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Reviews Written by
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk)
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Iza's Ballad
Iza's Ballad
by Magda Szabo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "(Old people's) pasts are explanations and values, the key to the present", 20 Mar. 2016
This review is from: Iza's Ballad (Paperback)
When Etty's husband dies, her successful, utterly capable daughter Iza - a doctor in Budapest - sends her to recuperate in a hotel while she arranges for her to give up her country home and come and share her flat. Right at this point the reader foresees conflict ahead, as Etty sits in her hotel: "she made a drawing of the flat using her imagination and planned where she would put everything, finding room for all the furniture. it might be a little crowded but it would all be there ... she took great delight in the effort, drawing little semicircles for chairs ... There'd be plenty to do once they got to Pest. But it would be good work and it made her happy to think about it. Making a home."
Iza does everything for her mother but in the new, luxurious flat, with a housekeeper to attend to all the tasks, Etty is at a loss as to how to spend her days.
This novel's focus moves from Etty to Iza's ex-husband Antal, who has purchased Etty's old house, and lastly to Iza herself; as it progresses we understand more of the feelings and motivations of each.
Writing a novel of personalities where there are no 'goodies' or 'baddies', just ordinary people striving to rub along with one another - and bringing them so vividly to life and evoking our feelings for each of them - is the mark of a truly brilliant writer.


The House on Bellevue Gardens
The House on Bellevue Gardens
by Rachel Hore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Learning to fly again...to get the hang of living once more", 18 Mar. 2016
Perhaps I'm being unfair writing this review, as it's for a genre of book I never read myself - but I appreciate many people love. Was lent a couple of books by an acquaintance and felt duty-bound to read one, and this was much better than Victoria Hislop!
A story of very two-dimensional characters living in a beautiful house in London under the eye of elderly Leonie. There's an Indian couple (who only really feature to do the cooking), a strange old curmudgeon of an artist in the basement - and then our three young characters, whose stories are interposed with Leonie's own to form the plotline. Rosa, who's come over from Warsaw to find her missing brother ... drippy Stef, fleeing a somewhat abusive relationship ... equally drippy Rick, Tesco worker and part-time graphic novel writer... and Leonie's missing, no-good grandson Jamie.
It was readable and mildly interesting. Perhaps more of a 2.5 *


Noza Tec New 2 in 1 Ceramic Hair Straightener Brush Ionic Hair Straightener Comb Black
Noza Tec New 2 in 1 Ceramic Hair Straightener Brush Ionic Hair Straightener Comb Black
Offered by LINGKU ENTERPRISE SERVICE
Price: £18.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rather heavy brush ... but it works!, 18 Mar. 2016
(free sample in exchange for review)

I have very coarse, unmanageable hair, and for years now have routinely been using some heavy - and very expensive - straighteners, that succeed in knocking the life out of it!
So I wondered whether this vastly cheaper product could manage to compete.
The brush arrived promptly and nicely boxed; I liked the little velcro strap that you can use to loop up the cable when not in use.
It's very easy to turn on (clear instruction booklet included) and comes on at the default setting of 190 degrees C (but by pressing on/off button you can have 150/ 170/ 190/ 210 or 230.) I stayed with 190 as that's what I use on old straighteners. The instruction book advises 230 for difficult hair but (rather confusingly) 170 for dyed or dark hair. As I fall in both camps I went midway.
The flashing soon stopped, indicating it's ready, and I started straightening as instructed: "take a small part of your hair and hold tight".
I would just say that the brush is quite hefty (I fetched myself a whack on shoulder-blade while dealing with one long bit of hair!) Maybe it'll get easier with practice but I find the normal straighteners more user-friendly.
I found that my normal temperature was insufficient here, and had to go up to 230. But then the result was just as good as my expensive model.
It definitely gives an improved and sleeker look to out of control hair. How much is due to the heat and how much the Ionic Technology ("negatively-charged atoms that...seal the hair cuticle, reducing frizziness...leaving hair silky and lustrous") I don't know. Also it's much lighter to transport than old straighteners with their heavy base, so will definitely take on holiday. And a very good price if you're buying straighteners for first time!


Elsinore Bouillabaisse 400g
Elsinore Bouillabaisse 400g
Offered by ZigZag trading ltd
Price: £3.59

5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite quick meals, 17 Mar. 2016
I buy this stuff a dozen at a time; it's probably the nicest soup available, and with the chunks of real fish in a tomatoey kind of broth, makes a real meal. Yum!


Jane Cooper in Tajikistan: a travelogue
Jane Cooper in Tajikistan: a travelogue
Price: £1.19

1.0 out of 5 stars A total turkey, 17 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have read numerous books on unusual countries written by volunteers or other workers out there. Though varying in their literary merit, one expects a glimpse at the people, the culture and perhaps some politics, history and geography.
So I embarked on this with interest: but it's absolutely dreadful. Firstly, it's not a book: the Canadian author herself describes it as an "article" (I read it start to finish while taking a bath!)
Ms Cooper tells us she was working for an "international non-gvernment organization". She never names it, and if it's any kind of charity that's undoubtedly very wise, for we never hear of any successful 'good works' achieved by her employers. She dashes off to the new head office to prepare frantically for some "special foreign guests." She attends a video-conference ("I think someone felt the equipment wasn't getting enough use") where (oh, horror!) "there was no coffee or snacks. All my friends will tell you that I get both drowsy and irritable if my dinner is late by two hours."
She attends - no, not a Tajik festival, but a Burns Night supper for the international contingent, for which "two members of our planning team flew all the way to Almaty to bring the haggis back." (Am I alone in feeling this to all be slightly inappropriate in "one of the 20 poorest countries in the world"?)
Tajikistan really only gets a glancing mention. After a passing reference to Ramadan, Ms Cooper says, a few pages on, "now you may remember that Tajikistan is a Muslim country"! I would have liked to learn more about the civil war which was a contributory factor to the poverty, but she tells us not a word.
If you want a book about Jane Cooper - her job, her social life - this may fit the bill. If you're at all interested in Tajikistan, this is a total turkey.


The Story of the Root Children
The Story of the Root Children
by Sibylle von Olfers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars “You must all go to sleep until I wake you up again in the springtime”, 17 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Charming pictures of the little Root Children whom Mother Earth wakens in the spring as it’s time to make new clothes in the colour of their flower, before cleaning and painting the ladybirds and bees. I can’t say a great deal happens – they dance and paddle in the stream before returning underground in the autumn, but it’s quite a sweet tale.


The Undesirables: Inside Nauru
The Undesirables: Inside Nauru
Price: £6.71

4.0 out of 5 stars "Australia's Nauruan gulag", 17 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A very well-written and moving account by a young (secular) employee of the Salvation Army, who applied to work in an Australian camp for illegal immigrants on the tiny island of Nauru. Faced with major issues ourselves on the immigration topic, I think the scary thing for me was not so much Australia’s way of handling it (terrible though it is) but the veil of secrecy that is drawn over their activities. Thus the visa fee to Nauru is now $8000 – non-refundable even if you’re not granted one. “There was a complete media ban on camp operations”….”The Wilson guards monitored all people within the camp, not just the men. They monitored Salvos (Salvation army workers), listened to our conversations, recorded our interactions”…. “When journalists arrived on the island, Wilson Security kept photos of them on their guard house wall so they could be easily identified and prevented from entering.”
It was also quite a shock to see how the Salvation Army, an organisation I had always regarded as Christian based, was forcing its employees to say nothing – indeed to lie – in order to keep a lucrative contract.
The author writes movingly of the men he met – largely from Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq – and their gradually eroding mental health awaiting a decision on when (if ever) they could settle in Australia. “Criminals were given a sentence to serve; these men were not even given that.” Unsure whether to fritter away the months and years in a substandard camp where self-harm and suicide are commonplace, or to return home and face the attendant dangers, this is a thought-provoking and informative book.


Rosemary: A Christmas story
Rosemary: A Christmas story
by A. M. Williamson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars "The most beautiful girl in the world was not in his world now", 17 Mar. 2016
A light but pleasant read set in Monte Carlo, where our lovesick millionaire hero, Hugh Egerton, has gone because “It would be Christmas soon, and he thought that he would rather get it over on the Riviera than anywhere else.” And when he meets up with an attractive young lady, it seems his luck may have changed…
Rosemary takes centre stage in this tale – a most improbable five-year-old, whom one can just imagine being played by a young Shirley Temple!


South American Jungle Tales
South American Jungle Tales
Price: £0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Alligators, Bees, Parrots and much more, 17 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Eight stories set around the Yabebiri and Parana rivers, and aimed at the younger audience, although with little moments of humour that endear them to the adult.
I particularly liked the ‘Just So Story’ format of “How the Flamingoes got their Stockings”. When the snakes hold a ball, the flamingoes go shopping for new stockings but are unsuccessful until the mischievous owls fool them with some snakeskins of their recent prey. Insulted by this gesture, their hosts bite them – and that’s why they stand in the water for hours: to relieve the pain.
Other stories have a human element: in “How the Rays Defended the Ford”, a man stops another from dynamiting the fish. One day the rays in turn save him when he is fleeing from a group of hungry panthers to an island in quite a vividly written passage:
“The rays plunged their stingers into the panthers’ feet and at each prick the panthers would send up the most bloodcurdling roars. Meanwhile the panthers were clawing and kicking at the rays, making frightful splashes in the water and tossing up ray fish by the barrel full. Hundreds and hundreds of rays were caught and torn by the panthers’ claws and went floating down the Yabebiri which was soon all tinged with ray blood.”
The older reader will be entertained by the naivety of “The Blind Doe”, where the mother of said deer decides to take her daughter to “a man who was skilful with remedies. This man was a hunter and traded in venison. But, from all reports, she concluded that he was quite a kind-hearted person.”
Quite an enjoyable little collection of stories.


My son, my son
My son, my son
by Howard Spring
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A real blockbuster!, 17 Mar. 2016
This review is from: My son, my son (Paperback)
An absolute blockbuster of a novel, narrated by author William Essex. Recalling his childhood as the unwanted son of a Manchester washerwoman, he remembers too his early – and lifelong – burning ambition to become rich.
While in lodgings he becomes friends with Dermot, a gifted carpenter with strong patriotic feelings for the Irish, suffering under English rule. And as the narrative follows the personal and professional lives of the two men, Essex describes a conversation they have on the birth of their respective sons on the same day: Dermot resolves that his son shall achieve what he has not – “I shall never be satisfied with the position of Ireland under the muddy feet of your bloody country. My son shall not be satisfied with it. He shall go to Ireland, he shall learn to be an Irishman as I am not … now you know what I want most passionately in this world for my son.” Essex also wants to realise in his son what he has missed himself: “I’ve been poor in a way that even you have never known … I just want him to have everything. I’ll work my fingers to the bone to give him every damn thing he asks for.”
The two families are always close, but the results of the different input from the fathers into their sons’ upbringing makes for a riveting read, nail-biting to the last. Not, perhaps, great literature, but Howard Spring writes with style and keeps the reader enthralled from the first sentence. I loved his memory – prophetic of things to come - of swimming on a Cornish holiday just before the First World War “The sight of all others most fascinating in those waters: a horde of tiny silver fish, swimming in a long thin procession, ten or a dozen abreast, like a small marine army on the move. Endlessly they went by, never changing their formation, wheeling now to the right, now to the left, but always precise, regimented, moving as by a common will. A small cloud drifted before the sun and the water, still pellucid, turned grey. And the silver fish turned grey. I could still see them: a grey endless army, moving to some unknown encounter across the grey floor of the sea.”
A really good read - I've just bought another of Spring's novels on the strength of it.


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