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James from Bath

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Polycell MSPS500 500ml Maximum Strength Paint Stripper
Polycell MSPS500 500ml Maximum Strength Paint Stripper
Price: 6.82

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dire product and does not work, 12 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Probably the worst DIY product I have ever bought. Useless at stripping paint; it only managed one layer at a time. Very strong smell, like chemical pear drops, which gave me a headache. I stopped using it and threw it in the bin. A friend since recommended Enviromose to me; Enviromose works and has no smell. Buy that and avoid this useless Polycell product.


Tuscany Double Wall Light Ivory / Cream Painted Finish
Tuscany Double Wall Light Ivory / Cream Painted Finish
Price: 34.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Cheap, but not cheap looking, 12 April 2014
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Looks as good as the photo when it arrived. I ended up buying a second one, so I must have been satisfied. The pull cord is an irritating feature, but I got my electrician to remove it.


The Wandering Falcon
The Wandering Falcon
by Jamil Ahmad
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A completely different world, 29 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Wandering Falcon (Paperback)
Someone recommended this to me, but was unable to say if it was a novel or a collection of short stories. I'd say the latter, albeit with a common thread running them all, in the person of Tor Baz. We meet him as child in the first story; by the last he is an adult. In some stories he appears as a main character, in others he is only incidental. This continuity helps if - like me - you would not normally read a volume of short stories.

All the stories are set in the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is a closed world to most of us; almost no westerners travel there. When I travelled from Peshawar up the Khyber Pass in 2001 I was told that the jurisdiction of the Pakistan authorities ends at the verge of the road. Beyond it, kidnappings and banditry are rife, and local laws and customs prevail.

More than one of the stories in this books concerns kidnapping, others are about marriage. The stand-out stories for me are the first one, 'The Sins of the Mother', which is bleakly shocking, and 'The Death of Camels', which tells the terrible effect that increasingly rigid national boundaries are having on nomadic peoples. But all this is narrated without pity or sentimentality; the tone is stoic,like the people themselves. Much of the book has the quality of a fable.

It is unlike anything I have read before, either in style or subject matter. Unique.


A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West Is Wrong About Nuclear Iran
A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West Is Wrong About Nuclear Iran
by Peter Oborne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.29

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and iconoclastic, 6 May 2013
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What is extraordinary about this book is that the argument it airs is almost never heard in the mainstream media. I had always thought it strange that a nation like Iran that produces so much oil should want to develop nuclear energy. Ergo, Iran must want to develop a nuclear weapon. What I hadn’t realized, until reading this book, is that Iran first embarked on developing nuclear energy before the Iranian revolution, and with the support of the US.

There are many other such revelations in this book that change one’s perception of what the Iranians are about. There is a fantastic quote from John F Kennedy at the beginning:

‘For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.’

This short book – you can read it in an hour – challenges the current clichés of Iran. It is thought-provoking and iconoclastic. There is plenty of detail about the NPT and IAEA, and I might have liked more about Iranian society in general (like the fact that female university students outnumber men). But it is a compelling read and a pleasure to have one’s assumptions so completely challenged. Buy it, read it, lend it out.


The Detour
The Detour
by Gerbrand Bakker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Admirable and serious, 18 July 2012
This review is from: The Detour (Hardcover)
I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. I didn't find it as gripping as `The Twin', but I think I might be missing something as I've read reviews which prefer this novel. Both books deal with themes of loneliness and impending death. Whereas `The Twin' is set in the author's native Holland, `The Detour' takes place in Wales, a landscape the author does not know as intimately, and this shows. A married woman (Emily), an ex-lecturer specialising in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, flees both her troubled marriage and her country and takes refuge in a remote farmhouse in Snowdonia. She is suffering from an unnamed illness, presumably terminal cancer. Into her solitary existence comes Bradwen, a young man who is also rather lost. The book is full of symbolism, from the geese which keep mysteriously disappearing, to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the garden, and Snowdon itself. It is also about translation, and living a translated existence. A poem by Emily Dickinson frames the story. If I knew more about her life and poetry perhaps I'd understand better what this book is about. I cannot be critical of a book which is so honest in its intentions, and which - though not eschewing the trivial - uses it to explore the fundamental issues of life.


The Last Hundred Days
The Last Hundred Days
by Patrick McGuinness
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More of a travel book than a novel, 23 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Last Hundred Days (Paperback)
The last hundred days refers to the dying days of the Ceausescu regime in 1989. It is a novel, but initially reads like a travel book. Little happens. Though well written (the author is a poet) I found part one very slow. We follow the narrator as he takes up a job at Bucharest University, and is gradually introduced to the frustrations of life in a communist country. He is a somewhat gauche young man, and not entirely convincing. A pity the journey made by the country during those hundred days is not matched by a maturing in his character. He is not even named, a serious omission, I think. A far better drawn character is Leo, a lecturer at the University who becomes the narrator's best friend. Leo is engaged in writing a book about the disappearing buildings of Bucharest, and I think McGuinness would probably have written a better book of this type. It is not a good novel, though more action does happen in the second half. However, if you're interested in finding out about the Romanian revolution (as I was) then it's worth reading.


The Tree of Life [DVD]
The Tree of Life [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brad Pitt
Price: 3.00

20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight film with heavy pretensions, 16 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Tree of Life [DVD] (DVD)
The Tree of Life is a textbook example of how not to use music in a film. Subtle it's not. Pseudo-religious music plays during a sequence depicting the creation of the world; there's Brahms, Dvorak, Gorecki - a real medley of popular classics - most of which are used intrusively. The DVD even suggests the viewer turn the volume up for maximum enjoyment. I think not. The film ends with a chorus of `Amen' whilst all the characters walk moodily along a beach at sunset, embracing each other. I don't think I've ever seen a more pretentious or self-congratulatory ending to a film.

The use of music as a lazy shorthand to what's happening goes to the heart of what's wrong with this film. There is almost no dialogue. This matters. How can a film which purports to have meaning not develop the characters through dialogue? Jessica Chastain does almost nothing apart from look a bit wet, ethereal and dreamy. It's not her fault, she hasn't been given anything to say. The same is true of most of the other actors. Brad Pitt does not convince as the musically frustrated patriarch of the family, the script not allowing him to reconcile his authoritarian streak with his supposed sensitivity to music. There is so little dialogue, we are not even told the details of the only real event in the film, the death of one of the boys at the age of 19.

The film is advertised as being visually stunning. Unfortunately, the cinematography assumes the viewer has an attention span of a gnat. So no shot is allowed to rest for more than a second. The camera is restless, always moving, up down along, frequently looking up into the sky (preferably with a shot into the sun, just to remind us of the cosmic nature of the film). It left me feeling nauseous, like watching a trailer that goes on for two hours. Why not take a more meditative approach, it would fit the subject better?

I disliked the God overtones; this obsession with God might be normal in America, but it struck this European viewer as very strange. I get the impression that for all the pseudo-science in the tedious sequence depicting the creation of the world, the director is a creationist. The characters speak to God, and a belief that God is involved in the creation of the world is assumed in the viewer. There is even a quotation from the Book of Job at the start. But I felt the religion, like the music, was just laid on like a veneer to give the film 'depth'. But at the heart of the film is an intellectual vacuum.

Avoid.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2012 7:08 PM GMT


Smut: Two Unseemly Stories
Smut: Two Unseemly Stories
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.62

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny rather than smutty, 3 Jun 2012
This short book contains two stories: The Greening of Mrs Donaldson, and The Shielding of Mrs Forbes. With both, we are in typical Bennett territory: a woman in late middle age facing a change in domestic circumstances (widowhood for Mrs Donaldson, the marriage of her son for Mrs Forbes). Both women have led fairly restricted lives and have fairly tight ideas of what is `respectable'. This is particularly so for Mrs Forbes. The portrayal of her seemed dated, as if the piece had been written in the 1980's, not the 2010's.

The Greening of Mrs Donaldson is the better story; she is a more sympathetic character, and the journey she makes in the course of the story more interesting than that of Mrs Forbes, who just stays the same. There is a lot of humour in Mrs Donaldon's job as a medical demonstrator, required to act out various scenarios (as a patient) for the benefit of medical students. The humour is understated and wry. The story takes the reader into an unfamiliar world with aplomb.

The `smut' is fairly mild and never graphic. It is not gratuitous, however, as it plays a key part in the plot of both stories.


The Twin
The Twin
by Gerbrand Bakker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like nothing you've read before, 19 May 2012
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
This is a starkly beautiful book, written like nothing I've read before. Set in the Waterland of northern Holland, the prose is as spare and gaunt as the empty landscape of wintry fields and frozen water in which it is set. It has an impressive sense of place; Bakker has that rare ability to transport the reader to a foreign landscape so that, by the end of the book, every field, tree and dyke seems intimate to us.

The plot concerns Helmer, a single farmer in his fifties. Helmer never chose to be a farmer; it only fell to him after his twin brother, Henk, died some three decades before. And now that Helmer's elderly father is dying, Helmer is aware that his life is on the cusp of change. The possibility of change is brought sharply into focus when Henk's former fiancé turns up, and seemingly offers an alternative future.

The novel is narrated in the first person, and the spartan prose reflects the constrained existence of Helmer's llife. What is marvellous about Bakker's writing is the way in which mundane details of Helmer's day are placed, without comment, against the unfolding plot. This creates a deadpan humour that contrasts with the bleakness of his life.

The novel is sad, but beautiful; unromanticised, but profound, a book full of longing and loneliness, of the unsaid and undone. It is fabulous.


The Snow Child
The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewitching beauty of Alaska, 5 May 2012
This review is from: The Snow Child (Hardcover)
This novel is set in 1920's Alaska where Jack and Mabel, a childless couple, have recently settled. They have moved north in part to escape the memories of a stillborn son and the expectations of their families. It does not work. At the opening they are living on the edge, short of food, with winter approaching, emotionally distant from each other, and Mabel suicidal.

Into this scenario comes the snow child, a catalyst for growth and change in Jack and Mabel's relationship with each other, and with the landscape. I will leave it to others to examine what or who exactly Faina, the snow child, is. I just enjoyed the mystery.

But for me, the outstanding aspect of this novel is in its description of the Alaskan landscape, in both its cruelty and beauty. Not since David Vann's 'Legend of a Suicide', also set in Alaska, have I read a book in which the landscape played such a significant role. It is as if the landscape itself were a character. Maybe this is who Faina is.

A beautiful novel, wonderfully observed, with outstanding prose. And the retro printing on the hardback harks back to childhood books, and the pleasure in losing yourself in what you read.


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