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Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 (Lonely Planet General Reference)
Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 (Lonely Planet General Reference)
by Lonely Planet
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Good for dipping in and out of, 10 May 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Like last year, this book is the more compact version and has 206 pages, although I preferred the bigger, more informative format they used a few years ago. I am not sure what it is about the selections that are 2011 specific, but there is certainly an eclectic mix between the pages. There are four sections:

Top Ten Countries, Regions and Cities are the first three. Usually a truly global selection, all continents are represented. Each four page entry includes a few colour photos (varied - wildlife, scenic views, locals), some basic statistics (population, capital city, currency etc) followed by a round up of highlights, both typical and typically quirky. These highlights include festivals, must-have experiences, random facts and bizarre sights. These are tasters rather than an in-depth analysis. Some snippets of info are just a line, some are a good 6-7 line paragraph. Whilst the information may be light, they do manage to inspire and inform with what they do include.

The fourth section is Top Travel Lists and includes seventeen seemingly random lists for the perusal of the armchair traveller. All cover four pages each, with a few colour photos and good paragraph worth of text, along with specific recommendations. Only the Top Three spots are numbered, the last seven are not ranked. Having done some of the experiences I can concur with these specific recommendation in those instances, and it leads me to believe that the others are just as reliable.

While sometimes the lack of depth frustrates me, I do enjoy picking this book up and flicking through it at random. I don't think it is a book to read cover-to-cover for me, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done like that. The suggestions are often thought provoking,and can make places and experiences that you previously thought were not for you seem appealing. I therefore recommend this book.


Crabtree and Evelyn Iris Bath and Shower Gel 250 ml
Crabtree and Evelyn Iris Bath and Shower Gel 250 ml

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subtle scent, 9 May 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The bath and shower gel comes packaged in a good quality cream cardboard box with an Iris watercolour type design on the front. There is a lengthy ingredient list on the box, much of which I am unfamiliar with. It all states that the product is for adult use only. I don't know what would happen if a child used it, I have not seen that statement before....

Out of the box, the gel is in an opaque plastic bottle, with the same iris design as the box. The cap is a 'pop-up' one, with a small gap and I couldn't really get any scent from it other than a vaguely floral soapy scent. According to the packaging the fragrance comes from the root of the iris flower and is "blended with sandalwood, sensuous patchouli and a hint of fresh vetiver". To be honest I don't think I would have identified any of these scents unless I knew they were supposed to be there.

The first time I used this it was in the bath. popped up the cap and squeezed a blob out into running water. Nothing much really came out, as the slot is quite tiny, so I repeated it two more times, and barely made a dent in the bottle contents. There were some bubbles but not a huge amount (to be fair, it doesn't bill itself as a bubble bath), they were pleasant while they lasted, but disappeared about 10-15 minutes in. No residue was left in my tub. After drying off I was pleased how soft my skin felt, I deliberately didn't moisturise straight afterwards just to see, and apart from my heels (which are a dry skin law unto themselves), my skin didn't feel dry either.

I mostly use this as a shower gel though, you can only get a small amount through the tiny gap in the lid, but I find this is usually all I need. My skin usually feels reasonably soft afterwards and isn't dry or irritated, although I still prefer to use a moisturiser. The fragrance is mild, and doesn't linger on my skin, which is disappointing for such a luxury brand and I expected something more defined for the price. I would be happy to receive this as a gift, as I think the product is long lasting.


The Good Food Guide 2011
The Good Food Guide 2011
by Elizabeth Carter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Grub, 27 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The well established and reputable guide has been going 60 years now. Since the beginning reader feedback and recommendations have been invaluable, inspections anonymous and the Guide remains independent. This addition contains 10 £5 vouchers able to be used in some participating (and included) restaurants.

To be honest, I always assumed that the included restaurants would be top end, but there are a number of mid-priced and pub based restaurants included. Many entries are marked with a symbol made up of £30 and a downward arrow to indicate that it is possible to have three courses (not including wine) for under £30 per head. Ratings (out of 10) may seem quite harsh at first, but the achievement is to be included in the first place. Some places are just 'Recommended' and don't garner an offical score. I have tried some of these, and wouldn't let this or a low score put me off.

My other half and I have used this Guide quite often when looking for places to eat, especially in other parts of the country but sometimes discover and try other places on-spec when we are out and about, although not all of these are included. While I have not been surprised by any of the inclusions I have tried, I have often found I have had fabulous meals in places that didn't make it in the book. Whilst the inspectors may have stringent guidelines, the ratings must have a certain about of subjectivity to them. For example, one of the top rated restaurants I visited was the Carlton Riverside in Llanwrtyd Wells which was awarded a six. However it was not the best restaurant I have tried within this book (the jury is still out as to who will get this award, but the current favourite only received a 3), and both my boyfriend and I are in agreement. It has given us lots of inspiration of places to try, but the budget isn't always willing!

The write ups generally are concise but vary in length. Usually there are brief descriptions given of the décor and service where notable (or otherwise), as well as a summation of the menu and interesting dishes of note, described well by people who have eaten them. The writing is accessible in that it is down to earth and not stuck up, it doesn't assume that we are all gastronomic experts, or look down on pubs and local ethnic restaurants. In additon guide lines as to a numbe of veggie options, prices and type of menu are also indicated. The Guide is completely rewritten every year, so restaurants on the wane may be dropped, and new ones are included.

Overall I would recommend this to people who enjoy eating out, especially if you take short breaks or travel around the UK occasionally.


The Draining Lake (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries 4)
The Draining Lake (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries 4)
by Arnaldur Indridason
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars It's a Mystery, 4 Nov. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Initially I struggled with this book - I didn't engage with the lead character, Detective Erlendur, or his colleagues as there is no real character introduction. There appeared to be events that happened prior to the beginning of this book that was briefly referred to, but not always clarified. This is because the book is 4th in a successful series, but as it was my first time reading it, I felt I was missing something in parts. As the book progressed, most of my questions about Erlendur's life and past history were cleared up, albeit briefly. They were mainly answered by piecing things together myself through snippets mentioned in the text however, rather than a brief paragraph early on, which I would have preferred.

My gripes with the character of Erlendur and his life aside, these books are popular for a reason. Author Arnaldur Indridason has seemingly well researched his topic. A skeleton, weighed down by an old Cold War listening device, has been uncovered in a lake as the water level has been slowly receding. Erlendur and his colleagues set about solving the mystery of the unknown person who had been laying in the lake for decades by researching people who had gone missing about the same time. At the same time there is a completely different strand featuring young, Icelandic, socialist students at university in Leipzig, East Germany during the 1950s. It is not hard for the reader to establish a connection between the two - if there are only two major plots within a crime novel, it is unlikely that one of them is red herring. Unfortunately the detectives do not have the benefit of reading the other strand and take a bit longer to catch up! I found both strands interesting - I particularly enjoyed learning about life in East Germany for the students, who found their political ideals being challenged by the reality of life behind the iron curtain. At the same time, I got used to Erlendur, and was intrigued by some of the sub-plots that were revealed through his present day investigations. I think Indridason did a good job in his descriptions of both environments; the story was convincing, it didn't get far-fetched and plot twists were subtle and generally believable.

Overall, in spite of my reservations initially, I did enjoy the book. As a traditional style murder mystery, this ticked the boxes for me, as the mystery is credible and engaging, with a satisfactory conclusion. It is well-written and the English translation uses British words and colloquialisms. I would recommend this book overall, but with the caveat that I think it is best to read the books in order.


Twitchhiker: How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter
Twitchhiker: How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter
by Paul Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Travel Tweet, 15 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Twitchhiker is a travel book with a contemporary spin. Paul Smith, a freelance journalist, with a specialism in procrastination. He was also a big fan of the social networking site Twitter. One day Paul had an idea whilst shopping in Tesco, but unlike most of us who have ideas and dreams, he followed through. His idea was to travel the world through the goodwill of fellow Twitter users. He worked out that Campbell Island off of New Zealand was the geographically opposite land mass to his home in Gateshead. He decided to leave in a month and sat down to work out some rules (and to work out how to tell his wife of four days that he was about to go off to see how far round the world he could get in 30 days and leave her with their two sons). The rules were fairly simple but still gave him a challenge.

From here on in you get a detailed, personal account of the highs and lows of Paul's epic 30 day indirect journey as he tries to get to New Zealand. On this journey Paul addresses his own flaws and problems frankly and honestly. He is always polite but honest about his hosts and those that assist him in other ways (some of which are quite eccentric), and I was quite impressed with the variety of people prepared to go out of their way to assist a complete stranger off the internet, sometimes offering their sofas, a ride in their cars and even using their personal funds to become part of a small, internet phenomenon. Overall I think there is a 'feel-good' undercurrent to Paul's story, however circuitous the journey (both in the physical and emotional sense). He took some flack for his actions from across the world (and he mentions it here), but he does not dwell on the negatives or the arguments of his detractors. In spite of the low points he has whilst he is away, he manages to accentuate the positives for the most part and embraces the opportunity and challenge that he has set himself. Paul's writing style comes across as a friendly narrative, it is not pompous or arrogant, but humble and humorous. Each day is a chapter and each chapter has varying sized passages of text covering his on-line and human interaction and all-round feelings and thoughts. For someone like myself, who rarely has the opportunity to read for an extended period, it is great to have these natural breaks, and I think this also makes the book good for shorter journeys where you may get interrupted. If you are looking for a travel book full of evocative passages and romantic descriptions of places then this isn't the one for you. Paul rarely gets much sightseeing done, sometimes seeing only hotels, railway stations or planes, but if you are looking for a light, funny read with a difference than I don't hesitate to recommend it. In my opinion, Paul didn't come across as greedy or ungrateful for this opportunity, as some critics may claim. He raised money for charity and went to hell and back (not literally - hell is one place he didn't go to!) in order to see his brainchild through as far as he could, which is quite inspirational. I don't think you need to be a Twitter user to appreciate what he did.


Black Mamba Boy
Black Mamba Boy
by Nadifa Mohamed
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars About a Boy, 23 July 2010
This review is from: Black Mamba Boy (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Jama is a young boy growing up in East Africa in the 1930s. His father left when he was a baby to earn more money elsewhere, so Jama lives with his mother in Aden, Yemen. He feels an outcast and is often in trouble. His mother works hard and Jama spends his days getting into mischief. Afer his mother's death he goes to live with family in his homeland of Somalia and runs away to find his father, travelling all across the region, even though he is just a child for much of it. Overall, you are reading about approximately twelve years of someone's life.

Jama is an engaging character who you easily warm to; he is cheeky, mischievous but full of street smarts, but at the same time naive, intent on following his dreams, and undaunted by the distance he needs to travel to find his father. For our part, we share Jama's journey into manhood both literally and metaphorically as he experiences World War II, working for the Italians and then the British, risking his neck for a war that has nothing to do with his world. Of the supporting characters, only Jama's friend Shidane stands out, the only boy more street smart and cheekier than Jama. Don't think of these boys as good people, they are trying to survive, and they will steal and lie to get what they need which can be a bit uncomfortable for us more privaleged readers.

As interesting and engaging as this story was I do have a few niggles. I did find the book hard to relate to at times, the terrible poverty and hunger is something I have been fortunate enough to not experience, but some of the feats that Jama performs during his journey, such as walking for days in the African heat with little water or food, seem beyond human endurance and a bit far fetched. The coincidences also seemed too much for me, characters we meet reappear at other points in the book in a different country, whilst the ex-pat Somali community maybe close-knit, I thought some of these coincidences a bit too much of a long shot. However, the real kicker for me was the ending. The book virtually just stopped, with very little conclusion and several loose ends. It wasn't so much that I felt I wanted it to continue, more so that I felt a bit cheated that Jama's story hadn't been rounded off a bit neater.

This is Nadifa Mohamed's first novel; she was born in Somalia but did much of her growing up in the UK. The book is inspired by her father and his friends, who did the long journeys across parts of Africa during the war years, and had first hand experience of the Italian fascists. I enjoyed her writing style, once I had got used to Jama as a character I got into the book and overall really enjoyed it. She can be concisely descriptive, which is how I like it - enough so that you can visualise the scenery and atmosphere, but not so that you get frustrated that the story is being neglected. I would be interested to read any of her future work.

I would recommend this book to readers interested in the region, and the impact of World War II. As I have mentioned, it is a `journey' book, so those who like neat conclusions or fast paced action may not find it is what they are looking for.


The Confession of Katherine Howard
The Confession of Katherine Howard
by Suzannah Dunn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Confess to Quite Liking This, 6 July 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Confession of Katherine Howard is set over a few days in November 1541 and also told in flashback. We hear the story from the perspective of her best friend and lady-in-waiting Cat(herine) Tilney. Katherine is Henry VIII's fifth wife, she is only 19 and is really just a young girl from the country who happened to be related to the influential Howard family (The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk's family name). However, something is amiss and the lover of Cat (who was previously Katherine's boyfriend), Francis Dereham, is being interrogated about his previous relationship with the new Queen. This leads Cat to look back at the journey she and Katherine have taken, that brought them to the Tudor Court.

Cat first met Katherine whilst being tutored at the home of the Duchess of Norfolk with a number of other girls. They were supposed to be learning about becoming ladies and how to run their own household, but these teenage girls had lots of romantic dreams. I got the impression that Cat was quite naÔve, she was bright but had been sheltered and knew little about `ways of the heart' and wanted desperately to please her family and make them proud. Katherine meanwhile had no real family, and was much more confident than Cat, but quietly so. She comes across as very enigmatic, and we only learn what she is prepared to reveal to Cat. Katherine has more romances than Cat, and knew how to catch the attention of men, which Cat was clueless about. Whilst neither girl could be considered sophisticated, it is Katherine's influential family connections that get her a place at court, as a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves, something none of the other girls had even dreamed of. Cat is not included and knows very little about this period in Katherine's life until Katherine weds the king and she is summoned to court.

Katherine Howard isn't as well documented as Anne Boleyn in historical fiction, and I like the fact that we only really learn about her through Cat (who was also a real person in history), however because of this we never really get to know Katherine that well, and I can only guess that is the intention. The problem with this is that (admittedly this may be influenced by the fact that the outcome of the events is well-documented) you don't care about Katherine that much, you don't root for her at the end. In an about turn it seems that Katherine was the naÔve one, never expecting her actions to catch up with her, and to become accountable for her risks. In the end Cat seems to be the stronger figure, and you do hope that all will be well for her, but she does come over as a bit wishy-washy in places.

The author, Susannah Dunn, is an established author who has written other Tudor based historical novels. I enjoyed her story-telling, and I liked how she brought little-known people to life, I would certainly consider reading other works of hers. The book is engaging and well-written although the language used by the characters is a little too contemporary for my liking. Ultra-modern phrases such as `she would be a laugh' and `we hung around together' just didn't sit right with me. I don't particularly want to read Tudor English either, but toning down of the modern phrases would have been preferred. It is not a big book - my (over-sized paperback) copy ran to 226 pages and I think it would be enjoyable to most readers, whether they were historical fiction fans or not.


I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
by Cora Harrison
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Girlie Charm, 16 Jun. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have always been a big fan of Jane Austen and her novels so when I heard about this novel by Cora Harrison I was interested to read it. I didn't realise that it was targeted at the teen/young adult market however. I have read some other books aimed at this age group so wasn't too worried.

`Jenny' Cooper is Jane's cousin and school friend and this is her diary over a year, which we are reading, where for much of it she lived with the Austen family in Steventon, Hampshire. In it she writes about her and Jane's life, her thoughts and makes sketches (illustrated by Susan Hellard) and is aged about fifteen. The language used is more contemporary than you would expect from the period, but I think this is a concession to the target audience, making it more accessible and relatable. I certainly think it would educate a 21st century teen into the life of an 18th century one, as the way of life for young ladies of the time is clearly discussed, as is the fashions and etiquette of the time. The diary format means the book has natural breaks, and keeps it to an easy, light read.

As easy as this is to read (certainly for me as an adult, and I can imagine older children wouldn't struggle either), there still needs to be a story. There is an element of intrigue and romance in the book that helps keep the story flowing across the diary entries. I found myself quite hooked in no time, absorbed in the family relationships, enigmatic gentlemen and other assorted characters. There are not too many characters either, Jane has a lot of brothers and Jenny notes down a little bit about each one at the beginning of the book so that she (and us) can keep track and have something to refer back to if we needed.

For anyone who has read anything about Jane Austen as a person, or visited her homes or the Jane Austen Centre in Bath then you will enjoy the references made to her family, people and places that appear in the book. Generally I think the book has been well-researched and is fairly accurate, although with all historical fiction some artistic license is required. Jane really did have a cousin Cooper, but she was called Jane also, hence her name being changed to avoid confusion in the book, and she wasn't quite the right age. Jane Austen actually went to boarding school with her sister Cassandra and shared a bedroom with her most of her life, but in this book that role was taken by Jenny.

The book is definitely aimed at the female market (mine has a contemporary pink cover to it) and is quite girlie. The illustrations are usually of family members or fashion details such as lace trims, and don't take up much of the book. If that doesn't put you off then I do recommend reading this book, I think the plot is absorbing and generally well-written and can appeal to Jane-ites across the board and is an excellent introduction to Austen for younger readers. However, I think you would get slightly more out of it if you had read some of her books prior to reading this.


Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
by Geoff Dyer
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Tale of Two Cities, 6 April 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a novel in two parts as freelance jouralist Jeff Atman travles to Venice first, then Varanasi. Geoff Dyer's descriptions of the cities are excellent, having visited them both I think he captured the atmosphere very well. However, for me, the stories took a downturn once the atmosphere had been created and the story had begun 'proper'. I was left wondering if I had missed some subtle yet clever analogy, or perhaps two pages had got stuck together to explain how it all got a bit random, and well, not as good.

As I have mentioned, Dyer can really build a realistic image and atmosphere for his readers that immerses them in the place he is, but sometimes he just goes off at random tangents that made no sense to me. If there was a subtle or hidden analogy within the text, I missed it completely. The book has no defined plot, Jeff's meanderings have no real point and don't lead to a certain event or defined conclusion, they are just what they are - time spent in each city. If you like your books to have a bit of an adventure, a plot, or indeed even a story, then this may not be for you. Whilst I have banged on about Dyer's writing being of a high standard and enjoyable, it just doesn't work when he has to make something happen. If he was to write a travel book I would be really interested to read it (he obviously knows the places really well), but this book is more a travel novel and doesn't work for me.


The Cities Book: A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World (Lonely Planet General Pictorial)
The Cities Book: A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World (Lonely Planet General Pictorial)
by Lonely Planet
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cities Bible, 20 Jan. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This comprehensive book isn't just a list of cities, there are small sections covering the Past, Present and Future of cities in general, as well as maps of the continents marking the cities that have been included. Lonely Planet readers decided which cities are the best and the top 200 are included. Of course, this selection is subjective, other people may choose a different selection but the Top 6 are fairly obvious: Paris, New York, Sydney, Barcelona, London, Rome. Although the list is at the front, the chapters on each city are in alphabetical order for ease of reference. So, from Abuja to Zanzibar Town what do we learn about these cities?

Well, each city has a two page section usually with about four colour photographs but page layout varies. Text wise the information is sub divided into small sections, little more than a paragraph as follows:

Vital statistics - what you would expect: nicknames, founding of a city on this site, country, altitude, population and Lonely Planet ranking.

Anatomy - location in relation to mountain ranges, rivers etc and general layout.

People - the ethnic make up of the native people, including languages spoken.

Typical Resident ( i.e. Typical Barcelonin or Madrileno) - the habits of a typical citizen of the city - how they like to live, what they like to do, where they like to go. Generalisations, I am sure, but interesting to those who don't know the city.

Defining Experience - must do things when you visit the city such as catching a train to visit Dracula's tomb (Bucharest) or "wandering aimlessly through the old-town district" (Panama City). Most cities will have several suggestions which could be used to plan an optimal 24 hour visit to the city.

Strengths - the good things about each city, in list form such as unique attractions and qualities (i.e. just a few of Copenhagen's strengths: "Tivoli, Local Beers, easy going monarchy").

Weaknesses - like above, but the opposite. For example, Kampala's weaknesses include security searches and "a bloody history".

Gold Star - the unique selling point, such as Djemma el Fna, the famous city square in Marrakesh.

Starring Role in... - Films and books set in each city. Such as Bangkok Hilton (Bangkok) and Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson (Christiansted).

Imports - people, either individuals ( i.e. Miami 'imported' Paris Hilton - lucky them!) or collective (students in Montreal); plus foods and fads that have become popular but are not native.

Exports - Like above, but in reverse. Maple Syrup from Quebec City is just one of their many exports. These two sections also feature music, influences and some tongue-in-cheek suggestions.

Summary of Must-do's - See e.g. The Hermitage in St Petersberg; Eat - mutton dumplings in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia; Drink - rum in San Juan; Do - explore the port in Marseille; Watch - organ concert in Lubeck; Buy - James Joyce books in Galway and After Dark - folk dancing in Belgrade.

Urban Myth - each section finishes with this - a modern tale or legend is mentioned and clarified where things have been mistold in re-telling. Although often the tales have been true (apparently) such as the 'anti-Nobel prize' given to a Swedish author from Stockholm,when he didn't win the Nobel prize for literature.

The selection and ranking is subjective, but I cannot think of a major omission and there are some unusual choices, which I think would be what you would expect from Lonely Planet readers/writers. Although coverage of each city is far from comprehensive, I did feel I learnt something from the book and I have enjoyed my perusals which is why I would definitely recommend it for all fans of coffee table type travel books.


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