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William Fross (London, UK)
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Le'Xpress Italian Style Six Cup Espresso Maker
Le'Xpress Italian Style Six Cup Espresso Maker
Price: £8.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Does the job: makes coffee, 22 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This does the job it is designed for: a standard stove-top design, it makes coffee. I find it can produce enough coffee to fill perhaps half a standard mug (more than enough once you add milk), but depending on how much coffee you use, this can be strong enough for several espresso-sized cups. The reason I have given it four rather than five stars is that it feels a little cheap - it is quite light and the lid rattles a bit.


The Ultimate Book of Baby Knits
The Ultimate Book of Baby Knits
by Debbie Bliss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.50

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful patterns - not for beginners, 16 Aug. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A beautiful book with 50 patterns from Debbie Bliss. There are clothes - including a very cute beret - and cuddly toys too. They are special, suitable as gifts or as items to pass down through the family. Accordingly, some of them are quite difficult, but there are easier projects too for the less-advanced knitter.

Some of the patterns call for specific colours and Debbie Bliss-branded wool, but I ignored these instructions and used wool of a similar weight and ply: the results were very good. I would recommend this for someone with some experience knitting, but overall I think most people will find the book has a good range of patterns with clear instructions.


A Little History of the World
A Little History of the World
by Ernst Gombrich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and interesting - but would it suit your children?, 24 Jun. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book is an enjoyable read, clearly aimed at children with its didactic tone and narrative structure, covering world history from "the beginning" to the end of the Cold War. I would say the tone and the short chapters make it suitable for the literate/well-educated 10 or 11 year old.

However, at 284 pages it is a hefty read. The tone is aimed at a younger reader but I would be surprised if many pre-teens would be willing to tackle such a long book (alas) and teens might find it patronising. Before buying it for a child I would suggest reading a few pages to judge whether it would be suitable for them.


What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
by Michael Sandel
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A readable book with a simple argument: the markets cannot provide all the answers, 11 Jun. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Michael Sandel has written a readable and engaging book where an extended essay would suffice. His argument is that depending on the markets leads to two negative consequences:

-- Unfairness: markets do not just place a value on things but restrict people's ability to make use of them in line with their ability to pay (i.e. the rich have an unfair advantage).
-- Corruption: markets corrupt how we think about things in inappropriate ways. For example, it might encourage us to put a monetary value on blood, leading to a market in blood donation, which seems somehow inappropriate in some way.

He does not aim to clearly define what "corruption" might mean: the book concludes that this is a question beyond the markets themselves, meaning we should provide space for serious moral enquiry.

I find this argument engaging and quite convincing but I found that much of this book serves to obscure the argument, drowning it in narrative detail that is fascinating but not directly relevant. I would have appreciated a clearer structure for this reason.


The Mind's Eye
The Mind's Eye
by Oliver Sacks
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting case studies about vision and the brain, 12 April 2012
This review is from: The Mind's Eye (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Oliver Sacks, a leading neurologist, offers a selection of case studies each concerned with how we see things. The case studies are interesting and Sacks is an authoritative and engaging storyteller.

The table of contents is as follows, with my brief synopsis of each chapter in brackets:

-- Sight Reading (a woman loses the ability to read music or words - though she remains able to write and play music from memory)
-- Recalled to Life (a woman loses her ability to either understand language or express herself in language)
-- A Man of Letters (a man loses the ability to read; letters look like a foreign language - though he retains the ability to write)
-- Face-Blind (a chapter considering a condition under which people lose the ability to recognise faces)
-- Stereo Sue (a woman gains the ability to see in three dimensions for the first time)
-- Persistence of Vision: A Journal (Sacks himself describes his loss of vision, and how his brain compensates in surprising ways)
-- The Mind's Eye (Sacks considers how vision is related to the other senses)

As the above descriptions suggest, the overall theme is about vision and how the brain interprets information. The case studies are fascinating, and the book is rather like a collection of good short stories that are all the more interesting because they are true. Recommended!


What's So Amazing About Grace?
What's So Amazing About Grace?
by Philip Yancey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Moving stories of grace, 23 Mar. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less."

Philip Yancey tells stories about the power of grace. This is a compelling and moving book that challenges the reader to set aside judgemental and self-righteous attitudes in the face of the grace that God shows the world. I think it's only fair to take the book as doing its best to answer the question of the title, and in large part it succeeds.

I do wish that Yancey made a little more effort to clearly ground his understanding of grace, and more conscientious readers may feel he does not do enough to either define grace or expound its Biblical roots. As a result, this book is not a practical guide that will help you to know exactly how to be gracious in the face of the complex situations that arise day to day. However, in seeking to inspire his readers to want to show God's love to other people (and experience it themselves) Yancey is successful.


Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
by Blaine Harden
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and terrifying story that challenges our comfortable complacency, 23 Mar. 2012
Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in a North Korean political prison. He is the only person who is known to have escaped and survive. This book, written by an American journalist who interviewed Shin in detail over some time, tells his story.

It is shocking. In telling the story of Shin's childhood, it describes how people are brutalised in the camp and how children are raised to betray each other and their parents for scraps of food. As he grows older, we see glimpses the impact of years of famine and economic mismanagement on North Korean society. It is an awful picture, and can only lead me to hope that the death of Kim Jong-Il might allow for radical and rapid change. It also left me feeling grateful for my situation.

The book describes Shin's difficult transition to living outside North Korea, and the circumstances faced by other North Korean defectors who are now living in South Korea and the US: this was fascinating, if hard to read. My understanding of North Korea, and the complexities that surround the notion of Korean unification, has deepened as a result of reading this book. (And I say that even after recently reading Bradley Martin's magnum opus, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader.)

The book is written very clearly and without pretension. Its style leads me to feel it might even be suitable for teenagers, though the content would lead me to hesitate recommending it to younger people! There is an extensive extract of this book available on The Guardian web site. I would recommend reading this extract to get a flavour of this book's content and approach.


Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading
Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading
by Eugene Peterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and appealing, 2 Mar. 2012
Eat This Book focuses on how to do more than merely read the Bible for facts and information. It centres on the notion of "lectio divina", or spiritual reading, which Peterson presents as a (or even the) traditional form of engagement with the Bible. There are four elements:

Lectio/Reading
Meditatio/Meditation or engagement
Oratio/Praying
Contemplatio/Contemplation, or as he explains it, living it out

He also offers some fascinating stories and examples that show how the Bible text has been shaped by historical context, and how translation has both helped and hindered our appreciation of it. One example: there are many words which were only found in the Greek New Testament. This led theologians to develop the theory of a unique language that only the Holy Spirit used. It was only as a result of archaeological research that people realised that the New Testament was actually written in down-to-earth street language - the very opposite of what they assumed. The Holy Spirit does not speak in elevated language at all, but the opposite, in a way that everyone can understand. What, Peterson asks, does this say to our love for complex language and religious phraseology?

Stories like this were fascinating and helpful. I found the model of spiritual reading helpful and will attempt to make use of it. I also appreciated Peterson's clear enthusiasm for the Bible and he shows how his scholarship has served to greatly deepen his understanding and love for it.

However, I did find the book rather slight: it feels rather like a collection of short essays than an in-depth study of its topic. I would have appreciated more developed thoughts on the stages of lectio divina (rather than one chapter on the whole thing). In some ways, I feel it presents an appealing ideal for engagement with Scripture, but Peterson leaves it without developed thoughts or insights as to how to go about it in daily life. As long as you approach this book as a broad introduction, rather than an in-depth guide to engaging with the Bible, you should enjoy it very much.


Ghostly Terror! (BBC Audiobooks)
Ghostly Terror! (BBC Audiobooks)
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No-frills horror classics, 31 Oct. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The three stories in this collection are acknowledged classics, each with their chilling moments. The narrators are well-chosen and do an excellent job. For reference, the stories are:

Canon Alberic's Scrapbook by MR James, read by Andrew Sachs
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman, read by Laurel Lefkow
The Beast With Five Fingers by WF Harvey, read by Stephen Pacey

In its own right, therefore, I would give this collection four stars. The stories are engaging and they suit the audiobook format. The language used in the stories remains accessible for modern listeners.

Aside from the overall quality of this product, however, it is worth asking whether to actually spend money on it. Given that these stories are all in the public domain, both the text and amateur audio recordings are available for free on the internet. I would hesitate to recommend buying this unless you are considering it as a gift for someone who is not very web-savvy.


King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus
King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus
by Timothy Keller
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving and thought-provoking, 19 Sept. 2011
King's Cross is an introduction to Jesus that walks the reader step-by-step through the gospel of Mark. Keller is an excellent guide: he brings insight and clarity, providing necessary context and dealing with hard questions. This book will be helpful both for people new to Jesus's teachings and life and for people who think they already know everything that matters (whether they are Christians or not). Keller writes clearly and accessibly - no jargon or impenetrable language here. Keller's combination of scholarship and psychological insight is refreshing, and I am sure it will reward re-readings in years to come.

The book is structured as two halves. The first part focusing on "The King", or Jesus's identity, and the second on "The Cross", or Jesus's mission/purpose. Keller makes a good case for this reflecting both the structure and ideas in Mark's gospel. Each chapter focuses either on a distinct phase or theme of Jesus's ministry, depending on how Mark's gospel presents things. This structure works: I read a chapter a day, which left me with plenty of insights and ideas to chew on.

(For some people, it might be relevant to say that the book reminded me in many ways of the Christianity Explored course, an introduction to Christianity that is also based on Mark's gospel. I think King's Cross would be an excellent way to follow-up a CE course, perhaps in the form of a book group or to pursue your own thoughts after attending.)

I would happily award this book five stars, but for two frustrations. The first is that Keller sometimes takes a big leap from the text: everything he presents makes sense in a wider Biblical context, but at times I was thinking "how did he get that out of what Mark said?". The second is that the writing style is merely colloquial and functional. Keller says in a postscript that the book was adapted by two colleagues from a series of sermons he preached on Mark's gospel, and sometimes this is clear. I appreciate that many readers may prefer this.


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