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H Pedder "bookworm" (UK)
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The Winner Stands Alone
The Winner Stands Alone
by Paulo Coelho
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars A bit bitter?, 16 Jun 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I approached this with eager anticipation, having read and loved Coelho's modern fable 'The Alchemist'. I was, alas, disappointed. It seems to be so focused on portraying the rich/famous/beautiful as shallow and synthetic that the narrative seems drenched in bitterness! Based in Cannes during the film festival, it's the perfect opportunity for a scorned millionaire to wreak lasting and devastating revenge on his stray wife. The narrator comes across as a psychologically deluded man; his thoughts are often predicatable and I just found it all rather tired and cynical.

Uninspiring and a real letdown. I think Coelho's apparent dislike of all things 'celebrity' tainted by view of the book - his characters are steretypical, which I feel is a somewhat unfair representation of those talented actors, actresses and directors, etc. If the book was more light-hearted (think 'Jackie Collins'!) you could empathise, but the seriousness jars with the frivolity of its subjects.


Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story
Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story
by Errol Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.34

3.0 out of 5 stars Discomfiting on many levels, 18 Mar 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm not about to discuss the political or ethical issues raised in this book; the can of worms is just too big! What this book does is recount, with 'evidence' and interviews from various sources, the maltreatment and unfair imprisonment of Iraqi prisoners by America's forces. The prose is relatively simple - perhaps even bland - but the content is potentially explosive and speaks for itself. I persevered with the book although I did find it a bit tiresome in places - no disrespect to those whose sufferings are described. I was also a bit irritated with the haziness of the narrative, as I wasn't sure to whom comments were attributed. It's important to know where the facts are coming from, and I felt this was a bit 'glossed over' in places.
The book was discomfiting for me in the things it describes, but also because of its perspective. I'm neither pro- nor anti-war (sitting perfectly on the fence here) but I'm fully aware of the subjectivity of any historical or biographical novel; history is never reported with full accuracy, as it can only ever be one person's perspective - and we know how much perspectives can differ.
Anyway, if you're interested in books about war, prisoners, politics, miscarriages of justice and human rights, you'll find something in here to grab your attention. For somebody like myself, who enjoys novels as a form of escapism, this book was really not my cup of tea.


The Blood of Strangers: True Stories from the Emergency Room
The Blood of Strangers: True Stories from the Emergency Room
by Frank Huyler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Distractedly gripping, 18 Mar 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The clipped narrative of this book is the perfect voice for the brief rendezvous between doctor and patients featured here. Frank Huyler's medical career is no doubt reflective of every doctor and nurse out there, and this book offers a passing glimpse into life on the emergency ward. It would probably strike empathy in those who work in a hospital as much as it provokes intrigue and admiration in somebody like myself who's (fortunately) barely seen the inside of one.

The 'chapters' are short, one for each tale, written with little embellishment. Dr Huyler recounts those meetings that were memorable for many reasons, in an often detached, matter-of-fact way; as somebody coming into contact with pain and death on a regular basis I suppose this emotional detachment becomes a necessary part of life. Occasionally the reader is shown, fleetingly, Huyler's emotions and inner feelings which lend the book a much-needed element of soul. These slithers of Huyler's conscience are often exposed by his own questions of morality and injustice, prompted by - for example - the murderer whose own life is saved by Huyler's medical team.

This is a small, uncomplicated book but by no means is it basic or boring. It's skeletal, scantly sketched, but fascinating in its frankness. There's not much blood and guts, little humour, no focus on characters in depth (even the narrator) - none of the usual things that engross me in a book...but it's not far from being a perfectly formed little gem that encapsulates life, and death, in the emergency room.


The Story of a Marriage
The Story of a Marriage
by Andrew Sean Greer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars A half-way house for chick-lit and literary bods alike, 9 Feb 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The title is truly indicative of the content of this book; it really is just a story of a marriage. Granted, not your everyday marriage, but the principle theme of this book is relationships - how well you truly know somebody, specifically your spouse. Told as a tale of a marriage from tentative start to relieved finish, The Story of a Marriage is set in 1950s American suburbia. The narrator, Pearlie, details - often reflectively - the circumstances surrounding her courtship and subsequent marriage to Holland. As is expected, the course of love never did run smooth but, in Pearlie's case, its hurdles are most unexpected.
The plot is intriguing and there are several twists to keep the reader's interest. Greer creates a lovely, layered picture of life and national sentiment of the post-war era, and Pearlie's perception of `a marriage' is frank and insightful.
However, I found Pearlie to be an uninspiring narrator and I felt rather ambivalent towards her situation. She generated neither empathy nor irritation so that I found myself caring very little for the fate of her marriage. She seemed a rather flat character, although that may well have been intentional symbolism I suppose.
Greer's prose style also grated on my nerves. In third-person narrative from Pearlie's perspective, Pearlie refers to her husband in the third person (he did this) but occasionally slips into a direct address as though he was the reader (you did this). I appreciate the jolting, dramatic effect this deviation can have, but it seemed to be merely random and unintended, as though Greer couldn't quite decide. Combined with the abundance of similes, metaphors and other such tick-box techniques, Greer's novel is hindered by moments of clunky prose.
That said, a friend with very similar tastes to myself in books absolutely loved it and found it a real page-turner. Her view was that it had some wonderful ideas about marriage and relationships. Personally, I felt that it didn't reach its potential.
Not a `difficult' or `literary' read, and ignoring the above points for complaint, this would probably be enjoyed by those who see their tastes as falling halfway between `chick-lit' and `literary'.


Philips AVENT SCD530 DECT Baby Monitor with Temperature and Humidity Sensors
Philips AVENT SCD530 DECT Baby Monitor with Temperature and Humidity Sensors
Offered by Pharmacyone
Price: £89.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All singing, all dancing piece of kit!, 2 Feb 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Not content with 'just' a baby monitor, Avent has now introduced a monitor complete with humidity and temperature gauge. Perfect for those of us who worry perhaps a little too much about the health, safety and wellbeing of those we love! ;o)

The DECT (Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication) aspect of this monitor is superb, and thinking back to the 'bogstandard' monitors of old is a tremendous improvement - no crackles or interference. Which means those innocent snuffles don't get mistaken for a pained cry! (Or was that just my paranoia???!!!) The monitor and humidity/temperature monitor is full of information and relatively easy to use once you get to know what the display is actually showing you. I am a bit of a gadget-fiend so love the lullaby option and, in fact, the temperature/humidity gauge...and I'm a sucker for all things illuminated so on looks it's great - compact but comprehensive.

It's a great piece of kit that offers complete reassurance for parents with young babies and children, and I'm really very taken with it and hard-pressed to pick fault. But I can only bring myself to give it 4 stars as it's so darned expensive! But you get what you pay for, I guess. This would suit those with either lots of cash to spare, or who want to ensure their child - almost to the point of obsessive compulsion - is safe and well.


National Geographic - Children's Digital Metal Detector
National Geographic - Children's Digital Metal Detector

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not good enough to hold the National Geographic name!, 26 Jan 2009
= Durability:2.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:2.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:2.0 out of 5 stars 
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
'Endorsed' by National Geographic I expected this to be of respectable quality (taking into consideration the relative low cost) and effectively accurate. I was rather disappointed - it feels cheap and tacky, and is smaller than I expected. There's a 'sensitivity' adjuster but it was still somewhat uninspiring even on the highest level, and if i went indoors with it then it just beeped constantly! No use for finding hidden treasures beneath the floorboards! :o)

It is all just rather flimsy and quite below my expectations. Then again, for the price I don't suppose it's going to be 'professional' quality!

In short, it's a fun little gadget that's a great way for kids to start metal detecting, but don't expect it to last long (either physically or in the interest of the little 'uns) and it certainly won't unearth any great treasures!


Wetlands
Wetlands
by Charlotte Roche
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Stomach-churning and pointless, 14 Jan 2009
This review is from: Wetlands (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Wetlands is the narrative of an 18 year old girl who is in hospital being treated for long-term Haemorrhoids (actually she has an infection thanks to her habit of shaving herself EVERYWHERE). This book is an insight into her thoughts, memories and longings. There are momentary snippets of humour and the narrative is often engaging. It's sometimes disjointed and flits from one topic to the next but, in the context of a stream-of-consciousness prose, it's realistic.

There...that's the few 'positives' out of the way.

In short, this is a book with little plot that will be remembered only for its shocking content. I'm no prude, nor am I particularly squeamish, but this book made even me feel queasy. Some of the girl's actions in this book are nothing short of disgustingly ghastly, and many times I had to put the book down because of the utter revulsion I felt. The narrators horrendous personal hygiene habits - examples of which are too shocking to write here - are abnormal to the point of mental instability! I don't know if that was the point of the book, but either way I found it to be repulsive and unrealistic (in terms of characters' actions and behaviour).

This book is a slur on the art of literature, and seems to be desperately seeking a feminist 'badge'. It ought to come with a warning of the content - as the 'blurb' is very vague readers may approach this with a curious optimism - which will certainly not appeal to everyone's (or anyone's?) taste.

Perhaps more shocking than anything is that this book proclaims to be an 'International Bestseller'...


McAfee Internet Security 2009 - 3 User (PC)
McAfee Internet Security 2009 - 3 User (PC)

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trusty as always!, 13 Jan 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Every year I have McAfee Internet Security products...and (touch wood) I've had no problems yet. Straight-forward yet comprehensive, this internet security gives me peace of mind when i'm surfing the net. Easy to install, with regular automatic updates, I know that my comp is as secure as it'll probably ever be! For a computer-phobe such as myself, it's perfect. You can't really go wrong!


The Bird Room
The Bird Room
by Chris Killen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.88

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the 'average' 3-star book, 23 Dec 2008
This review is from: The Bird Room (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What a difficult book to review! I'm not sure whether it's quirky, original and thought-provoking or just downright strange and unfathomable. 'The Bird Room' is a book about love (but it's not romantic), sex (but it's not erotic) and the oddities of humankind. The blurb doesn't give much away, but that's because there's not much TO give away; there's not much of a plot and there's no twist or conclusion. It's one of those books that leaves you feeling as though you should've weaned some moral life-changing conclusion from but you missed it somewhere along the way. The blurb also describes it as a 'love story with a twist' and as 'exuberant and funny'...not words I'd have used to describe it! It certainly is dark and sometimes disturbing, but not in any particularly definable way. Mostly it's due to the characters - not one is especially likeable. In fact i found the characters far from average and certainly not ones with whom I could empathise - that said, it's the characters that make this novel the 'quirky' (or 'weird') story that it is.

I've given it 3 stars because I read it in a few hours and was hooked from the first page - although as I read on I knew it wasn't going to develop into a satisfying book, I couldn't put it down! That says something. The prose is written in the present tense, and switches perspective between the different thoughts of two main characters; Will - a paranoid, possessive and self-doubting pornography addict, and Helen - a self-proclaimed actress who has assumed a new identity and earns a living as a porn 'actress'. Both are strange and not-very-likeable characters, which was a big problem for me as i like to have empathy with, and fondness for, at least one protagonist in a novel.

This review may well be vague and contrary...but then so is the book! It's certainly gripping but not very satisfying; it's a portrayal of human angst but not one that I myself can relate to. Suited to those who enjoy puzzling over a book, trying to extract hidden meaning from the text, and those 'literary types' who don't like a book to be 'obvious'. NOT suited to those who enjoy light-hearted easy reads, or plot-driven prose. As somebody who swings from one to the other, I found this book both enjoyable and frustratingly dull in equal measures.


A Little History of the World
A Little History of the World
by Ernst Gombrich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and plain-speaking, 17 Dec 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What a gem of a book! Although it's billed as a children's book, I feel it's just as - if not more - appropriate for grown-ups; some content is complex and perhaps a little above the average child (working in a school, I can't imagine many children reading this for pleasure). That said, it's a cracking book that spells out the course of history in relatively brief chapters and without pompous vocab or descriptions.

I loved this book - History isn't my strong point, my memory is more like a sieve than a sponge, but this book laid out the facts in an interesting, straight-forward way. It's also got lovely illustrations which are an added bonus.

The chapters are separated into eras/civilisations etc. and they're short enough to digest one at a time. The prose is engaging and endearing, directly addressing the reader at certain points to draw in their attention.

Overall, a most wonderful book. Didn't get 5 stars simply because I don't feel it's entirely suited to its target audience...but that's all the better for me!


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