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Wendy V (England)

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Arandora Star
Arandora Star
Price: £3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical romance based on a true WWII story, 11 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Arandora Star (Kindle Edition)
I was lucky enough to read this book in its earliest draft, then again in its finished form, and am so pleased that it's gone on to be published and appreciated by a wide audience. It's a terrifically pacy read, which brings a little-known tragedy of World War 2 to life via a cast of vivid characters. It would make a fantastic film.


Just Kids
Just Kids
by Patti Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, erudite memoir, 18 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Just Kids (Paperback)
I've been intrigued by Patti Smith since I first heard her early albums in my teens, so I was fascinated by her memoir about starting out as a poet, artist and - eventually - singer in New York at the start of the 1970s. She and Robert Mapplethorpe (who was pretty much the first person she met there) became friends and lovers and, from a penniless start, carved their way into the art scene.

A random compliment about her hair - that it was "very Joan Baez" - spurred her to give herself a radical makeover: "I cut out all the pictures I could find of Keith Richards. I studied them for a while and took up the scissors, machete-ing my way out of the folk era." And hey presto, with her new, punky 'do', suddenly she finds herself getting noticed.

She name-drops in the nicest possible way, encountering Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs; and for a time she went out with playwright and actor Sam Shepard.

She comes across as simultaneously worldly and a tad naive. Her writing is beautiful, and the portrait she paints of this formative time in hers and Mapplethorpe's lives, before their paths diverged, is compelling. You don't have to know much about either of them to enjoy the book.

I've only seen Patti Smith perform live once, at an intimate solo gig in June 2009 at Farringford, the former home of poet Tennyson on the Isle of Wight. It was in a lavish drawing room, to an audience of 200 people. She was 62, and took the stage in such a shy, self-deprecating and seemingly disorganised manner, rooting in a bag for poems, that I wondered whether an imposter had turned up. But as soon as she opened her mouth to read, or sing, she became instantly poised and confident, commanding the room. I was surprised by her love of poetry, not realising that poetry recitals in New York were what eventually triggered her career as a song-writer and singer. This was the "real" Patti Smith I was seeing.

Now, reading her wonderful memoir, it all makes sense. She has come full-circle.


Shrapnel
Shrapnel
by William Wharton
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid memoir of a reluctant soldier in WWII, 23 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Shrapnel (Hardcover)
Shrapnel (by the author of Birdy) is a riveting, pacy read. William Wharton's direct, economical, writing style makes his account of being swept into action as an American soldier in France and Germany (via England) during World War II both vivid and immediate. He's honest about being scared and confused; honest about his ambivalence about the aims of war and his part in it; honest about his frequent disdain for authority.

He sees a great deal of action, and this memoir is about the wartime experiences he kept to himself - until he wrote Shrapnel in his seventies: "Some of them are humorous, many tragic, but in all of them I appear in a light I didn't want my children to see."

"I'm not going to say I was the world's worst soldier," he writes. And it's clear he's certainly not the worst, for all that the often hair-raising challenges he faces throw up some awful moral and ethical dilemmas, which he doesn't always pass. As a reader you are left wondering whether you would have acted any differently.

There are amazing stories. His account of the crazy mission where he's parachuted to a field behind enemy lines to deliver a radio to the French resistance was so gripping I re-read it out loud to my 10-year old son.

But what really stopped me in my tracks was the opening of the chapter about soldiers trying to get trench foot so they'd be sent home, which begins: "It's near my nineteenth birthday now, and we're near Metz."

Nineteen? NINETEEN?! I had quite forgotten how young soldiers going into battle were (and indeed, still are). And what a load of responsibility Wharton has already carried by this time. He acknowledges that due to the war he was scarred by the "shrapnel of the human condition", quite aside from the physical scars he suffered.

There is oodles of humility, humour and humanity in Wharton's memoir, and it's a great insight into the madness of war from the perspective of a reluctant (in that respect, probably an ordinary) soldier. I highly recommend it.


How To Be a Woman
How To Be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran
Edition: Paperback

59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The woman's a genius!, 18 Jun. 2011
This review is from: How To Be a Woman (Paperback)
I haven't been this hungry to read a book for years. I finished it in two breathless sessions. Caitlin Moran's writing is witty and earthy, frank and fearless, but for all its laughs (and I'm glad I wasn't reading it on a commute - I was spluttering!) at its heart is something very serious. Recalling how things were in 1993, when she was still a teenager working on Melody Maker magazine, she says, "In this era of Doc Martens and beer and minimal make-up, sexism seems to be dying so fast it would be counter-productive to draw attention to it. We all, naively, presume it is a problem of another age ... We don't know what's coming towards us - Nuts and Brazilians, Moira Stuart fired because she's too old, and another decade and a half of unequal pay."

I was beginning to think it was just me who was depressed by the slide backwards in the past two decades in Britain to women being openly objectified, but this book acts as a big STOP! sign. It's brilliantly funny, with a serious message, holding a mirror up to a new generation, to remind them that feminism is not a dirty word.

Moran's humour makes her the perfect messenger. I'm still laughing to myself at her opinion that a woman's pubes should look, when she sits naked, "as if she has a marmoset sitting in her lap. A tame marmoset, that she can send off to pickpocket things, should she so need it - like that trained monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark."

The woman's a genius!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 9, 2011 12:54 AM BST


Mummy Said the F-Word
Mummy Said the F-Word
by Fiona Gibson
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny, very true, 23 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Mummy Said the F-Word (Hardcover)
Fiona Gibson is on top-form with Mummy Said the F-Word, illuminating the awkward details and compromises of family life with great humour and humanity. The day I started the book, I wondered if I would approve of its heroine for being bitter about her ex, or letting slip the occasional swear-word in front of her children. But that day I attended a children's party, and overheard a (very lovely) mum talk about how she'd just been called in to see her own child's teacher because he had been caught using "language" and the suspicion was that he had picked it up at home. It could have come straight from the pages of this novel, and I realised that Gibson's theme here will strike a cord with every parent who does not claim to be perfect (and which of us can, in all honesty?)

It's a cracking read, with a pacy plot and engaging very well-drawn characters (including the children, who, as ever with Gibson's acute eye for detail, and ear for dialogue, are entirely believable). And goodness it made me laugh. Highly recommended.


One Good Turn: (Jackson Brodie)
One Good Turn: (Jackson Brodie)
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 8 Jan. 2008
I was delighted with Behind The Scenes at the Museum when I picked it up on impulse before a long rail journey years ago, so I bought One Good Turn at a train station hoping it would prove similarly unputdownable. But, though I finished the book, I feel that Atkinson has taken a wrong turn by veering into crime fiction. The enthusiastic reviews from journalists quoted on the flyleaf were surely hyped up according to her past track record, and bore no relation to the very so-so novel I was reading. Perhaps Case Histories, which introduced some of the same characters, was a better book. My hunch is that this follow-up was a rushed experiment to please her publisher. Too many strands, and without the authenticity that made her early work so compelling. A very forgettable and disappointing read.


Dream Babies: Childcare advice from John Locke to Gina Ford
Dream Babies: Childcare advice from John Locke to Gina Ford
by Christina Hardyment
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating history of childcare advice through the ages, 11 Oct. 2007
I'm delighted that a new and updated edition of Dream Babies is coming out. I have a well-thumbed copy of the 1984 edition, which I've often turned to to remind myself that fashions in childcare come and go, and that "experts" frequently get in the way of maternal instinct. One of my favourite books, and I'll definitely be reading the new version.


Superpowers: The Tusked Terror
Superpowers: The Tusked Terror
by Alex Cliff
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better and better!, 18 Aug. 2007
Full of peril! What a page-turner. My son's dad and I have read all the books in the series so far to our son (nearly six), and enjoyed the books as much as he has. We can't wait for the final ones in the series to come out. I get the impression these books will be treasured by my son for him to read to himself as his reading develops. He says he feels he's inside the stories with Max and Finlay, helping Hercules to regain his powers.


Superpowers: The Deadly Stink
Superpowers: The Deadly Stink
by Alex Cliff
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully gruesome!, 18 Aug. 2007
My son was getting really addicted to this series by the time we got to The Deadly Stink, about Max and Finlay having to clean out the impossibly-dirty castle stables. He says there were some good jokes about poo in it! The Dung beetles were amazzzing.


Superpowers: The Heads of Horror
Superpowers: The Heads of Horror
by Alex Cliff
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the first one!, 18 Aug. 2007
My son says he likes this book even better than the first in the series, because he found the monster with the nine heads really exciting!


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