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Into the Darkest Corner
Into the Darkest Corner
by Elizabeth Haynes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A perfect women's thriller, 29 Feb 2012
I don't normally like thrillers or crime fiction or Jodi Picoult type "issue" fiction, so I shouldn't really like this debut novel by Elizabeth Haynes, but I do. The writing style is at times too wordy and the plot has a few small holes in it, but I still couldn't help picking it up again and again and I really enjoyed reading it.

There are two parallel storylines, set four years apart, both written by Cathy in diary form. In the earlier story Cathy is a party animal, a girl who loves going out with her mates and clubbing. Four years later Cathy is a shell of her former self; she's developed OCD (obssessive compulsive disorder), and there are some clues that the answer to why Cathy has lost her confidence and her go getting attitude might be to do with her new boyfriend Lee Brightman.

The writing of Lee's gradually increasing control over Cathy (he systematically controls her psychologically) is excellent. The clues are laid gradually until you want to get hold of Cathy and tell her to get away from Lee. There were one or two points where if I were Cathy I would have changed the locks, but she doesn't, and I think it fits her character that she doesn't, and that is what makes the novel such a tense read.

On top of that the novel exposes what it must feel like to suffer from OCD, and that, too, is very well drawn. The writer has clearly researched OCD. I suppose it was a bit of a coincidence that one of her boyfriends just happens to be researching OCD as a psychologist, but it didn't spoil my pleasure in reading the book. I really rooted for Cathy and wanted her to get better. There are some moments in the book that gave me goose bumps. I would really recommend this novel if you like a good page turner. It was chosen as a read for the Channel 4 Book Club and the reviewers liked it. Dave Spikey did say he thought the OCD bits went on too long, but I didn't.

An assured first novel and I think Elizabeth Haynes is writing her second novel at the moment.


The Orphan Master's Son
The Orphan Master's Son
by Adam Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars chunky and satisfying, 9 Feb 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I recently read Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick and was looking for a novel about North Korean life - but there aren't many around. Then I came across this brilliant book. Adam Johnson travelled to the DPRK (North Korea) to research the writing of this novel, after becoming obsessed (as he puts it) with the stories he read and researched about the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. The book wears the research lightly and is an absorbing and compelling, at times harrowing, at times richly comic, tale of one man, brought up an orphan by the Orphan Master of the title.

Jun Do is a determined character who survives everything life and fate throw at him, which in North Korea is a lot. He spends time working on the sea between Korea and Japan, kidnapping the unwary and taking them to a life of hardship and toil in the DPRK. He is expert at this, and trained in withstanding pain, which comes in handy when Americans board his ship and he and the crew are forced to come up with an alibi for what has happened. He deliberately puts his arm in a shark's mouth to try and prove that the Americans attempted to feed him to the sharks that the men were fishing for in order to cut off their fins for soup. The sharks are then thrown back into the sea to bleed to death. The saga of Jon Do's life continues and he eventually travels to the USA where the reader sees America through the eyes of a North Korean. Once back in North Korea events take a turn for the worse and this is where the story then moves forward a year and we pick up the events of Commander Ga's and his wife Sun Moon. Sun Moon is an actress who stars in films written by the Dear Leader himself, and is apparently based on a real person who was kidnapped in North Korea with her husband and forced to appear in a North Korean version of a Godzilla movie. Some of the stories about the Dear Leader seem farcical, but his character, when he enters the story, fizzes with menace. I was totally swept up in the story, which is part trauma narrative, part quest, part saga, part romantic fiction, wanting happy endings for Commander Ga and his wife.

This is a 450 page novel and it kept me gripped throuhgout. Excellent, highly recommended.


Practise & Learn: Times Tables (Age 7-11)
Practise & Learn: Times Tables (Age 7-11)
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.95

5.0 out of 5 stars The best times tables book out there, 19 Jan 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I think I must have bought all the books out there that encourage children to learn their times tables, believe me. My daughter lacks confidence and seems to forget her tables overnight. That's why I buy so many of these books, to try and give her extra practice. She really likes this one because the pictures are good and they have some good fun ways of putting across the ideas in lots of different ways. For example, the four times table has really cute pictures of dogs and cats and you have to say how many legs on three cats and so on!
I use books by this publisher for GCSE revision (I'm a teacher) - and I always find them full of useful stuff at a very reasonable price. Highly recommended.


My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
by Annabel Pitcher
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars I laughed and I cried, 6 Jan 2012
This is a great read by a new writer. Jamie is ten years old. He lives with his dad and his sister as well as his cat Roger. His other sister was killed by a terrorist bomb in London, so the family are pulled apart in their grief and Mum runs off with her support therapist. Jamie's voice is convincing and heart breaking as well as very funny. He has a delightfully sanguine approach to life and says the most outrageous things which make you laugh and cringe at the same time!
Jamie, his dad and sister move to the Lakes and he starts at a new school, where he is bullied. He is nurtured by his sister Jasmine; Dad is an alcoholic. Jamie is really isolated as is every member of his family as they struggle with their grief.
It is only towards the end of the book that something happens which helps Jamie grow and mature and that's the bit I wept through. So beautifully crafted.
There is a subplot based around Britain's Got Talent (Jas is a great singer) and even there, the author made me laugh the way she wrote the Simon Cowell type character. It really is a fantastic little book and I can see children enjoying it too. I read large chunks out to my ten year old daughter and she kept begging me to carry on.
The themes are quite heavy - death, grief, alcoholism, divorce, bullying, so it's amazing that there are so many laughs in here. My favourite read of the last year.


The Land of Decoration
The Land of Decoration
by Grace McCleen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new talent to watch, 6 Jan 2012
This review is from: The Land of Decoration (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book from a new writer, Grace McCleen.
Judith is a ten year old girl and an only child who is bullied at school. She collects rubbish and makes it into an imaginary land in her bedroom. The descriptions of her home town are quirky and clever while sounding like the thoughts of a bright little girl:
In our town, nothing seems to be where it should. There are car engines in Gardens and plastic bags in bushes and shopping trolleys in the river."
Judith and her dad are members of a church and they go door to door trying to save people from eternal damnation. Judith's dad makes her read the Bible every day.
But then, Judith discovers she has the power to work miracles. She makes it snow in the land of decoration in her bedroom, and it snows in real life! Strangely, her dad doesn't believe her, and then things start to go wrong for him at work and for Judith at school.
As time goes on Judith has conversations with God about how to use her powers. Funny and shocking things happen. The ending is not at all what I expected but it's quite powerful and also moving.
My only minor quibble with this book is that at times I wasn't sure that Grace's voice rang quite true, but if you enjoyed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, or Room, or My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, you will love this book. I will definitely be reading her next book.
Overall, an absorbing read, and a recommended one.


Easy Meals
Easy Meals
by Rachel Allen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great everyday family cook book, 25 Nov 2011
This review is from: Easy Meals (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I like Rachel Allen's recipes. They are simple, no fuss, no nonsense, you can cook them easily and they are just simple good family meals that the family like. In here there are some good recipes that I can see becoming family favourites. My personal favourite is the raspberry coconut pudding, it's a coconut sponge sitting on a later of sweet raspberry jam. Delicious with custard, it reminds me of school dinner type comforting puddings. Sesame crusted chicken is good (I love sesame seeds) and there are some good one pot chicken dishes and the chicken biryani is lovely. The chicken and chorizo with rice is similar to a Nigella recipe with new potatoes that I like but this one adds rice and stock and you cook it in a large saute pan on the hob instead of in the oven. I'm going to try Rachel's twist on chocolate marshmallow biscuit cake (with ginger nuts). The book is in 6 sections: store cupboard, fast and fab, 5 ingredients, one pot meals, no cook meals and extras and sides. I picked up some new ideas instead of just doing potatoes and rice all the time, like roasted sweet potatoes with honey and lemon and balck pepper.


All That I Am
All That I Am
by Anna Funder
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Not the easiest read, 25 Nov 2011
This review is from: All That I Am (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was really looking forward to getting this book, as I was thoroughly gripped by Anna Funder's non fiction book Stasiland, about the Secret Police in East Germany, when I read it on holiday a few years ago. This book is a novel but based on a true story of a German woman who was against the Nazi regime, and I thought it would be an excellent read, but I am struggling with it and can't get beyond the first hundred pages. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the first three chapters are set in different periods and told by a different narrative voice. Secondly, the characters seem to lapse into retrospection, or they start relating or remembering what happened in the past, so the repeated time slips are confusing me. This means every time a new chapter starts, I've got to get my bearings again on who is telling the story and when it is they are actually talking about.
I can see why the writer does it like this - she's giveing the reader the perspective of an elderly woman looking back at her life. But it would have been a lot simpler to just tell it in a straight forward third or first person narrator style. I suppose the author wanted to get away from a non fiction reportage style of writing and that's maybe why she chose this way of putting the story together.
There's also a lot of studied description of the setting which makes me think of creative writing classes and first novels.
I'm persevering, but I'm not expecting it to be a quick read. I don't usually abandon novels and I want to give it another chance. The first chapter was absorbing and I was really interested, but then I lost my way a little.


Sapphire Battersea (Hetty Feather)
Sapphire Battersea (Hetty Feather)
by Jacqueline Wilson
Edition: Audio CD

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unabridged and beautifully read, 25 Nov 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There are 8 CDs in this package, and, importantly, the book is unabridged. My daughter put it on straight away when it arrived. It tells the story of an orphan girl in Victorian times. She thinks is is a great story and she says she would get more books by Jacqueline Wilson. She hasn't read many - just Tracy Beaker and Double Act, but she does prefer the story on CD as she can snuggle down in bed at night and be read to. The reader here is Finty Williams, Judi Dench's daughter, I believe, and she has the most gorgeous reading voice, very like her mum. This would make a super present for any Jacqueline Wilson fan.


The Emperor's New Clothes and Other Fairy Tales (BBC Audiobooks)
The Emperor's New Clothes and Other Fairy Tales (BBC Audiobooks)
by Sir Derek Jacobi
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 5.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully read best loved stories, 18 Nov 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This CD contains four fairy tales, all classics, read by top actors like Sir Derek Jacobi and Neil Tennant (erstwhile Doctor Who). Perhaps the story of The Fir Tree isn't as well known, but it's a lovely story. It means this audio CD is a must have for any young child's bookshelf. It would make a good birthday or Christmas present.


You've Got Talent
You've Got Talent
by DK
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good idea for a book..., 18 Nov 2011
This review is from: You've Got Talent (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
... but it doesn't quite live up to its promise. It is meant to be a guide to all things X- factory, I think. It has a mirror on the front board cover so you are meant to see yourself under the title "You've Got Talent". Obviously, my daughter didn't believe the hype and snorted at her reflection! The book itself has a history of dance, music and acting styles, and it lists all the major shows, and dance styles, throuhg the centuries, and it should be really interesting, but somehow it doesn't grab you. I think it has too much information on each page. The pages are set out magazine style with facts and bullets and I think the print is too small and the tone slightly too serious for 10 year olds like my daughter. Maybe a more serious or slightly older child would enjoy it more and get more out of it.


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