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Snobs: A Novel
Snobs: A Novel
by Lord Julian Fellowes
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like Wodehouse but without the razor sharp wit, 14 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Snobs: A Novel (Paperback)
Snobs is a meticulously detailed satire of upper class living. The English aristocrats that inhabit its pages are carefully, and sympathetically, drawn. I knew little about Julian Fellowes before picking up this book but after a little research that sympathy is easy to understand for Fellowes, like his narrator, is an upper class actor with a penchant for nice things, and a foot inside the drawing room door.

The novel is slightly reminiscent of P G Wodehouse in as far as both provide a historical account of a certain type of society. As with the former, Fellowes' plot is secondary to the characters within it. With Wodehouse the fact that the plot is predictable is part of the fun. It breeds a comforting familiarity and requires little concentration on clues and events, leaving the reader to bask instead in the undeniably glory of the prose. Wodehouse crafts language like no-one else, least of all Julian Fellowes. Whilst Fellowes' characters are well observed, he does not possess the razor sharp wit of his predecessor.

Snobs offers an entertaining peek into another world - that mostly appears grotesque - but not much more.


A Journey
A Journey
by Tony Blair
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.95

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as much of a peek behind the scenes of power as you'd expect, 14 Oct. 2010
This review is from: A Journey (Hardcover)
I didn't choose A Journey because I love or hate Tony Blair but just because I was interested in his side of the story, interested in his reasons - or excuses - and interested in a peek behind the scenes of government. I opted for an audio version of the book because I knew I wouldn't sacrifice enough 'proper' reading time for a book like this but the fact that I listened to to it in his familiar voice made it all sound a little bit more whiney I think, a little bit more like one big excuse.

The fact that the book is arranged thematically not chronologically meant that there was less insight into the day to day machinations of a political power house than I would have liked, or expected.
Instead, there was lots and lots about how well Tony Blair can make decisions but there is something about this image of Blair as a meticulous, analytical mind far more focused on asking the 'right' questions than projecting the 'right' image that just doesn't wash. He tries to paint himself as the policy maker, Brown as the less developed political mind but I'm not sure he carries it off.

Blair ends by offering some advice to the Labour party. The fact that this consists of 'keep on doing what I was doing or perish' is rather predictable, rather disappointing. Just as the Tories couldn't see they needed to change when Blair won his landslide victory in 1997, one wonders whether Blair is just a little bit too stuck in his own spin.

All in all an interesting way to pass the time while painting, but not much more.


All-in-One Toy Kitchen
All-in-One Toy Kitchen
Offered by Checklife products
Price: £63.45

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All in one fun, 13 Oct. 2010
= Durability:3.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: All-in-One Toy Kitchen (Toy)
I bought this for my two year old daughter's birthday. Suffice to say she absolutely loves it. I chose it mainly because it offered more than just a cooker - i.e. the washing machine on the other side - and, if I'm honest, because I wanted wood rather than plastic filling up our house.

My husband put it together and managed to break the back of one part but you can't tell and overall it seems to be strong and certainly durable enough to withstand the onslaught from my daughter and her 5 and a half yr old brother.

I wondered for a while if I should have gone for a plastic version with sounds etc. but actually my daughter seems to really love it and the fact that it doesn't constantly make noises is quite welcome from my point of view.


How Not to F*** Them Up
How Not to F*** Them Up
by Oliver James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An uncomfortable read if you're past the point of no return, 13 Oct. 2010
I was really looking forward to reading this, mostly because I have a 2 year daughter. With hindsight, the fact that she is 2 and my son is 5 and a half should perhaps have made me wary of a book suggesting how to bring up under 3's. Inevitably, my feelings about the book are liable to become tinged with an element of guilt that I sent my own son to nursery rather than employ the nanny so strongly prefered within this book. In a nutshell, James talks us through 3 types of mothers - one that needs to work, one that needs to hug and love their children at all times and one that combines both (but not necessarily the best bits). Having helped you identify which you are he then goes on to offer advice - backed up well with references to academic studies and reserach galore - on how best to care for your children. He makes no pretence about addressing a middle class audience but even so, I think his expectations of the time and money available for psychoanalysis - which appears to be essential to good mothering - are slightly off beam. I have no doubt his advice is sound but a warning to those who have already made the bed their children lie in - this might leave you riddled with guilt. Luckily, James is currently penning his next tome 'Love Bombing' which apparently will offer us a way out of our previous mistakes....
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2013 2:23 PM BST


Nigella Lawson: A Biography
Nigella Lawson: A Biography
by Gilly Smith
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Satisfies a nosey parker, 13 Oct. 2010
I saw this is the library and brought it home because I'd just got Nigella's latest cookery book, Kitchen. I read it more out of nosiness than anything and I suppose it succeeded in its aim - detailing some of the more basic facts of Nigella's life, largely available in the public domain and national press. I felt it relied rather too much on second hand sources - either interviews with Nigella already published in newspapers or magazines, or Nigella's own words lifted from the cookery books - but I suppose that is partially to be expected with an unauthorised biography.

All in all, it satisfied my desire to know a little more about Ms Lawson and her rise to fame. An easy read, but not much more.


Daughters of Jerusalem
Daughters of Jerusalem
by Charlotte Mendelson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of the dysfunctional family with a perfectly wrought comic edge, 13 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Daughters of Jerusalem (Paperback)
I sought out Daughters of Jerusalem straight after reading When We Were Bad, Charlotte Mendelson's third novel. Although the two novels differ substantially the underlying themes are just as focused on the dysfunctional family, of people not turning out to be quite as they seemed.

The story takes place in Oxford, focusing on the family of a college Don and his two, quite different, daughters. There is Eve, studious and academically brilliant yet insecure, and Phoebe, a 'normal' child in a world of excessive abilities and intellect. Phoebe hides the crushing pain of perceived inadequacy behind a manipulative zeal to obtain ever more luxurious material goods. Eve merely runs away to her room. To study... and to cut herself. Their father seems largely lost in his studies and an all consuming rivalry with his academic colleague, a rivalry that will take the most dramatic of turns, and amidst it all is his wife, Jean Lux.

Jean Lux is tired, tired of Oxford and all that it stands for. As the novel unfolds Jean realises just what it is she is tired of and who and what it will take to breathe life back into her weary existence.

Daughters of Jerusalem tackles dark, serious taboos - sex with a minor, self harm, lesbianism - but does so with an expertly wrought comic edge. Communication, mis-communication and manipulation are strong themes and they support a plot that is full of genuine surprise. The novel builds gradually towards realisation, of reversals of role and fortunes and then suddenly everything seems to happen at one, small seeds of awareness blossom and then, all at once, burst forth and then, all too soon, it is over and you are left wishing for more.


Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars eat, pray, love - better than I expected, not as good as it could be, 4 Oct. 2010
I avoided this book for ages, worried that it might be a little too trite, or full of God, for my own tastes.

Why relent? Because I was nosey and could no longer bear the hype without being able to add my own two penneth worth. Deciding what that is proved tricky. Gilbert's self-indulgence didn't really bother me, when you pick up a personal story you have to accept it will be... personal.

I was also less bothered than I expected to be by God popping up all over the place. The moment when God appeared to instantaneously grant the divorce she had prayed for left me sceptical at best, but in the main the book focused more on the 'divine' than any set idea of 'God'.

The first section was a beautiful travelogue of Italy and the second, India, was my favourite. Where it all came unstuck, for me, was Indonesia. Suddenly days lacked the structure of the ashram and it seemed like she was on holiday... basically because she was. I started to think that, yes, most people could recover from depression and find balance and peace when sent on holiday for a year... except it's not really balance because real life is not like that.

Reading how she incorporated the lessons of the ashram into her daily grind and found that sort of balance would have interested me more.


When We Were Bad: A Novel
When We Were Bad: A Novel
by Charlotte Mendelson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When We Were Bad - the story of a family disintegrating, 4 Oct. 2010
The final paragraph of When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson finds Claudia Rubin, main protagonist and rabbi, writer, mother extraordinaire sitting down to write her family the 'love letters they deserve'.

This ending could just as easily be a beginning and we wonder whether the Rubins will achieve just that. Will they manage a new dawn with honesty at its core, for honesty is something the Rubins find themselves alarmingly short of. They are, without exception, a conflicted family.

There's Leo the porn buying eldest son who runs off with a rabbi's wife and Frances the dependable one who secretly grapples in search of the love that should come naturally but hasn't, not for son, nor husband and step-daughters. There are the younger siblings who exist in a supported state of perpetual youth and of course their father, Norman, the retiring husband who has done anything but retire, squirrelling himself away instead to write the acclaimed book his wife has been dreaming of for herself.

That Claudia has never before 'dared' to write these letters says something of the paradoxes that define this Jewish clan. They inhabit a world of contradiction where family is everything yet nothing, where siblings and parents frantically call each other for hourly updates yet remain entirely oblivious to what is really going on right under their noses, where the reliable become the unreliable and where the preoccupation with real food and its plentiful abundance underlines the near absence of soul food, of genuine understanding and spiritual nourishment. That the family exists under the watchful gaze of Claudia Rubin, famous for her spiritual nourishment of strangers, is all the more ironic.

The plot is ferociously fast and this would feel like chick lit were it not for Mendelson's command of language and character. It is a novel that works on many levels, as a lighthearted pacy adventure just as well as a more psychologically nuanced reflection on escaping your mother.

It is funny, quick witted, poignant and sad but most of all, it rings true, an excellent read.


Londongrad: From Russia with Cash; The Inside Story of the Oligarchs
Londongrad: From Russia with Cash; The Inside Story of the Oligarchs
by Mark Hollingsworth
Edition: Paperback

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Londongrad, 12 Feb. 2010
Unsurprisingly for a book written by journalists, Londongrad has the feel of a newspaper article about it.. albeit a very long one. The basic premise, namely the exodus of rich Russians from Moscow to London and the obscene wealth that surrounds their lifestyles, is interesting and relevant given the knock on effects for the UK - in terms of house prices, sales of luxury goods, and of course crime - covered in the chapter focusing on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. At times there seems to be a glut of information on just how long a yacht is, how many cars this oligarch has and exactly how much each of his 35 homes cost (although it's amazing how the information lures you in) and in some ways I wish it was a newspaper article - i.e. a shorter read that still conveyed the salient facts. If you are particularly interested in the topic, or have plenty of time on your hands to read then this is a great book to read... if time is short and you have just a passing interest then it's possibly not for you.


Hothouse Kids: How the Pressure to Succeed is Threatening Childhood
Hothouse Kids: How the Pressure to Succeed is Threatening Childhood
by Alissa Quart
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars a cautionary tale on over-engineered childhoods, 12 Feb. 2010
I finished this a while ago. I've not done anything momentous in the meantime which according to the book is a good thing. Boredom - not that I'd go as far to say I've had time to be bored! - is a vital step in discovering what it is you want to do or, as Walter Benjamin put it, 'boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience'.

Neither the parents or children described by this book could ever have time to be bored... they barely have time to breathe. It is a book packed full of extreme tales of extreme parenting, focusing on the 20 per cent of parents who openly base 'their own self-worth on the performance of their children' and the other x per cent that are still in denial but just as keen to maximise little Johnny's true potential.

There are chapters on national Scrabble championships, competitions to find the most promising young evangelical preacher and a hybrid of the two when a young evangelical preacher honours God with his mind by competing in the national Scrabble championship! There is also a lot of fairly in depth detail on IQ testing and the debate for / against dedicated 'gifted' classes within the American school system.

I think parts of American culture are probably a bit further along the road to hothousing than the majority of people in the UK but if ever there was a wake up call to stop over-engineering childhood, this book is it.

Freud said that 'parental love is nothing but the parents narcissism born again'. That sounds extreme, but so does the extent to which many of the parents in this book appear to have lost their grip on reality. Praising the wonders of baby sign language one mother says,

If I had to wait until she could talk to explain something like a chick being born to her - I explain how a chick is born from an egg with sign language - a little learning opportunity would have disappeared.

So, what, babies are actually unable to hear / understand words before they can talk!?

Another mother shares how she wanted her kids to be 'mavericks. The whole point is for them to be superior beings' - anyone reminded of Hitler?

There are also much sadder stories, like the teenager who killed himself when the pressure to be so profoundly gifted, and the isolation that came with it, just got too much to bear. It is a cautionary tale about investing so much in your child's education and enrichment that their 'gifts' are more important to you than them....


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