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Cat Mac "tagatha" (UK)
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The Soldier's Song (The Soldier's Song Trilogy)
The Soldier's Song (The Soldier's Song Trilogy)
by Alan Monaghan
Edition: Paperback

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ireland's Call, 10 Jan. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I picked Alan Monaghan's book on the basis of the title. As any second or third generation English-dwelling-Irish-kid will tell you, the Soldiers Song is without fail played by the DJ at the end of any social gathering down the local Irish Association club house. It's a particularly rousing tune, especially when sung along in the native tongue, but it was only years later I heard the translation and realised what it was all about.

The Irish history from the last century is celebrated in film, song and folklore, and when I was growing up it was still in living memory for a few people around and about. Due to early exposure to the likes of the Dubliners and the Wolfetones, I have always held a slightly romantic view of the rebels at the Easter Uprising - and their tragic end at the hands of a barbaric government. Monaghan's book brings the view from the other side of the fence, instead of the rebels being the heroes of the book, our central character is Stephen Ryan, a talented mathematician who signs up for the 'King's shilling' at the outbreak of World War 1. His experiences of warfare abroad in Suvla Bay and the Somme are coupled with his experience of the change of attitude towards Soldiers in his native Dublin. There is a climax early on when Stephen ends up defending Trinity College at the uprising, knowing that his brother is on the other side.

The story itself seems at once fast paced, but also thorough. The depictions of war and the life in the trenches is graphic enough to give you the stomach churns, but more important is Stephen's turmoil, which for most of the book goes unconfronted as he continues doggedly on - essentially just trying to be a good man.

A real and gritty book, with a kind of passion and heart that make me want to read it again in the near future. Will be made into a film if any canny producer gets their hands on it!


Driving My Tractor (Book & CD)
Driving My Tractor (Book & CD)
by Jan Dobbins
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Much, Too Young, 3 Jan. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Jan Dobbins & David Sim picked the theme of a Farmer driving his tractor for this kids book, and applied it to three different styles -

1. The repeating verse formula, where another animal gets added to the trailer on every page
2. The sing along CD where the little 'uns can bob around to the tune and hopefully apply it to what they're being read
3. A few pages of 'proper learning' about seasons, farming methods, types of vegetable etc.

Individually, these are all great ideas, but all together there is too much going on for little minds to focus on. It also doesn't help that the illustrations whilst impressive, are very busy, and it takes quite a lot of getting your eye in to spot certain things going on in the picture.

I employed the services of Wonder!Nephew again for this review, and I think we lasted three pages before he decided he wanted to read another book. Kids are fickle at the best of times, but he had no intention of coming back to it later either. I've had to reflect that lack of target audience interest in the rating, which I'm afraid I can only give two stars for. Break it down to the component parts, and I'm sure it would be more successful.


Whose Side are They On? How Britain's Bonkers Government Is Coming After You
Whose Side are They On? How Britain's Bonkers Government Is Coming After You
by Alan Pearce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Grumpy Old Man, 23 Dec. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't know how old Alan Pearce is, but I bet I can guess which newspaper he reads. This book is unashamedly a rant at everything that is wrong in British society today, and how it's all the government's fault. Well, he'll get no argument from a lot of people there, so where's the problem?

It reads like an extended version of the Daily Mail - everything is painted to be a ludicrous or perverse decision against justice for the average man. The examples given, rather than being introduced as the humerous/odd/ridiculous exceptions that they are, are delivered as 'how things are'. This is misleading on several counts, even just within the first few pages.

Maybe I'm being a little sensitive here, being as there are a lot of examples based on the percieved incompetence of the Police service, who happen to be my employers. Here Pearce does seriously need to go back and check his facts and how they're presented, rather than going for the sensationalist tabloid outrage. An example is where he talks about police actively hunting down and persuing the innocent motorist to issue speeding fines and penalty notices for parking instead of catching 'real criminals committing violent crimes' because they are chasing Sanction Detection targets set by the government. Firstly, what counts as a 'sanction detection' is a set list, and driving offences aren't on it. As far as I'm aware in my Force, there are no set targets on motoring offences. Also, the government has not set any sanction detection targets this year. Thirdly, the detection rate for 'real criminals' in Violent crimes as well as Burglaries, stolen cars etc. has increased in many areas of the country.

He also takes a couple of cheap shots at Police Community Support Officers, whom he delightedly calls 'plastic policemen', saying that they're there to cheat the public out of an actual police presence. I suggest the author contacts his local PCSO, to find out all of the work that they actually do. They are truly the eyes and ears of the force, offer reassurance to vulnerable local people, and are out there all day every day, in all weathers, trying to represent the community to the Police force, and also trying to represent the Police to the community. He guffaws at the idea of 16 year olds being able to Stop and Search anyone at will - again here he needs to be clear as although a PCSO has powers to Stop someone and ask them to account for their whereabouts, they do not have search powers. He will also find that the minimum recruitment age has been amended in several forces to allow for life experience.

I'm all for the Government being taken to task for several shoddy decisions they have made, of which there are many, but there is something about Pearce's manner in doing so which I found off putting. Not for me this one - it's nasty instead of clever.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 2, 2010 8:37 PM GMT


All That I Have
All That I Have
by Castle Freeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I shocked the Sheriff, 18 Dec. 2009
This review is from: All That I Have (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You could be forgiven, when looking at the physical size of 'All that I have', for thinking it was an insubstantial book. At a little over 150 pages, it looks like a lightweight, easy read. To a certain extent, that's true, as you do rattle through the chapters at the pace of an epsiode of NYPD - but there is plot, dialogue, character and conflict here in abundance.

Castle Freeman has done a great job here in creating Sheriff Lucian Wing, a Vermont County Sheriff who is pretty adept at living the quiet life - and would prefer to see the good in people rather than the bad. As his story unravels, he earns your respect and sympathy with his dry wit, good heart and belief in people. Imagine him as Tommy Lee Jones in 'No Country for Old Men' and you're well on your way.

In fact, should the Cohen brothers ever get hold of this, with their knack for dark humour, this would be a very decent movie.


Aesop's Fables (Illustrated Classics)
Aesop's Fables (Illustrated Classics)
by Alice Shirley
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something is missing..., 28 Nov. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Another childrens book, another trip down memory lane for me. I remember absolutely loving Aesops Fables when I was small, going so far as to repeatedly check it out of the junior school library so that no one else could get their hands on it! The stories, the animals and the all important morals are something that seep into the consciousness and are a bit of a rite of passage for a lot of kids.

I reviewed this one with the help of the Wonder!Nephew again, although being as he is just two and half, this is just a tad too old for him at the minute. However, he was fully entranced by the illustration and kept asking to see various pictures in the book, just to look at them.

I read through quite a few of the stories myself, and to be fair to Alice Shirley, she has packed a lot of them in here. Rather than just 'The Tortoise and the Hare' we have a lot of the lesser known fables, most of which take up about half a side of the page. Herein though, I think, lies our problem. A lot of the stories seem half finished, or end abruptly without the moral of the story being made crystal clear (I remember that copy I coveted in my youth having a very clear "...and the moral of the story is..." at the end of each tale). This is really a great shame because it ends up sort of missing the point. I've added on an extra star because of the fantastic illustration, but unfortunately, with great disappointment, I can only give two stars for the content itself. If Shirley went back to the drawing board, edited out a few more of those lesser known tales, and beefed up the remainder, it would make for a much better read.


The Smelly Sprout
The Smelly Sprout
by Allan Plenderleith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Starring role for the marmite of the vegetable world!, 28 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Smelly Sprout (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In reading through the story of the Smelly Sprout, who is swiftly dismissed from almost any place he tries to fit in on his journey through the book, I was put to mind of the classic Ladybird books of my childhood.

Whether it was the little red hen asking repeatedly for the rest of the farmyard to help her collect wheat, or each of the three billy goats gruff trying to make it across the troll bridge (and selling each other out in the process), there's something in that comforting 'Try, try and try again' motiff because you know it's all going to come good in the end. The other aspects of those classic books were that they were printed before the PC crowd got involved and decided that children were too sensitive to deal with aspects like Foxes eating gingerbread men, or chickens, or anything else that came their way - so you really knew who the baddies and the goodies were!

The Smelly Sprout manages to embrace all of these aspects, as at the end of his trials he finally ends up eaten, but as he happily points out 'That's what sprouts are for!'. I thought this was a really cute and different type of christmas story - which has now been supplied to my brother to read every night to the Wonder!Nephew before the big day arrives, in the hopes that he might just eat a few of the little green taste bombs!


Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of Our History
Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of Our History
by Justin Pollard
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More historical trivia from QI writer, 25 Nov. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
One of the 'tag' suggestions I've been offered to add to this review is 'Stocking filler' which I think pretty much sums up this book. It's a tidy little tome full of brief, easily digestible stories (no more than two and a half sides each) relating to the secret goings on of Brits gone by. It's super easy to dip in and out of, and you might even retain an item or two in the old grey matter for that crucial Pub Quiz tie break question.

A bit like his other offering, "The interesting bits of history you might have missed", Pollard delights in telling us the little known fact, folk tale or loosely cobbled together story by a third-hand witness of a cousin of the dog who saw it happen. Sure, it's entertaining, but it's not earth shattering, and some of it could be a bit misleading for your average history student! Worth a meander through, but take it light heartedly!


Diagnosis: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Medical Mysteries
Diagnosis: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Medical Mysteries
by Lisa Sanders
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To err is human..., 3 Nov. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Be it CSI, Prime Suspect or Holby City, the average television viewer has a little bit of an obsession with the 'whodunnit'. It almost seems to be human nature to have that quest for the solution to a problem or a riddle, and to bring it to a conclusion. In the world of TV we usually manage to do all this within an hour, but in real life we accept that these things take a lot longer.

Lisa Sanders is a Doctor who is also a technical advisor on the TV show 'House', and her book centres on the real life medical mysteries that are rarely solved within an hour, and aren't always resolved with a happy ending. Whilst this book is absorbing for anyone with any kind of medical interest, it also has a couple of side effects. First, it will instantaneously turn you into a hypochondriac (I was imagining I had a rare blood disease at one point after reading the symptoms!), secondly you will never trust your Doctor's first opinion ever again, and thirdly you will be able to recite the primary symptoms of Lyme disease off by heart.

Sanders does seem to focus in on Lyme disease as a handy example on several occasions, which I suppose makes sense as it is endemic to a certain part of the US, but you find yourself looking for a new example - we want the gory details afterall. She also laments the loss of the physical exam to such an extent that you start to get really, really concerned about what Doctors are actually doing when they make diagnoses - are they in fact just waiting for a computer to tell them the answer?

It's not happy reading, by any stretch, but it is very interesting to see how real life doctors have put the pieces together in some extraordinary cases. It also enlightens the reader, so next time you go to the Doctors if they take out that stethoscope and don't put it direct to skin you know they're not doing it properly!


Easy Tasty Italian
Easy Tasty Italian
by Laura Santtini
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Viva Italia, 24 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Easy Tasty Italian (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I like food. I like Italian food lots. Unfortunately, if you put me in a kitchen with the requisite ingredients and a picture of how it's supposed to look at the end, you can bet your life you'll end up with it all going completely wrong and a quick trip down to the chippy instead.

Well that's a slight exaggeration, but let's just say I'm not exactly gifted in the culinary department, which sucks because I actually enjoy cooking. So - Laura Santtini promises I too can make Easy Tasty Italian dishes. Hoorah! This book ends up being part biography of our author (which is fine because the emphasis is on the cultural background of these dishes), part recipe book, and part coffee table book with it's funky pictures and modern design. This does actually kind of work, but there is also occasionally an underlying tongue in cheek tone to the book, especially around saucy topics (no pun intended), so beware if you're planning on buying this for Mamma or Grandma at Christmas...you might be left blushing!

To the cooking then - We start things slowly by breaking down the usual utensils, store cupboard ingredients and spices you'll find in a traditional italian kitchen - and we quietly grow in confidence as we realise that most of those listed are actually already in the cupboard rather than being exotic items you need to hunt out from some expensive boutique. Then we get into the actual food stuff, we're told how to make mayonnaise, pesto, anti pasti....all useful, so far so good! The recipes and their variations are all broken down into simple, dozen line blocks. Unfortunately as we start moving on through the book, more and more of those exotic ingredients start to creep in, and also references to 'stardust' or other herb/spice concoctions made by the chef creep in. These are all detailed elsewhere in the book, but if you're working on one recipe there'll be a lot of back and forth in the pages....possibly with mucky hands!

As an aside, I have a real problem with any kind of food that combines fruit/sugar/sweet stuff with the normal savoury goodness on the one plate. Be it pineapple on pizza, apples on pork, sweet in the sour, I'm sorry - it's just wrong. Our author does seem to have a little penchant for this though, which does put me off somewhat (who really wants strawberries in their risotto? I ask you!), although through much coaching from friends I realise that this is really only my problem, and does not bother the population as a whole. But if there are any other like minded folks out there - beware!

This is a good cook book - it looks great, it reads simply, and it shows you stuff from the basics (making marinades and sauces) up to full meals. The photos are all great and show the finished article, but for me, I'd have been helped by having a few shots of 'this is how it should look at this stage' to let me know I'm on the right path as we go along. Taking everything into account this is probably one for the more confident cook, but even I tried the pesto and I was pleased with the result!


Island Of Lost Girls
Island Of Lost Girls
by Jennifer McMahon
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Lost it's way, 22 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Island Of Lost Girls (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Island of lost girls starts off pretty promising. It's a mystery thriller novel with a twist, as our heroine witnesses a kidnapping by a giant bunny.... No, really.... Anyway, this does actually make sense in the context of the book and we are happily going along and trying to figure out whodunnit alongside Rhonda, the said heroine.

Couple this in with some flashback chapters of Rhonda's own youth (which if I may say, was pretty messed up), and add in some lingering unanswered questions about the disappearance of her best friend when they were 11. Altogether we have a slightly off kilter yarn, which ticks all the boxes for this type of thriller.

The problem we run into is that our author doesn't only set up the guy we're all supposed to think is the baddie early on, she then bludgeons us over the head with it for about 200 pages before revealing 'ta-dah!' it was actually someone else. Not a problem in itself, if a little irritating, but the person whodunnit hasn't had the background set up to explain why. The explanation comes off as weak and a little bit like lazy writing just to get some ends to tie up. The last 50 pages or so really lose their way, and detract from the good work done earlier in the book.

A quick read, and the author shows promise, but needs to keep the momentum going to the end.


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