Book Review: A Crime in the Family, by Sacha Batthyany

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_crime_in_the_familyThis book was an intriguing choice from the review pile. The author, Sacha Batthyany, is a journalist, born in Switzerland to Hungarian parents. He belongs to a once aristocratic, wealthy and powerful Hungarian family who lost everything in the Second World War, and in the Communist takeover immediately afterwards. Like many wealthy families, his grandmother’s family chose to flee, in this case to Switzerland. Sometime before the war, his great uncle, Count Batthyany, had married Margit Thyssen-Bornesmisza, sister of Baron Thyssen-Bornesmisza, billionaire Swiss industrialist and famous art collector, and they lived in the castle the family owned in Rechnitz, a town near the Austrian-Hungary border.

Quite by chance, around 2007, Sacha found out that Margit was involved in a massacre of 180 Jews that took place while she was hosting a party one night towards the end of the war at the family castle. Amongst the guests were German aristocrats and SS officers, as well as local officials. This is the first he has heard of such an appalling event, naturally he must find out more, and so his journey begins, the result of which is this memoir.

Once I had finished reading this book, I tracked down via Google what may be the original article that propelled Sacha into investigating and answering the questions about his family’s past. It is clear that the writer of the article, David Litchfield, does not have a high opinion of Sacha Batthyany, but that is another story and just as intriguing as this book. Links to the article and the writer of it are at the bottom of this review.

After so many years, so much death, records destroyed or altered, so many people refusing to speak, it is very hard to know what is the truth and what isn’t. Hungary being behind the Iron Curtain for so long has not helped the dissemination of information, and with virtually no-one from that time still alive, maybe the truth will never come out. However, this does not detract at all from a most interesting and at times very emotional journey that the author must take to track down what his family members did or did not do.

Sacha has a number of sources in his search. Firstly, his father is still alive, and as a small boy lived in the castle, although too young to remember what happened in 1944. He is most reluctant to speak about what happened, the rumours, any coverup. Sacha’s grandmother, Maritta, kept a diary during the terrible war years, and it is in reading this that Sacha comes across another tragic and violent episode involving a local Jewish family. Sacha again has to question everything he has heard about his family and what went on during those years.

His investigations uncover the daughter of the Jewish family, Agnes, now very elderly and living in South America with her own daughters. She was a friend of Sacha’s grandmother and also kept a diary during the war years, survived Auschwitz and its aftermath, but never knew what had happened to her parents or her brother. The family very generously allow Sacha to read the diaries, and eventually he is able to return to Agnes and tell her exactly what happened to the rest of her family.

Secrets, secrets and more secrets. As the years pass, the survivors of the war years are dying. In many cases they take the secrets of what happened to them, to their communities, betrayals, good deeds and bad, to the grave with them. It was a truly terrible time, and who can blame them for wanting to bury it all as deep as they can. That their children and now grandchildren are beginning their own investigations is producing many many books of this ilk such as The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Vaal. Sacha Batthyany is clearly very troubled about what his family did or omitted to do during the war, and the veil of silence he appears to keep coming up against is difficult for him to bear.

This book is as much about the author’s journey of discovery as it is about what actually happened. At least two trips to the town of Rechnitz, one with his elderly and reluctant father, another to Buenos Aires, and weekly visits with his psychoanalyst are all carefully documented. He actually struggles more with what happened to Agnes’s family than he does the massacre. This may be because the massacre has been well-documented, accurately or otherwise, but the deaths of Agnes’s parents not at all. His ‘family’ guilt almost consumes him, and as annoying as I found them, the weekly sessions with Dr Strassberg have their own reveal.

Sacha Batthyany is just one of many thousands of descendants of people who have lived through terrible times such as the Second World War. There will be many, many other stories such as what he has uncovered, and it is good that we get to hear of them, wondering what we would ourselves do in such situations that aren’t really all that long ago. For these reasons alone it is worth reading, and I am putting this into my book club, because I know it will lead to all sorts of discussions.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

A Crime in the Family
by  Sacha Batthyany
Published by Quercus
ISBN 9781786480552

Book Review: 101 Ways to Live Well, by Victoria Joy and Karla Zimmerman

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_101_ways_to_live_wellDoes the world need another little self-care book? I’m not entirely convinced, although if you’d like something positive to dip into during somewhat turbulent times (Quakes! Deadlines! Trump!) this book might appeal.

The authors suggest that these bite-size tips are perfect for commute time, a lunch break, or even the checkout queue. There’s a tiny wee clock on each page indicating how long each activity is likely to take. Times range from 30 seconds – to take a deep mindful breath and refocus – to 2 hours to ‘watch a mindful movie’. Mix it up a bit: take 1 minute (to wash your hands and ‘win the germ war’!), 20 minutes, for a Sun Salutation yoga practice to ‘get the blood flowing…and awaken the whole body’, or a leisurely 30 minutes to listen to music to ‘improve your mood and confidence’. Most activities take around 5 minutes: realistic and manageable. My favourite tip? How to ease a headache by a gentle hair-pulling technique that reduces tension.

The page layout takes you straight to the point – a snappy title at the top of each page, followed by a summary of the activity or tip, within a circle. Below, a single paragraph telling you everything else you need to know. If you’d like to learn more about a particular topic, some pages have web links. Simple line drawings provide additional information about activities such as the yoga poses. (I wasn’t quite supple enough to master the Camel…)

There are several simple recipes (eg for smoothies, fruit and herb infusions, and ‘low-cal’ hot chocolate), as well as affirmations, encouragement, and acupressure advice. There are suggestions for improving posture, easing neck pain and even feigning self-confidence – and many other topics too.

However, although the pages are numbered, there is no index. This may frustrate readers looking for a particular exercise or activity. And the Table of Contents is sparse – offering only a choice of Home, Work, Play, Relationships and Travel.

My impression is that the book is primarily aimed at office-based women in paid work. But not all readers will sit at desks all day, or need alternatives to ‘weekly office cupcake runs’. (Nor will everyone need tips claiming to ease menstrual pain and reduce PMS symptoms – or want to engage in a tickle battle.)

The cover is a tranquil aqua colour. It has folds at either side that could be used for bookmarking favourite pages.

The book would, perhaps, be a useful gift for a colleague, a recuperating friend, or a new parent – someone who’s time-poor but motivated to make small incremental changes to set them on a path to improved wellbeing.

Reviewed  by Anne Kerslake-Hendricks

101 Ways to Live Well: Mindfulness, Yoga and nutrition tips for busy people
by Victoria Joy and Karla Zimmerman
Published by Lonely Planet, 2016
ISBN 9781786572127

Book Review: One Woman’s War and Peace, by Wing Commander Sharon Bown

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_womans_war_and_peaceWhen Sharon Bown, nee Cooper, a young Registered Nurse from Tasmania joined the Royal Australian Air Force it was with the goal of providing humanitarian aid to the world, as a Nursing Officer. During her eleven years of service she served in East Timor, Bali and Afghanistan working to save the lives of others, but almost losing her own.

Her autobiography is a very powerful, courageous story of a very determined young woman who survived a helicopter crash that left her with a shattered jaw and broken back, while deployed in Timor.

“On the ninth day of my hospital admission I was finally allowed out of bed and introduced to the ‘old lady body’ that was now mine as I had to learn to walk again”. With grit and determination Sharon worked hard with her own rehabilitation and after five months, was able to stop wearing the back brace which had supported her for months.

When the Air force was asked to provide AME support to the evacuation of Australians following the Bali bombing in 2005, Sharon was relieved to be asked if she was ‘available to deploy’?

Following this she spent a year as an Aide-de–camp to the Chief of the Defence Force working in Canberra for Dr Brendan Nelson, during which time she received promotion to Squadron Leader.

Back in Townsville, Bown worked as a Military Support Officer, providing specific advice to ADF members and their families such as bereavement support, arrangement of military funerals and assisting with the deceased estates administration. A year into this two-year posting, Bown was asked to return to Air Force Health where her leadership skills saw her deployed to Tarin Kot, Afghanistan

Bown has written with great honesty sharing her inner-most feelings of despair, especially when children could not be saved, as well as the physical and mental effects of her accident. Some time after her return home to Australia, she was diagnosed with post –traumatic stress disorder. In 2015, Bown was discharged from the Royal Australian Air Force as medically unfit from a job she loved and which had seen her rise to the rank of Wing Commander.

I thoroughly enjoyed this inspirational story which is well written and beautifully presented on glossy pages. The inclusion of a number of quality photographs compliments the story and the last photo introduces the reader to Bown’s husband Conway, and her two sons Tiberius and Austin.

Bown continues to live in Townsville and is highly sought after to speak of her unique experiences during her service career.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

One Woman’s and Peace
by Wing Commander Sharon Bown
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781925335316

Book Review: A Road Tour of American Song Titles, by Karl du Fresne

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_road_Tour_of_American_song_titles.jpgBeing of a similar vintage to Karl du Fresne meant this book really resonated with me. The journalist and music lover and his wife visited the United States of America three times, covering thousands of miles and taking in 24 towns and cities mentioned in song titles.

There were the familiar, like Galveston, Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa, Viva Las Vegas and Little Old Lady From Pasadena, but there were also songs I’d never heard of, like Bowling Green, Streets of Bakersfield, and Saginaw, Michigan. Whenever I came across a song I wasn’t familiar with, I sought out the YouTube version and listened to it before reading that chapter, often listening to it more than once to pick up things du Fresne mentioned.

There were also songs that I was familiar with but never knew what they were called, like Mendocino, Lodi, and Nashville Cats – so it was an education for me learning their names as well as reading where the inspiration for the songs came from.

The book meanders across the country, part-history lesson, part-education, part-geography, part-music and part-restaurant review. It’s a good yarn and one that will appeal to many. The writer’s travels take him across states and into backwaters most people aren’t even aware of. He tells of racial tension, heartbreak and misfortune as well as success, and gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who wrote and performed the songs many of us grew up listening to.

I found myself hunting through my own collection to hear a number of the songs featured in the book and it gave me a whole new appreciation of them. I had been guilty of listening to them over the years without really taking in the lyrics, and now when Galveston or Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa are played on classic hits stations, I remember the stories behind the songs.

A Road Tour of American Song Titles is much more than a road trip, it’s like the best of campfire stories told by someone who has an easy way of writing that carries you along on the journey.

Unfortunately royalty fees and difficulties tracking down the owners meant du Fresne was unable to reproduce the lyrics to the songs, but they are available online for anyone who wants to hunt them down.

The only thing I wasn’t so fond of was the footnotes, as I felt they interrupted the narrative flow. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope – as there are plenty more song titles he could cover – there is a sequel.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

A Road Tour of American Song Titles
by Karl du Fresne
Published by Bateman
ISBN 9781869539382


Book Review: Little Tables – Anytime Breakfasts from around the World, by Vanessa Lewis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_tablesThis book is half-recipe book, half-cute photos of kids book.  Visiting the cuisines of 32 countries across the globe, each country gets two recipes, a “fun fact”, and a gorgeous photo of a child that goes with the country’s “theme”.

The recipes weren’t created by Lewis, but come from websites, books and magazines.  They are wide and varied, with the idea that they give the reader a little taste of the culture of each country.  For example, New Zealand is represented by steel-cut oat porridge, and mussel and potato fritters.  The fun fact for New Zealand is about the carrot statue in Ohakune; it’s then followed by the mussel fritter recipe. I found this a bit jarring – some of the facts bear little or no relationship to the recipes, and I wondered what the point was; however, the bulk of the facts do relate directly to the recipe, or the nation’s cuisine.

The recipes themselves are fairly easy to follow, and they cover the range from basic to more complicated, allowing the book to be accessed by a wide range of home cooks.

It’s the photographs that are really the star of the book. The food photography is appetising and well-styled, inviting the reader into their own kitchen to get creating. The photos of the children are pretty lovely, with the children dressed to represent the country in some way, and interesting props.

This would make a nice gift for a child or family, to encourage some food adventures.  I know in my family breakfast is often rushed, and Little Tables would be fun to work through over the course of a year of weekends, trying many of the wide variety of dishes, and making an occasion of the meal.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Little Tables – Anytime Breakfasts from around the World
by Vanessa Lewis
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120595

Book Review: Spider From Mars – My Life with Bowie, by Woody Woodmansey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_spider_from_marsI approached this book a little apprehensively. Sometimes people who feed off fame by association, do so for very narcissistic reasons. But I was so wrong. While I am a long time Bowie fan, I knew little about the development of his public face, the creation of the albums and in particular, the part his band of Spiders played in this.

Woody Woodmansey begins his story with an unremarkable childhood in Driffield, Yorkshire. He tells his tale well, with family, friends, school and work all important at various times. He relates his early attempts as a drummer and the lengths he went to in pursuing his dream. Of course all this builds up to his introduction to David Bowie. He recalls the phone call from Bowie in 1970. No audition was required and he was given a place to live, but the move from Hull to London was a big decision. Woodmansey honestly relates his fears and concerns as he had been offered a very good job working for Vertex, the spectacle makers. Against the wishes of his parents he accepts and begins his life with Bowie. On reflection, he sees this decision as a turning point: the ordinary life or the dream life.

For anyone who knows and loves Bowie, this book gives wonderful day-to-day images of the development of both the songs, but also the style which became so famous.

Woodmansey does not just focus on his part, but on the overall vision which Bowie was developing. He recounts Bowie taking the band to see the Nutcracker ballet. This was to experience the part lighting could play in a live performance. Likewise, they go shopping with Bowie and his wife, Angie, to Liberty in London. Here they select fabrics to create some of the costumes which were so much a part of the band. The arrangements of songs, the naming of albums, the lyrics, the mime, the hairstyles and makeup. All these ideas are described in fascinating detail and you really get a first-hand account of life with Bowie.

Following David Bowie’s death in 2016, this the first account of those early years and the development of the band. Following the hectic tours, it also details the eventual breakup of the original group. I really enjoyed reading the stories behind the sound. The photos are from another era and made me nostalgic for my psychedelic teenage years. It is a wonderful read for Bowie fans, and a great handbook for aspiring drummers.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Spider from Mars – My Life with Bowie
by Woody Woodmansey
Published by Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd
ISBN 9780283072734

Book Review: How to Win at Feminism, presented by Reductress

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_how_to_win_at_feminismThis is the funniest book I have read in a very long time. There was both snorting and out loud bursts of laughter. How to Win at Feminism is a comedic guide to feminism taking issues in feminism and cleverly addressing them through the appearance of contrived ignorance and marketing speak.

The form of the book cleverly provides an interesting introduction to feminism through clever histories of feminism, explaining why women should support each other, a broad treatment of feminism and beauty (I love the rebranding of the gym chain Curves as ‘Lumps’) and finally men and feminism as well as workplace issues.

This is a terribly easy book to read – with great formatting and magazine style presentation. It is very easy to dip in and out of. Personally I loved the feminist invocations (poems) to Beyonce and Leaning In. The section on ‘femsplaining feminism to your friends’ is pretty clever. . The section on femsplaining feminism to your friends is pretty clever. There are a staggering number of feminism in jokes and some top level shade.

‘Getting catcalled for your personality’ was simultaneously hilarious and distressing – in a week when both my self and a colleague had to deal with unwanted catcalling in real life. There is so often truth in great comedy and the three authors of this book have done a great job.

Of all the books I’ve ever reviewed this is the one that I had to work hardest to stop people stealing from my handbag – any regular viewers of the Reductress website will know that this book is out and eagerly awaited. Because of the excellent way the authors deal with marketing to women throughout the book I’m loath to recommend it as a good buy! That being said I would have been very happy to receive a copy of this book for Christmas.

Review by Emma Rutherford

How to Win at Feminism
presented by Reductress
Published by HQ
ISBN 9780008214289