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The Christmas Letters: The Ultimate Collection of Round Robins
The Christmas Letters: The Ultimate Collection of Round Robins
by Simon Hoggart
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The funniest book I have read for years, 8 Mar 2014
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I don't send Christmas Round Robins myself and experience teeth gnashing, blind fury when I receive one from smugsters who think I care about their wretched lives. They are always from people you haven't seen for years or even, in some cases, ever, if you cared about them you would know how wonderful their lives are without being told because you would see them from time to time or at least call!

So the world is divided into two camps, those who send and those who receive. If you form part of the unwilling latter I suggest you forward this book, anonymously if you like, to the senders of the most hateful annual diatribes. Maybe they will then try and cease their horrible self indulgent yawn making habit.

I started reading this in bed one night I had to put it down about a third of the way through, I feared permanent damage to my stomach muscles from insane outloud solitary hysterical laughter and the print was blurred before my eyes with tears of hilarity. The editor of these epistles is spare in his comments but bitingly accurate, just a killer line adding to the general outstanding comedy.

I cannot praise this book enough. To calm myself down enough to get to sleep, I had to plod through several pages of Alastair Campbell's diaries, enough to wipe the smile off my face even after this super, funny, wonderful look at life in all its madness book

No Man's Nightingale: (A Wexford Case)
No Man's Nightingale: (A Wexford Case)
by Ruth Rendell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than the last few, but still not a page turner, 15 Aug 2013
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I opened this with trepidation, would it be a turkey like the dreadful St Zita Society? Would the return of Wexford be as ill advised as his appearnce in The Vault?

The answer is, though this is damning with faint praise, that is is a good deal better than either of these two novels.

Here Wexford is back in Kingsmarkham 'helping' the now elevated Superintendant Burden in a role described as 'Crime Solutions Advisor.' Swallowing that is pretty hard and one can think of many reasons why such a thing would not be allowed but this scenario does have more of a ring of possibility than the previous idea of having good old Reg as an advisor to the Met.

It seems as though RR has taken on some of the criticisms laid at her door after the last outing of the retired Wexford.. She seems to have discovered that the police have more than Google and the phone book at their disposal though poor old Reg has not learned that the phone book is on line, he is under the stairs looking for old telephone directories .

The crime is the strangulation of a woman vicar, this lets RR give us plenty of guff about religion in general and for some reason we are also treated to reams of stuff from The Decline and Fall of Thne Roman Empire which adds nothing to the story and I can only conclude that RR wants us all to know she has read it.

Reg solves it ahead of Burden of course despite the latters data bases. There is a sub plot involving the murdered woman's daughter, I can't give a spoiler but I think most people will work out that one, as soon as one of the hoariset old chestnuts in fiction rears its head!

There is a lot about racism in here and again I am wondering if RR has read the criticism that her treatmant of anyone who is not white and British is, in a probably unintentional way, racist. The thing is that a persons race seems to be the first thing she concentrates on. I have friends and not so good friends and I always think 'Well Mel is kind and dotty, and Mick is very into techno and Gill is a bit of a cow' etc their ethnicity is not what defines them and not the first thing I think about them and I would hope many of us are like that, though of course there are many out and out racists about. I am not suggesting RR is one of them but her attitude to non white Britons makes me very uncomfortable. I think she is aware that something is wrong but does not understand what.

The whole feel of the book is dated, the dialogue and observations are of the 1960's the prose is peppered with expressions like 'lady-doctor' and 'trendy'.

I also dislike and always have done, RR's depiction of the 'lower classes' she is very bad at this and she seems to find it hilariously funny when people are not very well spoken or literate. She employs many the use of 'Rasperry' for 'Blackberry' in Saint Zita and invites us to giggle over these character's ignorance.

The references to ' Mad Men' and 'The Voice' do not modernise the story, she has done this before thinking a mention of Cheryl Cole or Ugg boots will show she is at one with 21st century culture they only point up the gnerally dated out of touch tone of the rest of it.

It's not at all bad though, it has a reasonaable plot though it is not edge of the seat stuff and the ending doesn't make you think 'Well I never! How clever' She has addressed the worst of the dross that peppered her recent police procedurals. It is old fashioned and cosy. Rather than reading like the work of a highly experienced writer it reads like a first novel whose author has not yet learned about pace and suspense and who needs to research how policing works.

It is with considerable relief that I can give it three stars not the one I was expecting
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2014 9:25 PM BST

The Daughter Of Time
The Daughter Of Time
by Josephine Tey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting vintage novel with sudden new modern relevance, 19 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Daughter Of Time (Paperback)
I'm an older reader so I am familiar with Josephine Tey and her detective Alan Grant from my youth. Brat Farrar, another of her books is one of the best genuine mystery stories of all time.

This one is a lot different, Grant is laid up in hospital and bored witless. One of his visitors brings him some portraits to look at to pass the time and to feed Grant's interest in faces. He picks up a copy of the painting of Richard 111 still on view in The National Portrait Gallery and he is hooked. He sees a sensitive , thoughtful, gentle face. Can this be the evil man who, amongst numerous horrors, murdered the Princes in The Tower?

Enlisting the support of a young research student, Grant reads everything about the subject he can lay his hands on. His first surprise is to find that the 'authorised version' as it were, of events, was not written by those there at the time, but by later writers under the rule of the 'winners' of Bosworth namely the Tudors.

Tey gives us a detailed account of the era and its major players and explores the convoluted family history of the Plantagenets particularly the children of Cecily Neville. It is a novel and not a text book and the story is told through the imagined speech of those taking part in this fascinating period of history

Fascinated by the recent discovery of Richard111's body I ordered this book again and was fascinated. Tey lays out in detail the whole story of this maligned man and his family. I found it, I mean the details of the York and Lancaster families, easier to follow than the programmes on television recently.

The idea here of having a poorly detective 'solve' a historic case is brilliant and later filched by Colin Dexter in his Morse book The Wench is Dead' Dexter did admit that he had got his idea from Josephine Tey as they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I like this novel a lot.

Slow Northumberland & Durham: Including Newcastle, Hadrian's Wall and the Coast (Bradt Travel Guides (Slow Travel))
Slow Northumberland & Durham: Including Newcastle, Hadrian's Wall and the Coast (Bradt Travel Guides (Slow Travel))
by Gemma Hall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must have guide!, 18 Mar 2013
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I can honestly say this is the best guide book I have ever read about anywhere. It is like being advised by a close friend who has an informed and detailed knowledge of an area she obviously loves.

It has everything in here you need for a trip to this beautiful part of the North of England. There is history, heritage, insider snippets of information. You have little known villages to see and accurate details of getting there. The book is great whether you intend to travel by car, bike, horse or on foot. It includes numerous suggestions for places to eat and to stay. It is very easy to read and to navigate to find the places you are interested in. I cannot speak too highly of this guide book

The Child's Child
The Child's Child
by Barbara Vine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.99

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A boring waste of everyone's time!, 16 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Child's Child (Hardcover)
That waste of time includes the author's. Why she has to sit down and keep on and on churning out rubbish I do not know.

Having said that, it is better than the last one though that is not saying much. The book's themes are birth outside marriage and homosexuality. Nothing new, interesting or enlightening is said about either of these subjects. Large parts have a didactic tone, something RR/BV has been inclined to in many later works, I am thinking of the self styled 'political Wexfords' when she bangs on about some important, but irrelevant subject such as female circumcision.
She tries to illustrate attitudes to 'illegitimacy' through the ages but she does it very poorly. For instance she draws attention to Harriet Smith from Austen's Emma, but that girl, 'the natural daughter of someone or other' is hardly ostracised, Emma the lady of the manor as it was is happy not only to make her her special dearest friend, but to try and set her up not only with vicar, but with monied Frank Churchill.
Yes I know it was appalling for women without money in the fifties and sixties to have an 'illegitimate' child but they were not completely shunned from society as BV suggests. At my own school in whiter than white Devon, there were several mixed race children, the product of romances with GIs and no one bothered at all.
Barbara Vine is now very confused, she does not seem to know whether she is writing some treatise, or expose, or a novel. Either way she fails on both counts. She has at least abandoned trying to show modern policing, I am sick of senior officers not knowing how to send an E mail, and the vast majority of the novel is set in the past. This stops her from thinking that throwing in references to Ugg boots and Cheryl Cole makes you a cool depicter of modern times.

I plodded on. The last quarter runs out of steam entirely and I got the feeling that the writer was hoping to get to the end as much as I was. There is no denouement so if you have started it hoping for all to be revealed in even a vaguely interesting you will be disappointed.

There is a lot more I could say, I could take apart the inconsistencies, the inaccuracies, the repetition of things from her earlier works etc etc but frankly I can't be bothered. Please, please let there be no more of this.

Asta's Book: Psychological Thriller
Asta's Book: Psychological Thriller
by Barbara Vine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Totally absorbing from the very first page, 26 Dec 2012
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I am just re reading this from a new copy my original copy somehow mislaid. My head done in by the recent work of this writer, I had forgotten how marvellous she used to be.

It is simply spell binding, beautifully written, impeccably researched and rather different, in that it has a strong Scandinavian thread. This makes it suddenly seem very relevant and modern in the wake of the deluge of Scandi novels coming here in the wake of 'The Killing' I can't really fault it, the characters have such depth, the dialogue is so convincing. How different from say 'The Saint Zita Society'

It spans getting on for a century starting in 1905 and the story flips from being told from diaries, the 'Asta's Book' written by the aged and eccentric Danish grandma of the

family, to the viewpoints of the present day descendants. It has mysteries within mysteries, hints and red herrings little cul-de -sacs which glimpse past life and times.

I found it out of print everywhere I looked but it is well worth hunting down a second hand copy. Although I have read it before and more than once, like all the best

literature there is always some new detail, some new angle to notice on each re reading. I recommend it without hesitation to older RR/BV readers who perhaps missed it

and to new readers who have only read the recent work.

The Saint Zita Society
The Saint Zita Society
by Ruth Rendell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.14

78 of 85 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So bad it's upsetting, 18 July 2012
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This review is from: The Saint Zita Society (Hardcover)
I never thought the day would come when I would find a book by this author to be virtually unreadable. I say 'virtually' because I have just devoted several hours of my day to reading it! I SO wanted it to be good and two 5 star reviews on here gave me hope it might be. What I found was a vast array of uninteresting, unbelievable, characters, one of whom thinks his mobile phone provider is a god, indulging in pages of dull conversation, and a rambling plot about someone being pushed downstairs and the subsequent efforts to dispose of the body.
I think this author has been stung by remarks that she doesn't 'get' the 21st century and there are definite, forced attempts in here to prove that she does. Ironically the authorial voice bemoans the fact that most over 60's don't understands computers, a bit rich when her most well known character CI Wexford only learned how to send an e mail after he retired!
There is a perfectly dreadful attempt at humour in here some of it aimed at the most techno ignorant character, some pseudo princess who refers to a blackberry as a raspberry..yes that is the level of the humour. There is nothing compelling about any aspect of this novel at all, I tried in vain to find flashes of the old genius but there are none.

Now, as the recent works of RR still gain rave reviews from some people, I ask myself what is happening here. I suggest that this writer has changed her literary range entirely and now appeals to a different sort of reader altogether ie those who enjoy something very,superficial and easy. Nothing wrong with that, I dislike snobbery in literature as much as any where else. Those of us who used to wait in excitement for one of her books to be released... I am thinking of vintage Wexford and middle period Vine, are baffled by the slightness and incompetence of recent work: baffled and terribly disappointed
There was a time when had RR not been tagged as a thriller writer, she might have been up there, short listed for Booker and the like. A Dark Adapted Eye is as good as anything in literary fiction published that year.

The fall-off has been gradual. Wexford suffered first, when RR was clearly not able to keep up with 21st century policing and her protagonist while loveable, as a copper was ridiculous. The malaise has spread to her whole range and is not helped by the fact that she will churn out stuff so rapidly.
If she ever reads these pages I implore her to take her time and give us one more beautiful book so that she is not remembered as the writer of cheap dross.
I am aware that criticising this writer is seen by some, as akin to kicking a defenceless animal and I know from experience, that I will receive a hail of negative votes and possibly some nasty comments as well!! This is a shame. All any of us have on here is an opinion, mine is that this is a bad book, if yours is that it is a good book I respect that.
Comment Comments (24) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 10, 2013 7:43 PM BST

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
by V Bugliosi
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So gripping and detailed yet it is as easy to read as a novel, 21 Jan 2012
I have to claim special interest here, unlike a lot of you I can remember the assassination of JFK it was on my birthday, I was in the cinema watching a film and suddenly a handwritteN scrawl announcing this devastating news appeared on the screen, I was a schoolgirl, frightened and confused but also fascinated and I remain fascinated to this day.
This book, word by elegant word, in the most minute detail examines that November in a way I have never come across before.
The time frame is counted down in seconds everyone involved, even the smallest bit players has a name and a bit of back story. There is none of the 'An eye witness said' stuff, we get the name the age the sex the job of everyone who relates anything.
The first part of the book takes us once more through that terrible day, the landing at Love Field the motorcade through the cheers , the shots the frantic ride to the hospital.
Nothing is spared, the desperate and pointless attempts to restore life to a President whose brains are scattered around so that even his wife hold a piece in her hand is vividly recalled.
I thought I had heard all this before but the degree of scholarly detail is fantastic. We go through the arrest of Oswald and his death in custody all in the same page turning immediacy.
Then line by line the writer demolishes all the conspiracy theories, Oswald he concludes, WAS a lone assassin. This is done so well there seems to room for doubt, he covers every angle...and yet? I am still not convinced but I love this book and immediately looked for more of books by this writer.

The Birthday Present
The Birthday Present
by Barbara Vine
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Something of a return to form by this writer, 21 Jan 2012
This review is from: The Birthday Present (Hardcover)
I have been a bit disappointed by the Vine/Rendell output of later years but this one is not half bad, I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than Chief Inspector Wexfords's twenty first century outings.

The plot here, revolves around the horrific and multiple consequences of The Birthday Present of the title. For spoiler reasons the nature of the present cannot be told, but it is unusual, imaginative and inventive....surely what any girl wants, as a change from the usual perfume or chocs!!
It is different alright and had it gone as the giver, a well known MP, had planned, well then, the recipient his married girlfriend might have gone orgasmic with joy!! Literally.
It goes wrong. Somebody or bodies die. Enter a bunny boiler type anxious to suck up to the troubled MP, she really is a nut case, but I don't find her over the top ridiculous I found her and her controlling Mum believable.
As we expect from this author the London settings are very well described and the insider knowledge of the House of Commons is interesting.
There are a lot of believable characters drawn in depth, unlike some other of Vine/RR's latter work, there is plot there is suspense and there is a good ending.
I recommend this one, especially if you can borrow it or get it cheap. No way is it another Dark Adapted Eye but its a satisfying yarn nevertheless. There is also a very good audio book about, but I cannot find it on Amazon, it is narrated by Paul Blake and Ruth Silley and done very well

We Need To Talk About Kevin
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Price: £4.12

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like dense fruit cake, I felt full up before the end., 20 Jan 2012
Have you seen those photos on TV of children and teenagers who have committed the most horrific murders? Sometimes I look and think, " Well he looks so charming and normal' but then there are those who have dead eyes and the most chilling detached look.

I guess I have always though that something happened to these youngsters DURING THEIR LIVES that made them the way they are, but what if they were simply born that way? Cold, rejecting, unlovable in any way right from the moment of birth? What would it feel like to be the mother of such a one?
This book talks about this and so raises all sorts of questions about the nature of parenthood. Now I was a career woman, until one day seemingly out of nowhere, I got fixated on staring into prams. If you are a woman and this never happens to you, is there something wrong with you? If you have a baby anyway, are you responsible if that child turns out bad, could your negative feelings in what the write calls 'a clenched womb' ensure you were going to produce something almost sub human?. What about the fathers in all this? If they have a need to reproduce themselves should they feel entitled to a child whatever the mother thinks.
This is beautifully written, every nuance well observed but, for me, about half way through I got word indigestion like trying to get through a wonderful pudding or cake, that was yum yum at first but then felt too dense and filling.

I felt, when I had finished it, that i had been a good girl to clean my plate but wished I had had a smaller serving

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