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Norman Housley (Leicester United Kingdom)

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An Executive Summary of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'
An Executive Summary of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'
by A. D. Thibeault
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.20

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Admirably clear and accessible, 15 April 2014
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Well done Thibeault on producing such an admirable and helpful summary of Piketty's monumental thesis. The book can be read in about an hour and leaves you with a sound grasp of Piketty's argument, accompanied by URLs that take you to the crucial graphs.
The key point to emerge from Piketty, as far as I am concerned, is that he thoroughly demolishes the trickle down claim of the free marketeers - trickle down does not happen, instead capital accumulation cuts itself loose from economic growth and becomes self-perpetuating and socially exclusive to the nth degree.


The Last Life
The Last Life
Price: 3.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me, 15 April 2014
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This review is from: The Last Life (Kindle Edition)
I am a huge admirer of The Woman Upstairs but felt that this novel lacked its qualities. The first person narrator just wasn't convincing and there was no sense of place. I didn't feel that I was in Provence or Algeria at all. Worst, it moves painfully slowly, its sluggish pace not at all helped by the movements back and forth in time.
I am really disappointed because I love the way Messud writes and the book's theme of displacement fascinates me. But it simply didn't engage me. Actually I gave up after 100 pages because reading it became a chore, but I wouldn't go below three stars for such an outstanding writer. In this instance, her intelligence and empathy weren't sufficient to carry me forward.


Bilgewater (Abacus Books)
Bilgewater (Abacus Books)
by Jane Gardam
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather disappointing, 25 Mar 2014
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I came to this after reading the Old Filth trilogy and A Long Way from Verona, and found it unengaging and lightweight by comparison. The themes and setting are very close to those of the Verona book, but the heroine is introverted and rather pedestrian, unlike the wonderful Jessica Vye. Some of the set piece scenes - you quickly get to know when these are on the horizon with Gardam - were jarringly sitcom-like, to the extent that I could almost hear audience canned laughter as I read them.
3 and a half stars - the author deserves no less given her terrific sense of humour and sprightly style, but not a great read


Last Friends (Old Filth Trilogy 3)
Last Friends (Old Filth Trilogy 3)
Price: 4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable trilogy comes to an end, 6 Mar 2014
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With this book Jane Gardam concludes one of the most enjoyable trilogies of our time, a heartening, funny, thought provoking and beautifully written sequence. All the faults of the other two books are here - the coincidences in particular reach the level of absurdity, and the sentimentality is laden on rather thick - but what the heck, it's worth it to spend a few more hours in the company of these wonderful characters, and I felt really sad on reaching the last page.
For me the best part was the unexpected and welcome return of the prep school head, 'Sir', and the way Gardam tied that in with [Fiscal]-Smith. I wonder if that was planned from the start? I should like to hear Gardam talk about the trilogy some time, whether it was all worked out or evolved as she wrote each of the sequels.
There are times when the book becomes 'Rumpolesque' in style but she pulls it back with passages like Veneering's Teesside upbringing, which are touching without becoming sentimental.
For anybody who has finished the trilogy and is wondering what to read as a follow-up, I recommend A long way from Verona, which is also set in the North-East and has many of the hallmarks of the trilogy, indeed certain passages form clear parallels to Last Friends.


A Long Way From Verona
A Long Way From Verona
by Jane Gardam
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 'Jessie-Carr' Vye, 25 Feb 2014
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This review is from: A Long Way From Verona (Paperback)
I loved this book. It's the best account of adolescence I have read since David Mitchell's Black Swan Green and I found it absolutely captivating. In fact a perfect reading experience, lighting up the day with its charm, sparkle and humour. Like eating strawberries and cream.


The Man In The Wooden Hat
The Man In The Wooden Hat
Price: 4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars For a sequel, this offers very good value, 16 Feb 2014
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Most sequels are subject to the law of diminishing returns, and it applies the more so when as much of the plot from the earlier book is recycled as in this one. That said, the characters are well worth revisiting and Gardam's rich style and probing intelligence make the book very rewarding. Much of the content of Betty's early life is enjoyable and at times moving. I am not sure if I shall read the third book but it's tempting, just because Gardam writes so well. I wish there wasn't so much coincidence, and there are flaws in the structure that should have been ironed out - others have pointed out that Betty's cv just doesn't work chronologically.


Old Filth
Old Filth
Price: 4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, insightful novel about old age, 7 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Old Filth (Kindle Edition)
This is a fine and beautifully written novel about getting old, loss and regret, and about character formation. The central theme, the lasting consequences of being a 'Raj orphan', is handled with extraordinary sensitivity and the sense of rootlessness is palpable. Some scenes are achingly touching, especially the one early on when the infant Edward is torn away from his first and perhaps only love, the Malay girl Ada who has looked after him since birth, because his father wholly neglected him, blaming him for the death of his mother. I also loved the prep school, which was very Fowlesian with its brisk no-nonsense head simply called 'Sir', who refers to his school as his 'Outfit'.

There is much in this book to enjoy and laugh at, and when it is dealing with the tribulations of being old, or with Edward's picaresque adventures in his youth, it rarely strikes a discordant note. There are a few too many coincidences to make the plot work and I could have done without Queen Mary making an appearance - imported real people rarely add much to a narrative. But there is only one disappointing chapter, the bizarre sequence when Claire's son Oliver and his partner Vanessa come to visit. I don't think Gardam can write well about today's young people, and this yuppie couple are wholly unconvincing. Particularly irritating is the idea that anybody visiting their mother in Saffron Walden from London would overnight in Stamford, which is 60 miles away! The George at Stamford is good but not THAT good.


The Woman Upstairs
The Woman Upstairs
Price: 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars a lyrical, reflective and insightful novel, 30 Jan 2014
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I was predisposed to enjoy this novel because its theme is one of my favourites, the narrator's obsession with all the members of a charismatic and talented family - what you might call the Brideshead fixation. Messud adds some really intriguing and clever ideas to the genre, dealing with creativity, ambition, duty, regret, and the complexity of sexual attraction. She explores these in a beautiful prose style and with many resonant touches. It is a very mature book, she takes time to explore things, occasionally too much so, but overall it's one of the most rewarding reading experiences I've had for years. The Cambridge, Mass. setting is nicely woven into the book.
I am still pondering over the ending, which comes as a shock and turns the rest of the book on its head. At first I took against it, because it just didn't seem to be in character. I still find it saddening and disturbing, but at the same time I can see how it flows from some of the book's development. What I don't like, though, is the message that the author seems to be sending in the book's opening and closing sentences that anger can be positive and liberating. Messud would perhaps say that this isn't her message but the narrator's, and if that is the case it could be taken to show that at the end of a painful experience Nora remains deluded.
It's not often that one reads a novel that sets the mind going in so many different directions, in addition to being such an enjoyable book to read. Messud deserves all the praise she gets for her achievement.


Life After the State
Life After the State
by Dominic Frisby
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spot on diagnosis, unrealistic solution, 22 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Life After the State (Paperback)
The author has a lot of bees in his bonnet (home birth, home education, legalised drugs etc) but his opening chapters which focus on our political and economic crisis form an accessible and hard-hitting analysis. Rent seeking, fiscal excess, crony capitalism are all nailed, though what he doesn't do is show how the elite that benefits from all these cunning wheezes is held together by social networks that increasingly exclude the vast majority of the population.
Grotesque and unsustainable as our current system is, the solution offered in this book rests on a hopelessly idealistic reading of human nature. The free market, I believe, would create even worse ills than we currently face. The likes of Milton Friedman are quoted all too often and we know where his ideas led. At least we have freedom of expression, the rule of law, accountability, the minimum wage etc. Strip away the state as far as the author would like and the way would be clear for the Big Beasts to dominate even more than they currently do - and heaven knows that's bad enough.


Into the Darkest Corner
Into the Darkest Corner
by Elizabeth Haynes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cleverly written but an unpleasant read, 10 Dec 2013
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Elizabeth Haynes succeeds in delivering a very creepy thriller which will delight anybody who warms to suspense-driven narratives. Whether or not you enjoy the book will depend on your tolerance for two deeply unsettling topics which are at its centre, OCD and abusive relationships. I found both highly unpleasant to read about, hence my low-ish score, but I did admire the author's technique, in particular her ability to pull the reader right into her narrative, a quality which I think explains many of these rave reviews. Managing the overall narrative as two separate sequences of events was a very clever idea and it's well handled - gradually you understand Cathy from what happens to Catherine, and it's very reassuring that as the earlier scenario gets darker and darker, you know that she survives the ordeal and goes on to form a settled and positive relationship not far into the future.
Having said that, I thought this novel overlong - about a fifth of it could have been cut and the result would have been that much tauter and more satisfying. There are pages of unnecessary padding and, unfortunately, some really flaccid writing. Characterisation is not strong. Lee has to be given some pretty extraordinary abilities to enable him to be such a threatening bogeyman. Conversely, Catherine has to be depicted as an implausibly isolated, vulnerable and, it must said, naive individual to play the victim role. As for Stuart, he is basically a Good Samaritan with useful medical expertise, the opposite of Lee. There is too much artifice in this ... and I won't even start on the ridiculous Sylvia.
For a first novel, this has exceptional quality, especially the haunted house passages where the suspense is built up very well. But the author needs to make her characters more rounded, convincing and engaging if she is going to move beyond the genre of psychological thriller. Not that there is any reason why she should - this book has done really well, and it seems most reviewers are eager for more of the same.


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