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Mum of the animals "Jenny Benfield" (UK)

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Take Back Your Life!: Using Microsoft® Office Outlook® 2007 to Get Organized and Stay Organized (Inside Out)
Take Back Your Life!: Using Microsoft® Office Outlook® 2007 to Get Organized and Stay Organized (Inside Out)
by Sally McGhee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but corny American style, 20 Nov 2007
Take Back Your Life is a genuinely useful book on how to use Outlook 2007 to improve time-management. I am using it at work and it has improved things so that it the litmus test.

But it does have irritating flaws.

The style is Americian corporate over-enthusiastic, and it keeps putting in corny dialogue as in ,
"We said, 'Great......Now what about profit and revenue'
Susan replied, 'Now you're really pinning me down!'
We responded, "That's exactly right..."

I say, "If you don't mind that style, well, great!"
But then I asked, "Doesn't it start to grate after a while?"
Then I said, "Just kidding! Ged it? Great and Grate!"
Then I responded, "Now, I'm starting to write in that unfocused way myself."

My fundamental point: It is a book about time-management but it takes far more words than is necessary to get its point across. Us busy, busy people don't have time for that.

The Complete Persepolis
The Complete Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My first graphic novel mesmerised me, 20 Nov 2007
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This is a graphic novel about Marjane's childhood and early adulthood in Iran. It combines the joy of reading a comic book with a real insight to life in Iran - through her eyes. It was no effort to read - in fact it was a absolute page turner but at the end of it I still felt I had a much better understanding of recent Iranian history and its impact on ordinary people than before. It is very funny, and winsome but she never loses sight of the pity of it all. Imagine, her liberal family with fine revolutionary credentials suddenly had to wear a veil/grow a beard and live in a religious state. How do they adapt? She describes her family and friends's reluctant conformity with great wit but in a manner that is sensitive to the background thunder of political executions, fear, torture and war. I cannot wait for the film.

by Margaret Forster
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, heartbreaking novel, 5 Nov 2007
This review is from: Over (Paperback)
Over is yet another novel from Margaret Forster that touches a raw, sore nerve. Over is about grief and death. Yet this "misery novel" is never mawkish or grim. When tragedy strikes, an erstwhile happy family tries to deal with the loss. Everyone copes with the death of their eighteen-year-old sister/daughter in a sailing accident differently and causes unintentional further pain to other members of the family as they do so. The book is not so much about the shock of the tragedy itself as what happens next - when it is over. The mother, a kindly school teacher, records the chain of events that leads to the family being torn apart and gradually find ways to pull together. It is crafted beautifully from the first sentence to the last. Don't be put off by the bleak subject matter. The book is about ordinary people filled with hope and love trying to understand each other and what has happened to them.

Seiko Concise Oxford Dictionary:Thesaurus and Spellchecker with crossword & anagram solver
Seiko Concise Oxford Dictionary:Thesaurus and Spellchecker with crossword & anagram solver

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portable, easy-to-use and handy, 24 Oct 2007
I was a sceptical buyer. I thought it might be one of those objects I see in newspaper catalogues that are all promises, such as "NEVER slip on ice AGAIN or "Learn 12 languages in half an hour. Money back guarantee!", and then fail to deliver. I rarely use a dictionary or a thesaurus. Word has a built-in spellchecker. What would I want with an electronic device that did all that?

I said the same thing about the mobile phone and the internet! The beauty of the machine is its portability. I keep it in my handbag so I have it everywhere with me. I look up words when reading on the train/bus and it greatly enhances my enjoyment. When I am out of the office I can still write with a rich, precise vocabulary. My ten-year-old son is happy to look up words on it while he struggles with dictionaries. It has a vocabulary tester so I can double-check the new words I have learnt. It is priceless.

My only criticism is that it is stuffy and old-fashioned in design and content. The screen is 4" by 1". The background is mud-green and the type-face is black like the display on the earliest mobiles. It does not recognise the vulgar words we see on walls in graffiti (you know what they are!) or even common place lingo from The Street, such as "chav" and "naff".

No Title Available

2 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beach wear only, 23 Oct 2007
I bought mine in Bali where they were called Crocs, persumably because you can wear them in land and in water. They were great. I could swim in them. They were comfortable for getting on and off boats, walking in water with small pebbles and straight onto dry land. One fell off my foot in open sea. It floated and I got it back. So I would say buy them even if nearly £30 is alot to pay for a bit of plastic.

Trouble is some people try to get their money back by wearing them evey nano-second of the day in sub-zero weather conditions. They look naff in Edinburgh, London, Paris or Rome, either in a centrally-heated house or on the street (especially in the rain). It is like wearing socks with sandals. It is like wearing a multi-coloured tank-top. They are NOT cool. Buy yerself a pair of brightly coloured wellies and a pair of fluffy slippers. You will look better, your feet will be warmer and you will still have change from your £30 investment.

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading books about books isn't for everyone but if you do so, read this one., 22 Oct 2007
Do my favourite authors enjoy the same books as me? Are they more erudite, and more Catholic in their reading taste? Nick Hornby's book gave me the chance to find out.Not only is he a favourite author but he is one of the writers I would love to go down the pub with too. He seems like a friend.

And I was not let down. Where Nick and I over-lapped, we agreed, and that made me feel wise - but he did read much, much more - and that made me realise I need to expand my horizions. And this book gave me pointers on how to do so.

I did not get bored because no literary genre is ignored (except sci-fi and that suited me fine). Dickens is there, So is Adrian Mole as well as new writers soon to be published in the Uk. Biographies, poetry, short-stories, crime are all there. He writes about each book he had read with wit and clarity. His literary criticism was never dry, worthy or condesending. Needless to say, he is often very, very funny but I can't spoil your read.

On the strength of his advice, I bought my first graphic novel (very right-on. It is about a girl's childhood and the Iranian revolution) and pre-ordered a book he enjoyed, Then We Came To The End.

Also he has other good advice. He sorts his books according to Trivial Pursuit categories - how brilliant is that? Much better than library cataloging and/or the unpacked box system I operate. "Where did I read it? In my first flat? Must be in the Hackney squat box!"

He writes directly to the reader. It is like having a fantastic English teacher who thinks we are all promising, precocious pupils and has taken us down the pub to discuss books we like. Naturally a large-flat screen TV showing football is on hand so stuff that is more fun than books can be enjoyed too. He never loses his sense of perspective.
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The Cloudspotter's Guide
The Cloudspotter's Guide
by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.24

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Above my head, 18 Oct 2007
The best thing about this book is it opens your eyes to the world around you. Ever since buying this book, when I'm a bit bored I take a look at the sky and wonder. The worst thing is I don't stop wondering. This book has been written edited and published by geeks who in other lives produce the impenetrable instructions and diagrams for self assembly furniture and mathmatical calculators. You start out hopefully and enthusiastically enough but... the chapters are listed by their scientific names rather than 'wispy','fluffy' or 'blanket grey'. If you look at the sky and think, "I don't know much about cumulonimbus" or "Strange form of cirrus' you'll be fine. But those of us who look up at the sky and think "Enough blue to make a pair of sailor's trousers," or "Looks like rain again" will be disappointed. It needed to have a key: "If your cloud looks like this, turn to page x; it needed lovely, colour pictures and it really should not have been printed on cheap paper that made me feel I was reading something seedy. A missed opportunity.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) [Children's Edition]
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) [Children's Edition]
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.10

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars End of an era, 25 July 2007
Reading the last Harry Potter book and knowing it was the last was the end of an era - on a bitter-sweet level like seeing your eldest child go to university.

The book itself was not her best in my view. I love Rowling for her sense of humour, the everyday things that turn magical. The dark side, the theory of magic and the war against Voldemort has always rather bored me. This book is in the genre of the Last Battle, CS Lewis, Revelations, in the Bible. Nearly all the sense of fun and suprise has gone. It's all about battle tactics, death and strength in adversity.

To me, the importance of the book is that it reading it is equivalent to watching one of your own children transmogifying into an adult. The late teenage years are important but they are more adversorial and less fun than earlier stages in their development. The book reflects that. I missed the little Harry with his open-mouthed wonder and the feeling of an ordered Hogwart's Universe. I wanted him to eat ever-lasting toffee and carry out school boy pranks. I didn't want this oaf who doubted Dumbledore, snogged Ginny and puts his friends' lives in danger. Which is kind of how you feel when you watch your own flesh-and-blood grow into manhood, smoking and using his home as a hotel.

Thank you JK Rowling for creating the kind of literary excitment across the series that made me understand why people used to queue up for Dicken's series of books in newspapers in the nineteenth century. It has been a wonderful decade but it's gone.

Lost in Care
Lost in Care
by Jimmy Holland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.65

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lost opportunity, 11 Jun 2007
This review is from: Lost in Care (Paperback)
Lost in Care is a shocking and despairing insight into life as a state-raised boy and how he became one of the most violent men in the prison system (according to some).

It would have been a better book if the publishers had edited it more sensitively and probed Jimmy more deeply. It is important to hear his story and I am impressed by his achievement in trying to record what happened - but it is not enough. Too many open-ends.

The book would be greatly improved if there had been more of a critique on what should have happened to forestall the outcome. Readers with a Health and Social Care background will find themselves thinking about interventions. Could he not have been adopted as a baby? What help were his foster parents receiving for coping with Jimmy's emotional and behaviour difficulties? Why were other people not interviewed about events?

A critical factor in his downfall is that he had no opportunity to develop any social networks because he moved institutions so often. He had no family, no neighbourhood links. The criminals he met in prison were his first stable friendships and an amazing number die - from AIDS, suicide, stabbings. Not surprisingly, he finds it difficult to attach, "Getting love out of me is like pulling teeth."

Despite these sufferings, Jimmy is too violent and not a gifted enough writer for many readers to engage with. But that is not the point of the book. Jimmy says: "I don't want your sympathy vote but I do want an end to this sort of upbringing for those who come after me".

And he is right in that. It is a sad tale that professionals must learn from. It is just a shame that this book fails to teach us more.

Kitchen Garden Cooking for Kids
Kitchen Garden Cooking for Kids
by Stephanie Alexander
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars For good cooks and adventurous children, 11 Jun 2007
Before Jamie Oliver took on the healthy eating for school-children battle, there was Stephanie Alexander.

Spurred by her concern about the eating habits of today's children, Stephanie wanted children to experiment with gardening and cooking in order to teach them about the joys and benefits of freshly grown food. She masterminded the Kitchen Garden at Collingwood College, a large school in a semi-industrial part of Melbourne. It was a bold project, and this book shows others: parents, grand-parents, teachers and community leaders, how to follow its lead this book.

The style is very different from Jamie Oliver. Jamie has a knack of selling cooking as easy and tasty. He reduces the mystique around cooking. He meets people halfway teaching us to do "loadsa comfort grub" like steak pie and curry. "Gordon Bennett!", he says, "It's about best friends really tucking in and having a laff." Unlike Jamie's relaxed style, Stephanie has a more ambitious approach. One of Australia's top food author, her signature publication, The Cook's Companion (2004?) is the kitchen bible in over 400,000 homes. She believes there is no such thing as 'kid's food' and all her recipes are sophisticated and expose the child's palate to a complex mix of tastes. Examples include grilled quail marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and herbs; wilted cucumber with borage (lovely, blue, star-shaped flowers) salad; orange and cardamom fairy cakes. It is a book for competent cooks who want to teach their children to cook but are fed up with the dumbing down of kids' cook books to baked beans on toast, egg and cress sandwiches and flapjack.

Australians are proud of their rugged 'can-do' approach compared to us poncey Poms. It shows in this book. Not only does she expect kids to grow and taste food that would grace a 3 Michelin-star restaurant, they must chop it, boil it, deep-fry and sauté it! With only a tiny faces symbol and red type to indicate safety instruction, the author writes: "in most cases adult supervision, rather than active help, will be needed." This includes activities that I have never quite mastered without resorting to a first aid kit, such as pouring hot chicken stock into the colander and removing golden brown, bubbling pies from the oven. But if you can get your child to do it safely, you have not only taught your child a life skill, your friends and relatives will be amazed and impressed as seven-year-old Johnny dices onions in a thrice. This beats getting your children to play the violin or show off their dancing because, hopefully, you have a tasty meal to show for the child's effort.

The language is also not for the faint hearted cook. An Australian publication, it uses words like silverbeet, vine leaves and cassia bark which we British are not familiar with. She also uses cooking vocabulary: Mouli food mills, gruyere and linguine which are not explained and should be.

The book is recommended for the adventurous cook with children who like a challenge - or maybe someone who can leave it on a coffee table, enjoy the pictures and dream.

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