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V. G. Harwood "V G Harwood" (Derbyshire)

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Christmas According to Humphrey
Christmas According to Humphrey
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5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Christmas Humphrey, 6 Jun 2014
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We so enjoyed Humphrey's Christmas, even though we read it in June. My little boy liked the bit where Humphrey came out on to the stage and Ms Lark started screaming. We're glad she was Humphrey's friend in the end.


The Shunned House
The Shunned House
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best way to get rid of vampires?, 3 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Shunned House (Kindle Edition)
I really enjoyed this short story about a mysterious house where all of the occupants have met early demises due to madness and wasting diseases. It was so well-written and the tension built nicely to the ultimate end. I wasn't so sure about how the "horror" which is revealed was ultimately removed. Would acid get rid of a vampiric spirit? I thought it had to be a stake through the heart. Anyway, minor point, and one I'm sure there is no answer to. I still really enjoyed the story - particularly the envisioning of the town of Providence and its growth through historical ages. I'd never actually read any Lovecraft before so I don't know how it compares with his other stuff - I shall definitely be on the lookout for more.


They're Wed Again (Mills & Boon Short Stories)
They're Wed Again (Mills & Boon Short Stories)
Price: £0.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and Calculus, 1 Jun 2014
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This is a short novella written by Jordan to celebrate 100 years of Mills and Boon, and I’ve got to say, it really is Jordan at the top of her game, with deeply sensual love scenes, engaging hero and heroine, and a bit of a different way of presenting the love story.

This is a thoroughly modern Mills and Boon, where the hero and heroine have got married just that little bit too young, she’s had a high flying career whilst he has been doing post-graduate study to become a lecturer in pure mathematics. The inevitable rows around Pythagorus’ Theorum have evolved (not really; the real rows were about her supporting him and buying wildly inappropriate expensive furniture, whilst all he could offer her were Christmas parties with crusty old academics with barely edible mince pies and ancient sherry; when he knows – the selfish so-and-so – that she only drinks champagne). The inevitable divorce follows. However, 7 years later, the ex-husband, now a fully fledged crusty academic himself, pops round and finds her naked in bed with flu. Overwhelmed with desire for her fever-flushed body (and paying scant regard to the probability of him catching flu from her – and him a mathematician too!) they fall in love again. Needless to say, it’s bound to end in twins.

There’s a twist as the action is all told retrospectively whilst Luc and Belle (hero and heroine) are at the wedding of his cousin and there’s something rather charming in the method of telling too. The story goes back through their original history – how they initially fell in love, etc – and it’s all rather lovely. There are some disturbing moments in there – nobody wants to imagine professors of pure mathematics licking chocolate off any part of you, much less where Luc licks it off from – to be fair, it’s the stuff nightmares are made off, but if you can overlook this fact (Jordan was a housewife from Cheshire and probably never met a pure mathematics professor in her life – I got stuck in a lift with one once and I can tell you, it was a very disturbing experience - thank God I didn’t know about the chocolate scene then. The words “scarred for life” spring to mind). Needless to say, Luc is not like any professor of any academic discipline I’ve ever met.

This is a great read – short and sweet – it passed a miserable shift very nicely indeed.


The Age of Miracles
The Age of Miracles
Price: £3.98

3.0 out of 5 stars The end of the world... In a bit... Maybe..., 1 Jun 2014
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I really, really thought I was going to enjoy this, and guess what? I was disappointed. It's not that it isn't a great premise for a story - it is - but it's really all downhill from the original idea.

The premise is this: the earth is "slowing" for some inexplicable reason (never explained, and I got the feeling that if the author had tried to explain the science a little more, we'd all have been on distinctly dodgy ground...) so that the days and nights are getting longer and longer. The premise is quite frightening as the author describes how the plants begin to die and the local population becomes subject to gravity sickness, but the problem is, it is told from the perspective of a child whose a bit busy worrying about her Dad's affair, her friend's moving away and getting her first training bra to notice the world ending around her. Now we know from past works that apocalpytic memoir from a young person's point of view can work - think Rosoff's How I Live Now, which is a great book, and builds the tension nicely as things fall apart. Sadly, it just doesn't work in this book at all well. There's so much deferral: Julia says: I didn't know it then but that was the last time I'd eat a grape.... Or it was not the last lie my Dad would utter... The deferrals go on and on and on; there are so many of them they started to get on my nerves - it was as if it was some writerly trick Thompson Walker had learned on a creative writing course and she was determined to use it to death... and the end of the world? Well, it's kind of deferred really. As the book ends we've missed around 12 years out of Julia's life and she's suddenly 23. The world's still (slowly) turning and the book just kind of limps to a halt. It was a bit disappointing this because it could have been so good. Still, it's okay for a quick non-taxing read.


Penshurst Castle In the Days of Sir Philip Sidney
Penshurst Castle In the Days of Sir Philip Sidney
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4.0 out of 5 stars To Penshurst..., 31 May 2014
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I'm just about to start a course on English Country Houses and the literary imagination and the very first poem we are studying is Ben Johnson's "To Penshurst". With this in view, I picked this up free off Kindle and had a read about the house in the time of Sir Philip Sidney. I'm so glad I did. Not only is the poem depictive of a pastoral idyll, but this novel really gives you a sense of the beautiful landscape surrounding the estate in Kent.

This is a novel from the 1890s from a novelist I'd never heard of before, but according to the end pages of the book, has evidently written a lot of histories and popular novels. This one was a kind of Wolf Hall for the 1890s. Being as it was written at that time (fin-de-siecle) there's a bit of gothicism in there too, with the main character's son being kidnapped by dastardly connivers of non-protestant religions.

The historical facts are all true (I wikipedia'd Sidney's life to check!) but Marshall really brings him to life as a paragon of virtue and the lord of the idyll he reigns over. In fact, the way it is written, one can't help but wonder if Marshall was somewhat in love with Sidney herself (as are all her female characters). There was a happy ending (apart from the gangrene in Sidney's leg which kills him, of course; that was rather unfortunate, but an historical fact, so Marshall couldn't really do much with that!) The landscape descriptions are beautiful. In short, I really enjoyed reading this and will be downloading some more of Marshall's work (also free on Kindle).

I must admit, I went "To Penshurst" myself once when I was an undergraduate studying literature and it really is a beautiful place. There was no mention of Ben Johnson there though at that time. Still, this book is well worth a read and the place is well worth a visit too.


A Matter of Trust (Mills & Boon Modern) (Penny Jordan Collection)
A Matter of Trust (Mills & Boon Modern) (Penny Jordan Collection)
Price: £2.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Never get involved with an accountant, 31 May 2014
This one started out so promisingly. The premise was as follows: Leigh, a private detective, asks her much more staid and responsible (boring) sister Debra to step in for her one weekend and keep surveillance on a dirty old man who is set on seducing a teenager. Debra, an accountant by trade, reluctantly agrees and sets about watching the man. She sees him lure a pretty woman into his house and takes photographs. He duly spots her and comes round demanding the camera. A row ensues, in which she accuses the man of being a pervert. He responds (and I really did feel that Jordan was on distinctly dodgy ground here) by kissing her. His actual words are “I’m not a pervert. And just to prove it..” followed by a kiss. How this proves he’s not a pervert, I wasn’t sure.

Unfortunately for Debra the man she has just accused of being a pervert was the wrong bloke – and to make things worse, he’s actually her new boss at work. Thus the stage is set for some romantic fireworks. Sadly, it all goes downhill there. Marsh (the pervert) is staid and boring. He might have been a bit more exciting had he been a pervert. Debra is even worse. They both of them spend their spare time working in social care trying to befriend troubled teenagers. Unfortunately the troubled teenagers aren’t interested in being friends with staid middle-aged accountants (and who could blame them) and end up causing them a whole load of trouble. Poor Debra is traumatised by one which nearly ruins her burgeoning relationship with Marsh.

There’s lots of angst-y second guessing what’s going on in Marsh’s brain (not much) by Debra and her leaping to the wrong conclusions. Marsh is as bad and between them they nearly manage to wreck their relationship before it has even got off the ground. It’s not that romantic – the sex scenes are definitely not up to Jordan’s normally pulse-racing standards – it’s all a bit dull. There’s a lesson in this somewhere – i.e. don’t base your romantic novels around accountants; or social care; or in Chester. Poor.

Also: the cover (nb. this is from the old original paperback edition from 1992, not the Kindle edition featuring the girl wearing a toilet roll cover) - at first I just thought it was awful. The artist has portrayed Debra as a barbie doll and him as really plastic looking. Then, as I read the book, I realised that it really was a stroke of genius on behalf of the cover illustrator - Both of them are a bit plastic and doll-like; too good to be realistic in any way shape or form. There's almost something didactic being portrayed in the way that Jordan has them behave - they're too good; as if all people should be like them. Frankly, that was just a further off-putting strand to the novel.


Rule Britannia (VMC Book 304)
Rule Britannia (VMC Book 304)
Price: £4.35

5.0 out of 5 stars Classic, 27 May 2014
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I absolutely loved this book which (as one reviewer has already noted) is still alarmingly relevant today despite being published in 1972. So the premise is as follows: a coalition government (sound familiar??) goes into the EU (named the EEC then) and it's a disaster - there are protests and they pull out (hmmm, UKIP anyone?). This leads to financial meltdown in Europe (still sounding familiar...) and as a result the only hope for Britain is an American takeover bid - and USUK is born (I tried not to read it as "You suck" but failed). The story commences in a corner of Cornwall where Emma and her ex-actress grandmother ("Mad" by name and nature) and their adopted sons are surprised to suddenly find the power cut, an American warship at anchor in the bay and Marines everywhere. This was du Maurier's final book, but she has lost absolutely nothing by the end of her writing career. The story starts slowly with the death of a dog (shot by nervy marines) and gathers momentum so that after initial collaboration with their "invaders" the inhabitants of the community evolve into a "them and us" scenario and terrorism is the result. It really is a masterly novel with the tension building wonderfully - it reminded me of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now - or rather Rosoff's book reminds me of this, because obviously this came first. It's not perfect and there are some anachronisms in there - Du Maurier's racial stereotyping leaves a lot to be desired - but then it was written in the 70s. Overall, I would really recommend this if you are a fan of the new wave of books about the end of it all. This is a classic and not to be missed.


Deadeye Dick
Deadeye Dick
Price: £3.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Still Relevant, Still important, 19 May 2014
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This review is from: Deadeye Dick (Kindle Edition)
I loved reading this and read it incredibly quickly in just a couple of sittings. The novel relates the story of Rudy Waltz, his bizarre family (parents like the living dead, brother who is always on the lookout for the next ex-wife) and the town they live in. The town itself, Midtown, is as much a character and a commentary on the state of American life as any of the people in the book. Rudy, who has accidentally killed a pregnant woman whilst still a child himself, has to come to terms with himself, his guilt and the opinions of his community about him. There are some really powerful scenes in here - the descriptions of police brutality and innocence awakened were brilliant; as were the matters pertaining to America's gun laws - but dealt with so deftly, with such a comic touch. Like all Vonnegut, the more comedy there is in a scene, the greater the tragedy it is trying to portray. I noted that one reviewer has said that this feels a little dated now due to the Cold War references in the book - I can't agree I'm afraid. Governments STILL have this dreadful tendency to dismiss ordinary people as unimportant, as possessing lives "so boring and ungifted and small time that they could be slain by the tens of thousands without inspiring any long-term regrets on the part of anyone." One only has to look at what's going on in the world and how disposable the populace seems to be in Governments' eyes (think those little girls abducted from school in Nigeria and the government fails to act for days and days; a Turkish mine disaster because government don't care enough to insist on the correct safety procedures; the Russians' manipulation of the populace in the Ukraine in order to regain territory - and that's just to cite three examples which spring readily to mind). Vonnegut is an incredibly important writer in voicing the ordinary man - and he is such a joy to read. Like all Vonnegut, I can't recommend this one enough - if I give my sons one piece of advice it is to read Vonnegut - I'm sure his writing will be as relevant when they are grown up in fifteen years or so time, than he is still today.


The Last of the Mohicans; A narrative of 1757
The Last of the Mohicans; A narrative of 1757
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2.0 out of 5 stars Ruined by the film, 15 May 2014
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I'm almost ashamed to say that my watching of the film completely coloured my reading of this (classic) tale and as a result I found it impossible to enjoy it. I loved the film and thought it was just impossibly romantic - with this in view, and fancying reading some classic romance, I started this. What a disappointment! It IS a romance - but only in the classic interpretation of "romance"; i.e. it is a romance of adventure. There's no other romance in it. Instead, it was quite a depressing tale about the rape of a nation by either the British or the French (sadly all based on a true story). And if it wasn't the land of the Native Americans which was being conquered and spirited away by the colonial invaders, it was the rape of other nations too - consider the slavery in the Indies which is referred to in passing as Munro informs that he was made substantially richer by marrying a woman with black blood in her veins who ran a plantation in this area; hence Cora's dark eyes and skin.

Sadly, once Heywood learns of Cora's origins, you can be pretty sure that she is suddenly considered dispensable. As disposable, in fact, as the Mohicans themselves (note no-one of British origin rushes off to rescue Uncas from the Huron camp when he is held prisoner with the threat of tortuous death by fire hanging over him. This is left to the scout who allays himself with the Native Americans anyway. By the end, I was pretty much ashamed to be British considering our historical background. And then the ending! So disappointed. I won't say what it is - I don't want to spoil it - but... Well, in the words of the Mohicans "Hugh!" (disgusted sigh).

All in all, I was glad when this was over; I struggled through it and was making myself read on to the end by the last quarter, holding on vainly to the hope that some romance would come in (it doesn't). Good points - excellent descriptions of scenery - it's like being there. (Downside - it sounds horrible in the wilderness - I don't want to be there). Also some excellent lines: "The enemy know the shape of your back, but they have never seen the color of your eyes." (I'mgoing to remember that one for the next time I work with the office creep).

Can't recommend this I'm afraid - but I suspect that my view of it was slightly ruined by watching the excellent Daniel Day Lewis film first.


The World According to Humphrey
The World According to Humphrey
Price: £2.39

5.0 out of 5 stars We love Humphrey, 13 May 2014
I read this book with my son - here is his review: "It was really amazing and exciting. I enjoyed all of it from when Humphrey arrived from Pet O Rama until when he had his playground built and it was Christmas."

This is what Mum thought: "This is a lovely charming book. Humphrey helps everyone and has an excellent philosophy: "you can learn a lot by getting to know another species, even humans" Fab.


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