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John Hopper (London, UK)
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Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor
Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor
Price: £8.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 9 July 2014
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This is an absolutely splendid book examining the links between Dickens's works, especially Oliver Twist, and the operation of workhouses and the Poor Law regime in London, particularly the Cleveland Street workhouse which was a stone's throw from number 10 Norfolk Street where Dickens lived on two occasions with his family, as a very small boy and again in his late teens. The author shows how the proximity of the workhouse may have come to influence Dickens's early thinking and his reformist views, leading him to roundly condemn the operation of the New Poor Law in Oliver Twist. Through delving into architectural and commercial history, the author traces the history of No 10 Norfolk Street and the owners of the surrounding shops to trace possible influences on characters and their experiences in the novels. It's a fascinating slice of social and literary history, with some interesting photos and drawings. The Cleveland Street workhouse is still standing and was latterly a branch of the Middlesex Hospital which closed in 2006 and whose main building nearby has since been demolished. The author recounts many details of the horrible suffering that went on within the walls of this and other workhouses, especially after the Poor Law Reform of 1834, which made the regime much harsher and split up families, and also explores the link with the contemporary Anatomy Act, by which the corpses of those who died in workhouses were passed to medical schools for dissection, instead of a decent burial, a fate previously restricted only to the corpses of executed criminals. A powerful and fascinating read.


Oliver Twist Investigates
Oliver Twist Investigates
Price: £4.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting take on the events of Oliver Twist, 7 July 2014
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Spin off Dickens novel where Oliver Twist, having just come of age, receives from his lawyer a final communication written by Fagin on the eve of his execution years before, in which he exposes a number of secrets surrounding the life and death of Nancy (no spoilers here!). Oliver then investigates the truth by seeking down and interviewing a number of the surviving characters, including his youthful nemeses Mr Bumble and Noah Claypole, and a reformed Artful Dodger, now a prosperous businessman in Australia. He even interviews Charles Dickens who, in this spin off universe, drew on real life for the characters and situations in his Oliver Twist, but changed them to protect certain secrets relating to himself and others; even Mrs Dickens makes an appearance. The final conclusions are quite shocking and some may find them distasteful, but this was an engaging read and the author has a good turn of phrase, though the constant descriptions of squalor and degradation do become rather repetitive, and the structure of the novel with each chapter being a new interpretation of past events by one character or another, will not appeal to everyone. An interesting take and I may have to re-read the original novel, not one of my favourite Dickens novels.


The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy Book 1)
The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy Book 1)
Price: £1.80

3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 5 July 2014
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This is the first of a trilogy about Robert the Bruce. It is the fourth of her historical novels I have read, but whereas I quite enjoyed her brace of novels about Isabella "the She Wolf" and Roger Mortimer, and her self-standing novel about Owain Glyndwr, I found this disappointing by comparison. The author again evokes the setting well, but I just couldn't care about any of the characters either on the Scottish or English side and found myself skimming parts of it, though it's a fairly short read at 285 pages. Disappointing and I probably won't bother with the sequels.


Fingersmith
Fingersmith
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written, but I feel ambiguous about this one, 3 July 2014
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This review is from: Fingersmith (Kindle Edition)
This modern literary classic is very well written and for the most part a good page turner, but I am not entirely sure what I thought about it and whether I really liked it. It is difficult to describe the plot without giving too much away, but it is a novel set in mid Victorian times about changing identities, multiple deceptions and the yawning gulf between different classes of people at the time. It is also a novel dealing with mental illness and the most shocking parts of the book for me were the horrible descriptions of how mentally ill women (and such men as well, no doubt, though they don't feature in this novel) were treated at the time to try to shock or force them out of their condition. I wasn't keen on the conclusion and the very ending, slightly reminiscent in some ways of the ending of Dickens's Great Expectations, I found ambiguous and rather unsatisfactory. I didn't much care for either of the main two female characters, Maud and Susan, though one or two of the lesser characters (such as Mrs Sucksby) came across as being quite Dickensian.


Court Confidential: Inside the World of Tennis
Court Confidential: Inside the World of Tennis
Price: £10.19

3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing, 29 Jun 2014
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This book by The Times's tennis correspondent covers the tennis year of 2012, the year in which Andy Murray reached his first Wimbledon final, losing to Roger Federer, before triumphantly taking the Olympic gold and winning the US Open, his first grand slam win. It contains a lot about tennis politics and administration, sponsorship and endorsement, which I found rather dull, though it is an inevitable part of any major sport. I found the book less engrossing than I thought it might, and I think the problem is that (no offence intended to the author) a journalistic style is clearly much more suited to short written pieces, rather than full length books. The book just feels rather insubstantial overall. Perhaps I'm being a bit unrealistic and unfair - I learnt a fair few things, though I got the impression the author is a bit controversial with some people in the tennis world, so there may be alternative interpretations of some of the things he describes.


The Iron Shroud (Fantasy and Horror Classics)
The Iron Shroud (Fantasy and Horror Classics)
by William Mudford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Great, 28 Jun 2014
Short, taut gothic horror story published in 1930. Extremely Poe-esque and suffocatingly effective. 5/5


Mary Barton
Mary Barton
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Quite gripping and stirring novel about 19th century poverty in Manchester, 23 Jun 2014
This review is from: Mary Barton (Kindle Edition)
This is a novel about the life of two working class families, the Bartons and the Wilsons, in early 19th century Manchester. It tells vividly of the poverty they experience, and the precariousness of their lives, depending on the success of their "masters", dropping down into destitution and starvation when work is lacking. A lot of people in both families die through illness and the effects of destitution in this novel and the depiction of poverty, alcoholism and prostitution (named here as such) is much more vivid than the circumlocutions and vague allusions that often appear in literature of this period. The core plot of the novel revolves around the murder of rich young Harry Carson, who is pursuing and wooing the eponymous daughter of a factory worker, John Barton; and she is also loved by Jem Wilson, with whom she grew up as a friend. Wilson is arrested and tried for the murder. There is a search for a person who can provide an alibi, and the trial itself is a very tense and dramatic piece of writing, unfortunately tarnished by the verdict of the trial appearing in the title of the relevant chapter. Following that verdict, the last few chapters provide a fairly satisfying tying up of loose ends and some final disputation between employers and employees about the causes of and possible solutions for poverty; Gaskell has quite a good way of presenting the arguments of both sides in a way that isn't crudely partisan, while the themes of the novel show that her basic sympathies are with the poor. A stirring novel, with some interesting characters (though as so often the title character isn't really one of the more interesting characters).


At Drake's Command: The Adventures of Peregrine James During the Second Circumnavigation of the World (The Drake Circumnavigation)
At Drake's Command: The Adventures of Peregrine James During the Second Circumnavigation of the World (The Drake Circumnavigation)
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, humorous novel, 20 Jun 2014
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This delightful novel tells the story of young Peregrine James, a Plymouth lad who, fleeing from a whipping for a theft he did not commit, is taken on as ship's cook on Sir Francis Drake's ship The Pelican at the start of what later becomes its voyage round the world (though this is not known to anyone on board throughout the novel). He gets into all kinds of scrapes and trouble as they travel on past the Straits of Gibraltar (giving the lie to the voyage's stated purpose of trading in spices in Alexandria), and down along the coast of Africa to the Cape Verde islands, experiencing betrayals, captures and daring escapes, sword fights and doing plenty of cooking along the way, before The Pelican and the Spanish and Portuguese ships it has captured en route set off across the Atlantic at the end of the book. There is a twist in the end for our hero, paving the way for a sequel, which I look forward to reading when it comes out - Perry is a humorous and likeable character, and the rest of the crew and officers from Drake down are all well drawn characters. Excellent stuff.


EasyAcc® Ultra Slim Leather Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Leather Smart Case Cover Book Cover Flip Cover Sleeve Bag Pouch with Stand / Auto Sleep Wake-up for Samsung Galaxy note 8.0 N5100 (Top Premium PU Leather, Folded Cover Design, Black)
EasyAcc® Ultra Slim Leather Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Leather Smart Case Cover Book Cover Flip Cover Sleeve Bag Pouch with Stand / Auto Sleep Wake-up for Samsung Galaxy note 8.0 N5100 (Top Premium PU Leather, Folded Cover Design, Black)
Offered by EasyAcc.U Store
Price: £25.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, slimline cover, 19 Jun 2014
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Great, slimline cover that adds almost no bulk to the tablet and has the magnetic on-off capability when open and closed. Good product.


Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror
Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good thriller, 15 Jun 2014
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This novel is the first in a series about a giant killer shark left over from prehistoric times that rises from the deep to wreak havoc. A Jaws rip-off, one might say, and indeed there are other similar novels. However, the scientific background in this is rather more prominent, with plausible reasons advanced for how such a creature might have survived in the depths of the ocean in the layers kept warm through vents in the ocean floor sustaining the necessary conditions for life to flourish there; though I must admit I am yet to be convinced how a creature so vast as the prehistoric Megalodon could have done so. I did learn a fair bit about the ocean depths and the habits of sharks from this book. In any case, this is a good page turner with a very tense and quite horrifying final section (don't read this while you're eating!). The characters are mostly fairly one-dimensional, though the main character, Dr Jonas Taylor, and one or two others are a bit better drawn. Pretty good overall.


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