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A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England)
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The Leipzig Affair
The Leipzig Affair
by Fiona Rintoul
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.96

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine novel which held me enthralled until I finished it, 25 Nov 2014
This review is from: The Leipzig Affair (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
1985 was not a good year to live in The German Democratic Republic. While the country was still in the grip of an oppressive communist government, the wealth and freedoms of the west were becoming ever more visible thanks to the population’s exposure to western radio and television. Only the most loyal communists could continue the pretence that the government of Eric Honecker was leading the country to prosperity and economic equivalence with the west. Citizens needed a rare type of party commitment to ask with any degree of sincerity, “why would you want more than three brands of shampoo in the shops?” when packages from the west contained unheard of bounty.

The book is the story of Magda and Robert, two young people from both sides of the almost unbreachable political divide of West and East. After a period of rebellion against her government, Magda has seen that there is no future in resisting the powerful state with it’s STASI secret police and it’s control of all job opportunities. She is now training to be an official translator while continuing friendships with her old crowd of radicals and planning for the day when she will be able to flee to the West.

Meanwhile, over in Scotland, Robert is writing a thesis on Heinrich Heine and wondering whether to study iu West or East Germany. Although the Heine archive is in Dusseldorf, his application to study there gets lost by a drunk lecturer and he instead gets offered a student exchange in Leipzig in the communist East.

The book alternates chapters in the voices of Robert and Magda. In this way we learn that Robert can have no comprehension of the complexity of Magda’s life. Her brother was an athlete who was poisoned by his trainer through the over-use of steroids. This has affected Magda’s whole attitude to her nation and it is only through her well-connected father that she has been able to get a job as a trainee translator.

Magda seems unable to see Robert as a person in his own right, but only as “the Westerner”, someone who can be used to advance her own plans for escape. Robert’s naivety leads him to think that his relationship with Magda is just what it seems, but who is Magda’s friend Marek who has such a hold on her? Is he mentor, ex-lover or maybe something more sinister?

These are the bare bones of the story but there is far more to it than this. The book is expertly written and seems to me to be a very comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in the East German state. Fiona Rintoul is to be congratulated on her debut novel which and plunged me into the world of the old German Democratic Republic and reminds me of how crippling to the human spirit a life under Communism must have been.


Charles Wilson Winter Woven Neck Scarf (One Size, Grey Stripe)
Charles Wilson Winter Woven Neck Scarf (One Size, Grey Stripe)
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £11.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gorgeous scarf - warm and also very attractive, 24 Nov 2014
Another superb product from Charles Wilson - how they do it for the price never ceases to amaze me.

This is a lovely scarf (I have the orange one with multi-coloured stripes), soft and warm yet nice and thin so it's not too bulky to wear under a jacket or coat. The colour range in the scarf means that it goes with just about any colour garment - it looks particularly good with a navy jacket and brightens is up no end.

It's 180cm long which means that it wraps round my neck twice and still has enough length to hand down onto my chest.

I wore it yesterday while meeting friends and relatives for a meal in a pub - several people commented on how much they like my scarf and asked where I got it from.

It's made of 100% acrylic so is easy to wash and if you come in from the rain it seems to dry in just a few minutes. It feels lovely and soft like cashmere. The tassels are a nice touch and look as though they are properly finished and won't unravel.

All in all, a great present for anyone or get one for yourself - it will definitely enhance your winter wardrobe.


PIANO FROM A 4TH STOREY WINDOW
PIANO FROM A 4TH STOREY WINDOW
Price: £2.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Following a painful breakup from her last boyfriend, 12 Nov 2014
Piano from a 4th Storey Window by Jenny Morton Potts is the story of a full-blown, head-over-heels romance with highs and lows both heavenly and hellish along the way.

Marin Strang is a Spanish teacher who's life hasn't quite worked out as she expected, leaving her single and existing on temporary teaching contracts, rootless and at a loose end for much of her time. Marin was brought up in a family of strict Jehovah's Witnesses but one which mixed adherence to religion with real relationship difficulties which blight her to this day. She has been "dis-fellowshipped" by the JWs but has the remnants of a relationship with her ageing father who remains a loyal member.

"Marin’s childhood was the ideal preparation for solitude, finding her membership of the sect separating her from her natural friends at school. She developed, "an isolation to shield her from occasional major hurt. Or an isolation which drip fed daily minor hurt. She’d had so much practice at being on her own, she should manage it with ease".

Following a painful breakup from her last boyfriend, Marin finds herself wandering around The Lanes in Brighton (a quaint shopping area famed for its boutiques and quirky shops). She stops for a coffee at a café called Number 8 and catches a glimpse of an enticing social melée revolving around the café, particularly when she sees and hears Lawrence Fyre, a tall, unkempt, but charismatic individual who owns Sargasso Books in The Lanes. Marin returns to the café and somehow finds herself being invited to a literary event at the book-shop, and before long she finds herself attracting the attention of Lawrence Fyre.

Marin and Lawrence embark on an intense relationship which bewilders Marin with it's intensity. Lawrence seems to fall madly in love with her, but somewhere lurking in the background is Nina, a mysterious female who seems to be a Lawrence's lode-stone. Obviously Lawrence and Nina were lovers but are they still? Why does he talk about her so much, and why does she keep popping up in the conversation with Lawrence's friends?

I loved this book. As I read it, I found myself impressed by the ease with which Jenny Morton Potts takes off into a sort of lyrical prose which captures, with great facility, the powerful emotions released by the Lawrence/Marin relationship.


Charles Wilson Men's Full Zip Fine Knit Cotton Jumper
Charles Wilson Men's Full Zip Fine Knit Cotton Jumper
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £16.95 - £22.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A very smart and stylish zipped jumper, 28 Oct 2014
I'd never thought of having a jumper with a full-length zip before and am pleasantly surprised how practical it is. This jumper is far too stylish to be thought of as a "cardigan" - it's definitely a fashion garment, yet the zip gives it great flexibility and on one chilly morning I was quite pleased to be able to pull the zip right to the top of the collar - no need for a scarf!

The jumper is light-weight and made of cotton, but because of its close-weave, it has plenty of warmth in it. I think it would look equally good with jeans or with smarter trousers and I would imagine the jumper would be suitable for any age group, young or older. I think it looks best over a t-shirt but no doubt you could wear it over a shirt with a collar as well.

My chest size is 38 but am quite tall and the jumper's size "large" is a snug fit being plenty long enough in body and arms.

The price listed on Amazon is exceptionally good value. I would be happy to pay the full price for this jumper and in my opinion it is the sort of thing you would find in independent high street stores or high-end department stores like Debenhams or House of Fraser.

You can wash this in a machine, but not tumble dry. Frankly I'd be inclined to hand-wash it and I'm sure it will dry naturally quite quickly.


Charles Wilson Heritage Range Men's Button Neck Premium Wool Blend Jumper
Charles Wilson Heritage Range Men's Button Neck Premium Wool Blend Jumper
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £16.95 - £24.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A snug winter jumper, well-made and excellent value, 28 Oct 2014
This wool blend jumper is perfect for winter days, being stylish and warm thanks to the wool mixture. So often jumpers like this are purely synthetic, but this wool/cotton blend feels like a much more natural fabric, and yet the nylon (15%) gives it a nice elasticity which means that it gives without stretching.

The colour is a pale beige with a contrasting blue stripe inside the collar which makes it look really good with jeans or other blue trousers (although it's unobtrusive enough not to clash with trousers in other colours.

The fit is roomy enough that you can wear a collared shirt underneath it, or just a t-shirt. The ribbed collar and cuffs are a nice touch and make this feel like a quality jumper. I also like the little leather tab on the zip-pull.

I can't imagine how Charles Wilson sell their jumpers for these prices on Amazon. They are the sort of garment which you'd find in a independent high street shop or boutique, or perhaps a high end chain store like House of Fraser or Debenhams and I would have been happy to pay the full price for this jumper.

Altogether a great quality jumper and well worth the five stars I've given it.


Charles Wilson Heritage Range Men's Zip Neck Premium Wool Blend Jumper
Charles Wilson Heritage Range Men's Zip Neck Premium Wool Blend Jumper
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £16.95 - £24.95

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stylish and well-made garment from a reliable manufacturer., 26 Oct 2014
I have other Charles Wilson garments and am happy with them all. It is getting known as a reliable brand for high quality and stylish menswear. I am delighted with this wool-blend jumper which is ideal for autumn/winter wear. The blend of the weave is very practical combining all the benefits of wool, cotton and nylon, being warm, not too heavy and also with some give in it.

I like the style very much - the part zipped neck is very convenient and the contrasting stripe in the inner collar looks very good (my jumper is in "Bastion Grey" and the stripe is navy). The ribbing on the collar, sleeves and at the bottom of the jumper is not too thick. You can fold the collar down if you want, but it's not too long and personally I wear it up most of the time. I wear the jumper over a t-shirt but you could easily wear it over a normal shirt with a collar.

It has a really solid looking metal zip fastener and one nice touch is the leather tab attached to the zip pull.

My chest size is 38 and I am quite tall and the jumper's size "large" and is a good fit being plenty long enough in body and arms.

Frankly, the price listed on Amazon is incredibly good value. I would happily pay the full price for this jumper and it is the sort of thing you would find in independent retailers pr one of the better quality chain stores like M&S, Debenhams or House of Fraser. I hate to thing what it would cost if I'd bought it from one of those outlets rather than getting it via Amazon.

The jumper would be suitable for any age group, young or older and would make a perfect Christmas present for any man.


Charles Wilson Men's Zip Neck Fine Knit Cotton Jumper
Charles Wilson Men's Zip Neck Fine Knit Cotton Jumper
Offered by Charles Wilson Clothing
Price: £16.95 - £22.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb quality jumper, very modern in style, 26 Oct 2014
I am very pleased to have this Charles Wilson lightweight jumper, ideal for spring/autumn or to wear under a jacket in winter. My wife loves the look of it and it's so much better than the boring old crew-neck jumpers I have in my drawer.

I like the style very much - the part zipped neck is very convenient and the striped blue and white lining to the collar looks very good. The material is in a fine-weave making the jumper look very smart - it would look equally good with jeans or with smart trousers. I would imagine the jumper would be suitable for any age group, young or older.

My chest size is 38 but am quite tall and the jumper's size "large" is a snug fit being plenty long enough in body and arms.

The dark navy colour work well with this garment particularly with the white trim round the elasticated cuff and the collar lining.

Frankly, the price listed on Amzon is incredibly good value. I would happily pay the full price for this jumper and it is the sort of thing you would find in independent retailers rather than your average chain store. I hate to thing what it would cost if it were in M&S or Debenhams - certainly considerably more than here on Amazon.


High Tone Quality! PChero Wireless Bluetooth CSR v4.0 Sport Stereo Headset Headphones - Built in Mic - iDeal for iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6 5S 5 4S, iPad 5 4 3 2, iPad Air, iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy S5 S4 S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 3 2, HTC One, Sony, LG, Bluetooth Enabled Devices - Mobile Phones, Smartphones, MP3 Players, Tablets, Laptop PC - using VOIP, SKYPE and Online Talking Sold by P&Cstore [Blue]
High Tone Quality! PChero Wireless Bluetooth CSR v4.0 Sport Stereo Headset Headphones - Built in Mic - iDeal for iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6 5S 5 4S, iPad 5 4 3 2, iPad Air, iPad mini, Samsung Galaxy S5 S4 S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 3 2, HTC One, Sony, LG, Bluetooth Enabled Devices - Mobile Phones, Smartphones, MP3 Players, Tablets, Laptop PC - using VOIP, SKYPE and Online Talking Sold by P&Cstore [Blue]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb little headphones with great sound quality, 26 Oct 2014
These are superb little headphones and are very easy to use and also give great sound quality.

I took them out of the packaging and was immediately impressed by how light in weight they are. They look very attractive with black and blue finish with clearly marked control buttons. The bendy bar connecting the two ear-pieces automatically retracts to the storage position but to put them on your head you just twist one of the earpieces and pull both of them onto your ears from behind your head.

They are very comfortable to wear. I haven't used headphones without a cable before and I found the freedom of movement to much better.

The headset has an on off switch which you hold down for three seconds to turn off or on - a voice comes on saying power on or power off appropriately and red light flashes. A blue light flashes while the unit is pairing with a device such as a tablet of phone. The headset connected to my Nexus tablet (Android) straightaway.

I played some mp3 music tracks through the headset and the forward, back and play/pause buttons on the headset all worked fine.

The unit also comes with a USB cable to plug into a laptop or desktop PC. There is a micro USB connector which plugs into the headset for charging or for use via the PC on Skype etc using the inbuilt microphone.

I didn't test the mobile phone use as I don't have a smartphone but I all the appropriate buttons are on the headset and I notice that when you get a call you can simply say yes or no to answer or reject the call.

This is a lovely little bit of technology. I love the way that when you take them off they automatically retract together and can be slipped into a pocket. The bluetooth pairing is excellent an most importantly the sound quality is very good for the size of the headset.


The Betrayers
The Betrayers
by David Bezmozgis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed reading this unusual book, 24 Oct 2014
This review is from: The Betrayers (Paperback)
I enjoyed reading this unusual book, The Betrayers, which charts a few days in the life of senior Israeli politician Baruch Kotler as he travels to Yalta to escape press coverage of his extra-marital affair. Along the way we pick up on Baruch’s intriguing back-story as a Soviet dissident, and also meet the man who denounced him to the authorities many years ago in Russia.

In Yalta, the hotel the couple intended to stay in is full and so by a long chain of coincidences they end up staying in a guest-house owned by the wife of Vladimir Tankilevich, the very person who denounced Baruch back in Soviet Russia, leading to his incarceration.

Tankilevich has fallen on hard times. Life in Yalta for a 70 year-old Jew and his wife is a life of struggle, dependant in part on a small stipend from the Jewish centre. This stipend comes with rules and regulations which make life burdensome for the aging Tankilevich and he makes one last attempt to explain his position to the administrator of the stipend fund, a stern and imperious woman who knows of his treachery back in Russia and seems to enjoy humiliating Tankilevich.

Before long Vladimir Tankilevich and Baruch Kotler realise who each other is and we are treated to a long extended discourse with them as they relive their pasts and discover that perhaps things were not what they seemed at the time.

While this makes for a good story in itself, the enjoyment of the book comes from the many descriptive passages. Baruch had several childhood holidays in Yalta and he reminisces about his athletic father’s frustration at his son who had no sporting ability whatsoever. Baruch’s father made him run races along the promenade and now Baruch makes Leora time him as he tries once again to run to a distant post while amused spectators “gaze with benign amusement at the spectacle of the little pot-bellied Jew, chugging along the promenade, knees and elbows pumping”.

Despite the serious theme, the book author has a light touch and a sardonic humour creeps in to every scene and there are many illuminating word pictures of life in Yalta.

Apart from a very good story, well told, The Betrayers explores the idea of betrayal, which runs through every theme in the book. Baruch was betrayed while in Soviet Russia, but he has betrayed his wife and family in various ways, and Tankilevich, who at first seems to be the arch-betrayer, seems to have been acting to save his son from other betrayals, but ultimately is betrayed by his son. Nobody is allowed to have simple motives, but all seem stained by impossible choices, badly made.

Altogether, this is a very good read, confirming David Bezmozgis as a writer to follow with interest. With only ten years of published writing behind him we can hopefully expect that he will write many more of his well-written and unusual books.


Lila
Lila
Price: £5.69

9 of 10 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.


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