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The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Flat and overrated - worst of both worlds, 19 Mar. 2008
My main problem with The Time Traveller's Wife was that I just couldn't warm to either Clare or Henry. There was little endearing about them and I couldn't identify with Clare at all - she came off as rather cold and smug to me. Henry was more sympathetic but there was still something lacking about him. There was little 'romantic' about their relationship, either.

The time-travelling plot didn't work for me. The way it was described so casually - just a wonky chromosome that makes people skip back and forth through their lives - just seemed shoddy; I know it wasn't Niffenegger's intention to write a sci-fi book but I think she managed to give The Time Traveller's Wife the worst of both worlds because it requires a huge suspension of disbelief and the love story at the heart of it is just not worth it.

Also, I did find it a little unsettling for Henry to be jetting back and forth visiting the child Clare and going back to the adult Clare, his wife, stopping by to deflower Clare on her eighteenth birthday. I just don't think it worked - it all seemed rather pointless and questionable. Again, this was probably due to the lack of a plausible and heartfelt relationship between the two characters.

To round it all off, I loathed the name 'DeTamble'! Why not 'de Tamble', so much easier on the eye!

To be fair, tons of people loved this book. I didn't absolutely hate it, it just left me cold. I just want to make the point that it's not an infallible work of art and it is possible not to like it!


We Speak No Treason (The Flowering of the Rose Book 1)
We Speak No Treason (The Flowering of the Rose Book 1)
by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, but maybe too much brooding, 19 Mar. 2008
Certainly a well-written book, and I did enjoy it. Unlike some books dealing with this period, it's a more domestic, subtle and low-key perpective on Richard of Gloucester, future Richard III, written from the point of view of "the Nut-Brown Maid", a very young servant who falls in love with the teenage Richard, and in the second part of the book, from the point of view of a lively Fool at court. So, far away from the 'blockbuster' school of historical fiction, nor does it fit into the romance mould. Rather than show the machinations of kings, you get an insight instead into the less dramatic lives of the courtiers. It's quite a sensual book (by which I don't mean erotic), with an emphasis on the natural environment, smells and textures, and some nimble characterisation.

Unfortunately, perhaps I have read too many 'Richard III, Romantic Hero' books recently, because the love affair at the centre of this novel was a little disappointing. Richard himself does not seem particularly charismatic, quite stiffly characterised as a careworn, distant young man. To be fair, this may well be more realistic, considering his experiences and responsibilities at such a young age, than for example the passionate, twinkly-eyed lover Richard of Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour. Hawley Jarman's Richard is still a sympathetic character, serious in his loyalty, but is only seen through the eyes of others and comes off as a bit of an exaggerated brooder in his dialogue. The dialogue, though energetic, leans towards the olde-fashioned and although it runs quite smoothly, I can't help but think that there is never a place for "Great Jesu!", especially not a lovelorn scene of romance. And the romantic dialogue is a bit OTT in places:

" "We shall be caught up in the fire, my lord!" "We are in the fire already" he muttered, his face in my hair."

And that's just Richard with the Nut Brown Maid - his rescue/proposal scene with Anne Neville is more so: "To the Devil with the estates!" he shouts furiously of her vast inheritance. Anne and Richard's future is neatly signed and sealed in the course of five exaggeratedly tempestuous minutes, complete with tears.

I would still recommend it, though, and will probably be ordering the sequel. It's nicely atmospheric, particularly when Hawley Jarman turns her attention to the wholly fictional or lesser-known characters.


GCSE Biology Revision Guide (with online edition)
GCSE Biology Revision Guide (with online edition)
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.70

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saved my ass, 18 Mar. 2008
I snoozed through year 10 and 11 Biology classes, learning very little. When it came to revising for my GCSEs, I used this book and got an A, and went on to get an A at Biology A-Level, which I would never have chosen if it weren't for this humble revision guide. It's written in a humourous, silly 'dad' style, but packs in an alarming amount of information and is very strict with its readers, using the good old "Now cover everything up and copy it out from memory" way of learning - which is the only thing that works, and isn't too hard taken in bitesize chunks (which reminds me, whatever happened to BBC Bitesize revision? Is that still going? Yawn!). I can't recommend CGP revision guides enough.

I understand there's a new edition out now which incorporates exam style questions, which I'm sure is great, but I still think you could do well with the original revision guide and just use past papers to practise exam questions with.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2011 3:22 PM BST


First slice your cookbook
First slice your cookbook
by Arabella Boxer
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lovely curio, but dated recipes, 18 Mar. 2008
The whimsical sounding First Slice Your Cookbook is based on the really quite practical concept of a book divided into starters, mains and desserts, laid above each other in a ringbinder format so you can mix and match the different meal components on one page. The recipes are colour-coded for richness and how filling they are, so you can easily get the balance of the meal just right when planning a dinner party, as one does! It's gorgeously set out and a lovely book to have around the house; I've never seen anything like it.

However, I have yet to actually use it and I doubt I ever will. Published in 1964, the recipes tend to be those of a bygone age to people born in later generations. Fish mousse, anyone? Lamb with calf's foot or pig trotter? Pigeons in cabbage, or consomme? I'm not saying the recipes are bad, but they don't fit with today's culinary trends. The puddings, perhaps, have fared better with age as there are not many who'd argue with dessert, although they reflect the austerity of the time and tend to be fruit-based, lacking distinctly in chocolate! The recipes are also written in a style which seems spare to an eye accustomed to the verbose enthusings of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.

There are a few cooking tips at the back, with some salad and sauce recipes, and an index of the recipes from the main body.

I suppose it depends on your love for unusual, attractively presented books compared to your taste for post-war dinner-party cuisine.


The Chocolate Connoisseur: For everyone with a passion for chocolate
The Chocolate Connoisseur: For everyone with a passion for chocolate
by Chloe Doutre-Roussel
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, honest and uncommon chocolate manifesto, 18 Mar. 2008
It's Chloe Doutre-Roussel's evangelical enthusiasm and sympathetic, intelligent voice which make this book. I can't think of another chocolate book which doesn't simply drudge on about chocolate being a 'naughty indulgence' with which to make rice krispie cakes, but which elevates it to both an art and a science. Although Doutre-Roussel's all-consuming passion for chocolate and professional dedication to it are not going to be shared by every reader, you will come away from it having learnt a lot about "the truth" about chocolate and how to do it justice and get the very most from it. Never again will you waste your money on dull bars labelled "handmade" in dusty little olde-worlde sweet shops (which means nothing more than melted down and repackaged by hand), or pre-packaged "luxury" creams in a chain store. Doutre-Roussel provides lots of tips on where to go next to learn more and to obtain more of the good stuff, from honest and dedicated manufacturers. In the world she describes, new and innovative is good and ye olde 'since 1911' Belgian type stuff is disingenuously marketed pap. It's definitely a book on the consumer's side. It also provides information on the growing of cocoa and the global chocolate market. Though authoritative, it's not an overly long book at about 200 pages, so doesn't dwell at great length on each issue, but one gets the impression that Chloe is a central player in the world of fine chocolate and throughout the book, she gives her recommendations and resources for those whoe interest has been piqued.


The Meaning of Liff
The Meaning of Liff
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure joy, 18 Mar. 2008
This review is from: The Meaning of Liff (Paperback)
If you love words and curious sounding place names, and the funny little foibles of existence, if you love silliness, then you must read this book!

Some people have described it as wordplay, but it's not wordplay in the sense of puns. It's playing with words in the sense of having fun with the silly, illogical images that the words somehow evoke, and it is the capturing of little things that you never think about but which could definitely use a name of their own.

I've only read this version, but apparently the following book was an extended and updated version.


True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Susan Lilian Townsend
True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Susan Lilian Townsend
by Sue Townsend
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a gem for Sue's own diary and Margaret Thatcher!, 18 Mar. 2008
OK, the little clips and letters that make up the Adrian Mole part of the book are a bit far-flung and lacking in structure, although what is 'mediocre' in Sue Townsend terms is still 'genius' in general terms, in my humble opinion, and still worth a read.

However, this volume also includes a hilarious little diary of the young Margaret Thatcher - exaggerated and unsympathetic, but very skilful nonetheless. There are some thinly disguised Tory politicians of the day (or so I assume, having been at playgroup at the time the book was written) in it, but even if you don't know the political scene of the 80s well, like I don't, you should still find it completely laugh-out-loud funny.

It also includes Sue Townsend's own accounts of a solo holiday to Majorca, and a trip to communist Russia. Very witty, with some nicely observed little vignettes, and also kind of wistful. A lovely accompaniment to the fictional diaries, and no less amusing.


Adrian Mole and The Weapons of Mass Destruction
Adrian Mole and The Weapons of Mass Destruction
by Sue Townsend
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The funniest book I own - but disappointing ending, 18 Mar. 2008
Honestly, I have probably never laughed so much reading a book. Isn't that a terrible cliche? But true. Sue Townsend seems to have a direct tap to my funny bone. I'm so glad she continued to write Adrian Mole - the early books get funnier each time I read them now that I know more about the history and politics of the early 80s, but it's such a treat to have her give the 2000s the Adrian Mole treatment. Credit card debt, doing up old wrecks in the hope of making a fortune, old factories turned into overhyped apartment developments, Iraq... and her usual social themes.

Sue Townsend is the only satirist I can think of who has such fondness for her characters and their pathetic little world. Adrian himself is a prime example - how, how does she make such an idiot so very sympathetic? - and his boss Mr. Carlton-Hayes is nothing less than adorable - but when she wants to stick the knife in to a character, she really can; witness one Michael Flowers. Flowers is a sort of satire of the typically pompous fifty/sixty-something man devoid of all self-awareness, her in the guise of a New Age madrigal-singing despot. His daughter Marigold Flowers, too, is hilariously awful, once she's sucked Adrian in with her fragile wrists. Anyone who finds it hard to say 'no' will laugh with total recognition of how it is being dragged around by somebody they have nothing but ridicule for yet find strangley intimidating. I love the lines Pauline Mole puts into her son's mouth: "Ever since I was a little boy, I have preferred to live in the world of fiction. I have found the real world to be a harsh place. I avoid confrontation and am easily manipulated by people who have a strong sense of themselves". I love Pauline Mole, full stop, and she's on form in this book! The hapless, loyal Glenn and poor old Sharon are also as likeable and hilarious as ever - in the hands of another writer, Sharon would be all that is wrong with England and 'chav culture', whereas in Townsend's sympathetic hands, she springs off the page as a sort of ill-educated, well-meaning victim of circumstance as well as a very amusingly observed Miss Piggy type.

Also hilarious are the Leicestershire and Rutland Creative Writing Group scenes - Ken Blunt's hideously vulgar anti-Americana and Gladys' cat poems. I love when Sue Townsend puts poetry in her character's hands - I remember Barry Kent's privet hedge poem well!

My only criticism is that unlike any of the previous books, a serious happy ending and new start is given to Adrian, as Townsend rounds off the saga. No more yearning for Pandora. The Iraq part also gets more serious and ranty, which disturbs the comic tone; I'm not heartless, but I didn't think it fit with the tone of the rest of the book. I guess Adrian is finally allowed to grow up, and it's not in the reader's interest for him to do so.

Still, I feel silly even criticising Sue Townsend because I consider her an absolute master and satirical genius at what she does, and seemingly a very nice person too who writes with such heart. I firmly believe that if more people read Adrian Mole, the world would be a much better place!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2010 2:21 AM BST


The Daughter Of Time
The Daughter Of Time
by Josephine Tey
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, whimsical and concise, 18 Mar. 2008
This review is from: The Daughter Of Time (Paperback)
Leaving aside the 'did-he-didn't-he' element for a minute, the book as a whole is witty and Grant's nurses and visitors are all memorably characterised, with their own strengths to offer to the investigation - Marta the flamboyant actress, Carradine the besotted young "woolly lamb" of a researcher, clumsy, over-sensitive Nurse Darroll and her schoolbooks. I liked the cantankerous detective Grant, too - very much a man who gets frustrated and excited on his quest for justice, rather than the cool-as-a-cucumber silently-stroking-his-moustache type. The Daughter of Time is enjoyably written and not just a dry mystery or polemic.

I said 'did-he-didn't-he', but actually there's never really any serious question here of whether Richard had his nephews killed. The suspense is all in the discovering of what sort of a man Richard was, what really did happen to the Princes in the Tower, and how. The Daughter of Time is quite an infamous Ricardian novel, credited with changing many minds about Richard III and sparking life-long interests in him. To this day nobody can be sure exactly what he was like and what happened to the young princes. Tey's hypothesis, to the casual reader, is as good as any, though, in my opinion. It seems to add up to make a satisfying conclusion, although for all I know many a professional historian could prove it wrong.

It might help if you have already read up a little on Edward IV and Richard III, however. I had and I was glad of the background knowledge because it might otherwise have been a little hard to follow (to be fair, though, I'm the sort of reader who is constantly flipping back and forth in mystery novels and scratching my head). It's a short book with a fresh concept (even though it's now over 50 years old), so just the thing to divert and stimulate your mind on a summer's afternoon.


Plain Truth
Plain Truth
by Jodi Picoult
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a Picoult fan, but liked this, 18 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Plain Truth (Paperback)
Never read a Jodi Picoult novel before or since, and don't really have a desire to, but I'll always remember stumbling across this on holiday and finding it surprisingly enjoyable. I found the main character of Katie, the Amish girl, sympathetically portrayed in a way that rang true, and the same for the Amish community in general, of whom I knew next-to-nothing about before reading Plain Truth. Picoult managed to create an interesting little world to immerse yourself in, while also keeping the plot spinning. She does well to keep the reader's mind open and largely sympathetically inclined towards the Amish, instead of painting them simply as repressed oddballs which would have been a lot more limiting. It's not a work of great art, or an ingenious mystery, but you could certainly do worse if you find yourself with some spare hours to idle away.


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