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Tangerine (London, UK)

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Foxglove Summer (Rivers of London 5)
Foxglove Summer (Rivers of London 5)
by Ben Aaronovitch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.24

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wouldn't say it disappointed, but it reminded me what I loved about ..., 19 Nov 2014
I've been a huge fan of the Peter Grant series from the start and have been looking forward to Foxglove Summer; I wouldn't say it disappointed, but it reminded me what I loved about the earlier books in the series: the plethora of detail, the breathing character of London in the background, and the evolving interaction between characters, human and not so human. This, while still good, felt like one draft short of that.

Moving the action to rural Herefordshire was designed to throw Londoner Peter off balance, but it felt as if the author was equally out on a limb. Apart from a couple of local river references, there was little use of the county's abundant spookiness and folklore: the brush strokes were just too broad, compared with the delicious detail of the London novels. The running jokes about the locals - they're racist, and obsessive about the provenance of the food on bar menus - felt a bit lazy, and the central supernatural force in the storyline didn't have any real connection to the area, compared with the range of unsettling border energy Phil Rickman captures in his Merrily Watkins novels.

There's still a lot here to love - Beverley Brook's interaction with the local rivers, Peter's distinctive voice, the zippy story, once it finally gets going - but one more edit to smooth the joins would have made it better. Another wizard was introduced to feed the main arc and to get Peter into the area, but was then forgotten for the rest of the novel. There were other small, but irritating, signs of a rush job - place names spelled incorrectly throughout, disjointed sentences, sketchy conversations, seven too many references to the heat. And the end - which felt rather pat for such an inventive series - really needed at least one more chapter to do justice to the storyline; there was a lot of 'how' but not really enough 'why'. I know the author probably has his eye on the end of the series and the big finale, but this felt like a rather wasted opportunity in between.

I'll definitely be pre-ordering the next Peter Grant novel, but I'd rather wait an extra six months if it means getting a properly finished article. A water-treading episode is fine to pace a television series, but a book series, and book readers, surely deserve a bit more.

The Various Haunts Of Men: Simon Serrailler Book 1 (Simon Serrailler 1)
The Various Haunts Of Men: Simon Serrailler Book 1 (Simon Serrailler 1)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars oddly uninvolving, 16 July 2014
This is a very competently written novel but it never really gripped me, either emotionally or with a cracking plot.

On a character level, for me, there was something slightly 'off' about it from the start. It's hard to invent convincing English town names but Bevham and Lafferton don't quite have a ring of credibility. (Ironically, Flimby is a real place in Cumbria.) The main character - a woman in her early 30s - reads at least two decades older in her pashmina and linen trouser suit, yet falls instantly into simpering love like a teenager from the 1950s; the tragic fat spotty girl taken in by the fake healer was very cliche, and the salt o' the earth constable is straight from central casting. The supposedly irresistible DCI Simon Serralier takes a very very backseat role, for a character about to lead a whole series: a bit of extra curricular painting and a nice flat doesn't make him Inspector Morse.

As for the plot, I felt the lack of suspects for the majority of the novel pushed the emphasis away from the mystery and onto the characterisation, which only heightened its perfunctory depth - which is fine when the plot is twisting and turning, but the space that a crime novel would usually fill with red herring suspects was in this novel taken up with lingering vignettes of alternative therapy, none of which went anywhere, or played much part in the denouement. And that denouement was - without wanting to give away the ending - also unsatisfying in its arm's length treatment.

The flashes of Susan Hill I've enjoyed in the past were limited to the scene in the medium's house: for a moment, there was real intrigue and mystery and tension. More of that, and crime leaning towards the Phil Rickman world of the spooky inexplicable, would have been fantastic. As it was, this was a real world I couldn't ever really believe in.

TeckNet® In Car Universal FM Transmitter
TeckNet® In Car Universal FM Transmitter
Price: £10.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Baffled by the amazing reviews - am I doing something wrong?!, 16 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
No matter what frequency I tune this into, the volume has to be turned so high to get any sort of sound that there's more crackle and hiss than music. I bought this on the strength of all the glowing reviews, and wonder if I've just ended up with a duff item, because frankly, after trying my best to make this work, I've pretty much given up. Wouldn't recommend.

The Girl Behind the Mask (Hidden Women)
The Girl Behind the Mask (Hidden Women)
by Stella Knightley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1001 Shades of Venice, 24 April 2013
The Girl Behind the Mask is a gorgeous, steamy, colourful read. There are scenes in this book that will make you blush on public transport. I will never look at libraries in the same way. But it's also a properly romantic story, a vivid travelogue of modern Venice, a fascinating glimpse into 18th century Italian society, with intelligently observed relationships that develop and deepen throughout the novel, and pull you into the unfolding mystery around the erotic diaries of fallen aristocrat Luciana Giordano, as well as the present-day love affair between heartbroken academic Sarah and mysterious millionaire Marco, who owns the original papers. The characters are subtly drawn with real emotional weight, which is what makes some of the hottest scenes between Sarah and Marco sizzle off the page - the electrically-charged space Stella Knightley creates between these two is as deliciously teasing for the reader as anything that happens in the Venetian four-posters.

I raced through to the end, and wanted more. I can't wait for the Girl Behind the Fan.

The Swinging Sporran: A Lighthearted Guide to the Basic Steps of Scottish Reels and Country Dances
The Swinging Sporran: A Lighthearted Guide to the Basic Steps of Scottish Reels and Country Dances
by Andrew Campbell
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars reely quite good, 7 Feb 2009
To be honest, there's a limit to what a book about dancing can actually teach you: if you're a complete Scottish country dancing beginner, not even step-by-step diagrams are going to convey the intricacies of the moves and spins, even if, like this manual, tries its best with arrows and diagrams. You really need to see dancers in action, and hear the music, to get how the individual sections all fit together.

However, having said that, of all the guides I've read in a vain attempt to learn in a hurry, The Swinging Sporran is the most useful. It breaks down all the classic dances you would need to know for a formal Scottish reeling night into basic steps - Hamilton House, the Eightsome Reel, Reel of the 51st Division, Dashing White Sergeant, etc - and offers some tongue-in-cheek advice straight from 1973 about what to wear, and what to expect. Not much has changed; after all, a kilt is a kilt is a kilt. This is definitely an introductory guide to the traditional world of Scottish Country Dancing, however; you'll need a different book if you're heading for a more informal folk dance ceilidh, where Strip the Willow, the Gay Gordons, etc, are more usual.

But with a CD of appropriate tunes to put to the steps, this is a handy little book to keep in your sporran for reference, and a good starting place for anyone with an interest in Scottish country dance.

What to Eat Now
What to Eat Now
by Valentine Warner
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars full of flavour - of the food and the cook himself!, 24 Oct 2008
This review is from: What to Eat Now (Hardcover)
What to Eat Now is a good cook book, and a great read - perfect for dipping in and out of as the evenings get dark and chillier. The focus is on getting the best from seasonal ingredients, and Valentine Warner has a down-to-earth way of describing types of food that I'd normally avoid as 'too complicated', like venison or pigeon, that makes you want to get down to your local butcher and try them out. There's also simple stuff like corned beef hash (delicious!) and a definitive scrambled eggs. His writing style is very jolly and honest, and the recipes are interspersed with squiggly drawings and photos. What really comes across, however, is that Warner is the sort of honestly greedy cook who understands his ingredients well enough to cook 'off the cuff' with what's there, just to see what will happen - and that makes me want to try his recipes even more. Recommended.

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

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious but strangely bloodless, 10 Jun 2008
This review is from: The Historian (Paperback)
It's an old story - sadistic vampire Prince seeks eternal life; man tries to stop him, with several loved ones at risk - given a Dan Brown-ish new spin, and an echoing tomb-load of research. There are some spooky moments in The Historian's 700 pages, but they come largely despite of the ponderous narrative, not because of it. The central theme of pinning Dracula down through academic 'proof' is perhaps classier than Bram Stoker's thrills and shrieks, but it's all so self-conscious and overwritten that the novel only really comes to life (pardon the pun) when Dracula himself breaks through the earnest scholarship, and that's not often enough.

The trouble is that while evil Vlad can shimmer up at will, everything else in this book has to be explained at preposterous length, leaving the eye skimming desperately in search of something other than textbook descriptions of 15th century Romanian monastic life. When this meticulous observation works, it works really well: the sights and sounds of Eastern Europe, both modern and medieval, are vividly imagined, but the characters don't have cloves of garlic in their mouths, they have indigestible chunks of exposition, by way of 'dialogue'. Just when your skin's prickling at some shadowy figure, the chapter shifts voice/focus/timeframe to yet another 'recently discovered' parchment revealing something that may or may not be relevant about Istanbul. It's a good trick once or twice - when it's repeated throughout, just frustrating.

It doesn't help that the construction is artfully complex. Letters within recollections, within first person narration, all merge into one confusing mass, because the three main narrative voices sound exactly the same, as do the myriad other accounts, unless they're translated from an ancient language, in which case they sound like something from Tomb Raider. (And as for the ludicrous Scootsman, and the not very convincing 'feisty ladies'...) It gets very hard to tell who's speaking at any time, and whether they're remembering aloud, writing a diary, taking time out of being mortally imperilled to write a letter larded with many clauses and details about meals, or what. Subsidiary characters appear mainly to hand over library cards.

Though The Historian has its moments, what makes it a 2 star read for me is that having ploughed through more than I ever thought I could retain in my head about the Ottoman Empire, the big finish is a long way from the emotional and dramatic reward I was expecting, especially since it forms the climax to all the narrative strands. If you need to fill a long plane journey, or don't mind reading verrrry slowly, then there's enough in here to keep you happy. But if you want a fast-moving spooky holiday thriller, Bram's your man.

Gone With the Windsors
Gone With the Windsors
by Laurie Graham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the abdication, through a cocktail glass, 6 April 2008
This review is from: Gone With the Windsors (Paperback)
Laurie Graham has hit a rich seam lately with her series of hilariously insightful novels based on historical events, as observed by lowkey insiders. Gone with the Windsors tells the story of the abdication, through the eyes of Wallis Simpson's Baltimore schoolfriend, Maybell Brumby, now a wealthy widow whose sister Violet has married into the British establishment, offering her an entre in the dustier echelons of London society. The arrival of 'Minnehaha' Warfield, a pushy climber back home, and even more of a pushy climber in London, begins as a drawing room joke between the ex-pat Americans and their English friends, but Mrs Simpson's relentless campaign to scramble her way to the top soon drags Maybell into the domestic centre of an international crisis.

Laurie Graham's brilliance is in making the tiniest details reveal the deepest truths. Maybell's diary is initially just a charming airheaded list of people, cafes and clothes but it soon darkens as the stuffy but respectable Melhuishes, Kents and Yorks are elbowed aside by von Ribbentrops, sleazy opportunist Charlie Bedaux and, more worryingly, HItler himself. By recording the minutiae of the Prince and Mrs Simpson's life in such wearying detail - the callisthenetics, the shopping, the Martinis, the bickering - Graham perfectly conveys the claustrophobic golden cage Wallis builds for herself: the ascent to such lofty social heights is thrilling but there's precious little to do once you're up there. Wallis' growing pretensions to grandeur are amusingly awful, but when the Abdication crisis delivers her worst nightmare - a lifetime with the weak, petulant Prince but no compensatory throne - her hysterical demands reveal an undertone of sheer desperation, clear to the reader, if not Maybell. It's the clever, repeated context of Maybell and Wallis's shared childhood that keeps the reader from forgetting, as Mrs Simpson would like, that this almost-queen was not so long ago an ambitious, insecure charity case from Baltimore, and that trick keeps the sheer chutzpah of Wallis's story fresh. Even though you know what's coming, it's hard not to read with bated breath, hoping against hope that a shaft of sense will break through the Windsors' stifling self-obsession.

Set alongside the candyfloss-brained cocktail set are Maybell's sweet, deaf sister, Doopie, and her friend George Lightfoot, as well as Violet, Melhuish and their children, who provide the moral backbone of the novel, sounding the long, slow notes of real events looming in the background. While Maybell is helping the Prince fritter money on trinkets for Wallis, the Melhuishes are worrying about the political crisis in Germany. Their link with the hunting and shooting establishment allows Graham to depict both sides of the Abdication crisis with considerable sympathy; the Prince of Wales is shown to be scarred by his experiences in the First World War, at the same time as we hear Lightfoot's gentle warnings to Maybell that Hitler is rather more than a congenial host (if 'rather short in the leg').

Gone with the Windsors' real triumph, however, is that Laurie Graham has made Maybell's own story hold its own against the epic love tragedy playing in the background. She's a vividly drawn and likeable character, unwittingly amusing in her naivety, who emerges as a luckier survivor than her grim-faced friend, thanks to her fundamental good nature. The frenzied atmosphere of a society dancing on the brink of disaster is written with delicate skill, and the history seeps through subtly and in a way which underlines the truth that history is about real people, with feelings, ambitions, families and fears, not just dry facts and treaties. That the reader ends feeling rather sorry for the steel-jawed Mrs Simpson, having seen her life through the eyes of a dear friend, is some achievement.

by Olivia Darling
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars champagne, shenanigans, skulduggery and grand cru sex, 7 Mar 2008
This review is from: Vintage (Paperback)
If you want your summer holiday to come a bit earlier this year, then get a copy of Vintage, turn up the central heating and let yourself sink into this glossy, bitchy, sexy world of international winemaking, where grapes aren't the only things getting squashed underfoot. Vintage has all the shameless glitz and passion of the best 80s blockbuster tradition, but its three heroines are strong, determined, and most importantly, sympathetic women who struggle with their own destinies as hard as they struggle with the various men in their lives.

Kelly is a chambermaid from the wrong side of the tracks who inherits an English vineyard from a father she never knew; Christina is a gorgeous American supermodel, who finds herself clinging onto her Napa Valley estate when her apparently perfect marriage crumbles; Madeleine is the last of an illustrious line of French Champagne makers, now facing ruin. The three are linked by a bet made by a trio of wine critics, that one of them can mentor their chosen producer into creating the best sparkling wine in a blind tasting. But no matter how hard the women work to get their fledgling vineyards up to the standard required, battling their own demons, as well as the endless demands of the industry, they're really no match for the evil machinations of Mathieu Randon, ruthless and sexy owner of the global megabrand, Domaine Randon, who is determined to destroy any one who stands in his way...

Once I started reading this, I literally couldn't stop - the stories intertwine cleverly and keep the pace relentless, and the wine-making background is drawn so skilfully that what could have been dry factual information becomes as fascinating as the slow-burning romances, and frankly steamy sex. Vintage has three heroines you genuinely care about, right from the start, at least two love-to-hate villains, and a parade of teasing 'ooh, was that meant to be...?' snippets of gossipy detail. Don't wait for the beach to enjoy this fantastic beach read; open up a chilled bottle of cava and enjoy it now!

One Way Ticket To Hell ... And Back
One Way Ticket To Hell ... And Back
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Return of the cat(suit)), 13 Dec 2005
Given that a year ago, the Darkness were showing every sign of combusting in a distressing Spinal Tap explosion of drugs, egos and hydraulic stage tigers, it's a small marvel that a second album has appeared at all. What's even more surprising is that beneath the horrible song titles, ludicrous over-production and funny-the-first-time, irksome-the-ninth effects, is a solid, catchy and melodic collection of rock songs. But boy, do they make you work for those blockbuster choruses. Where the music is as tight as ever, Justin Hawkins' lyrics swerve from neat, to barmy, to horribly self-indulgent. Fortunately his screeching is twice as screechy as last time, and you can barely make anything out. Calling a song Knockers for no good reason at all is just irritating - especially when the lyrics suggest a tenderness far from the seaside humour of the title. Ditto Dinner Lady Arms. But there's always been a polish beneath the Darkness's apparent chaos, and the hooks on this album are fantastic - Girlfriend is ELO on speed, Girl with the Hazel Eyes is the right side of eccentric and Dinner Lady Arms (urgh) is classic soft rock. Interestingly, after the swear fest of Permission to Land, One Way Ticket is notably cleaner - a sop to the US market? All in all, if you're prepared to put the try-hard stuff down the pressures of following such a huge smash, you won't be disappointed. It's what they do next that'll be interesting.

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