Profile for A Common Reader > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by A Common Reader
Top Reviewer Ranking: 38
Helpful Votes: 8680

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England)
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
Lila
Lila
Price: £5.69

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another little jewel from Marilynne Robinson, 18 Oct 2014
This review is from: Lila (Kindle Edition)
Marilynne Robinson came to fame with her novel Gilead in which an elderly small-town Congregational Minister John Ames reflects on his life and lives of his immediate family, particularly his second wife Lila and his seven year old son. In her second book Home, Robinson write about the family of John Ames best friend Robert Boughton, focusing on his son Jack, the black-sheep of the family who's reappearance after a break of several years resurrects a whole series of conflict within the family.

Lila is the third book in the series and returns to focus on a period a few years before Gilead, when a homeless woman comes to lives in a broken-down shack on the edge of Gilead and slowly starts to impact the community, eventually marrying John Ames, despite his great age. The book is "stand-alone" and does you don't have to read the other two first, although if you read this one you will probably want to go back and read Gilead and Home.

This book, like the others, is extremely well-written and it is immediately obvious that Robinson has taken great care with every sentence, somehow writing in the "voice" of Lila for much of the book but also bringing out the dignity and maturity of John Ames whenever he becomes the focus of the story. Lila was abandoned by her mother as a very young child and was brought up by an itinerant woman called Doll, who found the four-year old child living a precarious life on the steps of a rough and ready bar. Doll picks up the child and runs off with her, cuddling her in her shawl and finds an elderly lady who takes both Doll and Lila in for a while as they try to clean up the semi-savage child.

As we read of Lila, now an adult woman living in the shack in Gilead, the book keeps flashing back to lengthy passages in which we read Lila's story. Doll cared for Lila throughout her childhood and youth. Times were extremely hard and for much of the time they joined up with a small gang of itinerant workers who took on the most menial jobs on farmsteads in return for a few coins of perhaps for a few meals of potatoes and corn.

The child grew up to be fiercely self-reliant and we read her internal dialogue as she slowly fits in the the local community of Gilead, offering herself to tidy up a garden, to do a morning's ironing for a harassed mother, or to clean out a room. She works very hard and soon gains a reputation for reliability despite her very spiky manner. She has learned to trust nobody, but she somehow finds herself going to the local church from time to time where she meets the elderly minister, John Ames.

An unusual relationship develops between John Ames and Lila. Despite Lila's fierce independence, she finds herself longing for a more settled life and it would be spoiling the book to go on to say whether or not she finds happiness after her years of trouble.

The book is, like Robinson's other books, a little jewel. Her finely crafted text sometimes takes on a poetic feel and she is a master of those little denouements that bring a tear to the eyes.

Robinson is always very non-specific about the periods her books are written in and the communities in which they are set seems somehow to exist in a different time-zone and geographical region to the places around them. There is no mention of the surrounding cities or the paraphernalia of modern life and it would take very little adjustment to the text for them to be set in any century from the 17th to the 21st. This timelessness gives her books a classic feel which gives the reader a sense of entering another world where people go to church and listen attentively to sermons from elderly preachers before going home to deliver a casserole to a needy family up the road. This small-town atmosphere can be a little stultifying at times and I find I want to throw open the windows and let the real-world in but nevertheless, I can't fault Robinson for this - it's what she does and she certainly does it extremely well.


The Book of Strange New Things
The Book of Strange New Things
Price: £7.72

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The drama of life on a distant planet with plenty to think about along the way, 17 Oct 2014
Back in 2002 Michel Faber published a novel called The Crimson Petal and the White which Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian called "a supremely literary novel" and "dizzyingly accomplished" - a description which I totally agreed with. Looking back on this superb book I still feel it would be up in my top ten ever list (if I had such a thing). Since then I have been waiting for Michel Faber to write another book of equal quality and my hopes were raised when The Book of Strange New Things was published this summer. At 592 pages, it looked reassuringly long and the subject seemed sufficiently unusual for me to expect something really special here. I will tell you at the end of this review whether I found it.

It would seem that a vast and mysterious commercial company called UCIS have managed to colonise a remote planet. It is so remote that visitors to the planet have to be put into a state of suspended animation while travelling on the space-ship. When they arrive and are brought round, they find themselves in a bland, shopping-mall style building with a very relaxed community of engineers, scientists and medics, all of whom have been selected for having little to lose by spending large parts of their lives in this remote location.

Peter, a highly committed Christian, has been selected to travel to the planet because the planet has other inhabitants who require his services as a pastor. These are strange near-humanoid creatures (Peter names them the Oaseans from the word Oasis) who interact with the human colony by providing food in exchange for pharmaceutical drugs (quite what they do with them is never fully explained). A proportion of these creatures have been converted to Christianity by a previous human visitor but following his disappearance, the Oaseans threaten to withdraw the food supplies from the human colony unless they are supplied with another Christian teacher.

Peter visits the colony to find an extremely pious community of Oseans who seem well-versed in the basics of Christianity and immediately express their delight in having a new pastor. From a Christian point of view, this raises a whole set of questions about the universality of the faith, many of which were explored by C S Lewis in his "cosmic trilogy", Voyage to Venus, Perelandra, and Out of the Silent Planet (now re-published as The Space Trilogy). In fact the whole book bears some similarity in theme to Lewis's earlier work and I am sure Michel Faber is very familiar with the trilogy.

Although Peter Leigh is the main character in the book, two other women play a large part. His wife Beatrice (Bea) is a vitally significant character with whom Peter communicates via "The Shoot", a form of inter-galactic email. The author has included whole transcripts of this correspondence and it provides much of the drama as we read of changes happening on earth while Peter is away. Bea apparently rescued Peter when he was a young man from a life of drug addiction and alcoholism, converting him to Christianity. Peter and Bea are as close as any married couple can be and the separation has been extremely painful to them both despite the promise of huge financial rewards from Peter's work on the planet.

The other woman is "Grainger", a colleague in the UCIS community, and a damaged individual with scars of earlier self-harm on her arms, fiercely sceptical of all belief systems, and cynical about humanity and its capacity for good. Grainger is a very well-drawn personality who comes to play a big part in Peter's life despite her contempt for his belief system.

As Peter's relationship with the Oseans develops we learn more about this strange people. They take in every word their pastor tells them and seem to be every evangelists ideal convert. But what is really going on in their heads? Why do only 150 or so of the many thousands of other Oseans in the colony? Is it really possible for beings from utterly different planetary ec0-systems to communicate at all, and more importantly, can a human religion transfer so readily to an alien race?

Despite its length I read the book in about four days. There is something about it which draws you on and there is no doubt that it is a "good read". Peter is annoying in various ways as only those with a rigid belief system can be. You want to kick him sometimes for his lack of self-insight and lack of questioning as to why UCIS have paid so much money to have him act as "pastor" to the Osean community. Nothing comes for free in the life of space exploration and he should have spent more time wondering what his mission was really all about.

The two women in Peter's life are very well-drawn, Bea for her strength of character and her ability to live alone on a decaying planet and Grainger for the way she has grappled with her own nightmares and found a way of surviving. Peter seems to be a child compared to these two women, so well described by Bea in the final missive via The Shoot.

Although this is an interesting book and well-written, it would be difficult to give it a significance beyond that of other high quality science-fiction novels. I kept looking for some deeper meaning to it which would explain why a writer capable of such a magnificent work as The Crimson Petal and the White would spend so much time writing it, but having finished it two or three days ago and spent much time pondering it, I've come to the conclusion that it's just a very good story. The theological aspects are interesting but C S Lewis did it rather better many years ago. Having said that, there's no reason why a writer shouldn't write a very good story for its own sake, so on that basis, I'd say this book is a very good read, definitely highly entertaining, but as a work of literature it's nowhere near the pinnacle of The Crimson Petal.


Charles Wilson Men's Button Neck Cotton Jumper with Chambray Placket
Charles Wilson Men's Button Neck Cotton Jumper with Chambray Placket
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £14.95 - £24.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sort of product you'd find in expensive independent shops, 12 Oct 2014
This is a very high quality jumper. It is made of 100% cotton, and is substantial in weight but not too heavy. I've had jumpers like this made of acrylic or polyester and the cotton feels like a much better fabric and is of course wholly natural. The whole garment feels like it would have easily cost the full price in the shops - even more.

The jumper is long enough in body and arms and a really great fit on the body (I usually find I'm a "large" for jumpers and this one fits me better than most).

The ribbed collar and cuffs look good, and the "chambray placket" (the trim behind the buttons and button holes looks really good. My jumper is navy blue, and it's quite a dark navy and looks very smart.

The jumper will machine wash at 40 degrees and the laundry marks say tumble dry, normal, low heat.

I'm not used to buying clothing on Amazon, but would have no hesitation in buying from the Charles Wilson range which to me looks like the sort of product you'd find in expensive independent shops.


Charles Wilson Zip Neck Cotton Jumper (Large, Plain Black)
Charles Wilson Zip Neck Cotton Jumper (Large, Plain Black)
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £17.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable value for this quality garment, 12 Oct 2014
I am very impressed with this jumper. Made of 100% cotton, it feels like a quality garment - substantial in weight but not too heavy, long enough in body and arms and a really great fit (with a chest measurement of about 39 inches, I usually find I'm a "large" for jumpers and this one fits me better than most and I can still wear it over a shirt). The whole garment feels like it would have easily cost the full price in the shops - even more.

The ribbed collar and cuffs look good, and I like the contrasting inner lining to the collar which gives the jumper a touch of class.

The manufacturers have not skimped on the zip fastener which looks to be quite strong and is toned in with the jumper colour-wise. I think the zip will easily last the life of the garment.

The jumper will machine wash at 40 degrees and the laundry marks say tumble dry, normal, low heat.

I'm not used to buying clothing on Amazon, but would have no hesitation in buying from the Charles Wilson range which to me looks like the sort of product you'd find in expensive independent shops.


OxyLED Cree 500 Lumen Bright LED Flashlight Torch, Light Lamp for Emergency / Safety / Security (Adjustable Zoomable Focus, 3 Brightness Levels plus Strobe, Battery Included)
OxyLED Cree 500 Lumen Bright LED Flashlight Torch, Light Lamp for Emergency / Safety / Security (Adjustable Zoomable Focus, 3 Brightness Levels plus Strobe, Battery Included)
Offered by Thousand Shores
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very powerful and well-made torch, 11 Oct 2014
This flashlight comes in a sturdy plastic case which contains the torch itself, a mains charger and lead, the rechargeable battery, a holder for three AAA batteries (should you wish to use them instead of the rechargeable battery) and an instruction manual.

This flashlight is the sturdiest torch I have ever seen. The body is made of aluminium alloy and the whole torch feels satisfyingly robust. The light is incredibly powerful - I took it outside the garden and it's almost like shining a spotlight into the night. I would advise against looking into the beam or shining it into the face of anyone as it would easily dazzle you.

The telescopic zoom system means that the beam is adjustable from a very bright, highly focused light to a much wider beam suitable for scanning a much wider area. The zoom function is very easy to operate - you just pull out the front of the torch until you have the zoom you require. The torch has three power levels and a flashing function.

I am very impressed with the build quality and the power of this torch. It gives the impression of the sort of torch which would be used by the security services of other professionals. It is quite small and would be ideal to carry with you on a night walk or to keep in the glove compartment of your car.


Hidden Knowledge
Hidden Knowledge
Price: £6.02

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ... the 5 star reviews on Amazon which I am pleased to add to, 7 Oct 2014
This review is from: Hidden Knowledge (Kindle Edition)
I have never read anything by Bernardine Bishop before but was drawn to this by reading a review of it in the Sunday Times and then by the 5 star reviews on Amazon which I am pleased to add to. Although clerical abuse features in the book, I wouldn't say that it's the only theme and I was reminded of William Nicholson's books (The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life, All the Hopeful Lovers, The Golden Hour) in the way it focuses on a small community of people and explores the often complex relationships between them.

We have two groups of people here. Romola Tree has two brothers. One brother, Hereward, is a successful author and has a much younger female partner Carina. For much of the book, Hereward lies in a coma after a complex heart operation. The other brother, Father Roger Tree, is suspended from the priesthood and is in trouble with the law, having had a complaint about him abusing a young boy many years ago. Roger comes to live with his sister Romola while awaiting trial and we read much about his back story and what led him to the place he finds himself in now.

The other group of people centres around another abused boy and his mother Betty and and sister Julia. Ten year old Mark drowned while on a school trip twenty years before despite an attempt to rescue him by Father Roger Tree who was school chaplain at the time. Betty has had much to deal with in her life and is now coming to terms with widowhood. Daughter Julia has challenges of her own, being conscious of the ticking away of her biological clock despite her successful career in medicine.

Together, these characters provide Bernardine Bishop with plenty of scope for a rich and complex human drama. The pace is slow, but the story unfolds in a very satisfying way and I found myself being drawn through the pages quickly, and wanting to get back to the book whenever I put it down. As a male reader, I found much of the story rather female oriented, but the quality of the writing transcends gender issues.

he book handles the issue of clerical abuse rather well - Father Roger seems to have rather an easy time of it for much of the book and although we read of his personal struggles (and also the subsequent struggles of his victims), he seems to be a pleasant and affable character who is perhaps a little too accepting of his sexual predilections in view of his calling. But then that is not the end of the story and we see the horror of what he did much clearer when we see it through the eyes of the boy's mother, Betty, who turns out to have far more force of character than was evident at the start of the book.

If I have one small criticism of the book it is that the characters and "voices" of Romola and Julia are very alike and I sometimes found that I forgot which one I was reading about. This is more a reflection on my occasional inattention than much of a fault in the author's writing.

This is definitely a "good read" and one which would keep book groups very happy because there is much to discuss in the themes of the book and the way they are handled by the author. I have no hesitation in giving it five stars.


Because She Loves Me
Because She Loves Me
by Mark Edwards
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.25

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Andrew begins to have doubts about Charlie but he is so much in love with her he denies all the evidence that she ..., 4 Oct 2014
This review is from: Because She Loves Me (Paperback)
The story is told by Andrew Sumner, having treatment in hospital for a detached retina. While in hospital he meets Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Summers and is instantly attracted to her and manages to get a date with her. The attraction is mutual and they rapidly fall into an intense relationship, unable to bear a moment outside each other's arms. Slowly over the weeks, Andrew begins to have doubts about Charlie but he is so much in love with her he denies all the evidence that she might not be quite what she seems. She is incredibly jealous of any other women who come near Andrew, and seems to take a great interest in finding out about his personal history, while giving away very little of her own.

The story rapidly becomes worryingly sinister and bad luck seems to follow Andrew and even his friends around. We soon find ourselves in a helter skelter of accusations and recriminations, bringing great danger to Andrew and it becomes obvious that in carrying on this relationship with Charlie, Andrew maybe risking his life and even the lives of those closest to him.

But is all what it seems? There are two sides to every story and the truth may not be quite what it seems.

This is an easy to read novel, certainly a thriller, with loads of entertainment value. I'm giving it four stars because here and there my credibility was stretched a little too much. On the whole it's a great read and Mark Edwards has done a great job as is shown by the large number of positive reviews. Perhaps I'm being too picky.


Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 (PC/Mac)
Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 (PC/Mac)
Price: £79.95

62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-worthwhile enhancement to already great software, 27 Sep 2014
I have been using Elements for a very long time now (since version 4 in fact) and I am still convinced that it is the best software for editing digital photographs. For doing the fine detail stuff like cloning out distractions, cropping and size adjustments, fixing lighting problems and fine-tuning colour, there's just nothing better - and I've tried most of the competition. The layering features are second to none although there are enough guided edits in the software for you not to have to delve down into the more complex stuff if you don't want to.

The Organiser is really useful and allows you to catalogue vast numbers of photographs using keywords, face recognition or location. I have nearly 30,000 digital images catalogued in Elements and have never found any inadequacies in the system.

This new version offers a variety of new features and they all seem to work really well. The new Photomerge Compose is very clever at moving objects (people for example) from one photo to another. You want to add someone into a group photo? This was quiet tricky before but now you just select them and paste them in and Elements adjusts the colour and lighting to make the new position look really natural.

The crop suggestions are quite useful, being based on classic compositional guides such as the "rule of thirds".

What's really great is the enhanced selection tools - for example, it's always been difficult to select an object with complex edges like a head of hair. Now you just do a bit of nudging in and out and you get a very fine-tuned selection.

Over the years Elements has become a very sophisticated editing tool but recent releases like 13 have concentrated on making it easier to use. The new Effects menu lets you do all sorts of things with a single click like choosing from a number of black and white conversions or selecting a pencil sketch option. There's a separate set of textures which can be added to a photo with a single click and also a good range of frames which can surround your photograph.

I'm still getting used to the new welcome screen which is called eLive. This gives lots of panels offering help with the new version, videos, examples, projects and general inspiration for better edits. The content on eLive is going to change regularly and I think it's going to be a really nice feature.

Elements is a complete photo organising and edit package in itself but you may like to use it as I do in conjunction with Adobe.Lightroom where it becomes the secondary editor. If you are already a Lightroom user, in my opinion you also need Elements for the detailed functions which are not included in Lightroom particularly the Photomerge features.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2014 9:10 PM BST


Bolse® 60W / 12-Amp 7-Port Fast Charging USB Wall / Desktop Charging Station With SmartICᵀᴹ Technology - Full Speed Charging for iPhone 5, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Touch Screen Tablet, Cell Phone, MP3 Player, (AC 110-220V International), Detachable 5 ft / 1.5 M Power Cord
Bolse® 60W / 12-Amp 7-Port Fast Charging USB Wall / Desktop Charging Station With SmartICᵀᴹ Technology - Full Speed Charging for iPhone 5, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Touch Screen Tablet, Cell Phone, MP3 Player, (AC 110-220V International), Detachable 5 ft / 1.5 M Power Cord
Offered by T.M. Enterprise
Price: £39.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does things no other charger can do, 26 Sep 2014
The great benefit of this charger over others is that it contains some very clever technology which is able to detect what device you are plugging into it and then deliver exactly the right rate of charge to it. Any one of the seven sockets can be used for your device and you can charge multiple devices at the same time. The instructions that come with the charger say that "smart ports dynamically adapt to the charging pin signal required by each device to accept a charge".

The charger works best if you use the original USB cable that came with your device, but I have sometimes mixed up the cables and the devices still seem to charge up perfectly well. I haven't done any comparative tests but the charger seems to charge my devices quicker than usual method.

An LED light is illuminated when a device is being charged and this will flash when the device is charged up. This is an advantage over the usual charger plugs where you just have to leave them in for as long as you think necessary.

The charger gives the impression of being very well-made, feeling nice and solid. A 1.5 metre power cord is supplied and this has a useful velcro band to go round it if you want to coil up part of the cord. The instructions say that the charger is fully protected against over-heating, over-current and short circuiting so you should be able to leave it on over-night or when you go out.

It would be a good idea to find a place where you can leave the charger plugged in as you don't want to keep moving it around the house with all the cables attached. It might be an idea to fix it to the wall or to a desk with sticky pads.

All in all, this is a very good product with quality construction and a high level of technology to do something nothing else can - charge up to seven devices at the same time, with no need to worry about which socket they are plugged into.


Ipow Pastorable Flower Floral Canvas Double Zipper Large Make Up Cosmetic Pen Pencil Stationery Storage Pouch Bag Case, Set of 4
Ipow Pastorable Flower Floral Canvas Double Zipper Large Make Up Cosmetic Pen Pencil Stationery Storage Pouch Bag Case, Set of 4
Offered by soaiy
Price: £6.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A useful and attractive gift for women and girls, 25 Sep 2014
I bought these for the four women in my life, my wife, my daughter and my two grand-daughters and I can honestly say that all four are delighted with these zip-up bags. My wife uses hers as an extra little cosmetic bag to take around in her smaller hand-bag, my daughter keeps her new iPhone in hers and my grand-daughters use them for pens and pencils.

They all like the double zip compartments which make them more flexible than most bags. The designs are really nice, being in a floral or pastoral theme and the canvas construction means that they should be fairly durable. The zips on all four bags work fine.

At this price it's well worth buying four to keep in store as small gifts for any occasion - my wife's book group give each other little gifts at Christmas and she says that these would be ideal. My daughter says they would make ideal gifts for children's parties - I am sure that any older girl would be delighted to receive one.

Altogether a great product and well worth the money.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20