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John Williams (Apeldoorn, Netherlands)
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The Journey to the End of the World (Joel Gustafson Stories Book 4)
The Journey to the End of the World (Joel Gustafson Stories Book 4)
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A cold coming of age, 26 Jan. 2015
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I've read the first book of the Joel Gustafson and now this one, the last. I skipped the middle ones, but I don't think that matters too much. 'The Journey to the End of the World' can stand alone. This is a coming-of-age book, following a year in the life of Joel Gustafson from his last term of school to the beginning of his career as a sailor. His awkward situation in the no man's land between childhood and adulthood is explored with great understanding and feeling. It is set in Sweden, some of it in the far north, and the cold, bleak atmosphere comes across clearly. The style is very straightforward, which suits a narrative being told by a fifteen year old boy. The story is told in the third person, but very much from Joel's point of view, and it presents a very honest picture of him. He tells lies, makes mistakes and worries about his future, but throughout the book we gradually see him learning to take control of his own life and becoming a hero with whom we can identify.

BEWARE SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH. The Joel Gustafson series is a series of books for children. The first one contains nothing that you would not want your eleven or twelve year old to read. But children can get through a series of books like this very fast, and will soon get to the last one. You may or may not want your child to read about the fifteen year old Joel losing his virginity to an Amsterdam prostitute or caring for a father who is dying of cancer. If you are thinking about giving these books to your children, read them yourself first. Read them anyway; they are worth reading.


Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good
Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good
Price: £5.03

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some good points, but a stylistic mish-mash, 11 Jan. 2015
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This book was a strange mixture, and would perhaps benefit from better editing or formatting. It isn't a book of original research, but lies somewhere between serious investigative journalism and an airport self-help manual. Some of Davies's basic assertions are impossible to disagree with. Foremost of these is the fact that in recent years too many behaviours and personality traits have been medicalised in a way that is unhelpful. As a social worker (now retired) I came across children whose diagnosis of 'oppositional defiant disorder' provided them and their parents with an excuse not to tackle their behaviour by means of consistent discipline, and also noticed how many children with ADHD were treated with Ritalin while the chaos they were living in went unchallenged. So Davies's explanation of how the DSM's were formulated was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me.

The problems of having such a close relationship between the psychiatric profession and large pharmaceutical companies, and the eye-watering sums of money involved, are also undeniable. This, however, is a problem for the medical profession as a whole, and is not confined to psychiatry. Anyone interested in it would do well to read 'Bad Pharma' by Dr Ben Goldacre, who deals with it much more comprehensively than does Davies.

In short, Davies is good at highlighting the problems of the modern, bio-medical approach to mental distress, but less convincing when it came to suggesting solutions. I'm not sure I'd be able to embrace his 'positive view of suffering' if I was the one doing the suffering. I think 'just gimme the drugs' would be my starting position, though I'd also be willing to consider psycho-therapeutic and other less invasive treatments if they were available and affordable.

For me the style of the book was its biggest drawback. Davies has interviewed a lot of prominent people and done extensive reading in this field. His book is replete with abundant footnotes and comprehensive bibliography and index. To that extent it looks like a work of serious research. However, this style is interspersed with physical descriptions of his interviewees and of his extensive travels. These passages read like the above mentioned airport self-help manuals, in which our intrepid investigator casts himself in the role of the Indiana Jones of psychiatric research. They are not suited to a book which, after all, does make some serious and valid points, and would have been better left out. The book might then have warranted five stars.


Camel Up Board Game
Camel Up Board Game
Price: £22.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun for the whole family., 28 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Camel Up Board Game (Toy)
Bought this as a Christmas present for family members. It is now 28 December. The game is already a big hit and has had a lot of use, which is OK as the pieces are very sturdy. We have played it with children from eight years old. Children and adults all love it. The rules are easy to follow. We did make one or two mistakes in the very first game, but a careful re-reading of the rules (which are quite short) put this right. The camel races are invariably close run things, with overall winners and losers difficult to predict until the last minute, and the lead changing hands in unpredictable ways. Games usually last a little over half an hour, which is a nice length; we usually play two or three games in succession. The artwork is funny, and the antics of the camels give rise to great mirth. This relatively simple game has held its own against the other new arrival this Christmas - the latest Xbox - probably because of the more enjoyable social interaction involved in playing it.


The Secret History
The Secret History
Price: £5.98

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Almost as bad as "Catcher in the Rye", 23 Dec. 2014
For the first couple of pages I thought I would enjoy this book because of the writing style. However, style will not sustain my interest over 600 pages without a decent plot or credible, sympathetic, three dimensional characters. Unfortunately "The Secret History" did not have any of these. Who wants to read about a bunch of selfish, overprivileged nonentities who, for 95% of the book, just sit around worrying and drinking too much, but seldom doing anything? Certainly not me. A modern classic? Don't believe it.


Firewall: Kurt Wallander
Firewall: Kurt Wallander
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Wallander saves the world....., 23 Dec. 2014
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.......and spills coffee all down his trousers. That's what I like about Wallander. He's an old fart like me, but with more tenacity when it comes to grappling with complex, blood-curdling crimes, dodging bullets and outwitting dark, unseen forces. This was a particularly complex plot with many strands, some of which were tied up at the end and some of which weren't, but that's life. I've read several Wallander books, completely out of sequence, and this was one of the best. Don't worry if you haven't read any of the earlier ones; each one is a self-contained story. There are references to previous stories, but that's OK. For example, there are references to "The Dogs of Riga", but this is an inferior story, not to be read just for the sake of reading the books in sequence. All of the Wallander stories are far-fetched escapism, which is fine by me. I have no sympathy with those who bellyache about their being unrealistic or lacking in technical accuracy. They are to be read primarily as entertainment. One aspect of the books that I like is the unfolding of Wallander's private, family life. The 'back story' in "Firewall" is particularly interesting, and helps to create a sympathetic, credible hero, though not one who is without his flaws. The individuality of the other officers in his team also stands out particularly well in this book. If you want to read just one Wallander book, you could do worse than choosing this one.


The Railway Man
The Railway Man
Price: £5.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable personal account by a remarkable man., 2 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: The Railway Man (Kindle Edition)
I can't understand why anyone would give The Railway Man less than four stars. Perhaps some people were expecting a novel, with purple prose and dialogue, and all ends tied up. But life is not like that, and neither is this book. The reader should approach it for what it is, a very personal memoir, written not by a professional writer but by someone who is driven to know the truth and to record it. There may have been one or two 'boring' bits, but they are all necessary to the story. The style is very matter of fact, especially when one considers the horrors that are being described, but this just adds to the book's authenticity. It is clear that Lomax has a high regard for the truth, and strives to recall events as accurately as possible. For example, there are some things that happened to him that he cannot personally recall, but which other eye witnesses have told him about, and where this is the case he makes this clear.

Some have complained about the emphasis on steam railways, and have suggested that one need to be a railway buff to appreciate the book. I believe that anyone could enjoy this book; an interest in steam locomotives or a technical background are absolutely unnecessary. The book would have lost a great deal if Lomax's life-long passion and one of the things that helped him to endure such terrible experiences were to be edited out. One of the great things about books is their ability to take us into unfamiliar territory and to see life from someone else's point of view, so if you have no interest in railways perhaps this is a reason why this book really is for you.

I was perplexed when, at about 70% of the way through the book, the war ended and Lomax returned to Scotland. A long anti-climax seemed to loom ahead. However, the last part of the book is perhaps the most moving and intriguing part, so please don't stop at this point.

On a personal note, I had two uncles who took part in WWII. One was taken prisoner by the Japanese and worked on the Burma Railway, and the other was not. Reading this book has given me an idea as to why their personalities differed so greatly, and my memory of my uncle reinforces my belief that this is an excellent and honest book.


sussed!® VICES & VIRTUES | hilarious 3-in-1 personality quiz card game | fun figuring out people
sussed!® VICES & VIRTUES | hilarious 3-in-1 personality quiz card game | fun figuring out people
Offered by Games to Get Ltd
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Know thyself., 30 Sept. 2014
This is a card game, but more than that. It needs to be played by a bunch of people who are prepared to stick their necks out when it comes to being honest about themselves and their opinions of others in the group. The cards contain questions that reveal how we rate with regard to a variety of personality traits: honesty, ambition, selfishness etc. It is promoted as being suitable for children from 8 years old. This may true in that it does require the ability to read and does not contain material that would be unsuitable for children. However, can't imagine any pre-teens of my acquaintance finding it at all interesting. For adults, however - and they do have to be adults who are prepared to enter into the spirit of the game - it is very interesting indeed; a fun way of finding out how others see us, to what extent this accords with how we see ourselves, and how good we are at knowing other people. The rules of the game are very simple, and well explained in the instruction sheet. (Something tells me that the author is a fan of 'Popmaster' on Radio 2; why else would the scores be in either threes or sixes?) The game can be played by up to eight players. It can be played by just two, but I would say that the more players, the more interesting it becomes. It can be played in a quite short time (I find games that go on all night rather boring), but the length of a game depends on the number of players and the extent to which they wish to discuss or challenge one another's answers. You may think £8.99 a bit pricey for what is, after all, a pack of cards, but if you measure its value by its potential for fun evenings with friends rather than by its raw materials, then it is certainly worth the price. I see that this game is one of a series, and it does whet my appetite for one or two of the others. This one is called 'Virtues and Vices', a catchy name, but I don't think it's supposed to tease out how good or bad we are. One person's vice is another person's virtue after all. (I am firm; you are stubborn.) Do try it.


THE THRESHING CIRCLE
THE THRESHING CIRCLE
Price: £3.58

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great reading for your Greek holiday., 10 April 2014
This story is set on Crete, a place the author clearly knows very well and for which he has a great affection. It is a thriller, set predominantly in the present day, but with echoes of the island's dark history during WWII. The heroine is a Scottish ex-pat, who runs a cafe and gets entangled with a Zorba-like character whose family are engaged with another (villainous) family in a vendetta whose origins go back to the war. Then there is the impossibly beautiful English woman and her new husband whose arrival seems to stir up these old animosities and precipitate a violent climax to the story. I thought that the writing was good and enjoyable. I've never been to Crete, or any other part of Greece, but it seemed to me that Neil Grimmett has captured the atmosphere of the place, its landscape, history, culture (and food!) pretty well. The characters were well drawn, and the changing relationship between the two main characters was interesting. A couple of things were off-putting. I thought that the violent climax of the vendetta, particularly the sexual aspects of it, were over the top and lacked credibility, and also a bit confusing. The other thing was that this climax takes place well before the end of the book, and is followed by a less interesting lull in the action. Grimmett does, however, round the story off nicely with a second, different and gentler climax at the end. Worth a read, especially if you're off to Crete for your hols.


Under The Skin
Under The Skin
Price: £5.10

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loads of atmosphere, not much plot, 10 April 2014
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This review is from: Under The Skin (Kindle Edition)
This book is so hard to categorise. Is it sci-fi, erotica, horror, or just a long tract for the vegetarian society. Whatever it is, I did enjoy reading it. The main character, Isserley, has the strange job of collecting male hitch-hikers, but for what purpose? At first we suspect that seduction might be the motive, especially as she only picks up the best looking specimens whom she then dazzles with her too-perfect to-be-true-breasts, but the reality turns out to be much more sinister than this. From early on in the book we know that Isserley is no ordinary woman. The book does follow a plot of sorts, but about half of it is given over to the fate of various hitch-hikers that she picks up. There are other characters, but they are coincidental to the story of Isserley and the log of her macabre work. The book is full of atmosphere and intrigue, and its Scottish setting added a lot to this. However, I could have wished for more of a plot. A few promising avenues turned out to be blind alleys, and the ending, when it did come, did not exploit or expand on any of these, and was a bit of a cop-out. Still worth a read, though, and encourages me to read more by Michel Faber.


The White Lioness: Kurt Wallander
The White Lioness: Kurt Wallander
Price: £5.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent Wallander story., 22 Jan. 2014
I'm reading all of these books in the wrong order, but that doesn't matter. Each Wallander novel stands on its own, and if you want to read this one without having read any of the others, that's OK. They are all good, but this is one of the better ones. A lot of words are devoted to Wallander, his personality and his relationships with friends, family and colleagues. We feel that we get to know him intimately, which means that the terrible experiences he goes through have all the more impact. This novel concerns a series of gruesome murders in Sweden and their links with an attempt on the life of Nelson Mandela, which is of course thwarted with Wallander's help. As usual, I felt that the passages set in Sweden were the stronger parts of the book, though Mankell clearly has an interest in Africa and writes with some authority about it. The book is set in the period between Mandela's release from prison and his first election as president of South Africa. I read it shortly after his death, which lent it some added interest for me. Highly recommended.


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