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lilysmum "lilysmum65" (uk)
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The Black Stars of Ghana
The Black Stars of Ghana
by Alan Whelan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars It Take No Time, 16 May 2014
This book was a great read, very entertaining and easy to read, and I read it in one sitting.
At the end of the book, Alan Whelan says, "I came to Ghana to disprove the suggestion that giving African colonies independence in the 1950s would be like giving a child a latch-key, a bank account and a shot gun." "But now," he says, "the country has plenty to teach the West: its ingenuity, perseverance and the ability to keep in plain sight the important aspects of life." Whelan travels across Ghana by motorbike, stopping off to watch the World Cup Football matches that Ghana plays in 2010.
This book is all about giving the general reader snapshots of life in Ghana today, and what to expect if you travel there. It's a feel good book that makes you want to go to Ghana and it makes you understand why Whelan wanted to sell a lot of his possessions when he returned - the things you don't need as you travel through life. The people of Ghana are presented as full of hope, humour, and hospitality. Whelan admires them for the way they naturally come to each others' help, and tries to emulate that - for example, by allowing a man whose motorbike has broken down to catch hold of his arm and be towed along (up hill and down hill) to the next town!
I really liked the inscrutable names of taxis and shops: The It Take No Time vehicle repair shop, the Be A Man bar, the Don't Mind Your Wife bar, the Messiah hotel ("a glimpse of Heaven"), the Don't Go There taxi, and so on.
There's lots of humour in the book, the food is plentiful but sometimes surprising (when he asks for chicken, he is given pork), and he visits some really interesting places, exploring the history of slavery and the Gold Coast as well as schools, homes, and all sorts of boarding houses and hotels.
This book reminded me in some ways of Tim Butcher's Blood River, which I also enjoyed, but this is a lighter read. It has less political background in it, so if you were keenly interested in the history of Ghana, you might want to find another book, but if you want an idea of what travel to Ghana is like for the everyday tourist, or you are planning a trip there, I think this book would be a perfect read.


Monarch [DVD]
Monarch [DVD]
Dvd ~ TP McKenna
Price: £9.25

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A diverting TV film., 17 April 2014
This review is from: Monarch [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I think this would be a good film for a television buff who likes looking back at the way they used to make programmes. If you are keen on modern film making techniques, you will think this very dated.
It tells the story of an ageing King Henry VIII who ends up in a country house after an accident which makes him vulnerable to the sort of powerful men who would want to see him overthrown. He lies ill for several days during which time he is delerious and hallucinates about the past and his queens.
I did enjoy the performances and the script was good - I recognised Jean Marsh of Upstairs Downstairs. The things I found surprising were the mistakes. The most glaring one I noticed was that the men tuck into Granny Smiths apples which are a modern variety and were only grown from the end of the 1800s. I doubt they would make such an error nowadays. And some of the costumes looked a little amateurish. But, having said that, it was still entertaining, and does cover a supposedly true event in Henry's life that I had not known about before seeing the film. That was what made it really interesting and worth a watch.


The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.56

4.0 out of 5 stars A great read for bibliophiles, 29 Mar 2014
If you're a bookaholic I think you would love this book. It tells the story of a bookshop owner who lives on an island. He is a quirky character, a little bit stand offish at the start of the book, and he's visited by a publisher's rep who brings a list of books with her that I immediately started to look for on Amazon. Some of the books she talks about are real, some aren't.
Fikry slowly falls in love with the rep, and simultaneously adopts a small child who has been abandoned in his bookshop. Maya soon builds his sales by marching up to customers and thrusting books into their hands, even though she is only tiny.
The book meanders along, stopping along the way to discuss reading habits and various books, such as The Book Thief, which one of Fikry's customers has the temerity not to like! She asks for a refund! (Cheek!)
I found the end of the book a little unsatisfying as the way it ends was, I felt, a little forced. I felt that there was one event which appeared to be used as a plot device and it made the book a little creaky at the end, but I am still glad I read it. An entertaining light read.


Spelling, Punctuation & Grammar for GCSE - Digital Tester and Handbook
Spelling, Punctuation & Grammar for GCSE - Digital Tester and Handbook
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.89

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful revision tool, 29 Mar 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book and CD Rom are intended to help students prepare for GCSE English exams and other exams where punctuation spelling and grammar are marked.
I liked the idea of a CD that students can work through, picking out the sections that they feel they need most.
There are sections for each subject with key vocabulary. I did not think the English words were the ones I would have chosen for my students to learn. Some were useful but I highlighted the ones I wanted them to learn and left the others. What candidates who need spelling practice need is the words that are commonly misspelled such as embarrassment and favourite.
I lent the resource to a student to see what she thought of it, but she said her computer at home would not run it. I had no problems running it on my machine, so whether this was a problem with her machine or the resource I don't know.
I do highly rate CGP stuff, and I have bought loads of it in the past, so this was a tiny bit of a disappointment, to be honest. I think there are probably better guides out there.


Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, unputdownable, 29 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was gripped by this book. Mr Marsh is a consultant neurosurgeon and in the book, he describes all aspects of his professional life as well as some of his personal life experiences. He deals with stories of patients and the various ailments that can affect the brain, as well as enlightening the reader about the vagaries of trying to use NHS computer systems to help his patients. One guy, who fears he has a brain tumour, has to sit and wait half an hour while Mr Marsh runs up and down stairs trying to get a password to get him into the right system to call up the patient's scan. The correct password turns out to be "F***off47" because another consultant hates the system so much, all his passwords are expletives. The sense of growing anxiety as the patient waits is clearly evident. Mr Marsh gives us a glimpse into the psyche of the surgeon. You cannot afford to let yourself care too much, or you would never do your job. You have to face your mistakes - and Mr Marsh does that with honesty, I think. I also liked the way in which he described being a patient himself and was open about how he thought he would cope with a terminal diagnosis (not very well).
In all, he raised my opinion of doctors, and my faith in them. I suspected that doctors sometimes get the balance of hope and honesty wrong when giving diagnoses, and after reading this book I feel I understand the issues that doctors have to grapple with a little better.
I could not put this book down and read it very quickly. It does make you thankful that you are not having to face the dreadful illnesses described. A life affirming read. My favourite bit was where Mr Marsh went to a cemetery in the Ukraine. Looking at the headstones with their pictures of the deceased, he said his thought was that they were all balefully looking at him, as if to say, "We are dead. You are still alive. What are you doing with the time left to you?" Indeed.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2014 8:25 PM BST


After the Snow
After the Snow
by S. D. Crockett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.78

3.0 out of 5 stars Worryingly violent - for older teens only, 29 Mar 2014
This review is from: After the Snow (Paperback)
I really enjoyed the first section of this book which tells the story of Willo's struggle to survive in a future world where some kind of climate change has led to a world of permanent snow. At first, he is hiding in the woods above his house when he realises that the house is empty and his family have disappeared. He sets off to find them and, in a journey reminiscent of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, has visceral and blood curdling experiences. I felt the book lost its way towards the end, and the lesson for the reader, which seemed to be along the lines of "A future world without society as we know it will be very bleak indeed" - got taken to unnecessary extremes. There are really nasty scenes of torture and one, where a dog is flayed alive in a cave, seemed to me completely gratuitous. I guess you could say that this is what life would be like, and I'd agree with you, but there are ways of putting this across to a teen audience without spelling it out in quite such a lurid fashion. Brother in the Land (Robert Swindells) does the same job with so much more skill and style. If Crockett had toned down those sections by hinting at them I would have felt more comfortable with this book. I felt in the end it was perhaps trying to compete with computer games like GTA where violence is commonplace and extreme. Teen torture porn.
I don't believe in censorship of teen fiction, and I would be ok with my children reading this book, but I would want to talk to them about it.


But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory
But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory
Price: £5.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Great book about Art for beginners, 24 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I wanted to read a book about art as I wanted to learn more about why those works of modern art are made and what they mean. This book did the job. It explains in a really chatty and readable style the history of modern art and gives some fascinating little stories and anecdotes. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to you if you are looking for an introduction to art.


Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
by Alexandra Fuller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Intense, striking, sometimes macabre biog of a childhood in Africa, 24 Feb 2014
I nearly stopped reading this twice: once on page 92 and then again on page 132. It is a biography of a childhood spent mostly in Zimbabwe, but also later in Malawi and then Zambia. The author was brought up by her family of white farmers (cattle & tobacco) during the 70s when the war was on and then Mugabe came to power.
The author uses a very spare and matter of fact writing style which fits with her age at the time she's writing about - she is a young girl for most of the book. Her mum and dad teach her to set up an intravenous drip ("but only if all the grown ups are dead") and to shoot. Mum is very fond of animals and adopts a range of dogs and other animals including an owl, Jeeves, who has been mistreated by some local youths. (Owls are a symbol of bad luck).
I wasn't shocked by the violence and the lawlessness in the book - you expect that. I've read about brutality before but I think the fact that Fuller watched such violence at such a young age is what made this especially difficult to stomach. She writes unquestioningly and I found that quite hard to take. I didn't, I must admit, see a lot of the humour that other readers and reviewers have noticed in the book.
However, it is a very accurate picture, I guess, of a side of Africa's history that is really important to have on record. I was a little surprised on a couple of occasions that Fuller's parents did not end up in hotter water than they did (trying not to give too much away here!) They certainly lived life to the full.
I think sometimes the writing style was difficult to follow. There might be sentences like this one at the beginning of the chapter 'Dog Rescue' - "Although Mum actually shot an Egyptian spitting cobra once, and killed it." I found that a little hard to follow. However, other sentences were beautifully crafted and poetic.


Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature
Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature
Price: £7.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative, 11 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I loved this book and devoured it in two sittings. I got a hankering to read about art theft after I watched a film about the theft of a painting with James McAvoy and also when I watched Derren Brown's Art Heist show on TV.

The author talks through famous thefts and losses including: the theft of the Mona Lisa; the destruction of Graham Sutherland's portrait of Winston Churchill; the diaries of Phillip Larkin and their destruction; the loss of James Joyce's early fragment Et Tu, Healy; the burning of Lord Byron's memoirs, and more.

Engrossing, Absorbing, Mesmerising. Just a fantastic romp through the history of art and its most famous thefts and losses. Gekoski has a really attractive writing style that draws in the reader. It feels like you are chatting to him in a pub and he is telling you lots of anecdotes from his life as a literary dealer. He has a fantastically sharp and dry sense of humour which he uses to entertain and occasionally to mock.

A fabulous book. Wonderful read.


The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
Price: £3.32

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My book of 2013, 3 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Goldfinch (Kindle Edition)
I adored this book. I loved The Secret History when it came out and this is at least as good, if not better. It starts with Theo Decker lying low in a hotel room, and soon we are taken back through Theo's life starting with the day he gets in trouble at school and he is on his way, with his mother, to an interview with the teacher, when she stops off at an art gallery. Theo's mother is an intelligent and vivacious woman who loves art and music. She shows him The Goldfinch, a tiny paining of a bird chained to a post against a plain cream background.
The book then moves through Theo's life explaining how he comes to move from New York to Las Vegas and back. Tartt really brings the settings alive - you can feel the desert heat as you read the sections set in Vegas. She also captures the louche lifestyle of Theo's dad and his step mum really well. Soon, Theo is getting into even more trouble with his new friend Boris.
The themes of the story are love and loss (Tartt writes exquisitely about grief and loss); art and beauty; memento mori; fate and free will; drug use; time... I don't want to say too much more for fear of spoiling the story as it unfolds layer by layer.
This book is everything I look for in a book. Powerful story, compelling characters, love, it's all there. And the writing is just amazing. The metaphors and similes are so apt and so unusual at the same time. There are great long lyrical passages where Theo, bemused, ponders the catastrophic nature of life. I read these passages again and again, marvelling at how Tartt puts thoughts into words so beautifully. Her writing is skilful, proportionate, simple but remarkable.
The best book I have read in 2013.


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