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Little Miss Average (London, UK)

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The Historian
The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but in desperate need of a ruthless edit :-(, 25 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Historian (Paperback)
Buried within several hundred pages is the story of three generations of historians on a quest to find the truth behind the myths surrounding Vlad the Impaler, Dracula. The story unfolds through personal accounts (verbal and written) and is also peppered with `discoveries' about Dracula and the myths and history surrounding him.

What drew me to this book was one of the reviews here which spoke of the way that the story unfolds and how the information about Dracula is presented to the reader: through letters, primary sources, pictures, books, articles, myths, songs, academic papers etc..... I hoped it would be interesting, clever and intriguing, and in parts it was, but sadly I was never moved beyond mildly interested.

The writing is good, the structure is good (moves back and forth across the time line), it's well researched and the characters are mostly likeable, but the pace barely breaks out of a slow crawl and that hindered the suspense for me. There is simply too much information here; it feels like hard work as you're reading and I certainly felt the minutes draining away with every page. For example, some of the letters which tell a missing piece of the story are so long you forget you're reading a letter at all, thus it scremes 'plot device' and you are very aware you're reading a novel.

All things considered, my main gripe is that all of the above made it impossible for me to get lost in the story. I would recommend it to those interested in the writing style (mentioned above) or historical period - but as a story it is in desperate need of an edit. It took me three goes to finish it, and even then I still sometimes had to force myself through it. All in all, it was too long, too textually dense, too slow moving, and ultimately felt more like a chore than a treat. It wasn't for me, but it did show potential and I liked the style so I'm sure other readers may well enjoy it.

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars I'm a bit embarrassed to say, but I was hooked!, 24 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Hunger Games (Paperback)
I'll start by saying that I don't usually like young adult fiction because often the themes barely register with me. This one was different.

I was attracted at first to the premise: a dystopian future seen through the lens of a state sponsored reality TV show of nightmare. After about 50 pages I was hooked and had to know what would become of the District 12 tributes.

The heroine, Katniss, is our narrator, and she is well crafted, likeable, and most importantly, believable. The story deftly explores many diverse themes (family, loyalty, friendship, survival, crime, punishment, right, wrong ....) within an unusual (but also vaguely familiar) social structure.

I was entertained, intrigued and felt compelled to keep turning the pages. I would recommend it.

Hairdressers Single Tap Shampoo Hose Attachment
Hairdressers Single Tap Shampoo Hose Attachment
Offered by Hairbitz
Price: £10.99

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok, but didn't work for me, 24 Feb. 2010
The quality seems appropriate for the price, but the attachment head is too small for my mixer tap (which I don't think is excessively big) so I can't use it.

Worth bearing in mind before buying.

The Hungry Ghosts
The Hungry Ghosts
by Anne Berry
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written but depressing read, 24 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Hungry Ghosts (Hardcover)
This is the story of Alice, a young girl growing up in a secretly dysfunctional family in Hong Kong during the last years of British rule. Alice has a lot to contend with in her life, but initially it's the effects of her familial relationships, and the damage those unacknowledged dynamics create, that make her susceptible to the `hungry ghosts' who become her ghostly entourage. Most notable among them is Lin Shiu, a young girl who is raped and murdered during the Japanese occupation, but clings to this world feeding off her host Alice.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and the multiple perspective style is well done. It has a certain charm about it; the narrative flows, it's well written, easy to get into, and I wanted to see where the story was going to take unfortunate Alice. I particularly liked the family dynamics that provided the undertones of the novel, and the role of the ghosts in her life. For me this latter device worked on two levels: first as supporting characters and second as metaphors, which I think was cleverly done.

However, through each semi-tragic event in Alice's life, there is very little lightness, and the overall result is rather depressing reading. It didn't feel like I was being emotionally manipulated per se, but it failed to provide any real contrast so each successive episode just added to the existing bleakness with no relief. I also didn't really identify with any of the characters, but perhaps that was because there wasn't enough light and dark in the story for me to see different sides to them.

Overall I would recommend it to most people, but those who don't like depressing tales should avoid it. If you've happened upon this novel because of the comparison to the lovely bones then I will just mention that this one doesn't (in my opinion) have an underyling uplift, and if that's what you liked about the lovely bones, you may end up disappointed.

The Book Thief
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique and interesting account of life under the Third Reich, 18 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Book Thief (Paperback)
The story centres on 9 year old Liesel who lives with a foster family in Germany during WWII. Narrated by none other than death himself, this is the story of Liesel and her friends and neighbours, and how they live under the Third Reich.

What I really liked about this book was that it featured a cross-section of people, all living in the same area, and all with different experiences under the Third Reich. There were the staunch supporters, those actively involved in the government, the ones waiting for sons who had been conscripted, those who joined the party just so they could get work and keep their families afloat, and those who did just enough to give the outward appearance of support to keep their families safe but had great sympathy for the Jewish people. Most of the characters are well drawn, and their relationships are well crafted too. Liesels relationships with her papa, Rudy and Max are particularly special and well done.

The idea of the book is fantastic, and for the most part I liked the narrator and the characters. I liked Liesels musings as her mind was opened to the world around her, and how her heart gradually opened. The ending is also very good, and well done.

However, it did seem to get a bit lost in the middle section, and there were times I started to wonder if the best bit had already passed and it was just going to go nowhere. It also didn't engage me emotionally which is a real shame. Perhaps it was too cleverly constructed that I couldn't stop myself seeing it as 'just' a story? The narrator also started to grate after a while.

I have given it 4*: its presentation of the people of Himmel Street as individuals was really good, and the dilemma of whether to risk your own family in order to help a Jewish person was also well represented. It has some very obvious flaws, but was an enjoyable read none the less. Some may find it too simplistic though, so I'd suggest reading the 2* & 3* reviews before buying this to see if they say anything significant enough to put you off. Otherwise, I'd give it a chance.

Angela's Ashes
Angela's Ashes
by Frank McCourt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very sad, 18 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Angela's Ashes (Paperback)
Angela's Ashes is a poignant and funny memoir of the author's poverty-stricken childhood in Limerick, as told to us through his younger self.

There was a lot that I liked about this book. I liked that we saw his story with a child's viewpoint; it added humour to a desperately sad tale. I liked that the narrator seemed to grow up throughout (as he would have done in life) and that gave it a much needed authenticity. I also really liked the moments of innocence, for example when he is confronted with death for the first time. The characters are well drawn and believable, and the situations authentic. Both my parents have given similar accounts of their childhoods, so reading this did give me a valuable personal insight. I think the Irish connection probably made me get more from this than I would have otherwise though.

It is repetitive in many ways, but that is Frankie's story; every day he faced hunger, poverty, and alcoholism, and every day was much like the one before. I very much felt for Frankie and his lost childhood and was moved many times.

I would recommend this, mostly to people who enjoy memoirs, true stories, and difficult childhood stories. It is written in a style anyone can enjoy though, and there is very little Irish slang so most will have no problems understanding it.

The Stories of English
The Stories of English
by David Crystal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of its kind that I've read, 18 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Stories of English (Paperback)
This is the story of the development of the English language - both standard and non-standard forms. In this book Crystal presents the correlation between social, political and economical changes alongside the language changes of the same period. This makes for a very interesting read and is clearly thoroughly researched.

There is a lot of information in this book but it's very accessible and not overly academic. I have read other history of English themed books and this one for me was by far the best. I don't think you need to be a student of English Language to enjoy or learn from this book.

The book itself is presented chronologically in small sections, with some interesting asides thrown in. The best thing about this book is the passion for language Crystal conveys in his writing. It is nearly 600 pages of very small text, but I wasn't bored once. His enthusiasm for the subject carried me through and made it effortless to pick up and continue learning - I genuinely wanted to.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the development of the English language.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language
by David Crystal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.96

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wealth of information, highly accessible, 18 Jan. 2010
This encyclopaedia is simply brilliant for language lovers. It is clear and concise, brilliantly illustrated and laid out, and it makes the subject matter interesting. Once again David Crystal has managed to convey his love of language.

This encyclopaedia covers a wealth of information:

Part I. The History of English: The origins of English; Old English; Middle English; Early Modern English; Modern English; and World English.

Part II. English Vocabulary: The nature of the lexicon; The sources of the lexicon; Etymology; The structure of the lexicon; and Lexical dimensions.

Part III. English Grammar: Grammatical mythology; The structure of words; Word classes; and The structure of sentences.

Part IV. Spoken and Written English: The sound system; and The writing system.

Part V. Using English: Varieties of discourse; Regional variation; Social variation; Personal variation; and Electronic variation.

Part VI. Learning about English: Learning English as a mother tongue; and New ways of studying English.

As you can see, it's wide in scope so each section is concise and to the point, brilliant for referencing or just dipping in and out of for something interesting.

I would definitely recommend this to English language students and anyone with an interest in the subject.

The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, compelling and uplifting, 18 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Glass Castle (Paperback)
This memoir struck just the right note for me: I was charmed, engrossed, shocked, saddened and inspired. It never once strayed into self-pity, nor did it seem to dramatise for emotional effect, it simply read like a very genuine and balanced account of a complicated childhood.

There is a lot of neglect in this book, but I use the word complicated because what I felt Jeanette conveyed most accurately was the complexities of relationships and love. She gave accounts of the good times and the bad, the comic moments and the tragic ones, the mixed feelings she felt towards her parents and the mixed messages she received from them. These shades of grey were what made this book special for me.

It is a desperately sad book at times, but by the end I was left feeling inspired by Jeanette. The interesting life story aside, it is also very well written and I was immediately captivated. Each member of her family is superbly drawn; I believed each one to be real and found myself ruminating on their individual stories too. I would definitely recommend this.

The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings, but it still haunts me as a story, 18 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Lovely Bones (Paperback)
The heroine of this story is Susie Salmon who is tragically raped and then murdered. This is her story, as narrated from the afterlife, as she observes those she was forced to leave behind.

I really liked this story, the premise was very unique and there were many elements that were extremely well done. I liked the characters, the direction Seabold took (a perspective on grief and moving on), and I found myself in tears more than once. This was subtle and well done on the whole. I wasn't disappointed by the ending as many were, for me the journey each of the characters took did 'complete' and that was a satisfying end.

However, like other reviewers have pointed out, there were also elements that were never fully utilised or realised. The realities of the afterlife is sketchily constructed in parts (elements present at the start never appear again), but it is beautifully rendered in others so only a minor point. I too greatly disliked the Suzie/Ray scene towards the end and wish someone had the forethought to remove it before publication though. It did make me feel differently about the novel.

I would recommend this to most people. However, I think it is important to point out that the narrator is 14 years old and therefore the language is not wholly sophisticated (in parts it's quite basic), and the observations may leave some unsatisfied. Despite its flaws, Suzie's story is one that has haunted and for that I give it 4 stars.

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