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The Bradshaw Variations
The Bradshaw Variations
by Rachel Cusk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent....in parts., 20 Oct. 2009
This is the first work of fiction that I have read by Rachel Cusk, but I have recently read 'The Last Summer' an account of time spent with her family in Italy, which I greatly enjoyed.

When I read the first chapter or so of 'The Bradshaw Variations' I must admit to thinking 'oh no, not another tale of middle-class angst', but I quickly became ensnared by the lives of the family around whom this story revolves.

I struggled with the first few chapters in part because of the language - Ms Cusk does tend to gild the lily on occassion. However subsequent chapters are less clunky, perhaps her editor has done a better job here.

Indeed , chapter fourteen, where a mother and father make a visit to the house of their adult daughter, her husband and child, contains the best writing I have read in contemporary fiction for years.


Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Read., 20 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
Although I very much enjoyed the likes of A S Byatt's 'Possession', I do not usually ready historical fiction, preferring novels about contemporary themes. However this sounded interesting so I thought I would try it and was totally 'hooked' from the first page.

Little of true worth is known about Thomas Cromwell the person, even though much of his 'work' is chronicled. Hilary Mantel paints us a vivid picture of the man from his rough, humble beginnings to his rise within the realms of the rich, the powerful and the royal.

'Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning' says Thomas
More, 'and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a
plush cushion eating larks' tongue's, and all the gaolers will owe
him money'.

Please do not be put-off by the length of the book as you will not want it to end! Highly recommended.


The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
by Mark Thompson
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When will they ever learn.........., 3 Jan. 2009
Mark Thompson's superbly researched account of this little known appendage to the wider 1914-18 war is a stark reminder of the impact of political ideology and the cost in human life, misery, suffering and deprivation caused by conflict. Starting from the blatant opportunist expansionist ideals of Italy's minority intellectual and political elite, double dealing and secret negotiations which finally brought Italy into the war on the side of the Allies, through to political ignominy in Paris in 1919, he paints a picture of a dysfunctional political Italy during the decades either side of the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, which laid the roots for fascism. The Italian military was in no better state, with its antiquated command structure cum strategy, an army under resourced in essential equipment and the inhuman treatment and knowing sacrifice of its own men. A side show this may have been, but one which had little support or understanding within the population at large and who paid with casualties comparable to the Allies on the western front for little or nothing to show in territorial or political gain.

Thompson leaves little doubt that the Austro-Hungarians are the aggrieved party in this conflict, with Italy the aggressor. Indeed Italy's claim to centuries' old Habsburg territory appears akin to German claims over the Sudetenland in 1939 and the Russian justification of their intervention in South Ossetia in 2008. There is also little doubt that the Habsburg's held what moral high ground there was in the conduct of the war and it is perhaps fortunate for Italy that she chose to be on the, ultimately, winning side in the larger 1914-18 war, for she was going nowhere on her own. However, with the subsequent rise of fascism under Mussolini it is questionable whether the rest of the world would agree.

Perhaps the lasting legacy of Thompson's account, however, will be the graphic and harrowing testimony of those participants caught up in a conflict they didn't understand or want and the wanton destruction and loss of life inflicted. Just one example, from many, illustrates the stark reality of the war, when in 1917, in a diversionary attack on Ortigara,

`The Italians have taken at least 25,000 casualties over the 19 days of the battle, on a front of three kilometres, for no gains whatsoever'.

Shorn of its basic facts this same attack is put more poignantly by Paolo Monelli, a captain in the Alpini, when the last enemy bombardment stopped,

`... a vast silence spreads... Then groans from the wounded. Then silence once more. And the mountain is infinitely taciturn, like a dead world, with its snowfields soiled, the shell craters, the burnt pines. But the breath of battle wafts over all - a stench of excrement and dead bodies.'

Thompson's book is yet another lesson in the futility of war and should be mandatory reading for all political leaders and governments around the globe.


The Careful Use Of Compliments (Sunday Philosophy Club)
The Careful Use Of Compliments (Sunday Philosophy Club)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More please!, 5 Mar. 2008
I very much enjoyed the latest adventures of Isabel Dalhousie, a very modern woman indeed, philosopher, friend, lover and now mother too. It is refreshing to read fiction where a female is, for the most part, in control of her own life and makes decisions for herself. Perfect for a relaxing read. Looking forward to the next instalment.


Our Horses In Egypt
Our Horses In Egypt
by Rosalind Belben
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting story, 23 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Our Horses In Egypt (Hardcover)
I almost didn't bother with this book - the storyline, horses going off to war etc was going to be either too sentimental or too harrowing for me - and the prose seemed a little strange from my quick glance in the bookshop. However I am so glad that I did decide to keep it, once I got past page three or so, and therefore got used to Ms Belben's rather unusual style, I was absolutely hooked and couldn't put the book down.

A haunting story that will stay with me for a long time. I will definitely seek out Rosalind Belben's other books. I wholeheartedly endorse the review submitted here by M Rosoff, why was this book not a winner of some prize or other?


The World According to Bertie (44 Scotland Street)
The World According to Bertie (44 Scotland Street)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun!, 18 Feb. 2008
Another delightful volume of sketches from the lives of the inhabitants, past and present, of 44 Scotland Street, Edinburgh. The stories have a fair dash of local colour which is understandable given that the chapters were serialised in the Scotsman, but that should not put-off readers from Kidderminster or Kathmandu as the characters and storylines are pretty universal. All the usual suspects are here - indecisive Matthew; outrageous Angus; put-upon Big Lou; bullying Bruce; poor six year old Bertie, whose every waking minute is organised by his overbearing mother - and more.

Great story-telling - very amusing, occasionally acerbic but never unkind. A good, uplifting read. How does he do it?


Can Any Mother Help Me?
Can Any Mother Help Me?
by Jenna Bailey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part history, part biography, totally interesting......., 17 Feb. 2008
Thesis...Mass Observation Unit....all sounds such an unlikely premise for an absorbing read, but this book is exactly that. Jenna Bailey uncovered the story of the CCC (the Cooperative Correspondence Club), a group of women coping with family life during wartime Britain in the 1940s and after, whilst searching for a suitable subject for her Masters thesis. The CCC was formed when a cry of help in the shape of a letter to `Nursery World' magazine was answered by an assortment of other lively, intelligent women eager to connect with a world outside of domestic drudgery and child rearing.

`Can Any Mother Help Me?' is part history, how women coped during that period and what was expected of them, and part biography, each of the participants have really rather interesting lives. A well presented and rivetting read - highly recommended.


The Most Beautiful Libraries of the World
The Most Beautiful Libraries of the World
by Guillaume de Laubier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £39.95

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A feast for the eyes, 27 Jan. 2008
This is a seriously beautiful book and only published in translation by
Thames and Hudson in 2003.

Large in format with 190 colour plates, many of them are fold-out pages giving a huge three-sheet view of some of the library interiors. The photography is sumptuous and a feast for the eyes - the text describing the twenty-three libraries features is brief but very interesting.

An absolute treat. Highly recommended for a gift to a bibliophile.


Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and humane., 10 Jan. 2008
Although I envy Anne Fadiman for having the privilege of growing up in such a literary household, it can not be easy being the child of two intellectually heavyweight writers (her father was Clifton Fadiman - author of such books as The Lifetime Reading Plan, and her mother was Annalee Jacoby Fadiman, who was, amongst other things, a World War II reporter). For all that, Anne Fadiman wears her heritage and her own undisputable erudition lightly, and her keen humour shines through her work.

In this joyous little book she tackles such diverse issues as the amalgamation of two libraries and helping her father recite Milton as he tries come to terms with his blindness in his old-age.

A gem to enjoy time and again.


At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist
At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist
by Anne Fadiman
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing at its best, 4 Jan. 2008
I have admired other work by Anne Fadiman, particularly Ex Libris, and I was certainly not disappointed by this latest offering. In At Large and At Small - Confessions of a Literary Hedonist she writes of such diverse topics as coffee, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, national flags and the trauma of moving home. What she offers is not the ubiquitous `in my opinion.....' pieces but beautifully crafted essays whose breadth and depth are astonishing. I particularly enjoyed the essay entitled `The Unfuzzy Lamb' in which Fadiman writes about the beloved Charles Lamb. Beloved? Well if you didn't feel that way about him before you read that particular piece, you certainly will after as she paints such a sympathetic picture of him.

This little book, just 200 pages and in a small, but very pleasing format, is an absolute gem. As erudite and amusing as a perfect companion.


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