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Roman Clodia (London)
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Stung
Stung
by Joss Stirling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting plot but skip the cutesy romance, 30 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Stung (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having just read Struck, this has a more sophisticated mystery plot which is suitably dark for a YA book. The romance element, though, while less jarring than in the first book, does become unbearably cute as Kate and Nathan go all mushy over each other. As long as you can handle - or skim past - the soppy love story this is a gripping thriller for 12-13+.


Outlander Season 1
Outlander Season 1
Dvd

4.0 out of 5 stars Guilty pleasure TV!, 29 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is perfect rainy Sunday afternoon viewing: easy on the eye (thanks to Sam Heughan and his amazing torso!), effortless, dramatic, funny and gripping. It's years since I read the book but it fits well with what I remember: some reviewers haven't liked the portrayal of Claire and Jamie but this reflects the start of their relationship where Claire is older and more experienced, and Jamie's feelings are still partly a crush rather than what their marriage turns into. All the sweeping romance is offset by the dangers of both the Scottish clans and the English garrisons - with a bit of magical time-travel thrown in for good measure. I enjoyed this hugely and am looking forward to the continuation.


The Followers
The Followers
by Rebecca Wait
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and intelligent story of Old Testament fanaticism in a modern religious community, 29 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Followers (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the third book I've read in the last few months which takes a theme of extreme Christian fanaticism as its theme (the others are The Well, The Offering) - and the best of the three. Wait writes with a lucid simplicity unspoiled by excessive similes and metaphors, and allows a dry and restrained sense of humour to seep through the narrative via the resistant voice of prosaic, sparky Judith, the one person - only 12 years old at the time she was adopted into the religious community - unaffected by the magnetism of preacher and cult leader Nathaniel.

Less successful, though, is the `then' and `now' structure as the book flits - as so many contemporary novels do - between time periods. This seems to have become an unthinking reflex amongst novelists, and I'd like to see a bit more reflection on what this structure actually adds to the plot - to me, here, it feels unnecessary, an irritant rather than offering important perspectives.

That aside, this novel makes what is becoming an increasingly familiar narrative arc feel fresh: we know, of course, that it will end in a bloody act of violence both because Judith's mother is in prison in the opening chapter - but also because that's where these neo-religious tales go with their twisted themes of Old Testament transgression, sacrifice and atonement.

What Wait does so well is offer us a pantheon of characters who carry the story she is telling with sympathy and empathy. Even Nathaniel, the charismatic leader, is made understandable though increasingly out of control.

This isn't, as the publisher blurb claims, `impossible to forget' - but it is a gripping and intelligent read.


Field Punishment No.1 [DVD]
Field Punishment No.1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Fraser Brown
Price: £8.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Over-simplifies the complex question of conscientious objectors in WW1, 29 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Field Punishment No.1 [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This feels like a passionately-conceived film but its dogmatic stance simplifies the complex issue of conscientious objectors in WW1. Instead, then, of it being a probing and complicated narrative, this instead becomes a Sunday evening BBC drama with a simplistic anti-war message.

It's clear, of course, that these men who tried to refuse to put on the uniform, carry a rifle or fight are not cowards - but surely we've all read enough literature from WW1 to know that even the intially enthusiastic combatants, on both sides, rapidly realised the futility of this particular war? The lines between anti-war conscientious objector and infantryman became blurred very quickly as we can see from classic texts such as All Quiet On The Western Front, the poetry of Owen, Sassoon, Graves and others, the letters and memoirs of Vera Brittain and her friends.

This is quietly acted with small-screen production values and a slightly obtrusive musical score which can't help foregrounding 'big' moments in case we haven't 'got' it. It's clearly a film with a moral mission but I'm not convinced it's as provocative, hard-hitting or thoughtful as it perhaps would like to be.


Storm and Stone: Struck
Storm and Stone: Struck
by Joss Stirling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Teenage spies and a sinister boarding school, 29 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a fun story of teenage spies in a sinister boarding school with a helping of romance on the side. The mystery story works well but I have to say that I found the romance a bit of an add-on and wasn't completely convinced by it - it seems to get in the way of the 'real' story as feisty Raven and super-geek Kieran moon around each rather too much for my taste. That said, Joe is a great best friend character for Kieran, and the plot has pace and interest. Despite some over-worked characterisation (Kieran is a young Sherlock Holmes, there are the usual Mean Girls queen bitch personalities) this romps along - probably best for the younger reader 11-13+.


Trigger Point Performance Grid STK Hand-Held Foam Roller - Orange
Trigger Point Performance Grid STK Hand-Held Foam Roller - Orange
Price: £27.26

4.0 out of 5 stars Effective, easy to use and store, 29 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a good massage stick with a surprising amount of heft to it. The size does mean that you need to use two hands on the rubber handles so while this is brilliant for leg muscles, it's not suitable for self-massage on arms, for example. I do fairly advanced yoga and this is helpful not just after a session but also before: it loosens tight hamstrings and quads, warms the muscles and increases blood flow so that I can hold a stretch deeply and for longer.

Convenient, easy to use, small enough to slip into my yoga mat bag - nice all round.


The Rise of Thomas Cromwell: Power and Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII, 1485-1534
The Rise of Thomas Cromwell: Power and Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII, 1485-1534
by Michael Everett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bravely unthrilling, 28 Mar. 2015
Based on Everett’s doctoral thesis, this is a bravely unthrilling account of Cromwell’s early political career to 1534 when he was appointed Henry VIII’s secretary. It thus decentres the more usual focus on Cromwell’s ‘power’ years, and also challenges the established historical views of him as Machiavellian arch-manipulator, political visionary and/or evangelical Protestant who masterminded the Reformation.

Instead Everett argues, through close attention to the archival sources, that Cromwell was something far less exciting: ‘a conventional Tudor man-of-business’ who was an able administrator with excellent organisation skills and a penchant for hard work – the almost archetypical grey civil servant.

Anyone coming to this wanting a picture of the man behind fictional representations (Mantel, of course, but also The Tudors) may well be disappointed: as Everett points out, for all the hundreds of letters written to and by Cromwell there are hardly any revelations of what we would describe as personal or psychological insights. Instead, this foregrounds the fictional nature of reconstructed Cromwells – and the far more prosaic material upon which they were built.

General readers should be aware that this deconstructs Mantel et al. – but anyone studying the politics of the Tudor court will find this quietly iconoclastic.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


Walking by Night: A Joe Plantagenet Police Procedural (A Joe Plantagenet Mystery)
Walking by Night: A Joe Plantagenet Police Procedural (A Joe Plantagenet Mystery)
by Kate Ellis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Cosy and entertainingly unchallenging, 27 Mar. 2015
This is effectively a cosy mystery though set not amongst village cottages but the ghost-ridden (apparently) streets of York. It’s firmly commercial with a theatrical company, spooked actresses, missing props, and dodgy outsiders such as the city councillor and the spirit medium. Amongst all the gothic trappings, the police and medical examiner stumble around following up clues of saint medals and ghost paintings.

I enjoyed this as a light switch-off read but there is a distinct air of unreality about it all – hence my description of this as a cosy. Characterisation is light and pretty conventional (the rebel artist, the ditzy girl, the slutty actress, the insane murderer), and there’s a slight over-writing: descriptions tend to clichéd similes – someone drinks like a thirsty man finding water in the desert, a mother clings to her child as if to a lifebelt.

All the same, if you enjoy BBC Sunday night murder mysteries that are entertainingly unchallenging then this may suit very well.


The Ghost Fields: A Ruth Galloway Investigation
The Ghost Fields: A Ruth Galloway Investigation
by Elly Griffiths
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I adored this book!, 26 Mar. 2015
I love Ruth Galloway but as I've pointed out in other reviews Griffiths isn't always the most accomplished of plotters: here she has overcome that shortfall and has produced a book with all her trademark wonderful characterisation ('Phil looks at her quizzically. He doesn't always get irony unless he's concentrating'), sly observation ('Nelson, watching as Clough selects two biscuits conveniently stuck together') and outrageous wit ('Clough, who has been maintaining a stunned silence, says 'Are you telling me that these pigs could have eaten someone?'') that also hangs together plotwise. This reminded me, in fact, of one of those old Agatha Christie perfectly-plotted mysteries featuring a convoluted family history and an old house, with elements of something more literary (Dunmore, The Greatcoat) in its poignant evocation of WW2 airfields.

Fans of Griffiths won't need any inducement to read this, especially as we get another wonderful instalment in the lives of Ruth's pseudo-family who we have come to love. Anyone new to the series really needs to start at the beginning to understand the convoluted personal lives that underpin the story - though some of the earlier plots are a bit clunky in places.

This is so much fun, so entertaining, with a knowing sense of humour (''Ruth!' yells Nelson. 'Get behind the duck!'') - I loved this to pieces and read it in a single day.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


The Ladies of the House
The Ladies of the House
by Molly McGrann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea, flat writing style, 26 Mar. 2015
There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this novel but I found it a struggle to get through. McGann explores a story of victimhood and complicity, a grimy, sleazy story of oppressed and exploited women and heartless, manipulative men in post-WW2 London – and I had my first problem with the unsubtle gender divide upon which this book operates. The women are almost all generous and compassionate, the men almost all lecherous and nasty...

That aside, I found the writing style unengaging and overwhelmingly mundane – perhaps that’s the intention to convey the smallness and greyness of the world of the book but it does make it hard work to read. The narrative shifts through the viewpoints of various characters all of whom think in clichés: ‘he thought he’d like to punch the door’, ‘housework lifted Flavia’s spirits. She could see a result. If she felt low she emptied out a cupboard or scrubbed the hob’.

My biggest problem is that this is a story which is overwhelmingly ‘told’ to us rather than dramatised: ‘Rita was having the time of her life, so she kept saying. Edward poured the wine, ordered a second bottle. They drank it... On the walk to the hotel, he put his arm around her proprietorially. Rita liked it when a man did that.’

So there’s a subtle sense of righteous indignation that underpins the narrative at the narrowness of opportunities, the way women who fell through the social cracks had very few options – but the flat and unengaging form of telling made this hard work for me to read.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


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