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Sue Kichenside

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Bigjigs Toys Activity Centre
Bigjigs Toys Activity Centre
Offered by Bigjigs Toys
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Such a sweet activity centre :), 18 Nov. 2014
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bigjigs Toys Activity Centre (Toy)
Perfect for the cot or to play with (propped up) on the floor, this light wooden activity centre is very sweet and has some appealing things for little ones to play with and explore. The baby I bought it for is now 18 months old and still loves playing with it - though now her favourite activity is trying to fasten the straps at the back!


Medici Boy
Medici Boy
by John L'Heureux
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars L'Heureux does not wear his learning lightly., 16 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Medici Boy (Hardcover)
This laboured and laborious book about a hormone-driven young man who lands an apprenticeship with Renaissance sculptor Donatello, shoe-horns in everything you ever wanted to know about artistic life in 15th century Florence. Plus a few things you didn't.

It centres on the prevalence of gay prostitution in Florence at the time and, specifically, Donatello's love for one of his models, a wanton young rent-boy. Now no-one objects to a little artistic licence but to base an entire story around the famous sculptor's unproven sexuality based solely on the author's interpretation of Donatello's David bronze, oversteps the mark and leads one to doubt the many other period details presented here.

L'Heureux is a much-lauded teacher of fiction writing who must surely advise his students against the use of exposition but this book is full of it. It also got to a point where I felt that if he used the word 'bottega' one more time, I would scream. In my humble opinion, historical fiction is best left to British authors who are innately more skilled in this particular genre.

The Book of Strange New Things
The Book of Strange New Things
by Michel Faber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

4.0 out of 5 stars The missionary's position., 12 Nov. 2014
Pastor Father Peter has been selected for a unique mission by a mysterious global conglomerate called USIC. He is aware of the dangers involved. He will be away for some time. He may never return. But Peter is so eager to proselytise that he is prepared to leave his beloved wife Beatrice to take The Word to a distant settlement. Very distant indeed.

As I plough on through Michel Faber's long-awaited new tome, I ask myself if it is possible to like a book when you don't much like the subject matter (life on another planet). But as I go on, I find myself appreciating his skilful writing, admiring the way he builds tension and curiosity, enjoying the intergalactic emails that allow Peter to communicate, after a fashion, with his loving wife Bea.

Unfortunately, Michel Faber suffers from the usual failure of imagination when it comes to portraying otherworldly fictional life-forms. The Oasans are more or less like us - only a bit different. Peter may have travelled to another planet - but honestly, he might just as well have gone to any old far-flung cut-off-from-the-world primitive community with uncomfortable weather conditions, a language barrier and basic birthing techniques.

More interesting is USIC's motive for colonising planet Oasis and the worrying news from Bea about what's happening back on planet Earth. This book grows increasingly absorbing the more one grasps the underlying themes, reads metaphysical messages into Faber's subtext and waits with mounting anticipation denouement-wise. In the end, and much to my surprise, I found I really rather enjoyed it.

Nora Webster
Nora Webster
by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterclass in characterisation., 7 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Nora Webster (Hardcover)
Nora Webster has just become widowed. Her husband, a respected teacher in their close-knit Irish community, had been ill for some time. Now, Nora is not only deeply grieving but she is also faced with the harsh reality of bringing up her children alone and with little money. Her two daughters are grown, one away at college and the other embarking on work. Her younger sons, Donal and Conor, present her with problems as they adapt to life without their father. Beset by visitors wishing to pay their respects, all Nora wants is to be left alone and 'learn how to live' her new life.

One of the most credible characters ever created in fiction, Nora is defined by her circumspection. "A wise head keeps a still tongue" is a saying that might have been invented for her. However, this does not mean that she can't stand up for herself or her family when she believes it to be fully justified. In a crushingly confining community where everybody knows everybody's business (and makes it theirs), Nora must balance her and her family's needs with her dignity and standing in the town. Although highly intelligent, she has been unable to fulfil her potential; she is not always likeable perhaps, but her occasional small acts of defiance or the rare moments when she does something just to please herself will have the reader quietly cheering her on.

Rarely have I empathised with a character to such a degree and there was not a single moment in this book when I didn't understand precisely what Nora was going through. Just one false note: I felt it unlikely that she would have left her sons in the care of an aunt for as long as two months without once visiting them while she stayed at her husband's hospital bedside. Otherwise, this was for me a nigh on perfect novel. Colm Tóibín is a truly gifted writer. Every character, however small their part in this story, is so well drawn, every incident so convincingly portrayed and the times so skilfully contextualised without ever once overwhelming the essential substance of this quiet story. An altogether exceptional reading experience. Truthful, moving and unforgettable.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2015 10:37 AM GMT

The Code - Series 1 [DVD]
The Code - Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Dan Spielman
Price: £11.99

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool Code., 31 Oct. 2014
This review is from: The Code - Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
An intricate thriller set in two locations not often seen on English screens: the fly-blown Australian outback and the corridors of power in Canberra. It hinges around the cover-up of what really happened in a fatal car accident in the desert and its impact on two brothers: one a dogged journalist for an online news resource, the other an IT wizard on the autism spectrum who has always been under the protection of his caring but increasingly burdened older sibling.

There's a lot that's derivative here, from the Sherlock-like way online messages and events are televisually displayed to The Killing-like way each episode closes. But having said that, the relationships between the strong cast are convncing - particularly that of the two brothers - and the plotting maintains pace and interest. A stylish drama, well presented and worth viewing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 26, 2014 2:05 PM GMT

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
by Mira Jacob
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Debut that impresses and appeals in equal measure., 28 Oct. 2014
Stephen Fry disagrees with the commonly held belief that it takes longer for début novelists to produce their second novel than their first. He says that one's first novel takes all of the author's life up to that point to produce. I thought of this on occasion while reading Mira Jacob's remarkable first novel, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing. She tells us at the end that it took her ten years to write but surely it must have been fermenting for even longer. I can't, of course, say how much of the novel - or indeed any of it - is at all autobiographical but it is undoubtedly a true labour of love.

It is the story of the Eapen family: mother Kamala, never truly settled in America, steely, obstinate, a preserver of the Indian ways - particularly in the kitchen. Thomas, the charismatic but largely absent head of the family, always putting his neurological patients first. Akhil, their son, whose tendency to fall in love and fall asleep leads to a pivotal plot line. And Amina, their daughter and our narrator, the only member of the family to have been born in America.

A promising photojournalist now reduced to working as a wedding photographer, Amina, around whom this narrative swirls backwards and forwards in time and place, is the camera whose lens is focused on her immediate and extended family. Mira Jacob creates a cast of believable three-dimensional characters and I loved that she was able to retain a sense of humour even as the pathos mounted. When one of Amina's photographs reveals the shadow of her long dead grandmother, a slight element of magic realism adds a further dimension to this compelling family story.

This is a début that impresses and appeals in equal measure. How long it will take Ms Jacob to conquer the challenge of the second novel, who can say? But it is certainly something to look forward to with relish.

More Fool Me
More Fool Me
by Stephen Fry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.00

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man Who Came to Dinner., 21 Oct. 2014
This review is from: More Fool Me (Hardcover)
I'm not remotely surprised that Stephen Fry has been rated the top fantasy dinner party guest. I myself was privileged to welcome him into my home just last week for dinner and my guests (the usual crowd, Clooney, Monroe, Churchill, Einstein, Shakespeare and dear Joanie Rivers) were agog with excitement! Even Winnie was rapt as Stephen held the floor.

He recalled the folly of his youth, much appreciated by the amnesiacs amongst us. He told us all about his coke years and came out with some - ahem - cracking lines. ("...the chopping-out of that long line of cocaine that stretched from 1986 to 2001.") He regaled us with hilarious tales of the Groucho Club and Zanzibar - I was there, Stephen, I was there! (He didn't remember me.) He even gave us a peek into his diary. Quite a long peek actually.

I have to say, we were all rather hoping he would dish the dirt a bit more. But Stephen's far too discreet for that, bless him. All in all, it was a divine dinner party (I served 'cervelle de veau' in his brainy honour) and Stephen was indeed the perfect guest. We were all sorry when he rather abruptly wrapped things up and took his leave, muttering something about being due at the library. Oh - and George, if you're reading this, thanks for your help with the washing up. Much appreciated.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 22, 2014 1:33 PM BST

The Rosie Effect
The Rosie Effect
by Graeme Simsion
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it ain't broke, don't fix it., 14 Oct. 2014
This review is from: The Rosie Effect (Paperback)
Graeme Simsion, I want to thank you so much for cheering me up!

Graeme's follow-up to the phenomenally successful The Rosie Project is a sheer delight. He clearly knows that sequels so often disappoint and has - very cleverly - evolved Don Tillman's story in a thoroughly engaging way, taking him to a new setting and introducing us to some appealing new characters. (Be sure to read The Rosie Project first.)

Don and Rosie are now living in New York and I don't think I'm dropping a massive clanger here when I say that Rosie has fallen pregnant. It's not so much the *fact* of the pregnancy that discombobulates our Don so much as the fact that the pregnancy is *unplanned*. (Don doesn't do spontaneity.) Nevertheless, he throws himself into the new situation with his usual highly inappropriate gusto.

This is a very funny book which I looked forward to reading every night, even eking it out a bit so I didn't finish it too quickly (surely the sign of a hugely enjoyable read). Did it succeed in distracting me from a very stressful on-going personal situation? "Correct." Thank you Graeme, thank you Don - and Rosie, for god's sake cut your husband some slack!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 8:24 PM BST

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.45

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The long and the short of it., 9 Oct. 2014
I find that much of today's literary fiction is as padded as a North Face jacket so short stories should - in theory, at least - appeal to me. And yet they don't. No sooner do you get into the characters then they're whipped away from you. And then there's the obligatory sting in the tail. So often this seems contrived; as though the story was written simply to accommodate the ending.

Short stories by Hilary Mantel though. These should be a different kettle of fish altogether, I thought. Perhaps they will convert me. And yet they didn't. My fault I'm sure, but I failed to see the point of them and I found the female narrators extremely waspish throughout which made me wonder if Ms Mantel is perhaps herself a rather prickly character. (Though I refuse to think ill of her because I have been an adoring fan ever since 'A Place of Greater Safety', with 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies' two of my favourite books of all time).

One story stood out for me: 'How Shall I Know You?' about an author who gives a book reading and then has to endure a night at a ghastly hotel "four storeys high with two surprised attic windows". But otherwise and despite all the exquisite phrase-making, I didn't really care for this collection. If Hilary Mantel's short stories don't do it for me, then short stories don't do it for me - full stop. Mea culpa.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 8, 2015 7:47 PM GMT

John the Pupil
John the Pupil
by David Flusfeder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...the sawdust on the floor would be as welcome to us as a potentate's mattress...", 6 Oct. 2014
This review is from: John the Pupil (Hardcover)
David Flusfeder is one of today's most original writers. Here, he gives us his take on the chronicle of an exceptionally bright 17-year old student: "Being the reconstituted fragments of the account of the journey taken by John the Pupil and two companions, at the behest of the friar and magus Roger Bacon, from Oxford to Viterbo in AD 1267, carrying secret burden to His Holiness Clement IV, written by himself and detailing some of the difficulties and temptations endured along the way."

Don't allow the words "reconstituted fragments" to deter you - this is a 13th century page-turner! An enthralling and utterly authentic sounding diary of a medieval mission that John has little choice but to accept. What he - and we - learn on his dangerous and gruelling expedition is that whilst modes of travel have improved exponentially, there's nothing new under the sun as far as human nature is concerned. A short and brilliantly executed story from a writer who surely deserves a wider audience.

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