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Gabrielle O (London, UK)

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River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy 2)
River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy 2)
by Amitav Ghosh
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An addictive read, 29 Sept. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I do think this is a wonderful book, but I am giving it four stars rather than five. I could give half stars, this would be a 4.5 for me. This is because - for me - it just did not quite live up to the amazing start that Sea of Poppies gave this trilogy. I loved it and I will certainly look forward to the final installment, but I did feel that River of Smoke was not quite as ultra-amazing as the first book in the trilogy.

With that said - there were many positives, and that is what I want to talk about most in this review. This could be read as a standalone book in some ways - a few characters are familiar from the first book, many are entirely new. It is not so much a continuance of the previous book as a new book with some interesting interlinked connections. I'm very curious as to how the third book in the trilogy might pull all of these threads together.

The political focus of River of Smoke was fascinating. As you might guess from the title, the novel centres around the opium trade and the politics (both official and underground) surrounding it. The second thread running through this book is about botany, and the collection of plants from exotic climates. Again, a lot of this is about trade - what is perceived as valuable, how it can be obtained, and why. In a wider sense, this book is also about trade generally: it really goes right back to the gnarly roots of business and takes the reader back to a time when business was very personal. The success or failure of an enterprise in this book means life or death for families, or bankruptcy for characters who you've got to know on a personal level.

Beautifully written in prose that veers between elegant description and earthy slang, the language in this book is central. The spoken language is vivid and (like Sea of Poppies) relies heavily on pidgin and words borrowed from languages other than English. It's really beautiful and very compelling.

All in all, a book I enjoyed immensely. Fascinating, gorgeously written and thought provoking. Perhaps not quite as good as the first book in the trilogy but well worth reading in its own right.


Banksy's Bristol: Home Sweet Home
Banksy's Bristol: Home Sweet Home
by Steve Wright
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book that puts Banksy into context, 29 Sept. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A really enjoyable read, with a good balance between written content and photos of Banksy's work - and of Bristol itself. As a complete art amateur, I know a bit of Banksy's stuff and really like it. What I liked best about this book was how it put it all into context. I learned a lot more about what was going on at the time around Bristol, both politically and socially, and it was a fascinating insight. The first thing everyone always asks is 'ok, are you going to tell us who Banksy actually is then?' and this book avoids the issue very elegantly - obviously the author had to speak to lots of his friends and contacts, but the author says straight off that this isn't going to be the big reveal as that just isn't in the spirit of the book. Instead it really focuses on the work itself, and the context of Bristol and the era that it sprang from.

This is a very appealing coffee table book, printed on high quality paper and beautifully designed and produced - easy to flip through and browse. But it also stands up to actual reading!


The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge
The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge
Price: £7.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and unsettling, 6 July 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm a great fan of Patricia Duncker's writing, but hadn't really enjoyed her last two novels - Miss Webster and Cherif was fun but didn't have as much depth as her earlier work. The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge is definitely a return to form - and to the eerie, gripping exploration of personality, power and relationships that characterises Duncker's earlier novels.

The novel starts with an atmospheric crime scene - in the snowy forest near a chalet, a group of bodies is found, arranged in a mysterious pattern. The investigating judge, Dominique, is nicknamed 'la chasseuse des sectes' - she's an expert investigator of cults. But the judge's certainty in the rightness of her quest to prosecute the mysterious organisation known only as 'The Faith' is shaken when she meets the Composer. His charisma more than matches her own, and the two opponents are thrown into a curious match of wits where they discover a strong mutual attraction. The battle plays out among the surroundings of the Judge's childhood, where she discovers that all is not as it seems. Added to the mix is the faithful (but not to his wife!) Andre, Dominique's strong-willed and passionate German counterpart, with whom she's been having an affair for several years. But which man will she choose? And will the Judge come down on the side of the law or 'the Faith'?

I liked the occasional bit of French or German language that was thrown in - it gave the book a sense of atmosphere as the characters moved between Switzerland and France. But I did wonder whether readers who aren't able to make sense of it might find it irritating - not sure, but thought it was worth mentioning.

Like many of Duncker's earlier novels, describing the plot doesn't really do it justice - the writing style and careful attention to the nuance of relationships and charisma is what makes it really unsettling and compelling. I couldn't put this book down. Although I found the ending slightly anti-climactic, I still give this book five stars for being extraordinarily compellingly written and thought-provoking. The plot is quirky and nuanced enough that I think any possible ending would have been, in some way, a disappointment. The pleasure was in the journey!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2011 11:02 AM BST


OPI INDIA Collection ~ Get me to the Taj on Time~ NLI48
OPI INDIA Collection ~ Get me to the Taj on Time~ NLI48

5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous neutral shade, 6 July 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This really is a lovely colour. I bought my first bottle of this polish at a salon, and then liked it so much that I had to buy some more. It's a really sheer, neutral shade with just the barest hint of beigey-pink. I think it's also got a very faint iridescent sheen. Very pretty colour, and the OPI polishes go on so smoothly too.


Small Adventures in Cooking (New Voices in Food)
Small Adventures in Cooking (New Voices in Food)
by James Ramsden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully readable and well-designed, plus great recipes..., 6 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well, what a brilliant surprise this cookbook was! I really loved reading it, have used it successfully already and will definitely be revisiting it often. It's actually pretty rare that I get this excited about a cookbook, so I will have to set the scene and explain why.

If I'm honest, I wasn't really expecting to enjoy this one so much - the cover has the kind of cardboardy, recycled 'do good' look of a small-time project. And it was by a blogger, and I keep picking up cookbooks by bloggers and finding them a bit ho-hum... I'm delighted to say that this one is genuinely well-written, and the recipes are pretty fab too. The writing style is chatty and genuinely funny without trying too hard. It's very readable. And this does matter - I mean, when somebody is trying to convince me to try tinned aubergines, they've got to sound convincing about it! (As an aside, WOW, I'm glad I listened to that unlikely sounding tip).

I particularly liked the extra hints and tips that came along with each recipe - 'tart', 'tweak', and 'tomorrow' - inspiration for making a dish different or more special, or for reusing the leftovers. A nice touch and the genuinely good extra ideas made me feel I was getting several recipes for the price of one!

The idea of dividing recipes into types of occasion also worked well - the kind of dishes you might want to cook for a big group of people are pretty different from ones you might want to cook for a special dinner for two, so this was a nice idea.

To give you a bit of background, I'm vegetarian, but a voracious reader/collector of cookbooks of all sorts - I tend to go through and think about how I could adapt the meaty recipes. This book is a pretty omnivorous offering has lots of recipes involving all sorts of different meat. There is a reasonable selection of vegetarian recipes too, especially starters.

And finally, the production quality and photos - both good. The photography here is unpretentious but alluring. Printed on matte paper rather than glossy. Easy to flip through and printed on relatively thick, durable paper.

All in all, a delightfully readable, inspiring and user-friendly cookbook. Highly recommended!


Driving Test Success All Tests Premium 2011 Edition - DVD ROM (PC)
Driving Test Success All Tests Premium 2011 Edition - DVD ROM (PC)
Offered by PNA247
Price: £14.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of great content at a good price, 4 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Contains all the tools you should need to help you pass your theory test (I haven't yet, but I'm feeling pretty confident about it having used this product to learn and practice). It also comes with content to help you with your practical test, and all in all the full package seems like very good value and covers all the basics in a way that is easy to use and understand.

But maybe I should update this review later, after I've tried to take my tests!


Philips AVENT SCF870/21 Combined Baby Food Steamer and Blender
Philips AVENT SCF870/21 Combined Baby Food Steamer and Blender
Price: £99.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really brilliant and not just for babies!, 4 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't have a baby but was looking for something like this to use for making soups etc - I like to just make small quantities in the easiest way possible. This is a really brilliant solution and I'd highly recommend it. Very small and space-efficient, it's also easy to use and clean up afterwards. Literally just put all of the ingredients in, steam for twenty minutes and the blend - ta da!

I've been using it heavily for a few months and it's standing up the the use very well. I think it's a brilliant gadget and if I were the manufacturer I'd market it at young single professionals too - really easy to use, easy to clean, and time-effective way of making soups!


How I Cook
How I Cook
by Skye Gyngell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A really excellent and inspiring read, 4 July 2011
This review is from: How I Cook (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A really fabulous book, full of ideas and inspiration. I prefer this book to any of Skye Gyngell's others, simply because it seems like the most user-friendly offering and gives me the most food for thought.

The recipes are (by and large) pretty simple, but contain some kind of clever hint or tip either for perfecting the technique - or for adding some sort of interesting twist. I really love this. I don't need endless new and innovative recipes; getting easy ones right in a quirky way is so much more imaginative and interesting to play with! Or just as a reminder of some classic dishes that I'd forgotten - like the delicious recipe for Bircher muesli. Not a brand-new innovation, but a reminder of a really excellent recipe plus ideas for new twists. Really inspiring stuff. Absolutely love the recipe for gnudi with sage butter, for example - easy and simple enough to make any day with sage from the garden, but I'd never have thought about it if I hadn't been flipping through this wonderful toolkit of a book.

I quite like the personal, chatty style of writing - although I can imagine it might not be to everyone's taste. The main text is supplemented by more gossipy 'asides' in the margin, and I find it quite appealing and quirky.

In terms of the production quality, this is a heavy and well-made paperback book with a thick and high quality cover. It's made for using and my copy has stood the test of time pretty well despite my habit of dog-earing the pages. The photos are appealing and really do tempt me to try the recipes.

Highly recommended - a great combination of inspiring recipes, good writing, easy-to-follow instructions and an appealingly presented book.


Good Food
Good Food
by Neil Perry
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Adequate but not thrilling, 4 July 2011
This review is from: Good Food (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There wasn't really anything wrong with this book - I just found it quite uninspiring. There weren't many pictures in the book, but to be honest, I'm not sure this was the problem. The recipes just didn't seem exciting and I didn't find myself saying 'oooh, I MUST cook that!' as I read through it.

I tried making a couple of the dishes and they were successful but not real show-stoppers. The recipes themselves were easy to follow and clearly laid out. I also liked the additional suggestions that followed many of the recipes, giving ideas for alternative ways of cooking them or additional ingredients.

The production values were high (nice thick cover, great quality paper) but the layout wasn't very appealing or user-friendly - the type was very big and not that easy to read, and there was lots of blank space. Overall, a cookbook that didn't deliver on its initial promise.


The Gourmet
The Gourmet
by Muriel Barbery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Very different from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, 31 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Gourmet (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well-known food critic Pierre Arthens is dying, and before he goes he wants to remember the food that he needs to taste for the last time. Each chapter is a recollection of Arthen's life (either by Pierre himself, or his family or friends reflecting on him). Although it's apparently about food and each chapter takes as its starting point some mouthwatering meal, actually the book is much more about who Pierre is and his relationships with others.

I felt it was a very different book the The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and for me it was not as enjoyable a read. Pierre Arthens is not a very endearing main character and the chapters from the point of view of other people were much more enjoyable than his own. Although the book was as much about relationships and love as it was about food, for me this part of the book fell short as it was so tied up with a main character who was so hard to like.

Absolutely brilliant descriptions of food make this a must-read for any gourmand. The food writing is just mouthwatering. It was just a shame that (for me, anyhow) the plot itself and main characters were not equally engaging or interesting.


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