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Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18
Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-18
by James Barr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story but not a fascinating book, 25 July 2015
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This book tells the history of this part of the First World War in a fairly straight forward narrative - this means lots of details, names and dates. For me it is at its best when it is giving insight into the characters that were involved, and unfortunately it does this infrequently. My biggest issue with it, is that there is lots of detail but little analysis or reflection. At the end of the book we know a few more facts but don't understand much more about the key people involved or what their motivations were. Disappointing.


Empire of Ivory (The Temeraire Series, Book 4)
Empire of Ivory (The Temeraire Series, Book 4)
by Naomi Novik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars All plot and no characters., 16 Nov. 2014
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Disappointing and the last one of this series that I will read. I loved the first two books but think that in three and four she has sacrificed exploration of her themes and characterization for movement and overly long descriptions. The journey to China in book 2 made sense but now she seems to be manipulating her characters to move them round the world. The sad thing is there are great ideas in the books but often they aren't explored enough. The African tribes relationships with dragons for example.

Also as someone who loves history I am concerned that her deliberate manipulation of real events, e.g. Nelson not dying at Trafalgar, could actually confuse people who don't know these facts. I realise it's a fantasy book and that's fine and fun but if she's going to use historical events and dates they have to be right in my view.

I shall miss Temeraire and Laurence but I don't think I can suffer through another one of these unsatisfying books


Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up (Sather Classical Lectures)
Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up (Sather Classical Lectures)
by Mary Beard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.56

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Health warning - really just for academics, 28 Sept. 2014
I can see that others recognise that this book is really very academic but they still give it 5 stars. I think that's overdoing it on a website like Amazon where most people fall into the general public category.

I really wanted to like this book, I loved Pompeii (definitely for the general public) and her work on Roman art (in the middle) and hoped this would be a fascinating work on laughter. I've even studied Plautus in the past so had a view of sorts on Roman comedy - although quite rightly she's very clear the book is about laughter and not comedy. However, I really struggled with the detailed analysis of language and eventually in her chapter on Cicero I just didn't have the will to go on. I don't feel I've really learnt anything about the Roman attitude to laughter as a result of the 5 chapters I did read, so for me the book was a disappointment.

I don't want to put anyone off buying it and trying it for themselves, but I want them to realise it's not an easy read.


Lonely Planet Baltic Phrasebook & Dictionary (Lonely Planet Phrasebook: Baltic)
Lonely Planet Baltic Phrasebook & Dictionary (Lonely Planet Phrasebook: Baltic)
by Lonely Planet
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fairly useless, 21 Aug. 2014
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Fairly Useless - it was good that all 3 Baltic state languages were in it but there wasn't enough useful information on obvious things like food - no A to Z list of food words. To find anything you had to guess which section it might be in - not easy. Too much superfluous information taking up space e.g. Folk songs - all of the guide type info is in the LP guide, I just wanted language help. Not sure id buy another LP phrase book.


One Night in Winter
One Night in Winter
by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I hoped it would be, 30 Sept. 2013
This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
It is the most amazing plot and it kept me up late reading it. However, for me there was something missing that would have made it a really good book and I think it was that the characters weren't written that well. I almost feel bad writing that, because for many people who don't know much about Stalinist Russia this is a good entry point. I still think that the author is an excellent historian but sadly this is an average novel.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2013 5:32 PM BST


Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
by Orlando Figes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Oral history at its best, 22 Sept. 2013
This book tells the stories of two people who were separated for 14 years and yet managed to maintain their love for each other in spite of severe obstacles. It gives their personal view on the effects of the Second World War and Stalinist repression on the lives of some Russians. The power of the book comes from the stoicism of Lev and Svetlana and their determination to endure all the terrible things that were happening to them and round them. Orlando Figes adds his own voice to comment on the wider context of what was happening in Russia and sometimes to point out that even people so badly affected by Stalinist policies were proud of Russia and what it was achieving.

An amazing story and an important book.


Guernica
Guernica
by Dave Boling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.00

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely disappointing, 17 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Guernica (Paperback)
Disjointed and predictable. Although by reading this you will learn something about Spain and the Spanish Civil War, you will read a banal, disjointed novel. I was so disappointed.


The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
by Ian Mortimer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read for lovers of history and travel writing alike, 28 Dec. 2010
The idea behind this book is excellent - what would it be like to visit the 14th century as a traveller from the modern world. It brings medieval England to life in a way that is entertaining and informative and that should be of interest to anyone who is interested in people and how we live.

It is a book that is full of fascinating titbits of information and you will drive your family mad, as you just read out one more fascinating thing you have discovered and you really think they need to know. The one that has stuck with me is that the median age was 21, so 50% of the population was 21 or under (today in the UK it is 39). Ian Mortimer explores what impact this has on society - a 21 year old king can declare war and successfully lead troops into battle yet today he would be too young to be an MP. Were decisions made more rash because they lacked the balance of experience gained through longer lives? This is just one example of the ways in which this book opens up 14th century England in an entertaining and thought provoking way.

It is a rare thing for an academic historian to be able to communicate so vividly and a thing to be cherished, because Ian Mortimer can write in a popular style we have a book that is available to all but with all the quality of a properly researched history book.

I recommend it to anyone who likes history, travel, or is just curious about other people.


Beatrice and Virgil
Beatrice and Virgil
by Yann Martel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A difficult read, 10 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Beatrice and Virgil (Hardcover)
"I found Beatrice and Virgil a difficult read. Early on I found myself wondering if the authorial voice was actually a reflection of Yann Martell, the references to a first hugely, successful book which included lots of animals made me think of the "Life of Pi" and in the early stages of the book, this was the most interesting thing. I felt quite distanced from Henry in the way the material was presented and I was waiting for the story to start.

Then the taxidermist came into the story and the mystery of the play began. There were pieces of writing that I liked very much, the conversation about a pear was lovely. However, as the Beatrice and Virgil play elements went on I found it less interesting. It was stylistically very much like a Samuel Beckett play, and I'm not sure why. This is a difficult play technique to pull off on stage, let alone in a book.

As the book turned to the Horrors I found it confusing. There were horrific descriptions of brutality and unthinking cruel behaviour but apart from shocking us, I'm not sure what the point was. There was some suggestion that the taxidermist was an ex-Nazi coming to terms with his role in the Holocaust but that was unclear. In the book there is a discussion about the fact that the majority of Holocaust portrayals are based on real life and there is very little fictional treatment of the subject. Although I'd agree that currently the vast majority of material is based on personal experience, there are well-known examples of fiction for children and adults (I am David, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Reader, Leon Uris's work and others).

To be honest I found the discussions of Beatrice and Virgil about the Horrors terrible without having any particular message, due to the confused way in which they were presented. I also found some things in the book extremely odd, for example the dog catching rabies from some unspecified source and killing the cat. It seemed pointless to me.

Unfortunately if I hadn't been reading this book for our Reading Group, I wouldn't have finished reading it."


Sliced Iguana: Travels in Mexico
Sliced Iguana: Travels in Mexico
by Isabella Tree
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 16 July 2010
I read this book after coming back from Mexico recently. I was looking forward to it as someone on my trip had been reading it and recommended it. The thing that most disappointed me was the attitude that the author took that all things indigenous were good and all things from other parts of Mexican culture were worth little. It is true that indigenous people have had an extremely tough time in all of the Americas and things are still not sorted, but I think it is unfair to write off the rest of a culture and disparingly talk about mestizos all the time, when the mixing of races has happened over centuries. This, plus the incredibly privileged way in which she travelled turned me further and further off the book which was a real pity.


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