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A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England)

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Alphabet House
Alphabet House
by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking new take on the World War 2 novel - supsenseful and terrifying, 18 Aug 2014
This review is from: Alphabet House (Paperback)
Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen is to my mind one of the best of the Scando-Crime wave of authors. A writer of tense, edgy novels, with a terrific build-up of suspense, his latest novel, Alphabet House is no exception and is not a book for the faint-hearted.

In his introduction, Adler-Olsen writes, "I am the son of a psychiatrist and grew up in the surroundings of 'lunatic asylums', as they were called in Denmark" (at the time). In his new novel, he sets such a place in the context of Nazi Germany, to terrifying effect.

Bryan and James are flying a reconniasance flight over western Germany, taking photographs of new military installations. Their plane is shot down near a railway line and when a group of German soldiers sees them, rather than giving them the opportunity to surrender, they start firing at them. The two British flyers manage to run towards the railway and fling themselves onto a passing train. Eventually the two men are able to clamber up and get into a carriage, only to find that it is full of war-wounded Nazi soldiers returning to the homeland for recuperation. The patients seem to be untended and the two men quickly find two who have died in the night and tip them off the train and take their places on their mattresses.

I am not going to spoil the book for future readers and will only say what the book description says - Bryan and James have mistakenly swapped places with two wounded mental patients and soon find themselves entering the terrible Alphabet House, a recuperation centre for shell-shocked and otherwise traumatised soldiers. Worse, the main objective of the hospital is to get men fit enough to return to the Eastern Front where the Russians are making huge advances against the nearly-defeated German Army.

With a set-up like this, it is not difficult to imagine the opportunities for a writer like Adler-Olsen to write a graphically horrific and suspenseful novel. We meet malingerers trying to pretend to be mad in order to avoid further service (and trying to escape the inevitable bullet in the head if they are find out). We meet every type of corruption among patients and officers - Bryan and James have a nightmarish job to avoid being found out among the genuinely insane and those who are just terrified of being sent back to fight another day.

The book is about friendship and mutual support in terrible circumstances. It's about mental illness and the near-mediaeval treatments carried out by medical orderlies in Nazi Germany. For a new take on World War 2, it's second to none, and I can't help but admire the author for his imagination and skill in maintaining the pace the book right to the end. A very unusual read which I am sure will delight fans of Adler-Olsen and also win him many more.

The Knot
The Knot
by Mark Watson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story of a wedding photographer, with some surprises along the way, 17 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Knot (Paperback)
In The Knot, we read the life story of wedding photographer Dominic Kitchen as he grows from boyhood to late middle age. Dominic is brought up in the London suburbs in a close family, his older brother mocking him in childhood and being patronising in adult-hood, while his older sister Victoria provides him with the friendship and support which other family members seem to withhold. The book explores Dominic's relationship with Victoria at great length, from childhood holidays in Southwold, through to Victoria's glamorous later life, in which her need for support leads Dominic to repay her for the strength she provided him in earlier years.

I enjoyed reading about Dominic's journey into photography, form helping out in a photographic shop on Saturday mornings, to being asked to help out on shoots and eventually becoming a partner in the business. Mark Watson gives us many stories about wedding days in which his comic talents come into their own.

However, the book is far from being a comedy, because it deals with some deep issues which of which is only revealed towards the end of the book and comes as a great surprise to Dominic and to we readers.

I enjoyed the book and found it to be a good read. I've not given it five stars, because at times I felt it lost it's pace and I found myself speed reading some sections when not much was happening. On the whole, I think Mark Watson has done very well with it though and I look forward to trying his new book Hotel Alpha which looks like a completely different type of novel.

Summer House with Swimming Pool
Summer House with Swimming Pool
by Herman Koch
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking at times, but a compelling read, 17 Aug 2014
Dutch Herman Koch became known to British readers through his black comedy The Dinner, which I thought was a very good read. I jumped at the opportunity to read his new book Summer House with Swimming Pool and was not disappointed.

Marc Schlosser is a doctor in need of a career change. He is a bit of a burnt-out case and takes no pleasure in dealing with his patients. He has a reputation for prescribing them anything they want without asking too many questions and his patients rely on him to indulge their medical worries by listening to their litanies of complaints. What they don't know is that his mind his elsewhere and he has a general contempt for their hypochondria.

One of his patients, film director Ralph Meir invites Mark and his young family to stay with him at his summer house on the coast. Marc's wife is reluctant to go, but Marc arranges for his family to go camping nearby Meir's holiday home and needless to say, the soon end up moving in with the rather sinister Meir and his film industry friends.

We soon find ourselves embroiled in a terrible family incident, turning the pages eagerly to find out what happens next. The novel focuses on the problems of managing young teens who want to behave as adults while not having the wisdom and experience to be left entirely on their own. What is the borderline between childhood and adulthood? When should we let go? Do we really ever know what is going on in our children's minds?

Be warned, as with The Dinner, this is not a comfortable read. Not only do we read of the events which happen on holiday, but we also hear much about the inner workings of a cynical doctor's mind as he examines patients in the most intimate way, commenting on his disgust at the things he has to see and do. You will only hope that your own doctor is less jaded than this one!

If you have the stomach for it, this is a very good read. I enjoyed it and towards the end I couldn't put it down. It won't make you feel happy, but it will certainly make you think about family life and the reality behind our public faces.

by Gerald Seymour
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another gripping page-turner from the master of the MI5 genre, 14 Aug 2014
This review is from: Vagabond (Hardcover)
I have read every one of Seymour's novels and have enjoyed them all. Some however stand out more than others and Vagabond is one of these. Seymour typically focuses on "old school" members of the security services who are either at the end of their careers or have just retired. A special job needs to be done which lacks the fashionable appeal to interest younger or more mainstream agents, and so the service gives it to those with a history going back to the Cold War or to the days of the IRA conflcts.

In Vagabond we meet Daniel Curnow, who now spends his time in retirement ferrying groups of WW2 tourists around the battlefields and landing beaches of Normandy. Daniel was a successful MI5 operative in Northern Ireland in the days of the Troubles, and memories of his time in the service refuse to let him rest in peace in France.

Back in London, a new threat is emerging. Groups of Irish nationalists are refusing to accept the new settlement in which members of the IRA are now in government, making compromises with the British in order to have a comfortable life themselves and to achieve a phony peace. One such, Malachy Riordan, has been training young men in terrorist skills and has now made contact with a small-time cigarette smuggler (and part time agent) called Ralph Exton who is able to obtain weapons from a retired and embittered Russian officer who is now based in the Czech Republic.

The old guard in MI5 decide to order Daniel Curnow back from retirement to put a stop to the arms exchange, placing him under the command of a rookie female MI5 officer, thus setting the scene for another great Seymour adventure as Curnow travels to Prague to intercept the weapons deal. Nothing is as it seems however, and there are many tense scenes as murder and mayhem threatens to overturn all the carefully made plans.

As with all Seymour's books, while the story is strong, it is the characters who get under your skin. By the end of the book, Daniel Curnow became one of the most memorable characters I have met in a novel and when the book ended I was sorry to lose track of him. Altogether, this is another fantastic read from Seymour and makes me want to re-read some of his earlier work - but there are so many of them I wouldn't know where to start. A prolific and high-quality author, If you've not read him yet, start here with Vagabone.

In Search of Lost Time [volumes 1 to 7]
In Search of Lost Time [volumes 1 to 7]
Price: 1.53

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing to be able to carry this rouond on a Kindle, 14 Aug 2014
This is the most incredible value I have ever seen on the Kindle. Like so many people I have struggled to read the seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, partly because of the sheer inconvenience of lugging the books around with me. Now I have all seven volumes on my Kindle for a ridiculously low price. Wikipedia tells me that there are 1,267,069 words in the complete set, yet my Kindle seemed to swallow them up in no time, leaving plenty of space for hundred of other books.

This is a majestic novel, a challenge to any committed reader, but once you have the Proust bug, something compels you to plough through it. Having it on the Kindle makes this so much easier because you can dip in and read a chapter between other books.

It is immensely rewarding, giving a fantastic picture of early 20th century France. I love the first volume, Swann's Way, which begings with the famous passages about the a child's home life in rural France, among a multi-generational family with eccentric aunts, a stern father and a mother who stumbles at providing her son with the amount of affection he wants from her. The passages on how memory is awakened by particular objects is a classic of course and contains the famous "madeleine" passage, in which the taste of a cake brings back a whole gamut of childhood memories.

This is the Scott Moncrieff translation which although quite an early translation still is the most popular and to me seems to sound like Proust's "voice" more than the more modern translations. I have the Penguin set in which each volume is translated by different person and this surely loses a consistent voice when compared with Scott Moncrieff.

Travelling Sprinkler
Travelling Sprinkler
by Nicholson Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.85

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More whimsical episodes in the chaotic life of Paul Chowder, 13 Aug 2014
This review is from: Travelling Sprinkler (Paperback)
Travelling Sprinkler is a follow-up to Baker's novel, The Anthologist. It is written in the first person by fictional poet and academic Paul Chowder and sees Paul continue his disorganised life following the break up with his girlfriend Roz. Paul has now published his book Only Rhyme and has seem it adopted by a few colleges, pushing the sales considerably. Paul now spends his days visiting neighbours, messing about with a home music studio and plotting how to win back his girl-friend, who is still on his mind far more than she should be. He is experimenting with extra strong cigars and scorches his throat and messes up his mind with some pretty dangerous brands he finds in a local cigar store.

We are treated to Paul's thought-processes as he tries to get on with his life and this makes for a whimsical and amusing read. Many passages stand out - the barn-fire, the Quaker meetings, the uncomfortable meetings with Roz. In some ways you want to give him a shake and tell him to get a grip, but his generally chaotic life is all part of the charm of the book. In the Anthologist I learned a lot about poetry through Paul's digressions into his theories about rhyme. In Travelling Sprinkler I didn't learn much other than how you can create complex musical arrangements on your computer.

I would ideally like to give this book 4.5 stars. It only misses the fifth one because it's fractionally less good than The Anthologist but this does not mean that I don't esteem it as a great read.

Incidentally, the enhanced e-book edition of this book contains recordings by Nicholson Baker of the songs the fictional Paul produced in his studio. You can find samples quite easily by searching online for them and they sound pretty good in my opinion.

How to be Well Read: A guide to 500 great novels and a handful of literary curiosities
How to be Well Read: A guide to 500 great novels and a handful of literary curiosities
by John Sutherland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting collection but rather mysterious in its choices and not well presented, 13 Aug 2014
I have most of John Sutherland's books and have enjoyed them all, whether Curiosities of Literature: A Book-lover's Anthology of Literary Erudition, How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide or his big anthology Love, Sex, Death and Words: Surprising Tales from a Year in Literature. While no-one would doubt the quality of the summaries of novels in How To Be Well Read, I am a little disappointed in the format of the book and the way it is arranged. It seems to be just a collection of unrelated articles on 500 books, with no introductory information about the collection other than a one page preface. This makes it strangely unsatisfying when compared with for example Peter Boxall's excellent 1001: Books You Must Read Before You Die, which is beautifully presented and illustrated and also gives far more information than Sutherland about the methodology of selecting his 1001 books from such a vast library of authors.

Boxall's book contains very good illustrations, sometimes a photo of the author, sometimes a first edition cover and also details of the books publishing history. It is also very helpfully organised in chronological order whereas Sutherland's book simply puts the books in alphabetical order of title - a pointless arrangement if you don't know in advance which title has been selected for each author! This means for example, that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) is followed immediately by Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010) and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906) is followed by Jurassic Park by Michael Chricton (1990). The result is a very disjointed collection of essays which would have benefited greatly from a more thematic arrangement.

The articles are of course excellent but any well-read reader will wonder about Sutherland's choices. Why for example choose Thomas Mann's early work Buddenbrooks when so many better titles are available from his years of maturity? Why include the tedious Fanny Hill on the one hand and the best-forgotten Huntingtower by John Buchan on the other? I don't think you need to read either of these to feel well-read! I could go on, but perhaps it is pointless to question John Sutherland's choices when after all the point of a book like this is perhaps to introduce you to books you wouldn't otherwise think of reading.

I think this book would ideal for a library where you could look up his article on a particular novel, but for owning it myself I am rather disappointed I bought it as it doesn't really hang together as a book in its own right, unlike the Boxall book which is a lovely thing to own and browse through. A book like How to be Well Read would make much more sense as a searchable website where you could pick out just the article you were looking for. As a single volume I don't think it works very well at all.

If anything, I feel that John Sutherland has been rather let down by his publisher. The whole volume, from its unappealing cover, the absence of any sense of "design" in it's presentation, the very boring layout, the lack of background or thematic information suggests that it has been publshed on the cheap. So much more could have been done with it to make it more interesting. In these days when e-books are presenting such a challenge to printed books, I think it's essential for a book like this to look atractive and to make you want to handle it and to turn it's pages. It's a competitive market out there and I'd rather have Peter Boxhall's book any day. Sutherland's is a disappointment and with a bit of thought and investment by Random House could have been so much better.


Masterlock 5415D Key Pad Key Safe
Masterlock 5415D Key Pad Key Safe
Price: 23.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincingly robust and reassuringly secure, 11 Aug 2014
I have been worried about keeping my spare key hidden in the garden for some time now, and when I last dug it up, I saw that it had begun to get rusty although it had been kept in a zip-lock plastic bag. I had considered giving a spare key to a neighbour, but what if they were away when I needed it? I began to consider buying a key safe but was worried that it would be too obvious to burglars and they would be able to break into it and take out the key.

I decided in the end to buy the best key-safe I could find, and soon found my way to the Masterlock 5415D as on this page and I have to say, I wish I'd bought it years ago.

I fixed it to the brick wall with the four screw provided, using my own plastic plugs. This has provided a very secure fixing, and even if the burglars managed to jemmy it off the wall, I think they'd find it near-on impossible to break into it. I am completely confident that no burglar would be able to break into it without some serious cutting tools. Its solid feel is very reassuring.

I reset the code to a number of my choosing (very easy to do) and I am now happy that I can leave a complete set of keys on my property without having to worry about where I put them or whether a neighbour will be in to give me my spare set.

Salad Love: How to Create a Lunchtime Salad, Every Weekday, in 20 Minutes or Less
Salad Love: How to Create a Lunchtime Salad, Every Weekday, in 20 Minutes or Less
by David Bez
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.50

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kick-start your way into creative salad making., 11 Aug 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This beautifully produced book provides endless inspiration for lunchtime salads. The Italian-born author, David Bez was inspired to create a new salad, every working day for a year, to list the ingredients and to photograph them. The result is over 250 unique lunchtime salads, all capable of being prepared at a desk or in a small kitchen, and anyone who browses the gorgeous illustrations in his book will soon find themselves thinking of ways to incorporate lunch-time salad making into their daily schedule.

I like the way that each salad is assembled in much the same way - you start with a base layer (leaves, pasta, grains etc), then add vegetables and fruit. On top of that you can add protein, whether meat, fish, cheese, pulses, nuts, soy products, seeds etc. Toppings then boost the taste and texture and the finally some fresh herbs and dressing.

There is a separate chapter on each of the five layers and you soon discover that while many of them may be obvious (boiled eggs, cheese, tuna), there are countless other ingredients which you may not have thought of which could bring new flavours to your meals. I found the chapter on dressings particularly useful as it tells you how to make 24 basic salad dressings.

Needless to say, there is an infinite variety of combinations you can try and if I list just a few from the book you will get an idea of what is involved.

Chickpeas, couscous and cherry tomatoes with parsley and vinaigrette
Carrot, sugar snap peas and avocado with a dressing of coconut milk, dessicated coconut and fresh ginger
Blackberries, cottage cheese, spinach and croutons with a vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Pasta (penne), black olives and chilli
Prawns, mango, spring onions and chiili with a soy sauce vinaigrette

As you read through the book you realise that you don't have to follow the recipes slavishly. The principles of being highly creative rubs off on you and before long you can think up your own salads with your own favourite ingredients. However, it's fun to follow the recipes exactly from time to time and to see how good David's combinations actually are.

The book is divided into four seasonal sections beginning with summer. You may wonder why this is necessary but it's nice to see in the winter section for example, that there are plenty of apples, root vegetables, red cabbage etc, while in summer David includes strawberries, nasturtiums, courgettes.

It is difficult to do justice to this book with mere words. The production values are extremely high and the photography and layouts are a visual feast in themselves. This would make an unusual gift for someone who like cooking, but may also be useful for someone who's meals tend to be stuck in a rut. But buy it for yourself and you'll really enjoy this new take on the lunchtime salad.

OxyLED T-02 DIY Stick-on Anywhere Portable 10-LED Wireless Motion Sensing Closet Cabinet LED Night Light / Stairs Light / Step Light Bar with Magnetic Strip (Battery Operated) - Silver
OxyLED T-02 DIY Stick-on Anywhere Portable 10-LED Wireless Motion Sensing Closet Cabinet LED Night Light / Stairs Light / Step Light Bar with Magnetic Strip (Battery Operated) - Silver
Offered by Thousand Shores
Price: 7.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A useful lamp to leave in a cupboard or dark corner, 29 July 2014
This is a very well-designed light and is ideal to place inside a cupboard so that the light comes on when you open the door and put your hand inside (it detects the movement of your hand). It has ten LED lights which give a reasonable amount of illumination.

It attaches to any surface with adhesive strip - you just peel of the backing tape and press the light against the surface. Because the adhesive strip is attached to a magnetic plate, you can detach the light an move it around to illuminate any dark corner or even use it as a small torch - which would be useful in a power-cut for example.

The lamp needs four AAA batteries and these are not supplied. I would think the batteries would last for a very long time because LED lights have a very low power consumption.

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