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M Holloway (UK)

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The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81
The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81
Price: £3.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary and extra ordinary. (Did anyone use that review title yet?), 11 July 2014
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From the first few lines, Frank's narrative voice has you hooked. There's something wonderfully 'real' about how he speaks to the reader, and you don't realise until later this is because he really has no one else to talk to. I've read books about the monotony and struggles of ageing before and I've never felt so immediately invested in the character. There is no point at which he feels stereotypical, an object of pity or a caricature to laugh at - though you will laugh a lot.

This book isn't even about the monotony and struggles of ageing, it just manages to fit that in somehow. To describe the plot would make it seem rather mundane, which it suppose is the whole point. The way it is written, however, is anything but mundane. Morrison has a real gift with language. Nothing screams at you, nothing jumps out at you. You almost have to stop and rewind to appreciate what you've just read. In a pretentious way, you could say he is 'economical' with his language. Nothing ever seems out of place with the character and situation - which is, of course, extra ordinary - but you just get the impression that such a lot of work has gone into making it all fit so well. It's either great talent or great effort that can craft the sort of phrasing that you could blink and miss. I'd guess it's a good mixture of the two.

There are whole paragraphs you want to go back and read again. Not because of the kind of language you used to write essays about in English lessons, but because of the kind of language which evoke true feeling and make you pause to think: how did he do that? If you've read the book, you probably know the moments I'm referring to because you can't read them without a pause.

For someone not as obsessive about language and the crafting of a character and story as I am, it's an incredibly accessible book and I honestly think anyone could enjoy it, perhaps for different reasons. The cliché of 'you've laugh and you'll cry' has to be brought in. Because you will.

The Gift of Rain
The Gift of Rain
Price: £4.31

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If you've read The Garden of Evening Mists, why buy it again?, 25 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Gift of Rain (Kindle Edition)
I was bitterly disappointed with this book. I recently read The Garden of Evening Mists and loved it. I started to read The Gift of Rain and alarm bells quickly sounded. Switch places and names and, from the opening chapters at least, it's the same book, with Japanese gardening substituted for aikido.

I have to admit a sense of disbelief when the protagonist - a different gender from that in the previous book but seemingly identical in personality and voice - met with the mysterious master. Once the period of training began I couldn't bear to read on.

There's no doubt this is a well-written book, and I'd probably very much enjoy it if I hadn't read The Garden of Evening Mists. However, it was incredibly frustrating to come to the very rapid conclusion that I'd effectively paid for the same book twice.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
Price: £3.66

3.0 out of 5 stars A bit like a feel-good film, 25 Aug. 2013
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I didn't mind this book, but it's certainly not going to blow your mind. Reading it was very much like watching a lighthearted 'feel good' film: you're not going to be hit with anything surprising or groundbreaking but if you want something that's easygoing then you won't necessarily regret it.

Most of the book is enjoyable but the characters are stereotypes and, in the case of Harold and his wife, frustrating at times. I also thought the character of Queenie was sadly two-dimensional, while I get the impression the author wanted us to feel a lot more. Possibly the most tiresome aspect of the plot itself was the predictable cycles Harold goes through on his walk. We have the energetic, inspired moments and then, for 'interest' he has to have a period of depression and disillusionment. It became quite irritating when reading became a process of predicting when he was going to have an up or a down period of walking and I found myself skimming over the lengthy descriptions of his disenchantment because it just seemed as if I was reading the same passages over and over again.

In conclusion, this is a book that's probably worth a read if you get it cheaply. You'll know from the beginning what will happen by the end and you won't be surprised on the way. I read it after a few heavy-going books and it did give my brain a rest. Whether that's a positive thing to say about a book or not, I'm not entirely sure.

The Death of Grass (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Death of Grass (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £4.35

0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't stand the test of time, in my opinion., 9 Jun. 2013
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I bought this book on a recommendation and now regret it. The premise of the story is a good one, and certainly one you could see happening today. What really grated for me was the incredibly insulting depiction of all the female characters. That just prevented it from being the kind of science fiction which is timeless. I know it's 'of its time' but its not easy to have all female characters reduced to sexual currency nor to read jokes made about child rape.

BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
Price: £21.16

2,565 of 2,628 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My life has been changed!, 20 Aug. 2012
I never did very well at school. I wanted to learn and it felt like all the words I needed were right there in my head, but I just couldn't get them onto the paper in front of me. If I really pushed myself, I could sometimes manage to draw pretty flowers in the margins but this didn't please Sir and I was soon in all the bottom sets. What really confused me is that I had no problems in cookery or textiles. At the time I didn't understand why I could grip and use a wooden spoon or sewing needle but couldn't properly hold my black-coloured pen for more than 45 seconds without dropping it on the floor and weeping.

Things were a bit better when I left school to go and work sweeping up hair at the local salon - yet again, the broom seemed to just fit into my grip as if it was meant to be there - and I saved up to buy a pink laptop. I still had trouble writing for a long time because, although the case was pink, the keys weren't designed for female eyes which, as we all know, struggle to discern between shades of black and grey. I could write for about 4 minutes at a time, though, and that's how I found out about these wonderful pens for girls like me.

As soon as they arrived, I was soothed by the pink packaging - I'd been feeling stressed after driving back from work because my hands just won't stay on the black, leather-effect steering wheel in my cute mini. Anyway, I quickly found a piece of notepaper with pictures of kittens round the edges and had a go at writing my name. It was amazing! The pen just stayed in place between my fingers, just like it always had for the boys in my class at school. Well, in no time I'd filled a whole notepad and had to go and get another one!

Now I've gone back to night school and hope to realise my ambition of enrolling on a childcare course next year. I'm also halfway through writing an erotic novel set in Victorian times - but with vampires!

My only criticism of these wonderful pens is that I get a bit bored with all 12 looking the same. I get around this my customising each pack. At the moment, the pen I have in use is covered in stripes of glitter and I glued a pink pompom and one of those diamanté charms you get on mobile phones (I couldn't fit any more on my phone) onto the top. I think BIC should start adding pens like this to their range because some women find it difficult to hold tubes of superglue properly - I asked the 6 year old boy who lives next door to help me.
Comment Comments (38) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2013 3:22 PM BST

Blood Ties
Blood Ties
by Sophie McKenzie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and thought-provoking, 13 July 2009
This review is from: Blood Ties (Paperback)
I read this book as it won the Lancashire Children's Book of the Year, rare amongst awards as it was voted for by children. As an English teacher, I like to know good books I can recommend, especially to reluctant readers.

I found this a gripping book, with underlying issues which are relevant and interesting to young teens. The characters are developed and far enough removed from the stereotypes so often encountered in children's fiction. The plot is complex and there are enough twists and turns to keep readers hooked to the end. I found myself unable to put it down once the story began to reach its climax.

Children I've spoken to thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I can really see it appealing to reluctant readers; even boys! Whilst not wishing to label a book as gender specific, I think there's a lot to appeal to boys who are after a bit of action, violence and excitement. What the novel also achieves is enough character and plot development to leave more discerning readers satisfied.

Apparently there is to be a sequel, and I look forward to seeing how the story can be developed further. I'll certainly be recommending it a range of children.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 5, 2013 8:37 AM BST

Bog Child
Bog Child
by Siobhan Dowd
Edition: Paperback

21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really a subject of interest for children?, 13 July 2009
This review is from: Bog Child (Paperback)
I recently read this book as it won the Carnegie award and, as an English teacher, I like to keep abreast of the novels children are enjoying. I was surprised it seemed so popular, but less so that it won an award not voted for by children.

The storyline is complex and well written, and I enjoyed the interweaving of the two threads. However, I'd question how much a child would understand about The Troubles, hunger strikes in The Maze and Thatcher's political policies. So much is referred to which I could see as causing a young teen to switch off because it's really not knowledge from their era.

I think rooting the story so deeply in politics which are far removed from the target audience is the downfall of this book. It has not been a popular choice for children I teach who have been shadowing the award nominees. Most found the politics confusing. Of course, it's great to educate children and make them aware of issues such as The Troubles, but the narrative appears to assume a full understanding from an audience unlikely to have it.

I've given it three stars from my own point of view, for the intended audience I think it would be less.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2010 2:01 PM BST

The Promise Of Happiness
The Promise Of Happiness
by Justin Cartwright
Edition: Paperback

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Painfully dull, 24 Oct. 2008
I read this in my book club at work and had fairly high hopes. If it wasn't for the fact that, as an English teacher, it would look fairly poor if I hadn't read the book, I would have put it down long before the end. I found the storyline dull, the writing style drab and the characters vapid and clichéd. They wouldn't have been out of place in your average mind-numbing soap opera. Quite how an author can get away with the slim, London-based, coke-sniffing girl who works in advertising and is sleeping with an older, married man is beyond me. I didn't find one of them rounded enough to actually cause me to care what happened to them; the only benefit of that being that a rather inconclusive ending failed to leave me unsatisfied where it might have if the story had been well-written.

Not even good for a light read in my opinion.

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