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The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 (The Cambridge Edition of the Letters of Ernest Hemingway)
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 (The Cambridge Edition of the Letters of Ernest Hemingway)
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive but fascinating, 17 Nov. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The earliest letter in this exhaustive collection was written by Hemingway to his own 'Papa' when he was just 8 years old. It's cute, but the collection would have lost nothing from the exclusion of his earliest scribblings except the opportunity for my cynical wife to acerbically note that his writing style never changed. With letters dating from childhood to his early twenties, this first volume covers the period before the writer became the author.

Of greater interest than his juvenile letters were the ones Hemingway wrote from the Italian front during the First World War. These cover his injury in a mortar attack and his subsequent romance with a Red Cross nurse, the events which formed the basis of A Farewell to Arms a decade later. However, all of the above is concluded within the first 200 pages and it's a 500 page book (80 pages of which are introductory material). The rest comprises of letters from his time as a reporter in Toronto, with just enough time to cover his first marriage and departure for Paris to hang out with the Lost Generation.

The publishers have made much of the fact that these letters reveal the real Hemingway behind the self-propagated myth of the all-American tough guy adventurer, but some recent biographies (especially the affectionate memoirs from people who knew him rather than from academics who never did) have already done that. All the same, here is proof from the unguarded source: the Hemingway that emerges here is hopeful, joyful, adventurous, but helplessly romantic and often endearingly naïve on that front too.

The collection is perhaps overly comprehensive for the casual reader. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters covers the entire life of Hemingway's contemporary John Steinbeck in a single volume. The earliest letters in that book were written by Steinbeck at the same age as Hemingway was when he wrote the last ones in this book. But we still get a full picture of his career, as well as the times he lived in. Readers less concerned with reading everything Hemingway ever wrote may prefer the single volume of selected letters published about 20 years ago, which was put together by Hemingway's most notable biographer Carlos Baker, and which covers the period from the First World War until just before Hemingway's death.

Ultimately, whether we need to read Hemingway's earliest jottings to his dad is going to depend on the preferences or prejudices of the individual reader. This collection is certainly intended more for the Hemingway completist or students/academics than it is for the general reader. You do need more than a passing acquaintance with Hemingway the man rather than just his work to appreciate the significance of much of what he writes about in these letters.

That all said, the next volume should be interesting, covering his life in France, his rise to success and fame with Fiesta/The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms and, depending on whether the publishers stretch it to fill a third (and maybe a fourth) volume, hopefully also his experiences in the Spanish Civil War.


The Emperor's Babe: A Novel
The Emperor's Babe: A Novel
by Bernardine Evaristo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History as carnival, 15 Aug. 2011
The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it, said Oscar Wilde, as the first page of this sexy, naughty, quite wonderful book reminds us. In The Emperor's Babe history is a carnival, a storm of colour and loud music, peopled by horny dudes and even hornier babes. The bodacious chick of the title is Zuleika, daughter of African immigrants in Roman London, AD211. Married off to an oft-absent Roman nobleman at the age of 11, it's not until she encounters Septimius Severus (Emperor of Rome, no less) years later that she finds out what love is really all about. Latin jokes and hip anachronisms keep things entertaining, even when love takes the course Ovid always seemed to say it would. Up Pompeii it ain't.


Doctor Who Demon Quest 1: The Relics Of Time
Doctor Who Demon Quest 1: The Relics Of Time
by Paul Magrs
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £10.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Whimsical goodness, 15 Aug. 2011
The Doctor gets domestic in the first part of this five-part story, showing up at his country cottage and inflicting all the otherworldly clutter from a Tardis repair job on long-suffering housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey. Domestic bliss (his, not hers) doesn't last long, however, after Mrs W accidentally agrees a part exchange for a Tardis component at the village church's bring'n'buy sale. In return, the mysterious stranger gives her a bag of odd junk, including a photo of a 2,000-year old mosaic of a strange wild-eyed man wearing a long scarf. So begins Demon Quest, as the Doctor and Mrs Wibbsey head back into 1st Century Britain, a country of superstitious warring tribes who mistake the time travellers for druid magicians, and a famous name from history whose very presence there could change its entire course.

Tom Baker gets to take his character to new places in this story, seeming less manic, a bit more of a loner, needing a different kind of company than usual. It's not just Baker's slightly raspier tones that make the Doctor seem older, as if in the ethos of those old multi-Doctor anniversary stories he didn't completely regenerate into Peter Davison, but part of him went off and lived a bit more of a sedate life whilst his latest incarnation does the galaxy-saving. Paul Magrs brings his trademark whimsy to the story, which complements Baker's style entirely (though during some of Baker's first person narration I couldn't help but think of Little Britain). But at no point does the whimsicalness ever get in the way of the strongly plotted story.


Breville VTP130 Traditional Crêpe Maker
Breville VTP130 Traditional Crêpe Maker
Price: £25.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simplicity itself, 11 April 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't know what it is about pancakes/crepes. I can make bread without a machine, but a pancake, supposedly one of the simplest of things to make, always ends up as a mound of half fried, half char-grilled batter when I attempt it. So I had no qualms about 'cheating' by getting a gadget to do the work, though I was dubious it would be as easy as the box and instruction booklet described.

But it was. It cooks effortlessly and quickly, without the batter sticking to the hot surface (even when we forgot to grease it between pancakes). I have a few minor caveats, but not enough to knock another star off my verdict. Obviously this is a big device, probably necessarily so. If you eat pancakes every day you'll need to find plenty of room for it (it almost completely obscured the top of our four-hob cooker, and in our small kitchen it's going to end up living in the box most of the time).

Whilst it heats up in next to no time, it takes a very long time to cool down, so you're not going to be able to clean it with the rest of the washing up (though it's very easy to clean when you do). Even on the higher temperature settings we couldn't get the pancakes to look quite as classically golden as the picture on the box, but we were impatiently hungry at the time!

The only other issue I have is not with the device but with the instruction book, which contains a variety of recipes for basic pancakes, crepe suzette, home-made tortillas, etc. We've only tried the basic crepe recipe so far, but we had to double all the proportions. Still, it's cheaper than buying one of those pre-mixed batter pots like we used to. Compared to that, using this doesn't feel like cheating so much.


No Title Available

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great sound, but not an all-rounder, 22 Nov. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As befitting the brand (and the price), the sound quality you get from these headphones is near perfect. But it's not an all-rounder. The box promotes the bass sound you get from these headphones, and you certainly get it. A bit too much at times, in fact. It depends on what you're listening to. Whilst it never sounds like a large truck going past, as can happen with cheapo headphones, the bass can somewhat overwhelm the other levels in particularly bass-heavy music. It's better for bringing out the bass in music that's already balanced. If you can try before you buy, do.

Apart from that, I don't have any major complaints. They are comfortable to wear, don't make your ears get hot after a long time listening, and twist in all sorts of directions for those of us with oddly shaped heads. It's a minor thing, I know, but I've had headphones where the jack just flies out of the socket at the slightest turn of the head, so I was pleased the one attached to the lead here had some resistance.

My wife also wants me to point out that these aren't very suitable for using on a train unless you want an ASBO. It's not their bulky size that's the issue (because they're lightweight with it), but the fact that whilst they're very good at keeping other sounds out, they're not quite so good at keeping the sound of what you're listening to in, even at reasonably low volumes. So mainly for home use, then.

On a sidenote, I plugged these into my Marshall practice amp to see how they fared, and they are by far the best headphones I've ever tried. They pick up levels just lost in the background when using the amp's own speaker. So guitarists who play hard rock or metal should add an extra star to my rating above.

Includes: 3m cable, 3.5mm adapter for the jack
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 21, 2013 6:52 AM BST


The Mindful Manifesto: How doing less and noticing more can help us thrive in a stressed-out world
The Mindful Manifesto: How doing less and noticing more can help us thrive in a stressed-out world
by Dr Jonty Heaversedge
Edition: Paperback

37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but not great, 19 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
We are not our thoughts, Jonty and Ed (as the authors would companionably have us think of them) remind us. Thoughts, whether positive or negative, should know their place - that they are the product of the mind, that they are not in control of us, that we are in control of them. Except that's easier said than done. Life in the modern world often moves at too fast a pace to manage our thoughts, feelings, fears and dreams, so we spend much of the time on autopilot, simply reacting to the world according to learned habits rather than making conscious decisions.

Nothing really to complain about with the authors' philosophy here, nor their argument that stress, depression, anxiety and chronic illnesses caused or exacerbated by this mindless sprint through life could be helped by slowing down, taking a considered look, and retraining your brain to be open rather than reactionary, through meditation. They make such a thorough argument, in fact, that there isn't much room left for actual practical advice. After all the talk of theories, research, statistics, case studies and their own personal experiences, there's less than 30 pages out of over 270 that actually tell you how to do what they recommend.

Straightforward instructions guide the novice in focusing on breathing, allowing thoughts to pass by, becoming attuned to what the body is saying, and recognising that thoughts may originate in the mind but are under your control. But there would have been room for a lot more of that if the book was not so bloated with repetition, explaining the advantages of meditation over and over. If you're the kind of person who is attracted to the ideas behind this book then you probably don't need that much convincing in the first place.

Similarly unnecessary was their repeated disavowing of the spiritual ideas behind Buddhism whilst trying to pinch and secularise everything else. They are trying to strip the 'New Age-yness' from meditation for a readership who probably doesn't care where the practice came from, so long as it works.

At times the book came across a bit like a brochure for the authors' website, or even a meditation centre in London they namedrop several times. I couldn't help but feel that if they'd stripped all this extraneous material out and cut the journalistic self-affirmation they would have a book much more to the point. But maybe when you get past the waffle you find there's nothing really new here, however much of a spin there is put on it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2014 3:39 PM BST


Freud- The Key Ideas: Teach Yourself
Freud- The Key Ideas: Teach Yourself
by Ruth Snowden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction, 15 April 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book was originally published as Teach Yourself Freud. Changing the title was a sensible alteration to make, because whilst the author has crammed an impressive amount into just 200 pages, it still only scratches the surface. The old title implies this is all you need to know; the new title suggests this is more of a primer. As an introduction to Freud's work, and a useful reading guide alongside his own writings, this is an excellent little book.

The author's chronological approach, sketching in biographical details about Freud's life whilst explaining his theories, helps the reader see where his ideas came from, and how they developed over time. So whilst it begins with pretty rudimentary stuff about the nature of the conscious, unconscious and preconscious, it ends up explaining how this transformed into Freud's concept of the ego, superego and id. This approach also allows the reader to see how he changed his mind, and gives the author an opportunity to be questioning or even critical of some of Freud's thinking.

Despite its length, the book is densely written, so that it explores all the core ideas at the heart of Freud's theories, including neuroticism, sexual repression, childhood trauma and psychosexual development, whilst explaining psychoanalysis and why Freud believed the interpretation of dreams was the key to unlocking the unconscious. Some of the examples the author uses to demonstrate Freud's theories don't always make them particularly clear - but you could level the same criticism at Freud himself. Lots of subheadings help break the wealth of information down into more easily digested bitesize pieces, and I suppose the otherwise superfluous cartoons might help those struggling through the book make it to the end!

I see the author has written another book in this series about Freud's protégé (and later something of a rival) Carl Jung, which on the basis of this one would be well worth checking out too. But if you want to understand why describing something as Freudian isn't just a cheeky innuendo, this book is a good place to start.


British Politics For Dummies
British Politics For Dummies
by Julian Knight
Edition: Paperback

18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 31 Mar. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you're reading this review after the 2010 general election, I'd be wary of buying this book. Its publication has been very clearly timed to coincide with the lead up to the election, and regardless of who wins, its content will be out of date the day after the results are declared. Parties and their policies are described specifically rather than generally, and as anyone who isn't a Dummy will know, those change as often as politicians change their pants. It may have been true, for example, that Labour was the party of public spending when the author wrote the bulk of this book, but I'm writing this review a few days after the Chancellor announced future spending cuts would be the harshest in a generation.

However, that's not the main reason I wouldn't buy this book for someone who knows nothing about British politics. British politics is, as the author admits, a singularly complex monster. He wins no brownie points from me, then, by trying to simplify it, rather than explain why it is so complex. That's what the Dummies book are supposed to do, after all - take potentially complex, difficult to understand subjects, and put them into language that absolutely anyone can understand. The fact-packed, non-patronising style of the other Dummies books is intact, but some of the content is suspiciously subjective at worst, downright disingenuous at worst.

As a floating voter who pays attention to what every party says and does, even when there isn't an election pending, I found the author's descriptions of the main parties' political philosophies quite out of step with reality. Despite accepting Tony Blair got rid of Clause 4, he still insists Labour is basically a socialist party; I would say at best it's a social democrat party, and even then only on fair-weather days. I'm also sure there's more to the Tories than simply wanting preserve established institutions; there's no mention of individualism here. His description of the LibDems as essentially free market libertarians I also felt was nearly a century out of date. In essence, he's simplified political philosophy to the point where I didn't recognise any of the three political parties as he depicted them. Maybe he thought it too much to throw at a Dummies reader to explain the difference between a socialist and a social democrat, and a conservative and a libertarian. I disagree.

But perhaps more of a concern were simplifications that bordered on erroneous. At more than one point the author says Labour won 40% of the popular vote in 2005 election. He may well have been rounding up, but when there was only a 2 point margin between Labour and the Tories, it's a little dubious to round up 36% to 40%. Likewise, when comparing and contrasting the British and American political systems, he describes Bill Clinton's 1992 victory as a landslide, despite the fact Clinton won the election with only 43% of the vote, the lowest share of the vote any winning candidate had garnered in 80 years. Spotting these little problems made me wonder whether I'd missed any others.

I appreciate that it's difficult for a political journalist to leave his bias aside when writing about politics, but I felt a book introducing British politics to someone who knows nothing about should be done in a more objective way than is done here. I could tell when the author was biting his tongue and trying not to be subjective. There were dozens of paragraphs starting along the lines of "Some people think..." when he wanted to present a view he didn't personally agree with. It's not that he openly criticises any particular viewpoint, it's that he gives more space to explain the things he agrees with, and why. For example, direct representation (i.e. the first-past-the-post voting system) gets a couple of paragraphs of defence, whereas proportional representation gets several pages. At one point he says PR works well in Germany and Holland, but he doesn't qualify that statement. It's just left hanging, as if fact. It's also fair to say, I think, that the author is clearly a big fan of the European Union, and doesn't have much time for those who aren't.

Given all that, I don't know who this book would be suitable for. You can get all the information herein online, and I'd trust a certain popular online encyclopedia to squeeze out the subjectivity present here.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 14, 2012 4:02 PM BST


Mind Chi: Re-wire Your Brain in 8 Minutes a Day, Strategies for Success in Business and Life
Mind Chi: Re-wire Your Brain in 8 Minutes a Day, Strategies for Success in Business and Life
by Richard Israel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Common Sense for Dummies?, 5 Mar. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Somewhere near the beginning of this bloated, repetitive self-help book, the authors admit that the concept of Mind Chi is just common sense. This is probably the most helpful line in the whole book, because it means if you have a mote of common sense rattling around your brain you need not read any further. On the other hand, if you are completely lacking in any nous, and need common sense to be disguised behind Capitalised New Age-y Words, this book could change your life. Could. But probably won't.

The idea behind Mind Chi is a sort of Feng Shui for your brain. That is, the stresses of modern life are both a product and cause of cluttered thoughts, and if you could only think things through more clearly you could be more self-aware, more productive, and happier. The daily 8-minute solution trumpeted by the book's subtitle consists of little more than breathing deeply and thinking positively, ignoring those things you can't change and planning for the future. There's the common sense for you. In this book you'll find it retitled Mind Chi Applied or something.

The authors eschew the Eastern philosophy suggested by their title in favour of an amateur form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, claiming that if you repeat the 8 minutes every day for a month your brain will learn to do it by habit. But it's a confused and unconvincing claim, because after insisting the aim is to help you live in the moment, their suggestion is that you go away and be introspective for 8 minutes. They also suggest doing this every time negative thoughts intrude. So it's unlikely to be just 8 minutes out of your day unless you're the kind of person who wouldn't need this book anyway.

In the second half of the book the authors try to show how business can make use of Mind Chi, but by that stage the only manager you can imagine pulling this book out of his briefcase is Ricky Gervais's character from The Office.

You can't be cynical when approaching a book like this, but it's difficult to finish reading it in any other frame of mind. If you want a book that helps you think outside the box, be more self-aware, more productive and happier, and is a lot more fun to work through, then skip this one and buy one of Michael Gelb's instead.


The Wine Pocket Bible: Everything a wine lover needs to know (Pocket Bibles)
The Wine Pocket Bible: Everything a wine lover needs to know (Pocket Bibles)
by Andrew Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars True to its title, 17 Dec. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As befitting a bible, this is less a book you'd read from start to finish (though I did) and more a book you'd refer to specific sections as and when you're seeking pointers in the right direction. Whilst many wine books written by oenophiles are partisan (and honest about it), detailing that writer's personal preferences and tastes, this book is not prejudiced against any region or grape (nor any budget). Indeed, it is comprehensive almost to the point of being exhaustive, which is quite an achievement for its sub-200 page count.

Though it delves briefly into the history and process of winemaking, and also includes short chapters on storing and investing in wine, at the heart of the book is the tour of the major (and some minor) wine regions of the world. Each country (and for France particularly, each region of the country) has a map showing how different regions and 'terroirs' are connected, and the book then details which grapes are grown where. In as such if you already know a wine you liked and want to find others like it, but still explore further, this book will nudge you in the direction of several possibilities. Alternatively, it'd probably be just as enjoyable to dive right in blind and trust its writers' recommendations.

Ultimately the proof is in the drinking, and what this book does is help you read wine bottle labels, to understand whether a wine comes from a highly regarded region, whether it is mass produced or expensive for good reason, and more importantly, to know whether it is likely to be to your tastes. It is not a buying guide, and contains no prices, and besides a handful of specifically recommended bottles, it empowers you to make your own choices rather than make them for you.


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