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H. M. Holt "souloftherose" (Tring, Herts)
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The Cricket on the Hearth (Dodo Press)
The Cricket on the Hearth (Dodo Press)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartwarming, 30 Dec 2010
The third of Mr Dickens' Christmas Books and much less gloomy than The Chimes. A gentle story about marriage, love and fidelity; Dickens left social criticism to one side for this one. He wanted The Cricket to be '... a vein of glowing, hearty, generous, mirthful, beaming references in everything to Home, and Fireside.'

It's Christmas and John Peerybingle has been married to his much younger wife Dot, for almost a year when he is led to believe by the grisly toymaker, Mr Tackleton, that she is having an affair. Tackleton himself is due to be married to another younger woman and the toymaker's assistant, Caleb Plummer, realises that by pretending to his blind daughter that Tackleton has been generous and loving to them their whole lives (when of course he has been the exact opposite) that Caleb has caused his daughter to fall in love with Tackleton and she is distraught that Tackleton is getting married to someone else.

But the cricket on the hearth sings to Peerybingle and helps him to remember the love he has for his young wife and there is almost a fairy tale happy ending with Tackleton's reform being so rapid as to be slightly startling. As usual for Dickens, his characterisations are brilliant and even if the rapid reform of Tackleton is a little too rapid to be truly realistic, the Christmas Books were intended to be fables rather than gritty, realistic dramas and the ending is truly heartwarming.


The Chimes
The Chimes
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less heartwarming than A Christmas Carol but interesting if you enjoy Dickens' social commentary, 30 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Chimes (Paperback)
The second of Mr Dickens' Christmas Books. Following the huge success of A Christmas Carol Dickens wanted to write an even more savage attack on the political and economic theories of the day and I think he succeeded but, perhaps because of that, this short book is less fun to read than A Christmas Carol.

Toby Veck is a ticket-porter (a man employed to deliver articles on the London streets). He spends most of his days standing on the street waiting to be given a message. Due to the unreliable nature of his work he's not always able to pay his rent and grocery bills on time but despite this he is a relatively cheerful fellow who is very fond of his daughter, his only living relative.

In a way, The Chimes has a similar story to A Christmas Carol. There are some Scrooge-like characters who believe the poor are only poor because they are lazy and good for nothing and if they simply worked harder and were better people then they wouldn't be such a burden on society (sounds worryingly familiar to some modern day politicians). There are visitations by ghosts (in this case the spirits of the bells from the chapel close to where Toby stands all day) and then there is a happy ending.

The problem is that the spirits visit Toby, who has only been guilty of feeling discouraged about the state of the world after spending a day being told off by the clever sounding Scrooge-like gentlemen. As a result of this sound telling off, Toby has second thoughts about allowing his daughter to marry someone equally poor (one of the pet theories of these gentlemen is that the poor shouldn't be allowed to marry and have children who will also be poor). The spirits visit Toby and show him visions of what will become of his daughter and her fiancee if they don't marry. The visions are more harrowing than those in A Christmas Carol and the happy ending doesn't quite take away the sting of the visions as it seems to in A Christmas Carol. It feels monstrously unfair that poor Toby has to go through all this when all he has done is listened to people whom he will have been told to think of as his betters and I was never convinced that if the spirits hadn't intervened that Toby wouldn't have woken up the next morning to be his usual cheerful self and allowed his daughter to get married.

Apparently the Scrooge-like gentlemen in The Chimes were caricatures of specific politicians from Dickens' time and to have them reform in the book as Scrooge did would have softened his attack so poor old Toby had to take the fall. So, it's not a bad book by any means but at the end I was left feeling that it just didn't quite work. Perhaps one that is worth reading if you're after an insight into Dickens' political and sociological views than if you want a good story.


Nervous Conditions
Nervous Conditions
by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.06

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling account about the lives of black women in Southern Rhodesia, 24 Dec 2010
This review is from: Nervous Conditions (Paperback)
This is the first novel written by Tsitsi Dangarembga and it won The Commonwealth Writers' Prize. According to wikipedia it was the first novel written in English by a black Zimbabwean woman.

The novel is partly auto-biographical in nature. The story is set in Zimbabwe and told from the perspective of a young Shona girl, Tambudzai (Tambu). Tambu lives with her parents on their small homestead but when her only brother dies she is sent to live with her wealthy uncle to become educated so that she can support her family.

Throughout the book, Tambu longs to be educated like her uncle Babamukuru. Babamukuru is the hero of the family, providing the goat and other food for them to eat at Christmas, providing school fees for her brother and taking responsibility for any family decisions which have to be made. However, when Tambu goes to live with her uncle we start to see his flaws, how he struggles to control his own daughter, Nyasha, who grow up in England and is struggling to adjust to the different culture of Zimbabwe, how he works too hard and is often very stressed and how is wife, who is viewed with envy by the other women of the family is actually quite unhappy and frustrated.

Tambu's father is a lazy man who will say the right thing in front of her uncle but do nothing about it when her uncle is absent. Her mother has become ground down with weariness following the death of her brother and all the work she does on the farm. Tambu's father appears to do nothing.

Nyasha, Tambu's cousin, struggles to adapt to Zimbabwean Shona culture. She has seen a different way of living in England and doesn't see why she should revert back to the traditional Shona ways of (to her) mindless obedience to her father.

Maiguru, Tambu's aunt, studied for a higher degree in England. But now she is back in Zimbabwe, she is expected to take care of all the cooking and cleaning at family gatherings.

And Tambu copes by outwardly being diligent and respectful to her uncle, the perfect young lady.

In many ways, this book was an uncomfortable read because I felt very strongly the unfairness of the situations the women in the novel found themselves in. It also felt like the book ends very suddenly. There is a sequel which I really want to read to find out what happens.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2011 11:43 AM BST


Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space
by Mary Roach
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read but not one for the faint hearted, 19 Dec 2010
I've heard a lot of good things about all of Mary Roach's books and for my first book by this author I picked Packing for Mars because as a youngster I longed to be an astronaut when I grew up (yes really, I even planned to learn Russian).

Having read Packing for Mars I now think it was a very good thing that I changed my mind! I wanted to be an astronaut because I thought it would be exciting and I would get to discover new worlds (in fact at one point I was determined to try and be the first human on Mars) but from reading this book I've discovered that being an astronaut is 99% boredom, dirt and other excruciatingly embarrassing situations.

For example, Jim Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame) and Frank Borman spent just under 14 days in space in Gemini VII so that NASA could investigate the effects of being in space on humans for 14 days. As Roach tells it the Gemini VII capsule was so cramped that neither astronaut could move much during the time in space and neither could they wash. For 14 days. They weren't even allowed to wipe themselves with a wet cloth. I think Lovell said that this was his most difficult space mission.

And then there's the food, the toilet facilities, the problems of mixed-sex crews. Ugh.

Roach's writing is laugh out loud funny and she certainly doesn't shrink from going into lots of detail about every subject she covers. I enjoyed this book and I am definitely planning to read Roach's other books but I can't imagine reading them back to back. The 'eugh' factor would just be too high.


Seeing Things
Seeing Things
by Oliver Postgate
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable memoir, 19 Dec 2010
This review is from: Seeing Things (Hardcover)
This is a light-hearted memoir/biography of the man behind children's TV favourites such as Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and The Clangers.

Oliver Postgate has written the story of his life and it was an extraordinary one. From adventures as a young boy at school to becoming a conscientious objector during WWII, he was always tinkering, inventing and thinking about things. One of the most interesting things about this book was Postgate's commentaries and thoughts on the issues of the time and what he felt about them.

I read the first half of this book fairly slowly, dipping in and out every few chapters but in the second half of the book Postgate starts to talk about his time writing and filming the children's programmes he became so famous for and this is where the book really shines; you can tell that he really found his niche here and did some really amazing things.

Although I was slightly too young to remember all the children's programmes he made, I enjoyed reading this book and it has inspired me to find out more about the programmes he created.


The Ogre Downstairs
The Ogre Downstairs
by Diana Wynne Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Magical chemistry, 28 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Ogre Downstairs (Paperback)
Two single parent families are forced together when the mother and father marry. The ogre of the title refers to the new stepfather who is unused to the presence of children in the house as his children have previously been to boarding schools.

The two sets of children of course do not get on and neither set seems to like the ogre (although the mother is a saint!). Once some magical chemistry sets bought from a mysterious toy shop become involved all kinds of hilarity ensues until events start to take a darker turn when the children decide they cannot put up with the ogre any longer.

A very, very funny and imaginative book, and strongly recommended.


What Jane Austen Ate Etc
What Jane Austen Ate Etc
by Pool
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good resource for lovers of 19th century British literature, 27 Nov 2010
Lost in Austen? Defeated by Dickens? Troubled by Trollope? Then this could be the book for you!

Daniel Pool has written an accessible and entertaining guide to 19th century life in England covering both the Regency and Victorian periods. Although aimed at American readers life in 19th century England was sufficiently different from life in 21st century England to make this a useful book for a native British person to read. The second half of the book is a 100 page glossary which would be a useful aide to refer to whilst reading.

What makes this book particularly interesting to a lover of 19th century British literature is that Pool often uses quotes or refers to passages in those well-known 19th century books to illustrate his explanations. Of course, this had the effect of either making me want to reread my favourite 19th century authors or investigate new ones -so be warned!

The only thing that stopped me from giving this book five stars was that I would have preferred a longer book with more information and pictures/diagrams. This book serves as a good introduction to the subject but left me wanting to know more and there were several areas where I felt the subjects discussed could have been much more easily explained using pictures. On the subject of carriages, for example, which are often mentioned in Austen's book, Pool runs through a list of the different coaches and carriages in use and the social status implied with each vehicle. But none of his explanation stayed in my head; the carriages all had fairly similar names and the descriptions given weren't enough to let me picture them in my head. A page of drawings illustrating the different types of carriages would have made all the difference. Similarly for the subject of dress in the 19th century. Would it have been all that difficult to include some pictures of the typical costumes worn by men and women during the 19th century?

But overall this was an enjoyable and informative read. It just needed a little bit more to make it truly exceptional.


Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache)
Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache)
by Louise Penny
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great mystery from Louise Penny, 27 Nov 2010
This is the sixth book in Louise Penny's murder mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Gamache and I think this series really does need to be read in order. So much of the emotional impact of this book was because I had come to know and love the characters by reading the preceding books in the series.

There are three story strands to follow; firstly, Gamache and Beauvoir have been injured in an incident at work which has had devastating implications. We only discover the full details of the incident in flashbacks throughout the book. In the second story arc, Gamache has doubts about the outcome of the murder case in book 5 (The Brutal Telling) and asks Beauvoir to return to The Three Pines to do some further investigation and finally there is a murder in Quebec where Gamache is recuperating and in trying to find the solution to this murder Gamache is drawn back to an old historical mystery and the founding of Quebec itself.

Once again, this book was everything I have come to expect from Louise Penny: good writing, thought-provoking themes and well-loved characters. She writes about Quebec and its history in a way that makes me want to visit the city.

I was gripped by all three storylines and this is a book I will want to reread in the future (whilst I'm impatiently waiting for book #7...)


Cat Detective: Solving the Mystery of Your Cat's Behaviour
Cat Detective: Solving the Mystery of Your Cat's Behaviour
by Vicky Halls
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and informative read, 21 Nov 2010
I'd hoped that this would be a more general guide to interpreting your cat however this book is mainly concerned with cat behavioural problems such as house spraying and/or soiling and aggressive behaviour. Happily, our cat doesn't currently exhibit any of these problems but it was still an informative book to read and I feel that I now have a much better understanding of why cats sometimes behave like that and how to tackle those situations if they did arise.

The author of this book is a professional cat behavioural therapist and the book is divided into chapters which clearly describe each problem, explain why a cat may be behaving in this way, sets out guidelines to stop this behaviour and then gives a couple of case studies featuring cats the author has personally dealt with. The case studies are often quite humorous and I was chuckling away to myself whilst I was reading this as well as reading excerpts out loud to my husband but the humour is very gentle and I never felt it was at the expense of the owners or cats featured.

There was also a chapter on the indoor cat which included lots of helpful tips about how to ensure you provide enough simulation for your cat if it can't or won't go outside. Halls has included detailed instructions on how to make the cat toys she takes with her when she visits her clients and I am definitely going to try and make 'The Octopus' which she claims no cat can resist!

Overall, an interesting and informative book.


The Prince Of Mist
The Prince Of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as his later works, 21 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Prince Of Mist (Hardcover)
This was an enjoyable enough light read but the writing and characterisation felt a little clumsy at times. Although this book has only recently been published in the UK it's actually Zafon's first novel, published in Spanish back in 1993. It has the same gothic feel as The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game along with a mysterious, supernatural bad guy but it just didn't quite work.

It was interesting to read an earlier example of Zafon's work and I would still like to see his other books translated into English so that I can read those but for me there was no comparison between this and The Shadow of the Wind.


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