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The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
by Robert Galbraith
Edition: Hardcover

41 of 63 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Like being forced to read tabloids..., 10 Oct. 2013
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I'm a massive Harry Potter fan and therefore willing to give anything Rowling writes a try - but this book has defeated me. I have tried for a month now to read it and can't get past the first third - in fact, I have only persisted this far because of my loyalty to Rowling. Fact is, if you don't buy the basic premise that somehow a personality-disordered model and her seedy but wealthy cohort of rap artists, DJ's and drug-abusers is inherently fascinating, it is impossible to care who dunnit. JK Rowling's idea of glamour simply isn't mine and I do find her constant insistence that 'everyone' would want to know every detail of the dead celeb's life annoying. Perhaps too many years of being followed by paparazzi has given her a skewed idea of people's interests. Also, as a detective story, it lacks interesting clues - the usual bits of puzzle that keep the reader working to fit them together, which is the real joy of detective novels. Cormoran Strike has the outward trappings of the usual tough and cynical detective-hero but is ultimately two-dimensional, although his secretary is likeable and rather Hermione-like in her efficiency. And there is a bleakness about Rowling's adult fiction that I find depressing - not a poetic bleakness that transforms an ugly city-scape or painful relationship into something of aesthetic value, but a kind of odd wallowing in ugliness that leaves a bad feeling, like that of having been to a dirty public toilet.


Bridge for Complete Beginners
Bridge for Complete Beginners
Price: £4.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes Bridge possible!, 30 April 2013
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This is the only comprehensible book on Bridge I've ever come across. Really well explained by someone who clearly understands how to teach. It doesn't assume you know anything about card games at all, yet isn't patronising. It guides you through the various aspects of the game systematically and let allows you to get on with having a go at it without having to know every detail of how to play in advance. A model of teaching.


Geox Women's Donna Haben Stivali Boots D24P7T00046C9999 Black C9999 3.5 UK
Geox Women's Donna Haben Stivali Boots D24P7T00046C9999 Black C9999 3.5 UK

3.0 out of 5 stars Solid but enormous, 30 April 2013
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Bought this in size 3.5 (which is my usual) and found it massive, not so much in length as in ankle, calf and instep space, even with thick tights on. I am small and slim so maybe this would suit a more solidly-built woman. I think if I'd sized down the foot-length might have been a bit tight if I ever had to wear it with winter socks on. Otherwise a good-looking boot - like the soles especially - but had to return it.


The World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation
The World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation
by Michael Leapman
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent broad brush strokes; would like more depth and detail, 3 Jun. 2009
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This book recaptures the world of early-to-mid Victorian society beautifully, with the Great Exhibition as a kind of turning point at which the average Briton began to take an interest in the wider world and to see their country as the centre of an expanding empire. One may speculate upon the degree to which the Great Exhibition influenced future attitudes towards the expansion of empire, and how far it was a PR exercise for a change in attitudes that had already occurred within the ruling classes, and I wish that Michael Leapman had made an attempt to follow through some individual threads through particular exhibitors or writers of the time to illustrate this. I should have liked more detail too on the exhibitors: while there are of course far too many individual stories to follow, he could have done this with at least one or two - what was special about their product, where it came from and what it reflected of the social economy etc. I would have liked also to know how the juries came to their decisions - the gripes and protestations of some of the non-winners are presented, but not the juries' reasoning. Perhaps the best bits are the accounts of working-class or lower middle class folk who travelled to London, usually for the first time, to see it - these human stories really bring it to life. The book is not an analytical social history, but it works well at a populist 'wow, that's an interesting little account of Victorian society' level. It has a lot of wonderful detail and is written in a lively manner, but it's a pity that Mr. Leapman didn't try to, or perhaps was discouraged by his publishers from developing an original thesis. Perhaps space was a consideration, and it may be an indication of how much I enjoyed it, but I really could have done with a little bit more on many of the different issues presented.


The Chinese Opium Wars (Harvest Book; Hb 350)
The Chinese Opium Wars (Harvest Book; Hb 350)
by Jack Beeching
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.34

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even-handed and well-written, 16 Mar. 2009
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'Colonial' and empire histories often lend themselves to partisanship: either they present Britain as an arrogant and cynical force acting upon innocent and noble other races, or as a glorious and idealistic nation bringing peace and civilisation to grateful peoples. In the Opium Wars, Britain's opponent was the world's proudest and oldest civilisation, which has never been fully conquered. It is perhaps for this reason that Jack Beeching's book is able to avoid that tired - and to my mind over-simplistic - dialectic of 'for' or 'against', in which so many writers impose 21st century value judgments upon the events of a different age; equally it may simply be that Mr. Beeching is just a good judge of history. This book is informative, exciting to read - the description of the British navy's war upon the Chinese pirates knocks Hornblower into a cocked hat - and insightful into both Chinese and English mentalities of the day. It manages to knit together the many widely different factors that shaped relations between China and the West, from the Christian evangelism of the Victorians to the decadence of the Manchu empire and the burgeoning nationalism of the Chinese people. It leaves the reader with a view of an age that was groping its way around cultural confusions, that was brutally selfish as well as idealistic and brave, and it tells the story simply and elegantly.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2014 4:25 PM BST


Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple
Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple
by Deborah Layton
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave and important account by a defector from the People's Temple, 27 Feb. 2009
This is an immensely brave and well written book, which bears testimony to Deborah Layton's courage, not only in having escaped the Jonestown cult, but also for having been able to examine, in the years afterwards, her own motives and the personal history that led to her involvement in it. The book is almost unique in that respect.

Many of the books I have come across about Jonestown, Waco and other religious cults have been written by Christian academics so keen to excuse the cult members for their choices that they end up blaming the US authorities and wider society for failing to understand them and for 'harrassing' and 'persecuting' them into desperate actions. They present the cult members (or as they say, members of New Religious Movements) as brave, principled and even heroic individuals, and make little or no attempt to examine the individual responsibilities and motivations that lead to their eventual ends. Nothing is said of the bullying, emotional pressure, inventions of persecutory 'outsiders' and other forms of terror applied within the groups by the members to preserve coherence and to prevent 'defections'. While I think it pointless simply to apply abusive labels to people who join cults, neither do I support the view that society is to blame when collective paranoia overtakes them. Also, the tendency of such academics to call the US 'religiously intolerant' strikes me as odd, in a world where the Taliban operates.

Deborah Layton, having left Jonestown some time before its full murderous potential was revealed, was castigated on both sides: by cultists for having been a 'traitor' and by secular society for having been foolish enough to join the cult in the first place. She does not seek to excuse herself, but presents honestly what actually happened to her. Her descriptions of her childhood and family life are fascinating to a reader who believes that personal history has a great bearing on the choices we make, the chapters in which she makes her bid for freedom constitute one of the best thrillers I have read, and the final chapters in which she describes her readjustment to society are as interesting as the rest, in terms of our understanding of the dynamics of the phenomenon of belonging to a cult.

If there is one criticism I have of the book, it is that the author does not reflect sufficiently upon the interpersonal and emotional dynamics within the People's Temple. While she is honest about her own feelings, she seems to lack some insight into others around her, and seems not to apply her mind perceptively to them. But I suspect that this may be one of the key problems that allowed her to become involved in the Temple in the first place. I claim no expertise, but it did strike me on reading this book that the People's Temple attracted idealistic and motivated young people who had a limited world view and little awareness and insight into those around them. Another account based upon interviews of survivors that I have read showed the interviewees to have the same absence of insight - giving a kind of flatness of narrative, as the emotions and reactions of those around them don't figure at all. I wonder if this self-centredness and lack of insight could be factors in allowing people to become cult members?

Having said that, it does seem that Deborah Layton has tried much harder than others to come to some understanding of what she has done, and to take responsibility for it. And her book is a really gripping read.


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