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Chasing Harry Winston
Chasing Harry Winston
by Lauren Weisberger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

2.0 out of 5 stars Some good moments, but quite flat, 15 Feb 2013
This review is from: Chasing Harry Winston (Paperback)
I have nothing against books that drop a lot of designer brand label names or centre their stories on the machinations of a group of modern socialites. If done right, this genre can be sharp, acerbic and very, very funny. The movie adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's other book "The Devil Wears Prada" was an excellent example of this, but this novel, "Chasing Harry Winston," was irredeemably shallow and it did not have much of a plot.

Focusing on a year in the life of three successful New Yorkers, "Chasing Harry Winston" is clearly trying to market itself on the success of both "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Sex and the City." However, unlike "Devil Wears Prada," where the only truly annoying and two-dimensional character is Andrea's supposedly heroic fashion hating boyfriend, Nate, in "Chasing Harry Winston," the three leads - Adriana, Emmy and Leigh - are all about as deep as puddles, and none of them in an endearing or humorous way.

Although "Chasing Harry Winston" has some funny moments, most especially with the character of Adriana, it truly is a no-brainer to read and it lacks the sharp observational humour that was needed.


The Immaculate Deception: The Popular Series: 2
The Immaculate Deception: The Popular Series: 2
by Gareth Russell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Darker than its prequel, but with a lot more heart, 10 Feb 2013
"The Immaculate Deception" picks up with the same cast of characters days after "Popular," the first book in this series, ended. Like "Popular," "The Immaculate Deception" is full of wit - it's funny, affectionately indulgent of its characters' (many) moral failings and it's full of well observed comedy. Many of the same characters return and their one liners are still numerous, making this a book that's hard not to laugh out loud to. Gareth Russell's humour relies often on sense of viciousness and if you take these characters too seriously, or think that they're role models, then you won't enjoy this book. But once you accept that it's satirical, the book becomes very enjoyable.

However, "The Immaculate Deception's" characters are growing up and the series gets more maturer with them. Unlike "Popular," I liked that "Immaculate Deception" showed a much darker side of grammar/high school life. Characters who were also in the background in "Popular" get further developed in the sequel and the character of Peter was one of my favourite new characterisations. "The Immaculate Deception" manages to be funny but very moving at times, too - the final chapter, which is called "And the truth shall set you free," was very beautifully written and I liked it very much. The ending left it clear that a third book is coming, but it also hinted that the darkness in book two will get stronger in book three. This was one of my personal favourite elements in "The Immaculate Deception," so I hope to see more of it. With romantic storylines, bullying storylines and another very funny set of encounters of life on Belfast's "golden road," I thought "The Immaculate Deception" was an excellent book and I am looking forward to the next in the series.


The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing and clever book, 10 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Hunger Games (Paperback)
Set in a dystopian future, "The Hunger Games" is one of my favourite books. Dark, clever and addictive, it has great strengths in being able to draw the reader into a believable fictional setting, which is new, dangerous and very interesting to read about. In its lead heroine, Katniss Everdeen, we get the anti-Bella Swann. Katniss is determined, opinionated, clever and makes her own, clear choices, which are well-explained in Suzanne Collins' beautiful writing style.

"The Hunger Games" is, I think, the strongest book in its series and while the others are excellent, the exciting novel element of the first installment is what gives it part of its addictive qualities. This book is fully worth the hype it received and it's a book I can read over and over again without getting bored.


Kathy's Story: A Childhood Hell Inside the Magdalen Laundries
Kathy's Story: A Childhood Hell Inside the Magdalen Laundries
by Kathy O'Beirne
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misery porn?, 5 Feb 2013
The Magdalene Laundries, run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, is a dark blot on Ireland's past and it is only made worse by the fact that modern day apologists for the Catholic hierarchy insist that everything produced pertaining to clerical abuse of children is either sensationalist or should just be forgotten. Unfortunately, books like "Kathy's Story" provide fodder for such a viewpoint, in two ways.

The first is the very well documented fact by now that Kathy O'Beirne's own family have come forward to say that "Kathy's Story" is essentially a work of fiction. They reject the author's allegations of repeated sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father, but while it is obviously not unheard of for siblings to defend their parents under the false presumption that they're innocent, it is a lot more damaging that many of the O'Beirne family and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity have alleged that Kathy O'Beirne never entered one of the infamous Magdalene Laundries, but instead went to a variety of non-Magdalene children's homes in Dublin. Details in the story also apparently rang false - namely that Kathy had been pregnant (as a result of rape) when she was committed to the Sisters' care), since the Magdalene Laundries did not take pregnant girls into (what could laughingly be referred to as) their "care." There were also no records of Kathy O'Beirne been kept by the Our Lady of Charity nuns, which raised suspicions and allowed her critics to claim that "Kathy's Story" was simply an emotional hoax.

This is not the first time that the Catholic Church has been the subject of a hoax pandering to the lowest common denominator of its critics. The 19th century faux-memoirs of a brain damaged prostitute called Maria Monk who claimed she had been forced to sleep with numerous priests, who would then baptise and strangle any illegitimate offspring, inflamed vicious anti-Catholic hysteria in the United States and Canada, but despite conclusively having been proven to be a fraud, it's still cited by extremist anti-Catholics even today. "Kathy's Story" is a bit like a modern Maria Monk's. Both books include often excruciatingly detailed acts of sexual abuse and cruelty - Kathy O'Beirne claims to have been repeatedly gang-raped by four priests and then a Gardai policeman.

This leads on to another part of the problem with "Kathy's Story," which to me seems as if it is deliberately trying to present a relentlessly detailed portrait of childhood misery and pain, almost to pander to people's desire to live vicariously through the victims. It's a kind of misery pornography and the fact that "Kathy's Story" is almost certainly a scam neither adds nor lessens to that. I felt exactly the same way when reading the true story of "A Child called It," which also seemed to delve into horrifying details in so much exaggerated and excruciating detail that you felt as if these kind of things would have been better said to a psychiatrist, rather than shared in such detail on a page. Is there any good that can come from going into page upon page of detail about things like physical or sexual abuse? Probably not - simply to state that these things happened and to give an account of how it made the victim feel would perhaps make these kind of books seem less exploitative - both of their stories and their readers.

"Kathy's Story" got two stars because it does seem that some of the details of everyday life in the Magdalene Laundries may have been inspired by one of the most horrifying chapters in Irish Catholicism's painful history. The Church has still refused to own up fully to its complicity in these terrible crimes and things like "Kathy's Story" can often be used to deflect attention from where the blame rightly belongs. Ireland is still adjusting uncomfortably to the records of what was done and things like "Kathy's Story" reflect the national obsession with it, but also when that obsession is taken too far and exploited.


Innocent Traitor
Innocent Traitor
by Alison Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A moving story, but difficult to follow, 5 Feb 2013
This review is from: Innocent Traitor (Paperback)
Historical fiction is not usually the kind of genre that I willingly pick up, or enjoy, mainly because I think a lot of writers in that field can rely on the intrinsically interesting story they're adapting to do half the work for them by keeping a reader interested. However, "Innocent Traitor" was set by my book club, which meant I read it and actually quite enjoyed it.

It's worth noting that other people seemed to enjoy the book a lot more and to have a much stronger emotional reaction to it than I did. This is not difficult to see why, since in her central character of Jane Grey, Alison Weir was able to bring to life a very tragic life that ended prematurely and in terribly unfair circumstances. Born into the English royal family in 1537, Jane grows to maturity amid a period of great religious uncertainty and as a young girl, she embraces Protestant evangelicalism, which she clings to for the rest of her life. Jane's royal blood eventually embroils her in a dispute over the royal succession, with predictably unhappy consequences for most of those concerned.

I cannot comment too much on the historical accuracy, but the author, Alison Weir, was a professional historian before turning her hand to being a writer of fiction. All in all, "Innocent Traitor" had the feel of reality to it and the central character of Jane and her betrothed, Guildford, were very well drawn. Part of the problem, however, that I had with "Innocent Traitor" was that the constant shift in narrators and POV chapters, which works very well in other novels, did not seem to work so well here. In fact, I found it distracting and irritating. None of the other narrators seemed as well drawn or crafted as Jane herself did and it seemed like an unconvincing conceit to have the focus constantly shifted, since the novel really came alive when it was told by Jane herself.

At times, "Innocent Traitor" did drag a little, for me personally, but it had moments of great tragedy and some very lovely scenes - particularly on the often hellish reality faced by sixteenth century women in terms of sex, marriage and childbirth. As well as politics, too, of course.


Homo Jihad
Homo Jihad
by Timothy Graves
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.34

3.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant social commentary, but less convincing as a love story, 2 Feb 2013
This review is from: Homo Jihad (Paperback)
Timothy Graves's book is as much a story of cultural tensions between secularism and two of the three major Abrahamic faiths - Judaism and Islam - as it is a personal love story. David, a hard-partying and promiscuous 30something from London, is smitten with the wealthy UAE playboy, Ahmed, and by Yossi, a Jewish Israeli living in London.

The best parts of the stories were the observations about life in Israel and the contrast and tensions between Islam, western secuarlism and Judaism. At times, it did feel like the comparisons were a little contrived and forced, and maybe too weighted in secularism's favour, but the decision to set the unfolding love story against the backdrop of the Islamic fundamentalist terror attacks on London on 7/7, gave "Homo Jihad" an added bite that made it compelling and often intelligent reading.

At times, it did feel as if the character of David was irredeemably shallow and unlikable, while Ahmed also seemed a little two-dimensional. However, Yossi was a brilliant character and Timothy Graves's writing style made this an enjoyable book to read. I was undecided between giving this book three or four stars; I'm not sure I would read it again, but I would recommend it to people interested in modern culture, sexuality and religion.


Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey
by E L James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Our eyes and our crotches don't deserve this, 2 Feb 2013
This review is from: Fifty Shades of Grey (Paperback)
"Fifty Shades of Grey" was one of the books to read last year, but I regret bowing to the hype and ordering it. The fact that it's an anti-feminist parable about a clumsy trollop called Anastasia, who has no personality of her own, who becomes involved with a psychologically-damaged sociopath, who happens to be a young, good-looking and well endowed billionaire has been commented upon by enough reviewers. Any woman who can read this and find Christian Grey attractive is probably the same kind of person who could get off to Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," because, from what I could tell, they weren't so different. More importantly, it's bizarre that the author, E L James, is a woman, because if Anastasia and Christian had both actually indulged in even half the sexual proclivities written about in this book, even a passing knowledge of GCSE Biology tells me that one or both of them would have urinary tract infections. Implausible, objectionable and biologically improbable - it's a case of bad writing and bad, bad sex.


Catching Fire
Catching Fire

5.0 out of 5 stars A great sequel, 2 Feb 2013
This review is from: Catching Fire (Kindle Edition)
While "Catching Fire" didn't quite have the novelty impact of being introduced to such a dystopian but believable new setting, in every other way it was an excellent sequel to "The Hunger Games." The story sees the trilogy's heroine, Katniss, in the aftermath of her controversial win in the Capitol's eponymous hunger games and it sets up the next major theme of the story: the growing discontentment of the people against their unfair and despotic government. What makes "Catching Fire" so enjoyable is that it also manages to link the themes of dependence on the government, whether for good or for bad reasons, with Katniss's own personal development and whether being dependent on another human being, for good or bad reasons, is a totally safe way to live your life.

Clever, moving and completely addictive, "Catching Fire" wasn't as as much of a page turner as "The Hunger Games," but it was still a fantastic book.


Popular: The Popular Series
Popular: The Popular Series
Price: £3.08

4.0 out of 5 stars An under-rated coming of age story, 29 Jan 2013
It's hard to live in south Belfast and not have heard something about "Popular," the first book in a new YA series that's set on Belfast's so-called 'Golden Road.' All cities have suburbs like this, which makes the novel relatable rather than just for Belfast audiences. (I read one review that stated the series's fictional school is based on the author's own, which was in BT30, which is just wrong. Anyone who's ever been in Belfast can tell exactly what two schools this book is based on and they're about a mile apart from each other in BT9.) "Popular's" greatest strength is that it's very, very funny. It has a great wit and many laugh out loud one liners, particularly from the characters of Meredith Harper and Imogen Dawson. I went to school in one of the schools "Popular" seems to be inspired by and Gareth Russell has certainly captured the BT9 grammar schools' best and worst traits - often gently mocking them, but usually quite affectionately. "Popular" also has some very memorable and well-drawn characters, from the novel's lead character, the manipulative but intelligent Meredith, to more minor characters, like her indie rival, Coral, who is very funnily described in the novel's first chapter.

However, the bit I enjoyed most about "Popular" was its more serious storylines and it comes across as a coming of age story, as much as it does a fun YA satire. The story of two young teenagers struggling with their sexuality in modern day Northern Ireland has never really been done before and "Popular" captures it very well. It reflects the rush of falling in love for the first time, the uncertainty of experiencing same-sex attraction and also the pain and confusion that can come with struggling against the fact that you're gay. The panic and self-loathing that can come when one character feels they're being rushed into coming out to suit somebody else's timeline or agenda is particularly moving, I thought, and the novel manages to get across two very different experiences of coming out without ever seeming too judgmental or harsh to either character. In this way, "Popular" has surprising depth that sits alongside its humour pretty well and I very much enjoyed that. I would have read it anyway because of where it's set, but I was surprised by how involved I got in the storyline and how important that storyline is.

The only criticism I had of "Popular," at the end, was that at times it felt like Gareth Russell was refusing to look at the more unpleasant aspects of high school life and it was a bit too rose tinted. None of the novel's central clique are involved in anything too horrendous but when they do something nasty or manipulative, the novel often fails to explore how that will affect the people around them. This is basically like having "Mean Girls," without Janis, Damien or the lesson at the end. Even one of the character's coming out seems to happen with a kind of deus ex machina development, although the build up to it is quite moving. "Popular" touches on a lot of issues that affect teens today, but with the exception of Cameron and Blake's storyline, it never seems to delve too deep beneath the surface to show how awful those things can really be.

Overall, however, "Popular" is a smart and funny book, with amazing and very memorable characters, funny observations, and a very moving if confused love story. If it's going to live up to its potential though, I personally feel it will need to start showing the darker side of life on the 'Golden Road.'


Bad Day in Blackrock
Bad Day in Blackrock
by Kevin Power
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.88

5.0 out of 5 stars An unforgettable book, 29 Jan 2013
This review is from: Bad Day in Blackrock (Paperback)
"Bad Day in Blackrock" has recently attracted attention again, because it's inspired the storyline for the new Irish movie, "What Richard Did." Based on a real case that shocked Ireland earlier in the decade when a wealthy young Irish teenager was accidentally killed in a brawl outside a Dublin night-club, "Bad Day in Blackrock" is a harrowing, gripping and illuminating look into the underbelly of Ireland's so-called 'Celtic Tiger.'

Part of what gives "Bad Day in Blackrock" its punch is that everyone in it, from the judge to Conor's killer and Conor himself, all came from the same socio-economic background. All of them were born, raised and educated in south Dublin's affluent (good and, more often, bad) and it's true that nearly all cities have areas like south Dublin's, which makes it relatable to. This world of upper-middle-class privilege and opportunity has only been increased by Ireland's economic miracle, which was in full throws at the time "Bad Day in Blackrock" was written. As cynical as it sounds, had Conor Harris been killed by three working class boys, this would have been a very different story and the media would have had a field day discussing how "chav" culture had run amok in modern Ireland. As it was, Conor's killers were three boys very like himself, who were all very drunk, out for a night out with their friends and who decided to show off in a fit of bravado and accidentally ended up taking another human's life.

"Bad Day in Blackrock" is about much, much more than the character of Conor Harris's death. It's a harrowing look at the only-slightly-fictionalized actions of three boys who are so like three boys a lot of us know. It's about class, personal responsibility, mistakes and it's one of those books that stays with you. I found myself thinking about it, with morbid fascination, long after I'd finished reading it.


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