how sentimental you are. The bond between dogs and humans is ever enduring, often far deeper than that between humans themselves. This book highlights the innate capacity that dogs have to weave their way into people’s lives, which knows no bounds.

Pen Farthing’s story is a real tribute to him, as is his creation of the Nowzad Dogs charity.

This book is really two books rolled into one: a combination of a cute animal tale and an account of a marine’ss tour of duty in Afghanistan. The latter is by no means, for me at least, a second fiddle. I just wound up thinking what on earth have we been doing there. Farthing’s account can therefore also be viewed as a contributor to the debate as to whether all the billions of pounds that have been spent on sending forces over to Afghanistan have been worth it. This book reveals, that apart from patrols into the odd neighbouring village, the majority of the squad that Farthing belonged to were holed up in a compound, listening and watching out for the Taliban, with whom they had the occasional long distance skirmish by hurling rockets at one another.

Farthing wanted to go to Afghanistan to make a difference to the local people, and he had to admit that he no difference had been made. This was squarely brought home to him by, Harry, the squad’s interpreter, who said: you have been here five years and nothing has changed. However, there can be no doubt that Farthing has made a long-lasting contribution to the stray dogs and cats of Afghanistan who now have a well-equipped rescue centre. At least some good as come from the bad, albeit that this was not what the Government had in mind when it decided to send our troops over there.

If you love stories about man’s relationship with dogs you’ll love this book. I highly recommend it.

A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople - From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube
A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople - From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply wonderful, 13 April 2014
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This book is a wonderful account of a young Englishman’s journey, on foot, from the Hook of Holland to Esztergom on the Hungarian border. He left British shores at Tilbury Docks to start his walk from Holland to Constantinople on 9th December 1933; he was eighteen. A Time of Gifts is the first half of his trans-European trek. Leigh Fermor wrote this book some forty years following the end of his journey; it was published in 1977. So it is a much older and wiser man looking back at and writing about his journey. I believe this adds much to this book.

He was utterly free to go where he pleased apart from being at pre-arranged destinations to pick up monthly cheques written out for four pounds. He had no bed and board booked; he lived on his wits. Providence being what it is, he met many generous people who put him up and fed him. Some of the accommodation was that of peasants whilst others were manor houses and castles of the landed gentry.

What absolutely makes this book is its superb, mellifluous and intelligent writing. The author’s intelligence shines through every page. This is so much more than a journal, a day-by-day account of his journey. The landscapes that the author passes through; the people that he meets; and the architecture of the towns and cities he walks to, stimulate in him wide ranging thoughts and perceptions. Too you will learn much of European history by reading this book.

Given that this was an inter-war journey it is represents an absolutely priceless snapshot of Europe between the wars. The ascent of the Nazis in Germany is evident. Bar a few notable exceptions, the German people that Leigh Fermor encounters are lovely. There is much pathos, in particular, when he talks of the Jewish people that he met in Germany and Austria, because of what horrors lay in wait just a few short years away.

I can’t recommend this book enough and I can’t wait to read about the second half of his walk to Constantinople.

Just Julie
Just Julie
by Julie Goodyear
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The highs and the lows laid bare, 30 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Just Julie (Paperback)
My motivation in reading Julie Goodyear’s autobiography was to see if I could find the real Julie. The person left at the bottom of the sieve when all the showbiz glamour and the need to ‘perform’ in front of the camera have been shaken out.

I bought this book having listened to Julie on Desert Island Discs in which the snapshot of her life sounded very interesting. I also thought that Julie came across in that programme as a very different person to the Bet Lynch character that she is so famous for portraying in Coronation Street. I then, before reading her autobiography, saw her on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories show, in which she came across more like Bet Lynch, somewhat brash and egotistical.

So does Julie Goodyear reveal the real Julie to us? I think to a large measure she does. Whether her book has been largely ghost written or not, there is no doubt about it that it is written the way she speaks. You can hear her voice speaking to you through the pages, unpretentious and honest – this is me folks take it or leave it.

No doubt about it too that she has had some extraordinary highs and lows. Although, I would say that her autobiography tends to focus on the lows. Sometimes it reads a bit like an omnibus edition of The Sun or The Mirror, as she lurches from one disappointing relationship to another. Because of this Julie has created a page-turning account of her life and she draws you at high speed through her book.

In the final analysis Julie is a completely down to earth woman with a good heart. Somebody who enjoys the limelight when it shines upon her and will put on a good performance, but who equally and increasingly in her later years, seeks the fickleness of showbusiness less and concentrates more on her home-life, in particular her farm and rescued animals. But I think as far as relationships are concerned she has largely hardened her heart: viz. she is quite happy to be with a man and to marry him whilst stating in print that he is not the love of her life.

I do recommend this book.

Handsome Brute: The True Story of a Ladykiller
Handsome Brute: The True Story of a Ladykiller
by Sean O'Connor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping from its first to last page, 24 Mar 2014
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This is a superb book which I found totally gripping from its first to the last page. O’Conner has undertaken an amazing amount of extensive research and this has enabled him to place the murders that Heath undertook within the context of his life, how he had lived it and what had happened to him. And, moreover, O’Conner has placed the murders within their socio-historical context, which O’Conner believes was in part the reason for the murders.

I like the fact that the author has allowed the facts to speak for themselves and has not embellished them with his own interpretation of them in the form of a conjectured narrative.

Essentially it’s the story of a middle class lad who turns sour because of life events. A wasted life littered with squandered opportunities and leniency shown to him giving him the chance to make a fresh start.

Because his upbringing and life was within the middle strata and because he outwardly appeared to be such a charming man, albeit one who liked to drink, the murders he committed were perceived at the time as being all the more shocking. I am sure many women in particular were wary for some time afterwards of the charmers of this world.

Usually perpetrators of gruesome murders engender in me nothing but repulsion and revulsion, but curiously Heath, as portrayed by O’Conner, whose portrayal of Heath is based upon hitherto unseen documents, does not. Instead I found myself developing a degree of compassion for him. This was indeed felt and expressed by some following his execution.

This case was all about Heath’s sanity at the time that he committed the murder, (he was only tried for one of the two murders he committed). This case pre-dated the opportunity for a plea of diminished responsibility which was to be established later by the Homicide Act in 1957. Instead the relevant case law to be applied was the M’Naghten Rules of 1843. Applied to Heath it posed the question whether point one: did Heath knew what he was doing and point two: if he did know, did he know what he was doing was wrong.

His trial reads as being on the whole perfunctory, from beginning to the end taking no more than three days. Heath whose life depended on the key defence witness, a world authority in psychiatric medicine, was badly let down by an appalling performance by this witness. The Judge too was short-handed in the way he conducted the trial.

There is no doubt about it that what Heath did was wrong and abhorrent but I think he was let down by the legal system. With a different witness and a different judge Heath may have lived out the rest of his days in Broadmoor. This is thought provoking regarding the death penalty versus the state paying for the upkeep of a known killer.

I think most readers would find this book un-put-downable as I did. I therefore unreservedly recommend it.

It's All About Treo
It's All About Treo
by Dave Heyhoe
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cuteness and suspense action rolled into one, 6 Mar 2014
This review is from: It's All About Treo (Paperback)
This is most definitely a good feel book, that perfectly blends cuteness and suspenseful action. Because of this mixture this book will appeal to both the female and male of our species.

It’s a true-life story of one soldier’s devotion to his dog, Treo and of Treo’s utter devotion to his handler. The pair worked as an indispensable team in Afghanistan searching for and consistently finding explosives planted by the Taliban. Their work saved the lives of many soldiers.

David Heyhoe tells his own story in a highly accessible and immediate way. He gives Treo a voice often throughout the book, which adds another dimension and ramps up the cute factor.

Knowing close to zero before I read this book about the life and work of army dogs, trained to perform specific tasks, I have learned a lot. This has made me both appreciate and admire their capabilities.

Too, this book has shed light on the life of soldiers in Afghanistan and has made me think what is it really, that we have achieved out there. For sure Treo And Dave prevented the carnage of their fellows, but why are their fellows there in the first place. It would not be appropriate for this book to enter into a debate about such a weighty topic, but nonetheless it did get me thinking and has ignited in me a wish to find out more.

I highly recommend this book – you’ll love it.

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness
The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness
by Mark Rowlands
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Cuteness and an intellectual challenge rolled into one, 14 Feb 2014
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A beautiful heart warming and heart rending true tale of one man’s love of and life with a wolf, Brenin, from the time when the wolf was a six week old cub to his death eleven years later. For eleven years the two were virtually inseparable.

Animal stories instinctively have an appeal and this is no exception. I think that instinct is based upon the authenticity of animals; they don’t lie or put on appearances. If you gain an animal’s trust, that’s it, gained for the life of the animal. The animal does not then seek to constantly re-evaluate and analyse its relationship with you. And we as humans find this highly attractive in our throwaway society full of BS, hard commercialism, worry and flurry.

Because the author is a philosopher he has taken his relationship with Brenin and used this as a vehicle to analyse man’s humanity or lack of it, the motivations behind his behaviour, in particular deception and quest for happiness involving his relationships with his fellow kind. Knowing hitherto little of philosophy I found this interesting and thought provoking, if a little hard going at times. I had a light bulb moment about myself through reading this book, which has certainly given me pause for thought.

I thoroughly recommend this book for those who are up for an intellectual challenge married with lots of cute arrh moments. If you just want a nice story about a cute fluffy animal this probably will not be for you because the book requires its reader to meet it halfway and engage with it on an intellectual level.

A Dance to the Music of Time: vol.1: Spring
A Dance to the Music of Time: vol.1: Spring
by Anthony Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb writing, 9 Feb 2014
Powell is completely new to me; I had missed the televisation of this twelve-part narrative of the life of Nicholas Jenkins. This Spring quarter begins shortly after WW1 with Jenkins at his public school and the antics he and his chums get up to and ends with him nudging thirty in the 1930’s and the Great Depression entangled with a married woman.

Powell is writing of the upper middle class and their doings. If you think Brideshead Revisited you will not be far of the mark. The majority of the narrative is a recount and reportage given by Jenkins in the first person of a number of social gatherings and the rising and fallings of a number of people who he comes into contact with.

On the whole the lives of the characters that he ‘dances to the music of time’ with seem fairly meaningless and empty, with little direction or focus, not surprising then that many seem unhappy. Jenkins, himself seems often listless. This all sounds rather depressing, but I did not feel at all depressed in reading this trio of books. Rather I regarded Jenkins’ story as both a social and a psychological commentary, which I found contained a lot of material to reflect upon in between readings.

I would say that the triumph of the books is Powell’s somewhat archaic writing style, which I love. I find it beautiful and totally befitting the period of which he is writing. His sentences are often long; I needed to re-read some of them to get their full meaning, but I did not find this a chore.

I heartily recommend this book and look forward to continuing my journey with Nicholas Jenkins.

The Acceptance World: Vol 3 (Dance to the Music of Time 03)
The Acceptance World: Vol 3 (Dance to the Music of Time 03)
by Anthony Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.87

5.0 out of 5 stars Just as good as A Question of Upringing and A Buyer's Market., 9 Feb 2014
This is the third book of Powell’s twelve-part narrative of the life of its central character Nicholas Jenkins entitled Dance to the Music of Time. It is the final part of the first quarter of Dance to the Music of Time: Spring. If you have not read parts one and two: A Question of Upbringing and A Buyer’s Market, then I urge you to do so. You will then get the full flavour and be able to place the events that happen in The Acceptance World within their context.

The Acceptance World is set in London and the Home Counties in the 1930’s during the great depression. Jenkins is nudging up to thirty and eventually gets entangled with a woman, whilst many of his peers are already married, happily or otherwise. The dip in the economic fortune of the country seems to effect Jenkins or his cronies little because they virtually all inhabit the upper middle class, even if some of the characters did not start our their lives in such high echelons of society. Think Brideshead Revisited and you will have a similar(ish) picture.

As before Jenkins watches, more than takes part in, a series of social gatherings and reports these to us, describing the characters and their antics. The narrative is, if you like, a social and psychological commentary, written in a somewhat old fashioned, but beautiful style, which totally befits the 1930s.

The strength of Powell is his writing style, a rare gem these days. I heartily recommend this book.

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