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The Baking Book: The Ultimate Baker's Companion (Good Housekeeping)
The Baking Book: The Ultimate Baker's Companion (Good Housekeeping)
by Good Housekeeping Institute
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.75

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A wasted opportunity, save your money, 8 May 2012
First, the good. This book has recipes that work, and work well. Most have very useful tips on storage. There is also a comprehensive discussion of techniques and problem-solving tips. The organisation of the book is good with sections on: Cakes: Traybakes, Biscuits and Cookies: Cheesecake, Tortes and No-bake cakes: Pastry: Breads and Rolls: Puddings: Celebration Cakes: Baking know-how.

So, what's wrong with it? Quite frankly, it is not good value for money, because it is very short on recipes. The book claims to have over 400, but I don't see how that can be. I refuse to count them, but the recipes cover 277 pages. So far as I can see, the best you get is one recipe per page - with several taking up two pages, one of which is a picture. Being generous, I would guess at 250 recipes. These are very standard fare - useful I suppose if you have no other baking books. But, if that is the case, Mary Berry's books offer a better starting point, in my view. The problem is too many pictures and poor arrangement of material. For example, the recipe for bread and butter pudding takes up a whole page, including an unnecessary picture and a lot of white space. The same recipe in my 1970's Good Housekeeping Cookbook takes up a quarter of a page!

This is far from being as claimed "The Ultimate Baker's Companion". With an extra 200 genuine recipes, smaller pictures, and less white space - in short a lot more work - it could be.


Five Little Pigs (Poirot)
Five Little Pigs (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good book - stupid title, 2 May 2012
Once you get over Christie's bizarre penchant for incorporating nursery rhymes in her books - in this case utterly irrelevant and rather irritating, hence 4 stars not 5 - this is actually a very good novel by any standards. [The American title was Murder in Retrospect - much more sensible] However, be warned, you should approach this book as a straight novel, not a whodunit. The reason is that the murder occurred 16 years before in book time and, of necessity, the collection and analysis of evidence kills the pace if your need is for a thriller. Having said that, this is an extraordinarily well-developed plot, with some very fine characterisation defined by highly-believable and relevant dialogue - no padding here! The portrayal of a highly-regarded artist; his selfishness, moods, and needs must be based on someone Christie knew very well. And the idiosyncracies of the people surrounding such a figure are very carefully and accurately drawn. The emotional responses are so moving at times that it is hard not to see in them some of the heartache that Christie herself went through on the break-up of her first marriage. And, finally, what of Poirot? He interacts seamlessly with this environment,inevitably teasing-out the truth, after a couple of near-misses. The puzzle is there, and a very good one at that; it's just that the time lag makes the approach to a solution very different. All credit to Christie for understanding this, and the skill she shows in applying her awareness. In my view, this has only been matched once before - by Richard Austin Freeman in The Singing Bone (1912). Freeman had the confidence in his narrative skills to devote the first half of the story to a detailed description of a crime being committed; and then followed it with an equally detailed description of how Dr Thorndyke collected the evidence to solve it - a sort of inverted whodunit - or a howcaught'im!


One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (Poirot)
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the best Poirot Christie had written so far, 30 April 2012
Spoiler alert! Please don't read the last paragraph if you want to come at this puzzle without any advantages.

Coming from a love of the complexities of John Dickson Carr and the early Ellery Queen, I regard this as the best Poirot novel up to the date of publication. It presents a series of murders, and possibly a suicide, in a cleverly worked out mesh of conflicting evidence. It has surprises galore, some very interesting characters - particularly given the real-life backdrop of the start of WW II - and presents an intelligent development of the relationship between Poirot and Japp. The novel is also very well written, with consistent pace and, unusual for Christie, very little padding in the dialogue. However, the version I had suffered from poor proof-reading of Christie's characteristically rotten spelling. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

I can't avoid a mention of an issue raised by some of the more critical reviewers. Several say the plot is "too complicated", one even says it is too complicated for those who like to "guess" the identity of the guilty party. What is the point of guessing when you have the clues needed to work it out? Almost for the first time, Christie presents a carefully worked Poirot puzzle with evidence leading to only one conclusion. Of course, you are entitled to read a book however you like, but to complain about it being too good a puzzle seems unfair on the author.

SPOILER! My only criticism of this book is that the most important clue is blatantly flagged in the title - and I missed it!


Sad Cypress (Poirot)
Sad Cypress (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Christie!, 28 April 2012
This review is from: Sad Cypress (Poirot) (Paperback)
I'm reading through all the Poirot in order of publication, and it was a pleasure to get away from the attempts to extend the formula using exotic locations or the extreme fancies of psychology in the 1930s. Christie obviously enjoyed writing this book and there is a lot of her in it. In characteristic fashion, it tells the tale of an English family in decline - not quite Old Money, but certainly nouveau riche of the early Victorian era. The last surviving member of the direct line is dying and the story evolves around the expectations of the more remote members of the family. While not the genuine upper crust, such people were the backbone of British social life throughout the 19th and half of the 20th centuries. Christie was on the lower fringes of this group and very familiar with their behaviour and values. The tale weaves murder and romance into a complex network of relationships, only introducing Poirot when much of the plot is done and dusted. Nonetheless, he is sorely needed since the heir to the family fortune is destined for the hangman, and deservedly so!

Back on familiar territory, Christie manipulates events and her characters with great assurance, providing a highly-believable, entertaining and compassionate story that carries sufficient surprises to hold one's interest. Some reviewers complain that they dislike all the characters. I would say that characters in old novels (this is now nearly 80 years old), must be first understood in context before professing liking or dislike.


Hercule Poirot's Christmas (Poirot)
Hercule Poirot's Christmas (Poirot)
by Agatha Christie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars a feeble locked room mystery, 26 April 2012
To anyone familiar with the locked room puzzles of Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr, this effort by Christie is facile. Once you have solved the locked room, long before halfway through the book, the culprit is obvious, if ludicrously unlikely. I can't say more without giving it away, but this is the weakest Poirot I've read. The characters are vaguely entertaining, but the plot depends so much on things that the reader can only guess at, visual clues etc., that I would almost say this isn't worth reading, unless you're stuck at an airport or something!


Elastoplast Fast SilverHealing Plasters 5s
Elastoplast Fast SilverHealing Plasters 5s

4.0 out of 5 stars excellent, but not the best in all circumstances, 23 April 2012
For cuts and abrasions up to maybe 1.5" long, and not so deep that they need stitches, silver healing plasters work well - provided you clean the wound first. I have used them several times and not only do wounds heal quickly, but they leave no mark if you use the plaster to pull the ends of the wound together. The only reason I have not given them 5 stars is that they are expensive. Disregard those tales of silver healing making the wound worse - this is almost certainly a consequence of not bothering to clean the wound before covering it. I have tested them against normal plasters and the silver gives a definite improvement in the time it takes to heal, about half the time, and the appearance of the skin afterwards.

Apart from cost, my only other caveat is with certain types of wound. If they are not deep, like a burst blister or an abrasion, and provided you can keep them dry and free from rubbing, applying a simple antiseptic cream like Savlon fixes things even more quickly and MUCH more cheaply! This is because the wound dries naturally but is protected from re-infection by the Savlon. However, this will not work with deep cuts.


A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900
by Andrew Roberts
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant update of Chruchill's monumental work, 29 Mar 2012
One tragic element of the left in Britain, and I include myself in this (sometimes), is that they tend to take themselves far too seriously. So, the critics of Roberts' book can come across as bigoted and pompous. Let's get it straight - Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples is fairly right-wing, patriotic (not nationalistic), and has a tendency towards blood and guts history. What else would you expect from Churchill? All Roberts does is portray the 20th Century in the same vein - and let's face it - much of the 20th century was extremely bloody and the English Speaking Peoples can be justifiably proud of much of their role in mitigating this. No book summarising this period could possibly be completely objective (can any book worth reading?), but, in my view, Roberts does a pretty good job - given the role of the book. Like Churchill's original manuscript, Roberts' update is extremely well-written, has fantastic pace, is generally well-researched with copious references, and reads well. Covering probably the most interesting century in the history of mankind, not to mention the best-documented, in a single volume is not going to please everyone - take it as a good place to start a more detailed study.

Personally, I found much of Roberts detail extremely interesting, and particularly liked his thorough examination of the rise of the USA - warts and all. These days it is fashionable in some quarters to ignore the huge amount the USA has done to try to make the world a better place, and concentrate on their mistakes and the many imaginary hidden agendas that country is claimed to have. There is absolutely no doubt that without the intervention of the USA, Hitler would have smashed the UK and the USSR. A strictly neutral USA would not have been attacked by Japan, and China, India, and SE Asia would have fallen under Japanese rule. It is also possible that a neutral USA would not have been moved to prevent Japan taking Australia and New Zealand as well. Hands up anyone who thinks all that would have led to a better world!

There are mistakes in this book, kindly pointed out by the always perfect Economist. I've never read a history yet that didn't have errors, any worth their salt remedy things in subsequent editions. I have no doubt that there will be other editions of Roberts' work, but why wait for them when you can enjoy the current version?


Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze
by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.82

5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute gem!, 16 Mar 2012
I first read this when I was 7, attracted by the black cover and weird writing on the binding. Now, 60 years later, I have revisited it, expecting to find it considerably less interesting and exotic. I needn't have worried, this book is just as vibrant now as it was in 1953. Then, it stimulated an interest in history and China - that huge unknown on the other side of the world,teeming with people with funny eyes and a civilised history older than anybody else's. The book also taught me the value of craft and pride in one's work - things that many have forgotten in the reckless and pointless pursuit of cash at any price.

The story covers part of the transition period of China from the ordered values of the Imperium to the chaotic succession of inept governments and warlords that led, inevitably, to the Japanese invasion and the schism between the Communists and the Nationalists. Being a kid's book, of course, such matters are not really discussed, but you do get a very real feel for how ordinary Chinese coped and reacted during this turbulence. It's not a period many Westerners know much about, nor Chinese, for that matter - given the re-writing of history under Mao and his successors. Values have changed since 1932, of course, but that doesn't make this book worthless - something the PC brigade have tried to achieve. It has great charm and a very honest humanity; timeless jewels we all need to pass on to our children - and grand-children!


It's Great To Be Young [DVD]
It's Great To Be Young [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Mills
Price: 7.47

3.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgia doesn't make for reliable reviews!, 6 Mar 2012
This review is from: It's Great To Be Young [DVD] (DVD)
I appreciate that many people miss their schooldays (I'm not one of them) but there have to be better reasons for persuading people to buy this film. Personally, I wouldn't have it in my top 200 British films. It has a silly plot about a school orchestra threatened by a tyrannical headmaster (excellently played by Cecil Parker). The music teacher is John Mills (who's career never fulfilled the promise of the 1930's and 40's) in a typically wooden performance. Generally, the kids are excellent actors but give totally unbelievable performances as musicians - they're just too good! Rather than an orchestra, they're really a swing band occasionally playing what passed for jazz in mid-50's Britain. Actually, this film came out in 1956, and I was at school then. As I remember it, girls in the UK were chanting about Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, and Tommy Steele - Britain was starting to rock! They would have considered the music played in this movie really cheesy and old-fashioned - which just about sums up the film. I suspect the early success of this film was down to respectable parents trying to show their kids what good wholesome music was like. Just as parents tried to do when big-band and jitter-bugging was taking off in the late 30's and early '40s - with equal lack of success!


The Italian Cookery Course: 400 Authentic Regional Recipes and 40 Masterclasses on Technique
The Italian Cookery Course: 400 Authentic Regional Recipes and 40 Masterclasses on Technique
by Katie Caldesi
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not a cookery course and, arguably, not very Italian, 24 Feb 2012
This is a big book, too big for its useful content. Its 510 A4 pages contain roughly 400 recipes and a lot of padding, mostly in the form of superfluous pictures and irrelevant anecdote. It is superficially nicely presented, but here and there are fundamental design flaws. In particular, the occasional black text on a dark coloured shiny paper is virtually unreadable in the kitchen environment. Also, the use of a script typeface to simulate hand-writing probably seemed like a twee idea at the time, but it looks odd and is hard to read, adds an unnecessary additional font, and is simply bad design.

The book claims to be a cookery course, but surely that should have some structure that becomes progressively more difficult? In fact, this volume has the organisation of a standard cookery book. Dotted throughout are sections entitled Masteclass; these are often simply focused collections of recipes. Even when they do involve a discussion of technique, their value is diminished because they do not have a separate index or section in the Contents. You can only hope to come across them in your travels.

If you can be persuaded to wade through the endless pictures, however, this is actually a quite good cookbook. It contains an eclectic collection of recipes that are well-written, and representative of great Italian cookery. Although the recipes are pitched at a level appropriate for the experienced cook new to Italian methods and ingredients, they do have a few flaws that only experience can prevent. I shall use the recipe for a chicken casserole with lemon to illustrate possible problems. This suggests putting two lemons, halved, into the stew and cooking for at least an hour. If you did this, the result would be virtually inedible because you would be stewing the pith with its very harsh flavour. Instead, add the juice and zest from the lemons to the mix and then cook. Also, the recipe puts in grated pepper at the beginning. You should never do this in a stew because boiled pepper imparts a very harsh flavour. Always add pepper to a stew after cooking has finished. The recipe contains celery to good effect, but fails to mention that Italians routinely include the leaves from celery in stews. These add a very subtle salty flavour that has to be experienced to be believed. Finally, the recipe fries the vegetable ingredients in extra virgin olive oil. No Italian who knew what he was doing would do this. First, extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point about 70C below that of plain olive oil. This makes it pretty useless as a frying medium since it is too easy to burn the oil and ruin the dish. Given this weakness, and the fact that a good extra virgin olive oil can be more expensive than a good wine, it is better to reserve extra virgin olive oil for dressings where its uncooked flavour will be appreciated.

I amended the recipe for the chicken casserole for the above problems, extended the cooking time by 30 minutes, and the result was utterly delicious. I served it with the parmesan mash, as suggested, and organic green beans - lovely!

So, is this book worth buying? Probably, if you have the confidence and awareness to use the recipes as a starting point, rather than as an end in themselves. I must admit that if it had had half the number of pictures, I would have given it four stars.


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