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

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Letters from Father Christmas
Letters from Father Christmas
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, 19 Oct 2014
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I read this with my son Michael and he loved it. He said it was really funny. We particularly liked polar bear and the illustrations are beautiful. This has a lovely old fashioned charm. Definitely recommend it in to get you in the mood for Christmas


Taken 2
Taken 2
Dvd
Offered by Lovefilm UK Limited
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Sit back and crash jn, 11 Oct 2014
This review is from: Taken 2 (Amazon Instant Video)
I loved Taken and was a bit worried this might be a cash in sequel riding on the back of the success of the first film. To be fair, this probably is a cash in sequel but I quite enjoyed it nonetheless. The action sequences ( particularly the driving scenes) were really exciting and despite the fact that his family will never go on holiday with Liam Neeson again (unless it's Llandudno - I couldn't quite make out why they went to Istanbul anyway - far too much potential for being kidnapped) it was all's well that ends well. Mindless entertainment


The Old Manor House (Broadview Literary Texts) 1st (first) Edition by Smith, Charlotte [2002]
The Old Manor House (Broadview Literary Texts) 1st (first) Edition by Smith, Charlotte [2002]
by Smith
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A romance with a lot going on, 19 Sep 2014
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This is arguably Charlotte Smith's most famous book. It relates the story of romantic hero, Orlando, who stands to inherit The Old Manor House of the title, Rayland Hall. However, he can only do this if he keeps in the good books of "old Tabby" Mrs Rayland, the elderly current owner. During his visits there, he has made a childhood friend of Mrs Lennard's (Mrs Rayland's cantankerous companion) ward. Mrs. Lennard may be cruel and exacting, but she too has a romantic streak and she has named her ward, "Monimia"; a name which becomes the subject of much derision from both Mrs. Rayland and Orlando's father (who insist on calling her plain old "Mary"). (To be fair, they've got a point - "Monimia" was redolent of a sexually transmitted disease to me; but apparently it was in the same realm as "Leonora" or "Clarissa" might have been in the 18th century).

The story then follows Orlando's falling in love with Monimia (a girl who was in reality an illiterate servant when he first meets her) whereas he is a man with some expectations; and his attempts to mould her into the woman he wants her to be (by educating her every night in a secret room beneath a tower in the hall) and then win approval to marry her. The romance element, however, is deeply undermined by the fact that Orlando is a weak vacillating character who is constantly at the beck and call of the elderly Mrs. Rayland and daren't offend her in case she decides to will her property elsewhere. In fact, as Jacqueline Labbe outlines in her introduction to this brilliant Broadview Literary Texts edition, this really is a romance of property and an anti-romance in terms of the human relationships involved. Orlando needs to keep in favour with Mrs. Rayland, but he can only do this at the expense of his relationship with Monimia; and vice-versa.

Like all Smith novels, the characterisation is a real strong point, as is the depiction of landscape. As Walter Scott wrote of Smith, she "preserves in her landscapes the truth and precision of a painter"; and the characters could literally have stepped from life. However, as always with Smith, she was in a hurry to finish her novel (and get paid for it) so the last volume is a bit of a rushed affair with Smith tying up her story with several very unlikely events to conclude the story (such as Orlando happening across the missing Monimia in a very unlikely place indeed). As the Critical Review wrote of the section of the story where Warwick (a captain in the army bound to fight in the Americas) falls in love with Orlando's sister, Isabella, a woman who is betrothed to Warwick's uncle: "The old colonel is attacked by a severe fit of the gout which confines him to his room, and Warrick (sic) arriving to intimate orders for the immediate embarkation of Orlando’s regiment for America, becomes instantly enamoured of his intended aunt, and in less than forty-eight hours procures her consent to abscond with him to Portsmouth, whither he is obliged to go to attend his duty." In other words, events are hurried through in order to suit Smith's purposes and if she needs to dispose of her characters quickly.,

The best part for me was Volume three, when Orlando, goes to war to fight for the British in the American Revolution. It is made clear that Orlando does not understand the cause he is fighting for and has no idea whether it is just or not (of course, it isn't). Smith then outlines how undersupplied the army is and how this costs the lives of many of the men before they even arrive to fight. Smith was a radical and much in favour of the revolution in France. However, after Desmond, which was slated because of its strong pro-revolutionary views, she daren't come out openly in favour of revolutionary France again. Therefore, she shifts the period she is writing about backwards thirty years or so and writes about the "American Revolution" instead, but successfully manages to argue in support of both. In my opinion, Vol 3 is where Orlando stops being so inactive in his attempts to win Rayland Hall and actually goes out and does something. Okay, it's a disaster (he is captured by Native Americans and nearly scalped) but at least it's SOMETHING other than hanging around being an old lady's sycophant.

When he returns, Orlando is a very different person. With "All the horrors of which he had been a witness in America now returned to his recollection; and the madness and folly of mankind, which occasioned those horrors, struck him more forcibly now than when his spirits were heated by having been a party in them." p. 458, Smith articulates an early form of shell-shock for her hero; not much better than a tramp, several of his own family and friends mistake him for a ghost. (And indeed, the property, Rayland Hall, has gone, with the death of the owner in his absence, and without it, Orlando doesn't amount to much at all). Monimia is missing, his father is dead and his family are dispersed and living in poverty.

Of course, it's a romance, so everything will come right in the end, but for me, Volume three, with its stark tragedy and violence, underscored by the ingratitude of a nation for its soldiers, is much the best volume. I also liked the character of Isabella (Orlando's sister) who agrees to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather because he's rich but then finds that the trappings of wealth don't really amount to much when it comes down to it. I particularly liked the moment when she notices that her beautiful hair is much better in a natural style than being dressed by a valet de chambre (i.e. powdered, as was the fashion then) and losing all its lovely colour. Smith is a wonderful writer and her characters, even today, are wonderfully realistic.

As a final aside, this edition is definitely worth the extra money - I've got the second edition of this (2005). Jacqueline Labbe is definitely the UK expert on Smith (if not the world expert). Any critic who writes about Smith will cite Labbe's work in some form or other; and this edition with all of its supporting texts and fabulous introduction is, in my opinion, worth paying extra for.

There's LOADS going on in this fabulous 18th century romance - definitely recommend it.


When We Were Orphans
When We Were Orphans
Price: £4.79

5.0 out of 5 stars The flaws of memory, 12 Sep 2014
I love this book; it is just wonderful. The story relates the history of Christopher Banks, celebrated detective during the 30s. His life seems to have been based on a Conan Doyle novel and it isn't long before what we have here is a classic Ishiguro unreliable narrator. He is a man who is very much still living in the childhood he recalls from his early infancy in Shanghai with his parents and his best friend Akira living next door. It's a story about memory (with all its flaws) as well as a story about Empire. It also relies heavily on literary traditions - the detective story genre, in addition to harking back to the unlikely fictions of an earlier age. It is a wonderfully satisfying story - can't recommend this one enough for Ishiguro fans.


On Chesil Beach
On Chesil Beach
Price: £3.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and Haunting, but not his best, 12 Sep 2014
This review is from: On Chesil Beach (Kindle Edition)
This is a really short book (a novella really) which charts the marriage and the wedding night of Edward and Florence in July 1962. There are some grand historic themes here (the reduction of the Empire, etc) in addition to the development of rock and roll and the new age which was coming to young people at this time. It is also a history of the couple themselves and their terminal shyness on their wedding night and the disaster to which this leads. Other things are also hinted at - has Florence been abused by her Dad? It's hard to say, but there's certainly something hidden there. I loved this book mainly for the line on the final page: "This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing." It's such a beautiful line and so very sad and true. However, it's not really representative of McEwan at his best - some of the metaphors relating to the sexual nature of their relationship are a bit too heavy for me (sucking cherries from the top of melon, etc) and seem a bit clumsy compared to Atonement or Sweet Tooth. Anyway, I would recommend this for a quick read - you won't be disappointed and it does have the beautiful, lyrical, haunting qualities which are habitual to McEwan's writing style.


Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars ... of Austen's novels and you can say what you like about Fanny Price, 11 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Mansfield Park (Kindle Edition)
I know that Mansfield Park is generally seen as one of the less popular of Austen's novels and you can say what you like about Fanny Price, with her quietness, her delicacy and poor health - in my view, she is a lesson to us all. The wonderful thing about her is that she holds it all inside - we know she's in love with Edmund, but she hides it away even from herself; she finds herself disapproving of her family in Portsmouth, but then is mortified that she might have let it show. In short, Fanny Price is a very nice, kind lady who thoroughly deserves the happiness which eventually comes to her.

There's loads going on in the book - obviously, it's set on a grand country estate and it is really a romance of an English Country House. I've read critics who argue that the house is as much a character in the book as the Crawfords, Julia and Maria, Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas. I can't disagree - note how the pastoral idyll fails when trouble comes to the Hall - suddenly the very atmosphere has been infected by Maria Bertram's loose morals. Similarly, when Sir Thomas is away in Antigua - the house begins to fall apart as the custodian of the home is not there to keep it all in order.

The characterisation in the book is fantastic - Mary Crawford for instance - yes, we know she's flawed and that some of the things she does are very suspect, but she's kind of likeable too. Indeed, no one in the book is all bad or all good - in fact, they're just human and very realistic. There aren't many early 19th century romances which can claim the same.

In short, this is a wonderful, wonderful book which provides a fantastic life lesson to us all in patience, the art of courtship and romance and measuring the true worth of a person. Can't recommend it enough.

This kindle edition is FREE and it has page numbers so it's easy to reference in essays - this is a reasonable edition, I feel


Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle
Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle
by Charlotte Turner Smith
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars An important message wrapped up in Romantic fiction, 29 Aug 2014
The edition I have of this is from Charlotte Turner Smith, "Works" on Kindle from The Perfect Library. Whilst the kindle editions of eighteenth century novels are never great, it is here in it's entirety (which is more than I can say for The Old Manor House in the same collection - where volume three is missing). However, this is not so much a review of the edition as the work itself, which I LOVED.

Emmeline is Mrs Smith's first novel and represented the early stages of her desperate attempts to make enough money from her writing to sustain herself and her many children. The story is traditional romantic eighteenth century fayre - Emmeline, the eponymous protagonist, is young and beautiful (and never sufficiently described, just to be sure that her readers can all romantically imagine themselves in her position!) and basically any man who comes across her, falls in love with her. Not only does she receive offers from the elderly steward of a castle, but also the volatile Lord Delamere (her cousin) who then proceeds to make a nuisance of himself through four volumes of Emmeline's struggles to survive whilst she is understood to be "the natural daughter" (i.e. illegitimate child) of a Lord, whose brother then carelessly provides for her (only his idea of providing for her is to give her money when he feels like it - which is not often). She also falls prey to a volatile Frenchman (who similarly falls in love with her and makes a nuisance of himself), an elderly financier called Rochely, and the honourable Godolphin, who represents the only rational male in the whole text. The character of Mrs Stafford is particularly interesting as she is based on the author herself. Similarly, the feckless Mr Stafford is based on her real-life husband, Benjamin Turner, (whose inventive use of wigs in order to enrich arable land really cheered me up). Both Mrs Stafford and the character of Adelina have been forced to marry early in the novel (as Smith herself was - marrying at just 15); and this book really is a diatribe against early marriage.

Volume IV is the weakest of the volumes - obviously written in a hurry as Mrs Smith probably needed the money. During this final volume, Emmeline actually opens the caskets left to her by her deceased parents (bearing in mind that she's had them in her possession for 17 years by this point) and reads the correspondence therein, and finds, lo and behold! that she is the legitimate daughter of the house of Mowbray and worth a lot of money. The last few pages then cover her recovery of her fortune, her assistance to Mrs Stafford, and marrying her lover, Godolphin. It's all's well that ends well, but one cannot help but think that if Emmeline had just opened the casket and read the letters when they were first given to her (or when she was first able to read) she'd have saved herself around four volumes of misery.

This is the stuff of romantic fiction; and yet, one cannot deny that in it Smith is making an important point. As Fletcher notes in her introduction to smith's Celestina "... her art is highly ambitious, analysing England’s economic and political ills in the sugar-coating of romantic fiction, and offering domestic, specifically female struggles as fit subjects for that elitist form, the sonnet." (p. 44) This novel astutely picks up on the fact that for eighteenth-century women, marriage really was a business transaction, and one in which they had very little say. For example, poor old Emmeline is forced to sign a contract that she will accept Delamere, but she really has no feelings for him at all beyond that of a sister. When she meets Godolphin and realises that she is in love with him, she is powerless to break that contract until Delamere ditches her first. Similarly, even when he does this she is too afraid of Delamere's volatile temper (he has quite a few tantrums in the novel when he doesn't get his own way) to break it to him that she has met someone else.

Part romantic novel, part social criticism, part conduct book for eighteenth-century women, and an important lesson in managing your temper and not over-indulging your children, this is a fabulous story. I can't recommend it enough.


Atonement
Atonement
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A Poignant story of lost England, 29 Aug 2014
This review is from: Atonement (Paperback)
I've read lots of Ian McEwan books and some of them (Sweet Tooth, On Chesil Beach) I have loved, and others I've thought have been a bit of a miss (Saturday) but this really is up there with some of his finest work. Atonement is the beautifully told story of the unravelling of a young man's life; first because he is accused, tried and convicted of a crime which he did not commit, and second because he is then drafted into the war. It is also the story of the unravelling of old England; how the grand country houses of the English landscape were lost, and how a whole generation of young men were wiped out during the second world war.

This really is a poignant story of loss, with wonderful (unreliable) narrators, which keeps the reader guessing right to the very end. I cannot recommend this novel enough.


Bellman & Black
Bellman & Black
Price: £3.85

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 10 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Bellman & Black (Kindle Edition)
I came across this book in a really olde worlde book shop in Whitby and really fancied it (it was October at the time and a ghost story seemed just the thing for those long Autumn nights). I couldn't afford it at the time, but later came across it on offer on Kindle and got it then - you can imagine my anticipation at reading it after that! Added to this the fact that I loved Setterfield's first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, and I could hardly wait to get going. Sadly, I've been pretty much disappointed with this one.

The story relates the tale of William Bellman from his childhood, when he kills a rook with a catapult and a stone, through his early life, his adventures with women, his employment in a mill and his many successes. It's basically the tale of a workaholic and his drive to succeed. The story pretty much ambles along and (it seemed to me) not much happened at all except that Bellman went to work. Perhaps that was the point, but it made for pretty dull reading.

There's not much of a ghost story in there. I love Victorian fiction and I would normally very much enjoy a tale about mill life, the industrial revolution and the Victorian obsession with death. However, this really did read in a stilted, stitched together way - it was clearly well researched but the problem seemed to be that the research showed a bit too clearly between the lines of the "story" (if you could call it that).

It really didn't do it for me, this one - it certainly wasn't the charming, magical, seamlessly told story of Setterfield's debut novel. Disappointing.


The Twickenham Peerage
The Twickenham Peerage
Price: £0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying story - too good to miss, 4 Aug 2014
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Richard Marsh was such an unusual author for his time - writing primarily about the aristocracy, he could also portray the lower classes accurately and in detail. Indeed, he was a man who had crossed the boundaries - living the high life fraudulently for many years before the law caught up with him and he ended up in Tenby jail. He needed money and therefore he was prolific as an author, churning out book after book after book, all along similar sensationalist lines, but no less enjoyable as stories for that. This one covers the usual theme of an impoverished aristocrat. He wants to marry, but can only do so if the money he has loaned to his friend is paid back to him. This will only ever be paid back if his pal Reggie succeeds his brother as the Marquis of Twickenham. When Douglas (the impoverished aristocrat in question) finds a man who can feign death and conveniently looks exactly like the Marquis of Twickenham, a cunning plan enters his mind. Unfortunately for him, it all goes very wrong, and "the sleeping man" who first appears as a sideshow in Victorian London, gains the upper hand. This is a fantastic book in which Marsh deploys his usual trick of telling the story through multiple volumes from varying points of view. As you might suspect, the "Honourable Douglas Howarth" doesn't come out too well in this. Indeed, this is a story which is littered with aristocrats gone bad and hints a great deal at the theory of degeneration which Max Nordau was writing about at the same time that this book was published. One cannot help liking Twick's double though and feeling glad that he comes out on top. This is an intriguing story with a deeply satisfying end. AND it's FREE on Kindle - too good to miss.


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