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P. G. Harris
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Marriage Material
Marriage Material
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Awright ower kid?, 27 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Marriage Material (Kindle Edition)
Marriage material follows, along two timelines the story of three generations of the Bains family, Sikh shopkeepers from Wolverhampton. In the late sixties Mr and Mrs Bains bring up their two daughters, Kamaljit and Surinder, in a society where prejudice and discrimination is rife and where local MP Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech is very much a factor of everyday life.

In the present day, educated, cosmopolitan Arjan works as a graphic designer in London and is engaged to the very Anglo-Saxon Freya. Initially his direct relationship to the Bains family is unclear, and indeed the whole story is based around sorting out the pieces of the puzzle which brings us from the 20th to the 21st century.

The tale of Kamaljit and Surinder mirror's Arnold Bennet's 1908, the Old Wives Tale. The very different sisters bicker constantly. When the prospect of arranged marriage looms, both rebel, but in their own different ways. The conventional Kamaljit turns inwards to her society, but in a way which is in some ways no less shocking than the lively intelligent Surinder's very public rejection of her designated fate.

This is a book of deliberate contrasts. By referencing Bennet's earlier work, Author Satnam Sanghera very clearly compares attitudes to young women, their education and their marriage prospects, in the immigrant Sikh community in 1960s Wolverhampton to that of the traditional English working class in the Potteries In the late Victorian era. There is then a bridge to the present day which compares the racial divisions which lead to/were exacerbated by Powell's infamous words, with the nihilistic rioting which spread across the country in 2011. There is also the friction between Arjan's modern westernised lifestyle, and his familial instincts which drag him back towards his roots. Finally, right at the end, there is a sly nod towards the current bÍte noir of the bigoted, East European immigration.

Race and racism are, understandably, and predictably major themes of the book, but this is not a one dimensional picture. Sanghera portrays the institutionalised racism (of immigrants being denied entry to clubs, of being rejected for employed) and the casual racism of childish taunts and graffiti directed against the Sikh community. He also graphically addresses the discrimination of the Indian caste system, the racism of the immigrants against their white neighbours, the goras, and the xenophobia against further immigration which may damage the prospects of the existing residents. He suggests that when under stress, it is all to easy for the most liberal-minded to succumb to the easy seduction of prejudice.

This is no weighty, or po-faced work however. Sanghera is a very entertaining observational writer, right from the off he launches into half lament/half rant about the fate of Asian shopkeepers, the banality of their daily lives and the mindless stereotyping to which they are subjected. Right through the book, even at its darkest moments, the prose is peppered with some snort out loud one-liners.

It is also, unexpectedly a whodunnit or thriller. For most of the book I didn't realise it, but towards the end, some minor hints which the author drops almost casually into the text very early on suddenly bear surprising fruit.

One thing I'm not sure about, and not sure in terms of whether this is a strength or a weakness, is that at times Marriage Material felt a bit thin, a bit inconsequential, a bit lacking in depth. The characters toddle along through their lives, confronting crises, going through traumas, but described in a way which seems to lack emotional heft. There is no great drama, no great character development. Put like that it sounds like criticism, but I could equally view it as being a very realistic portrayal of ordinary lives, and all it lacks is the over manufactured drama of fiction.

So all in all I liked Marriage Material. It's a good hearted book , peopled by entertaining characters, with an endearing, if at times infuriating hero.

Finally, to two books of which this reminded me. Firstly the West Midlands setting brought Jonathan Coe's "Rotter's Club" to mind. Secondly, Arjan, the self destructive hero was reminiscent of a gentler version of Colin Bateman's Dan Starkey.

PS I'd be interested to know the location of a supermarket which sells £300 suits


The Peripheral
The Peripheral
Price: £9.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Saving the world, one universe at a time, 25 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Peripheral (Kindle Edition)
Flynne is a gamer in the near future who spends her time playing on her phone in her brother Burton's derelict old airstream caravan.

Netherton is a borderline alcoholic who works as a publicity agent for a volatile and unpredictable celebrity in a world seventy years further into the future.

They are brought together when Flynne, deputising for her brother apparently testing a game, witnesses a gruesome murder in Netherton's world

After his recent work, which has been set barely a heartbeat into the future, and which could almost be described as market-fi, this is very much a return to science fiction and to one of its oldest genres, time travel fiction. Indeed, the novel is prefaced by a quote from H G Wells. By invoking quantum theory and multiverse theory however, Gibson very cleverly sidesteps one of the biggest problems with time travel, the "Grandfather paradox'". What happens if the time traveller kills his or her own grandfather?

So this is a new take on an old genre, but it is very much a William Gibson book. Both style and characters are familiar. I often find when reading a Gibson novel that I feel I am spending the first few chapters running to catch up. Here, as ever, he makes few apparent concessions to the reader's comprehension, shooting out characteristically flashy, noir-ish prose right from the first sentence. "They didn't think Flynne's brother had PSTD, but sometimes the haptics glitched him".

Amongst the characters we have Russian gangsters, ex-soldiers damaged in some mysterious special forces conflict, heroes living at the margins of a corporately controlled world, and the super-rich who have moved beyond normal morality.

This is recognisably a Gibson work, but it is also something new and original. At a time when there is so much space opera and brainless military SF around, Gibson continues to follow a different and distinctive path, revisiting an old device, and using it to play with ideas of financial power, of environmental catastrophe, and of individual morality.

Definitely recommended.


Napoleon the Great
Napoleon the Great
by Andrew Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligently entertaining, 28 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Napoleon the Great (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't really feel qualified to review a work this erudite, but in meticulously researching newly available correspondence, and in walking Napoleon's battlefields, Andrew Roberts has produced a work which is both deep, and highly readable. Given the nature of the author it is a highly opinionated work, and he ruthlessly fillets those with whom he disagrees. One can also, on occasion, question his logic, for example he cites Napoleon's sensitive treatment of a young woman as evidence that her father did not cuckold Napoleon's legal father, and to be in reality the emporer's biological father. One might equally argue to the contrary that Bonaparte was protecting his half sister. However, that is of little consequence, one is bound to find oneself, at times disagreeing with the author in such a lengthy work. That is part of the enjoyment of a work which is, in addition to the scholarly achievement, a great entertainment.

It is a little known fact that the author was also a very acceptable tight head prop in his day.


Boy, Snow, Bird
Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars ... who is the fairest of them all?, 27 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Boy, Snow, Bird (Hardcover)
Boy Snow Bird contains elements which I often find problematic. It touches in places on magical realism. It has a very open, inconclusive end. Yet it is a highly endearing book which I really liked. I think it is the sheer playfulness of the writing which won me over.

On the surface it is the story of Boy Novak who, early in the novel, escapes from New York, and her violent rat catcher father. She arrives in the slightly mystical village of Flax Hill which "misbehaved a little, collapsing when I went to sleep and reassembling in the morning in a slapdash manner" and where everyone seems to Boy to be a skilled specialist. Author Oyeyemi initially gives us a picture of the life of an itinerant worker in 50s America as Boy lives in a lodging house of young women, flitting from job to job. While on a double date she meets, and is initially antagonistic towards academic turned jeweller, Arturo Whitman.

Boy, in common with everyone in Flax Hill is captivated by the widowed Arturo's daughter, Snow, but the relationship changes when Boy gives birth to Snow's half sister, Bird.

That brief account gives a window onto the second level of the book. This is novel which plays with fairy tale themes, although not in their conventional structures. Boy escapes from the Pied Piper to become stepmother to Snow Whitman, but desperately tries to be good. The mirror is a constant image throughout, and references to other tales, not least Cinderella, abound. There is even a much more modern reflection of the work of Iain Banks. Oyeyemi uses these fairy tale ideas to produce a work which is not so much magical realism as exploring how we use magical imagery to explain the everyday, as in the quote above where the simple act of getting to know a new town is described in fantastical terms. Interestingly the magic is also balanced by a parallel thread of investigative journalism which runs throughout.

The third layer of the book is about issues of race and gender and how they are hidden and distorted by society and how they in their turn hide and distort. To say more would be to introduce spoilers.

This is also a story of family relationships, and it is those relationships which tie all of the other themes of the book together. The third act of the book consists primarily of a series of letters through which the half sisters create a relationship which they were denied by events at the time of Boy's birth, and which are in terms magical, and investigative. There is also the wonderfully labyrinthine Whitman family whose complex relationships are driven by the interplay of race and the expectations of society.

Boy Snow Bird struck me as a novel which would warrant a second reading as I'm sure there were things going on in it which I missed. For example the name of Bird's husband, and the cover of the hardback edition are both strong plot indicators.

If have a significant criticism it is the story peters out. There is the second of two major twists, but the the consequences are left hanging.

Overall,though, there is enough intelligence and invention here to overcome my reservations.

Recommended.


SanDisk Extreme SDHC 32 GB UHS-I U3 Memory Card 60 MB/s (SDSDXN-032G-G46)
SanDisk Extreme SDHC 32 GB UHS-I U3 Memory Card 60 MB/s (SDSDXN-032G-G46)
Price: £20.73

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent product, even for those who don't stretch it to the limit, 24 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am not a terribly technical photographer. I don't tend to push my equipment to the limits in terms of speed, I am more of a measured taker of stills. I don't tend to make much use of the video facility.

I acquired this for use with a Nikon D5300, and even I with my relatively simple demands can see the difference. The speed of being ready for the next shot is noticeably faster, and when I've been out for a heavy day's photography, the download is seriously rapid.

Excellent product


Cole & Mason 145 mm Brushed Chrome Oxley One Handed Pepper and Salt Mill Set, Set of 2, Silver
Cole & Mason 145 mm Brushed Chrome Oxley One Handed Pepper and Salt Mill Set, Set of 2, Silver
Price: £37.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Good functionality, ok build quality., 15 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These are quite fun and the functionality is very useful. Basically they are a salt and a pepper mill which can be used one handed in a sort of squeezing motion. They do the same sort of job as electric grinders but without the need for batteries. This means they can be helpful for example when cooking and you only have one hand free, perhaps when you are using the other to stir.

The build quality is less successful, they feel more lightweight and less robust than they look, and the lids which lift off to allow them to be filled are silvery plastic rather than a sturdier metal. I would therefore have some doubts about how long lasting they will be.


Barracuda
Barracuda
Price: £2.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like it more than I actually did, 13 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Barracuda (Kindle Edition)
Barracuda is the story of Dan/Danny/Daniel Kelly. In the early chapters we are told about him in the third person as a gifted Australian schoolboy swimmer, a working class boy with a scholarship to a fee paying school, won by his athletic talent. Before that he talks to us in the first person as an adult in Scotland, at odds with his lover Clyde and for whom there has been some life crisis related to his earlier promise. What that crisis was and how Danny, the driven schoolboy, became Dan the damaged adult is told in chapters which jump around in time, eventually moving past his problems with Clyde.

It is a story about race, about ambition, about prejudice. It could be viewed as a damning condemnation of an elite athletic system which, if the book is to believed, sucks up talent and then uncaringly dumps it when problems occur. On the flip side it could be about how easy it is for an individual to mess things up despite being given everything. That is a question the book asks, are events a result of the system failing Danny, of him failing himself, or, more likely a bit of both? It is also about class, which is rather ironic to the British eye when reading about the great classless Australian society. Although, it may be that what appears to be class is more about racial division.

On a more personal level it is a book about family, about parent-child, and about sibling relationships. The relationship between Danny and his father is a particularly touching one, and not fully revealed until a penultimate, affecting chapter when we see Danny at his youngest.

Barracuda is at its most successful in its characters. As a portrait of growling, irrational, angry adolescence Danny is completely believable. One of the things which rings most true is the portrayal of the adolescent male, though it isn't particularly pleasant to be reminded of what grotty, spiteful, insanitary creatures teenage boys are. Even so I also found myself feeling sympathetic towards him, despite his behaviour being frequently viciously unpleasant to those around him, and wanting to shake him as refuses to change and mature, even as his friends grow up and move beyond the attitudes of their youth.

Something else which feels authentic is Danny's compulsive personality, as he in turns becomes obsessive about swimming about, alcohol, about literature and about sex. That, however, is also my first problem with the book, as it tips over from portraying the behaviour to mirroring it. At times, for example when the author describes Danny's ecstasy while swimming, or his meticulous listing of different drinks for the umpteenth time, I just began to want him just to get on with it. There are only so many descriptions of an erection one can read before it starts getting tedious. I feel that there is a better novel buried within this.

A few years ago,there was a truly awful film adaptation of Wuthering Heights directed by Andrea Arnold which concentrated so much on being uncompromisingly, grimy, earthy and bleak,while also trying to be deeply symbolic, that it rather forgot to tell a coherent story. While this is a much better work, it shares some of those characteristics of repetition to the point of dullness. Like a bad production of Death of a Salesman, where the last scene can lead to the audience losing sympathy with the characters as the misery just grinds on and on, on several occasions here, less would have been more.

So to the structure. Danny doesn't become a swimming champion. That is not a plot spoiler, because the jumping between different time periods makes it clear very early on. Thus a great deal of potential tension is lost, and rather than wondering what is going to happen, one finds oneself reading with a hollow dread, just waiting for the bad thing to happen. Strangely, for a novel which tends to spin things out too far, the unfortunate event is skated over in a rather perfunctory manner, to the point of wondering "is that it"? It takes a bit of a leap of imagination to believe that this one event was enough to derail a character as driven as Danny, and to cause the entire infrastructure supporting him to fail.

Also,while the plot is reasonably straightforward to follow, despite a slight feeling of disorientation after each jump in time, the author himself almost seems to get lost in in the tangle, to the point that everything peters out rather unsatisfactorily.
I'm sure that there was a time when this type of plot with simultaneous threads set at different periods was fresh and exciting, but it does seem to have become somewhat de rigeur in the "literary novel" and it would now be rather exciting to read a linear plot.

So, this is a book which I wanted to like more than I actually did. There is some excellent and moving writing here, but I think, at the end of the day, it is just too long, sadly to the point of self indulgence. That is really disappointing, because I really believe that with greater discipline and/or a more rigorous editor, this could have been a really, really good novel.


American Gods
American Gods
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Götterdämmerung, 24 Nov. 2014
This review is from: American Gods (Paperback)
Shadow is nearing the end of his prison sentence for assault. Shortly before his release date he is called into the governor's office to be told of the death of his beloved wife Laura. Stunned and bereft, he is released early and on the way home he makes the acquaintance of the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who offers him an ill defined job, the contract for which is sealed by Shadow's drinking large quantities of mead.

The premise of American Gods is that every race and nationality settling in America has, by worshipping its own Gods, brought them to the new world. However in a society where they are largely forgotten they have lost many of their powers, but live on in the margins. It is their world into which Mr Wednesday (it shouldn't take too much thought to work out his true identity) draws Shadow to act as an odd job man, bodyguard and courier. It is a world where the cultural melting pot of America is mirrored in a bewildering mix of Gods and deities from Norse, Egyptian, Indian, middle European, Native American, and many other religions and mythologies.

However the old Gods are under threat as America worships the car, the computer and capitalism, and these new subjects of devotion become aggressively embodied, seeking to wipe out their forbears.

American Gods is a massively ambitious work, seeking to explore, through this fantastical netherworld, the very soul of America. It is also an interesting work to categorise. Very obviously it is a work of fantasy. However, if Gaiman wasn't already pigeon-holed as a genre writer, and perhaps if he wasn't a Brit writing about America, this could easily be seen as a magical realist work.

It is a very dark, multi-stranded book, asking, for example, through a small town in which Shadow becomes a temporary resident, to what extent America, and by extrapolation we, ourselves , are prepared to turn a blind eye to evil in order to preserve a comfortable, affluent lifestyle. While setting up a war between the old Gods and the new, Gaiman also suggests that behind it all, humankind's true, and enduring, Gods are chaos, death and destruction.

American Gods is almost Reithian in the extent to which it entertains, educates and informs. For instance, before reading it I knew nothing of the death of the "All Father" tied to a tree with a spear in his side. That his son later suffers the same fate as part of saving America echoes the Christian story in an almost deafening manner.

Finally, I would say that Gaiman is a wonderful writer of prose, his use of language is clever, economical and evocative. To give just one, small, example which struck me "Then she jumped down from the sill, onto the bed,where she wrapped herself into a curl of fur, and went back to sleep, a circle of cat on the old counterpane."

Highly recommended.


Rapoo Super Mini Wireless Mouse black
Rapoo Super Mini Wireless Mouse black
Price: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars if you don't like using a touchpad or mini joystick on a laptop, 3 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is probably ideal for ocassional use, possibly when travelling, if you don't like using a touchpad or mini joystick on a laptop. It is very small, probably too small for regular comfortable use, but it is an easy to use,fast, sensitive mouse.

It connects wirelessly via a small USB plug-in which is stored in a socket on the underside when the mouse when not in use.

Using Windows 7, it is straightforward "plug and play".

One concern is that it feels a bit lightweight, so I'm not sure how robust and long-lasting it will be.


AEG DB5210-U 4 Safety Plus Steam Iron, 0.3 Litre, 2200 Watt
AEG DB5210-U 4 Safety Plus Steam Iron, 0.3 Litre, 2200 Watt
Price: £40.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Good, high quality iron, 3 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It'squite difficult to review an iron. It's an iron. It makes things flat. So this is more of an instinctive than a factual, objective review. Everything about this iron feels good. It comes up to heat nice and quickly. It gives a good steady level of steam. It glides nicely, giving a quick, smooth job. The controls are easy to use and reach, and the reservoir is easy to fill.

The USP for this iron is the alarm and switch off if it is knocked over or left face down for 30 secs. That feels like rather a long time to me.

Still, gimmicks aside, its a very good iron.


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