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Sarah Rayner "Sarah Rayner" (Brighton)

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Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics)
Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics)
by John Edward Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understated and unremarkable, yet utterly unputdownable, 1 Nov 2013
'But nothing happens!' moaned one member of my book group.

Well, yes, I suppose. If you want murders and mayhem, blatant sex, the machinations of powerful politicians, or non-stop adrenalin-driven action, 'Stoner' is not your novel.

It is, as other reviewers have detailed, the unremarkable story of an ordinary man. The son of a Missouri farmer, born in at the end of the 19th century, William Stoner has faults, but he's no Crippen; there are elements of tragedy, but this is no Lear. And, lest you be misled by the title, there's not a whiff of drug-taking throughout.

I'd even argue some of the characters border on caricature (Stoner's parents, his wife), and take issue with the gushing reviews claiming this is brilliantly written, stylistically without fault. It's full of telling not showing, it takes a quarter of the novel to get going, and even after that it goes into detail about literary criticism that comes perilously close to dull - and yet...

It is fantastic.

William Stoner's life story is one that grabs you by stealth. There's just enough to keep you reading for the first 50 pages, and soon after that, you'll find you can't put it down.

Personally, my book of the year (only - a moot point - it was written in 50 years ago).

Read it, and weep.


Folly
Folly
Price: 12.60

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lush, layered and lyrical - The Kitchens are distinctive as ever, 14 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Folly (Audio CD)
After nearly two decades, what a joy to hear Fitzgerald, Swales and Goodwin reunited once more. But make no mistake, this is no desperate attempt to cash-in on past glories - if you're looking to replay your old favourites in a new guise, you'll be sorely disappointed - this is the fresh sound of men who've matured yet are still willing to experiment. The result is an album that is at once utterly contemporary and eerily timeless - and serves as a reminder that whilst KOD were one of the best British bands of the late 80s/early 90s, they were also unlike anything else around at that time. Though an undeniable influence on the likes of Interpol and Elbow, KOD were never overtly fashionable, and are just as hard to categorise now. Fitzgerald's vocals are one minute soft and full of pathos, the next angry and snarling; ditto the switch from acoustic guitar and piano to electric guitar and drums. The resulting album segues from light and playful to dark and chaotic, so whilst the single 'Japan to Jupiter' is irresistibly catchy, on first acquaintance it's 'Oak Tree' and 'I Wish it Would Snow' that lingered most with me. But then KOD always were layered listen, and for all its complexity, one thing is certain: 'Folly' is a misnomer if ever there was one.


Sane New World: Taming the Mind
Sane New World: Taming the Mind
by Ruby Wax
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.71

33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An act of bravery - it takes courage to stand up and be counted as one of the 'one in four', 23 Sep 2013
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If you've not encountered how mindfulness techniques can help with depression before, this book by Ruby Wax is a good place to start. It explains the concepts simply and wittily, and provides useful exercises at the end to help put the theory into practice.

I found the second chapter - 'For the Normal-Mad' - superfluous (it seemed a case of stating the obvious to me) but still I'd recommend the book overall, especially if you're down. The short chapters make it easy to digest when concentration is poor (often a side effect of depression) and Ruby's willingness to expose her own vulnerabilities makes it feel as if you're in the company of a good friend as you read.

There are, it's true, other more fulsome books on mindfulness out there (I'd recommend 'The Mindful Way through Depression' by Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn if it's detail you're after) and there are more searing accounts of going through breakdown too (I'd cite Sally Brampton's 'Shoot The Damn Dog' and Gwynneth Lewis's 'Sunbathing in the Rain' as two of the best I've come across) but they don't detract from this book, which, as a cross between the two genres (part self-help tome, part memoir), aims to do something different.

Moreover, because Ruby Wax is a household name, there's every chance 'Sane New World' will find its way into the hands of people who might not otherwise read about depression, and that can be no bad thing. I have enormous respect for Ruby and admire what she's done (and continues to do) to raise awareness of mental illness. Indeed, as an aside, I'd go so far as to say the programmes she fronted for Channel 4 in 2012 acted as a source of inspiration to me personally. So thank you Ruby, for being brave enough to stand up and be a spokesperson for one in four; 'the Mad-Mad'. That takes even greater courage than stand-up comedy, and I'm sure I'm not alone in being grateful for your bravery.
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The Humans
The Humans
by Matt Haig
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.91

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More fun for young adults than jaded 50-year-olds, 23 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Humans (Paperback)
I've enjoyed Matt Haig's blog and feature writing, and this, along with endorsement from Jeanette Winterson, S J Watson and a raft of 5* reviews, meant I went into this novel confident I would love it. Perhaps not a good mindset - disappointment being more likely when expectations are raised.

I won't detail the plot as others have done so, and forgive my sounding like a party pooper, but I confess I was irritated by this book from the start: it is a novel full of inconsistencies, not least because the author's voice constantly intrudes on his characterisation. Whereas Mark Haddon pulls off the ventriloquism of becoming a child with Asperger's, Matt Haig does not enter as wholly into the mind of a sentient being who uses only logical thinking - time and again I noticed our narrator able to extrapolate general truths about human nature from single examples of behaviour one minute, then appear baffled by our species the next. How come, for instance, the alien knows from seeing his 'son' shrug that this is 'one of the main modes of communication for teenagers' when Gulliver is the only teen he's met? Yet a few pages on he seems utterly naive and is horrified by his wife, Isobel, cooking chicken 'breasts'. Both instances, were, for me written with the primary aim of being funny, but neither quite worked as I could sense the author intruding onto the page. The human characterisation is thin, too. There's a lot of hypothesising about love and relationships, yet neither Gulliver or Isobel felt fully realised and thus believable.

The book is fast paced and fun, and for a YA reader may offer a great deal more than it does to a jaded 50-year-old like me. I read it in a couple of sittings and was entertained by the concept of an alien landing on earth and examining what it is that makes us human. I just felt it could have been more - there are better novels out there which explore the nature of relationships - and having relished the incisiveness and honesty of Matt Haig's blogs, I expected greater insights.


The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street-wise Cat
The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street-wise Cat
by James Bowen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.80

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let a mundane start and unremarkable writing style put you off an uplifting story with important messages, 22 Sep 2013
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Whereas the original Bob book was captivating from the off - not least because it showed how Bob was a most unusual cat (getting on the bus with James and so on) - here the observations are more mundane, detailing Bob behaving in ways that many cats do. The recognition is pleasing, but little more, and for the first third of the book I feared this was going to prove a disappointing follow-up, especially because, as before, I found the writing style clunky and the editing poor. I don't hold James responsible for this - the book is ghost written (James tells us as much himself, in the appendix) - but surely, after all the success of the first book, his publishers could have invested in a professional copy editor to cut the repetitions in this second tome?

However, as I read on, again I found myself compelled to put my niggles about style to one side, as I became increasingly drawn into the story of James and his feline friend, and at the end I closed the book with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure. As well as showing how easy it is for people to slip through the net and end up on the streets in the first place, what struck me particularly was the sense it gave of James as a character - in spite of a tough childhood, he doesn't descend into blame and recrimination, but takes responsibility for his shortcomings, including his past heroine addiction. Thus what might on the surface seem a simple story about one man and his cat is actually rather more than that, providing an uplifting example of how it's possible to turn one's life around if one has the right mindset. James' emotional maturity is inspiring - and he is, I'd venture to suggest, one of the reasons the books have touched so many people around the world - it's not just Bob many of us are fans of, but James too.


Microfibre Turbie Towel (Black). The wrap that won't fall off your head!
Microfibre Turbie Towel (Black). The wrap that won't fall off your head!
Offered by Super Utensil Ltd.
Price: 2.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A very useful item, 24 April 2013
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Wandering round the house or gym with damp hair dribbling down my back has never been my favourite feeling in the world. Now I need do this no longer, thanks to Turbie Towel. It looks ok too, all things considered, and great value for money. If it stands the test of time I'll come back and upgrade my rating to 5 stars, right now it's too early to tell.


Gone Girl
Gone Girl
Price: 2.99

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Marmite novel, though not to my taste, nonetheless a good choice for a book group, 19 April 2013
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This review is from: Gone Girl (Kindle Edition)
There's a lot that's great about Gone Girl. As other reviewers have said in their hundreds, it's an atmospheric and compelling psychological thriller, full of twists. The set-up and structure, where the story is told by a husband and wife in different time frames, is clever, and the characterisation of husband Nick in particular is strong. It's also stimulating for discussion, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend it for a book group for this reason. Lots of readers have enjoyed it hugely - 2/3 of my own book group fell into this category - but I had reservations.

Here's why: firstly, the writing style, which many have raved about. I suggest reading a sample to make your own judgement call. If you like it, you'll like Flynn's style - I found it wordy and cloying.

Then, there's the storyline. This is, as has been pointed out, a novel of two halves, and whilst the second half rips along at a fast pace, once the first twist has been revealed, I simply didn't find the plot credible. I saw the initial twist coming, which didn't matter hugely, but what did is I kept thinking `this is silly' and finding it impossible to suspend disbelief and believe in the characters' motivations or behaviour and thus the action. My main issue in this regard was Amy, though by the end Nick seemed puppet-like too - his strings pulled around by the author from on high to keep us guessing.

Finally, the one crucial thing a thriller does have to deliver when the story is what drives it is a decent ending - and lord, Gone Girl's 'finale' is disappointing. I read an interview with the author where she explained she had the first 7/8 of the novel done long before the rest, and wasn't sure how to finish it; her editor urged her to do so and thus she did. (I hope I'm not misrepresenting the situation here.) The last chunk reads exactly like that - tagged on and rushed. I'd begun to lose patience with the set-up by then and this sealed it for me as a book that disappoints overall.

So it's 2.5 stars: 4 for the first half, 3 for most of the second and a big fat zero for the last few chapters. But because it's a Marmite* book, I'd still say choose it for a reading group. It'll stimulate a hot debate - far more fun than when everyone agrees about a book - and it's for this reason that although Gone Girl was not to my taste, I am still very glad that I read it.


The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
by Stephen Grosz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.99

92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegantly written, pithy and thought provoking - a total joy, 27 Feb 2013
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Distilling decades of therapeutic work into a slim volume that reads like a collection of short stories, Grosz offers an intriguing insight into contemporary psychoanalysis. A married father-of-four announces that he is thinking of coming out, aged 71, while a woman who has just celebrated her 50th birthday realises a sexy dream that bothered her was about her son.

Anger, boredom, self-delusion, lying, being stuck, Grosz even shows how boredom is worth thinking about. He draws not just on his patients, but literature too - Scrooge shows us how we can't live a life without loss, a Herman Melville character reveals how `we all have a cheering voice that says "let us start now, right away"' and an opposing, negative voice that responds "I would prefer not to."'

But the real joy of this book is that all this is done with such a light touch. I'd take issue with the other reviewer who suggests we go and read Freud instead - many who are attracted to this book are unlikely to, and that's the very point. It avoids jargon, and in an era when CBT is frequently hailed as The Answer to mental health problems (it's just about the only therapy one can get on the NHS these days, though it's still a postcode lottery), it's a timely reminder not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Don't get me wrong, I think CBT can be invaluable tool, but let's remember looking at our entrenched patterns can help patients who suffer too. To have made complex theories accessible to a mainstream audience is a fine achievement, and to Mr Grosz I'd like to say: THANK YOU.


Kodak ESPC110 All-in-one Printer
Kodak ESPC110 All-in-one Printer

1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed to be adding to landfill - but in the long term this is poor, 13 Feb 2013
If I'd reviewed this on purchase it would have had 4 stars - it printed colour, it scanned, it copied, all for a reasonable price - I was so excited (yes, I'm easily pleased!) but be warned...

Like many on here, I was hoodwinked by a sales pitch about cheap running costs, and it's true that you can switch it to 'draft' print to save on ink - that's the good news. The bad news is the lifespan of the machine. The first one I bought gave up the ghost after six months, but as it was within warranty, I managed to get a replacement. However, now a second one is unusable 13 months later. After much troubleshooting, I've sourced the problem as the printhead, (having shelled out nigh on 20 on more ink first, as that was the alert the printer display provided), and the cost of replacing this part is only about 10 less than a new machine. Quite how it costs nearly as much to manufacture a printhead as to package and produce an entire machine with glass, trays, leads etc eludes me. What sealed it is that the scanner has now stopped working too. So I've decided to bin the machine - and the nearly full cartridges - and buy a replacement.

Sigh.

It's disappointing that items are being produced with such a short life span. Call me old fashioned, but I expect a machine to last more than a year. When they don't - not only is it time consuming, frustrating and expensive for us as individuals - it means they end up adding to landfill too.


Indoor Fairy Light 20 Bulb - White/Clear bulbs indoor use ideal for weddings party or decorating venues/rooms
Indoor Fairy Light 20 Bulb - White/Clear bulbs indoor use ideal for weddings party or decorating venues/rooms
Offered by Home Star Supplies Ltd
Price: 2.80

1.0 out of 5 stars Lasted less than 24 hours!, 17 Dec 2012
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Plugged these lights in, although one bulb was gone they worked. Strung them round the mantelpiece, they still worked. Turned them off later the night, and on again the next morning - nadir. Changed the fuse, the bulb that had gone, tried a different plug, tightened all the bulbs, and gave up. So I'm afraid it's a 1* review from me, despite the prompt delivery and free return policy.


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