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Sally Walker (Eastbourne, UK)

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Forever Free
Forever Free
by Joy Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic, sad and a dollop of escapism, 30 Sep 2014
This review is from: Forever Free (Hardcover)
The third book in Joy Adamson’s trilogy of the life of Elsa the lioness and her three cubs. If you have not read the first two books: Born Free and Living Free then you need to before you read Forever Free.

Of the trilogy Forever Free contains by far the most tension and real-life drama, which makes it somewhat of a page-turner. I’ll not spoil your pleasure of this book by revealing the nature of the drama. All I will say it that as with its predecessors, but more so, it contains a fair measure of sadness, so definitely have your hankies at the ready and perhaps not a book to read on public transport!

Forever Free just like Living Free, in particular, is somewhat of a travelogue and takes you right into the Serengeti and the game and wildlife to be found there. There are plenty of photographs throughout. So reading this book is like going on an African safari and in this sense represents a dollop of escapism.

Interesting and somewhat depressing to read that in the 1960s, the wildlife was being culled at an alarming rate by poachers.

Like Born Free and Living Free this book too raises questions as to the wisdom of the Adamsons’ actions, by which I mean their interference in nature and not allowing nature to take its course, until they were forced to do so by the relevant authorities at the time. The conclusion of many experts seems to be that whether you agree or disagree with what they did, there is one positive arising. That the Adamsons’ helped in large measure to put African wildlife and its plight on the map; they stimulated huge public interest in wildlife and taught the public that animals have emotions and feelings too and should be treated with the same respect and dignity that human beings expect to receive.

This book will appeal to many: whether you’re after a cutesy-pie animal story; you want to go on an armchair African safari; or you want to find out about and perhaps undertake a fireside psychological muse as to how two extraordinary people chose to live their far from ordinary lives and what motivated their actions.

I highly recommend this book.

Living Free: The Story of Elsa and Her Cubs
Living Free: The Story of Elsa and Her Cubs
by Joy Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, 24 Sep 2014
The second book in Joy Adamson’s trilogy of the life of Elsa, the wonderful lioness. It is just as good as Born Free, written in the same immediate, highly accessible narrative, which recounts the almost daily doings of the cubs and those of other wildlife in the bush. As before Joy places you right in the bush with you, so in reading this book you go on an armchair African safari. If you have not read Born Free, which recounts her being brought up by the Adamson’s to the point at which she could hunt for herself, I strongly suggest that you do before reading Living Free.

The focus in this part of the trilogy is the life of Elsa’s three cubs: one female and two male, who were born in the wild in Kenya. Whilst the cubs were born in the wild and were not introduced to the Adamson’s by Elsa until they were about six weeks old, they then proceeded to have a lot of contact with them in their camp. And, I think it would be fair to say that without the Adamson’s intervention in terms of providing a large number of carcasses for Elsa and her growing family during their first year of life, they would have had a much tougher time of it and all may not have survived.

Elsa at the time, thanks to Born Free and the subsequent film of the book, became known around the world and captivated many people’s hearts and imagination. The fact that Elsa was able to make the shift from life essentially as a pet, albeit in a camp in the African bush, to a life as a wild lioness was hailed at the time, (1960) as nothing short of miraculous. In looking at footage of Elsa on You Tube and her interaction with the Adamson’s, she really did seem to straddle both worlds, switching seemingly with ease from giving affection with her claws always retracted, to hunting for her cubs.

Whether the Adamson’s were ultimately wise to do what they did I believe is still the subject of debate to this day. The end of this book highlights the difficulty that they set in place for Elsa and her cubs, because Elsa lived this dual life. I’ll not spoil here what that difficulty was, suffice to say that it has lasting consequences which are the subject of the final part of the trilogy: Forever Free.

For me, although Elsa is long dead, as are now both of the Adamson’s, the story of her life is still immensely captivating. It’s the kind of book that enters your thoughts, often, as you go about your normal daily life. That has to be the measure of a good book, the sort that you really just want to spend the whole day with curled up on the sofa. I therefore highly recommend this book.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than travel writing, 18 Sep 2014
As you might expect from a fellow of a college of Cambridge University this is an intelligently written book, so not only the subject matter but also the writing itself is a delight.

As to the subject matter MacFarlane brings vividly to life a number of different landscapes, mainly in Britain, but also in Palestine, Spain and China, (Tibet). Each chapter covers one of his walks, on which he is often accompanied with a person who knows well the landscape through which they are walking. He also meets some extraordinary people too.

The majority of the chapters have as their title the rock, substance or element that quintessentially defines them.

Into MacFarlane’s account of each walk he weaves into his narration references to relevant literary influences, with a thread running intermittently through of the poet Edward Thomas who is something of a hero to the author.

Also forming part of his rich cloth are some amazing second hand stories and myths of events that have taken place in the landscapes.

All in all MacFarlane has created a rich blend so The Old Ways is so much more than travel writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am motivated to read his other output.

I highly recommend this book.

Born Free
Born Free
by Joy Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 17 Sep 2014
This review is from: Born Free (Hardcover)
Published seven times in 1960, three prints being made in the month of April alone this demonstrates the popularity of this book at the time. It was published at a time when safari package holidays had yet to be invented and the farthest that most English people traveled abroad was to a Spanish coastal holiday resort. Born Free brings directly into your life the African savanna and bush, the wildlife that inhabits it and what it is like to live amongst it. This will account in some measure for the rapturous reception of this book. In addition, and in the main, it will be because of the fact that it recounts an enduring relationship between a human being and an animal; most people, including me, cannot resist a good, high arrh factor animal story such as this.

Born Free, the first of a trilogy, recounts in detail Elsa's early life and her transformation from a helpless lion cub only a few weeks old to a young lioness able to fend for herself in the wild. Even though I knew the story beforehand and I've seen the film decades ago and I'm now a somewhat world-weary cynic of a certain age, it has utterly captured my heart. This book has brought me much joy at the beginning and end of my days, sandwiching my daily stresses with tales of another world at another time.

Joy Adamson's writing is direct and immediate with little lyricism, but this does not detract. It makes the story of her life in the African bush with Elsa highly engaging and accessible.

There is a naivety to Joy Adamson's account of Elsa, which is infectious and somewhat beguiling. In essence Joy lays bare, (and thus made herself vulnerable to criticism) for her readers her undying and unconditional love for Elsa, which some may say was somewhat un-natural, but perhaps understandable for a woman who had had three miscarriages. Joy needed to have a means to release her un-expressed maternal love and Elsa turned up right on cue.

Joy Adamson found it difficult to find a publisher for her book, but when one finally said yes it set off a domino effect: Elsa, the wonderful lion cub and later lioness became known around the world, a film was made of her story, the making of the film had a life changing effect upon the McKenna's who portrayed Joy and George Adamson, resulting in them founding the Born Free charity which continues to this day.

The work of the Adamsons with Elsa in bringing her up from a lion cub, whose mother George had killed with a bullet, to the point of her being able to fend for herself in the wild, is regarded by some as controversial. Personally I take my hat off to them for saving at least one of the three orphaned cubs from a miserable life in a zoo - Elsa's two sisters ended up in Rotterdam zoo. In a sense, one might well think that it was the least they could do. Although Joy makes light of Elsa's sister's incarceration and says that she visited them in Rotterdam and reported that they were both living in excellent conditions, one has to wonder whether in fact she was glossing over the situation, given the state of most zoos at this time - lions in small and barren cages often with their occupants pacing up and down rhythmically. Maybe this is the price that had to be paid for the ultimate founding of the Born Free charity one of whose objectives is to free animals from appalling living conditions in captivity.

One has to remember that she lived the life of a colonialist employing Africans as servants to undertake menial housework, camp preparation and dismantling for her. There is obvious prejudice in her writing, which grates and it is pretty clear that she regarded Africans as inferior. Ultimately, many years later, she was to meet her death by another of her servant's hands because of her attitude towards them. This gripe, in my estimation is not a reason to set this book aside.

For all those that love animals and who wish for escapism you will love this book.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton: The Marriage of the Century
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton: The Marriage of the Century
Price: £3.43

5.0 out of 5 stars A page turner, 11 Sep 2014
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Reading this book is akin to looking at a video of a train crash, in particular two trains meeting head on with one train being overridden by the other – Elizabeth over Richard. You don’t really want to look, to find out the awful truth, but you can’t seem to stop yourself.

It is well written. It is highly readable, as all tales of the hybrid breed of demi-gods and celebrities seem to be.

My motivation in reading this book was really to learn more about Richard Burton. In particular to try and find out more about his psychological make-up and to a very large degree the book delivered. I would say in almost equal measure an assessment of Elizabeth’s make-up is also possible.

We are given a biographical account of each of their early years and loves ahead of their cataclysmic meeting on the set of Cleopatra. Then the book proceeds to give a detailed account of their courtship, subsequent marriage, divorce, re-marriage and divorce. There is a short section covering Richard’s death, Elizabeth’s reaction to his demise and her life following.

I just could not help myself wishing that they had never met so that Richard could have, perhaps, found a more comforting and stable love match of the kind, albeit short-lived, that he seemed to achieve post-Elizabeth. But he seems to have been largely incapable of controlling himself as far as Liz was concerned rather like a fly around an electric light bulb. His coping mechanism of living with Elizabeth, who he became almost completely emotionally dependant upon, seemed to be to drink himself into oblivion and therefore deny himself of realizing his full potential as an actor and a human being.

Ultimately this is a tragic tale, which can be read as a fairly light behind the curtain account of two hugely famous peoples’ lives and loves, or you can if you wish, delve deeper and try and analyse what was going on beneath the surface gloss of happiness, all the money that bought the yachts, jewels, planes and cars, etc. This book allows you to choose for yourself what your journey through it will be.

For me this book represents a clear lesson in what not to pursue in a quest for happiness.

Well worth reading.

Stolen Innocence: The Sally Clark Story - A Mother's Fight for Justice
Stolen Innocence: The Sally Clark Story - A Mother's Fight for Justice
by John Batt
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Heart rending, 10 Sep 2014
I’ve just finished this book. The description of this book on its inside fly includes the statement that it is written with the power of a thriller. I think this is spot on. The facts of this case had many significant twists and turns. I was led through this book at a pace by the sheer horror of what I was reading, which, if it was contained within a work of fiction I’d probably consider far-fetched.

But of course this all actually happened to poor Sally Clark and her family. Her treatment at the hands of so called medical experts coupled with the vagaries of the British justice system dealt Sally with an inhuman blow, that she never recovered from despite her eventual release from prison in 2003. This book now has increased poignancy because subsequent to its publication in 2004 Sally Clark died of alcohol poisoning in 2007; she was unable to come to terms with what had happened to her.

This book is very well written by the solicitor instructed by Sally’s father, an ex- senior policeman, to hold a watching brief of the various court cases. He is of course highly critical of some of the key participants in the events but not to the degree that this criticism detracts from the overall account. It is devoid of any bitterness which might have made uncomfortable reading, but the Lord knows would have been justifiable.

Sally and Steve’s courage and dignity in the face of their extreme tragedy and the cruelty metered out to them are ultimately inspiring. This is an account of triumph over adversity. I am only too sorry that there was not to be a happy ending for them.

This is one of those books that occupies your thoughts when you are not reading it. I, as a mere reader of this book, now feel immense anger at the egotistical and arrogant behaviour of many of the prosecution expert witnesses and the prosecution team.

I highly commend this book.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2014 5:40 PM BST

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

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.

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