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Sue Kichenside
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The Unwitting
The Unwitting
by Ellen Feldman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When I grow up, I want to write like Ellen Feldman., 6 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Unwitting (Hardcover)
Graceful, witty, wry, evocative, insightful, truthful - I love the way this woman writes. Two quotes by way of example: "The story of my life with Charlie had gone to press. There would be no more rewrites." And: "Upstairs, in the silence of the empty apartment, my loneliness bumped against the high ceilings like an untethered helium balloon."

This is a story about love and betrayal around the time of the McCarthy era when the Cold War was white hot...when the clash of ideologies irradiated the world like the rumblings of the nuclear holocaust it threatened.

Whilst this is a chapter of US history that perhaps resonates more with an American readership, I found uncomfortable parallels with 'the battle of hearts and minds' that is going on across the globe in these times. Whether Ellen Feldman intended this, of course I do not know. But it gave this story a distinctly unnerving contemporary edge - for this reader, at any rate.


Happy Valley [DVD]
Happy Valley [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sarah Lancashire
Price: £10.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Already engraving Sarah Lancashire's Bafta?, 3 Jun 2014
This review is from: Happy Valley [DVD] (DVD)
Review of content.

Fantastic television. Gripping plot. Superb acting. I understand that Sally Wainwright, the writer, wrote this specially for Sarah Lancashire following her brilliant performance in Last Tango in Halifax. Here, Sarah Lancashire rises to sublime heights. No other actress will want to be up against her for the Bafta.


Orfeo
Orfeo
by Richard Powers
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bach to the future., 1 Jun 2014
This review is from: Orfeo (Hardcover)
By page four of Orfeo, this new-to-me writer had convinced me of his brilliant phrase-making. By page twenty, I had taken note of countless quotes and was rapt. However, by around about the eighty-page mark, I regret to say that I had become disenchanted. Because here's the thing. There is simply far too much highfalutin, pretentious-sounding, esoteric musical description. For those of us who are not especially music-literate, this is very hard-going.

The reader falls back in love with the writing later on when Richard Powers reverts to the actual plot. Which is this: Peter Els is a 70-year old composer of abstruse musical pieces of limited appeal. In his youth at college, his passion for avant-garde music conflicted with his biochemistry studies; his career could have gone either way. Did he make the wrong choice with music? What genetic matter is he dabbling with in his living room? Why is an anti-terrorism unit scouring his house? And how long will the massed ranks of tv crews stay outside waiting for the juicy story about the man they have already dubbed 'Biohacker Bach'?

There are some great fully fleshed-out characters here, peopling a genuinely interesting and unusual story. A bravado rendering of an opera composed by Els helps to compensate for the earlier protracted musical incursions that had threatened to overwhelm this book. Here are some of those terrific quotes:

"...his Giacometti body hunches forward as if in prayer."

"In one hand - a single-channel pipette, raked like a dagger. From a tiny refrigerated vial, he sucks up no more colorless liquid than a hoverfly might take from a sprig of bee balm. This pellet goes into a tube no bigger than a mouse's muzzle..."

Meanwhile..."Next door, a family of four watches the denouement of Dancing with the Stars. One house to the south, an executive secretary for a semi-criminal real estate development firm arranges next fall's cruise to Morocco. Across the double expanse of backyards, a market analyst and his pregnant lawyer wife lie in bed with their glowing tablets, playing offshore Texas hold 'em and tagging pictures from a virtual wedding. The house across the street is dark, its owners at an all-night faith-healing vigil in West Virginia."

And we're still only on page two.


A Conversation About Happiness: The Story of a Lost Childhood
A Conversation About Happiness: The Story of a Lost Childhood
by Mikey Cuddihy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Free spirits., 28 May 2014
Mikey Elizabeth Cuddihy is one of five siblings orphaned when their mother dies at the wheel of her car. Mikey's mother was an alcoholic and the cause of her crash is unclear. Their father is already dead, also in a road accident. Mikey is ten. Uncle Tom, scion of wealthy New York stock, takes charge of the children. Unfortunately, families don't come more dysfunctional than the Cuddihys.

The children are almost immediately shipped off to the UK and divided up between two free-wheeling anti-establishment schools one of which was to become quite famous in the sixties. (Perhaps infamous would be the more appropriate word.) The reasons for the uncle's bizarre choices with regard to his nieces' and nephews' upbringing are alluded to but never made entirely clear.

Mikey tells her story in the present tense. The reader feels immense empathy for this girl who has to make so many fundamental adjustments at such a young age. She appears to be remarkably resilient but a tell-tale stammer reveals deep insecurities. Though Mikey remains upbeat and never seems to feel sorry for herself, she never truly recovers from the loss of her mother.

Although this is far from a 'misery memoir', Mikey's account of growing up in a 'free spirit' boarding school left me in low spirits. Towards the end of the book, the author rather skips through her adult years; I would have liked to have heard about them in more detail. I would also like to have heard the author's mature reflections about the value - or otherwise - of such an unconventional education. A little more insight here would have been invaluable. Nevertheless, a genuinely affecting and tender-hearted read.


Maybelline Full 'N Soft Mascara, Very Black - .28 oz
Maybelline Full 'N Soft Mascara, Very Black - .28 oz
Offered by American Treasures USA
Price: £13.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feathery and natural-looking., 26 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I love this mascara and am so pleased to find it back on the UK Amazon site.

At first the mascara may feel a little thin but after a few applications, you'll find that the consistency thickens up to provide good, natural-looking coverage and a lovely, soft, feathery look. The brush is the perfect size and shape - none of this gimmicky curly-shaped, rubbery nonsense that seems to be all the rage with mascara brushes these days.

Highly recommended.


Astonish Me
Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.24

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The second act is always a tough one., 24 May 2014
This review is from: Astonish Me (Hardcover)
Having adored Maggie Shipstead's début Seating Arrangements, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of Astonish Me. Was I disappointed? 'Fraid so. Despite the fact that this is relaxation reading of the highest order - well written, nothing jars, a fairly engrossing, if predictable, story of ballet folk - I couldn't really see the point of it.

If that sounds like damning with faint praise then I'll have to hold my hands up because this has none of the complexity, wit and pathos of Seating Arrangements. There are odd moments when we get a tantalising glimpse of the earlier Steadman brilliance. Otherwise, this is mainly Ballet Shoes for grown-ups. With defection, pregnancy and fraying feet. 3.5 stars


The Museum of Extraordinary Things
The Museum of Extraordinary Things
by Alice Hoffman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Why do so many books that start so promisingly turn out to be such a disappointment?, 21 May 2014
This is set in Coney Island in 1911, the cusp of a new era, and starts off with a potentially interesting premise: the attraction - and repulsion - of deformity.

Coralie's father, a self-styled 'man of science', owns a small museum on the boardwalk where 'freaks' are only too happy to scrape a living as exhibits. This monster of a man has made his deformed daughter, born with webbed hands, train for years to swim underwater so that she can appear as a 'mermaid' in one of the museum's showcases.

This story alternates with that of Ezekiel Cohen, a Jewish emigrant who fled the Ukrainian pogroms with his father when he was a child. Spurning his orthodox upbringing, he becomes Ed, a 'runner' for a local big-shot, before finally becoming entranced with photography.

Alice Hoffman skilfully interweaves the two stories using Coralie's and Ed's own voices as well as her own, incorporating the infamous shirtwaist factory fire of 1911. But at about the two-thirds mark, the whole thing starts to become very repetitive and dreadfully silly as the plot descends into melodramatic nonsense.

There was a magnificent opportunity here for the author to explore the feelings of the exhibits who had to survive in a far less sympathetic age than our own and to examine the strange desires of the curious onlookers who paid money to view such poor deformed unfortunates. Miss Hoffman completely fails to engage with this aspect of the story, reducing it to the level of two people who are destined for each other. Ho hum, just another love story then. I lost patience with it, I'm afraid, but kept going to the (utterly predictable) bitter end.


Malibu Dry Oil Spray with SPF2 200 ml
Malibu Dry Oil Spray with SPF2 200 ml
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dry oil - how clever!, 20 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Low-factor suntan lotions are becoming increasingly difficult to come by so there really is very little choice out there.

This one is pretty good. It dries virtually on impact with the skin - none of that horribly greasy feeling - and the smell is nice too.

Nothing will replace my favourite Nivea factor 2 spray which sadly they don't make any more. But using this Malibu Dry Oil Spray recently on the first hot day of the season, I got a pretty good "undercoat"!


The Snow Queen
The Snow Queen
by Michael Cunningham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Write Stuff., 18 May 2014
This review is from: The Snow Queen (Hardcover)
I think it was Tina Brown who once said: "I can always tell good writing when I read it because I feel my nipples stiffen". I don't know if I'd go quite that far in this case nor, indeed, if Amazon will even allow me to say it. But I do know that Michael Cunningham's writing is really very good, occasionally challenging, often quite sublime.

The story, set in New York in 2004, is slender. Two brothers, Tyler the older attractive one has secretly returned to his coke habit in the hope it will help with his song writing. The other, Barrett, absurdly clever, contentedly unfulfilled, eternally searching for (male) true love. They live with Tyler's fiancée who is undergoing chemo for cancer.

When rationalist Barrett sees a strange light descend from the night sky, he is shocked to find himself thinking of it as some sort of miracle. That's the story and there's very little more to it (although I did rather love the character of Liz, owner of the quirky clothes shop where Barrett works). Open the book at any page and there will be something that rings so true that you have to pause for a moment to take it in. The book just fell open at this one:

"Alone, he's more alert to the noises that sift in from the street. The shouts, the crowings of Happy New Year, the joyful bleating of horns and the occasional furious blast (how can a car horn, which makes one sound only be so identifiably either rageful or glad?)..."
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Rustication: A Novel
Rustication: A Novel
by Charles Palliser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Diary of Richard Shenstone Aged 17¾, 14 May 2014
This review is from: Rustication: A Novel (Paperback)
Intriguing and well-written, this is a rather enjoyable mock-Victorian melodrama told through the pages of Richard Shenstone's secret journal.

Richard has been sent down from Cambridge under shadowy circumstances. He returns to his mother and sister Euphemia who now reside in a crumbling old manor on the edge of a gloomy marshland peninsula. (You get the gothic picture.) His father, a disgraced cleric, has recently died leaving the family in abject poverty. Effie must make a good match by any means in order to rescue them from shame and penury. Will Richard's unexpected arrival scupper their plans? To say that he is not welcomed back with open arms would be a gross understatement.

Charles Palliser seems to have a great deal of fun - and certainly provides it for his readers - with the character of Richard who in his journal comes across as a drug-fuelled, hormone-charged young man constantly misjudging people and situations rather in the vein of Adrian Mole. Palliser has commanding control of his material and challenges us, rather cleverly, at every turn. Is Richard a hugely unreliable narrator? A ruthless murderer? Or a poor misguided sap with delusions of a great intellect? I shall of course leave that for you to discover.


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