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Stranded
Stranded
by Emily Barr
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant beach Book, 14 Feb 2013
This review is from: Stranded (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Esther Lomax is newly divorced. She decides now is the time for a bit of adventure and books a trip to Malaysia, which includes a stay on a group of paradise islands. Alongside Esther we read about another lady called Cathy, and hear her story told in the past. I will say no more about that element of the story, but it keeps you guessing as to the possible connection between the two characters. Whilst on her trip, Esther and some of the other guests sign up for an `unofficial' boat trip organised by one of the staff at the resort. He leaves them on a paradise beach and pops back for a lighter to light the barbecue. He never returns.

I really liked how the `stranded on a desert island' aspect was dealt with. It wasn't romanticised - people were hungry, thirsty, ill, tearful, optimistic, pessimistic and everything in between trying to come to terms with their situation. Their circumstances seemed to be handled realistically and their theories as to why they were stranded seemed viable. They certainly matched with my own expectations and opinions. However as they stayed there longer, these theories no longer held water and factions formed in the group as some became more resigned than others to their plight. We learn a bit more about the other people on the island, but we do not get soul-searching, clichéd back-stories. This is a suspense book and you have no more idea how the book will pan out, than the fictional characters within its pages.

Looking back over what I read, now I know the outcome I realise how clever Ms Barr was in her clues and signposts. I did not guess the final outcome, although I had plenty of theories. If I was to be picky (and I will be), there were aspects in the conclusion that I found a tad too far-fetched and thought the ending got slightly rushed. That aside I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I couldn't wait to pick it up in the evening, and at the same time I didn't want to put it down, which says a lot about the calibre of the story and its writing. It is not a heavy or deep read, in fact it is a very easy read, plus it is also engaging and gripping, as well as a good mystery. It would certainly make a good beach read, but I don't recommend taking it on a boat day trip as you will be reluctant to get off the boat!


Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
by Tony Wheeler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Bad Boys, 14 Jan 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am a big fan on the Lonely Planet Guide Books and this seemed a bit different from the norm. The book is entitled Badlands: A Tourist on the axis of evil, and is written by Lonely Planet's founder Tony Wheeler. It features chapters on Tony's experiences travelling in some of the less hospitable (allegedly) countries on Earth: Afghanistan, Albania, Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Each country has a chapter and lasts for around the 20-30 pages mark. As a general rule of thumb Wheeler discusses the country's history and its entitlement to be included alongside his experience in a semi-recent visit. Of course it is not as straightforward as saying they had a nutter for leader for the last few decades. Many have had a variety of incompetents in charge and each new one may have made changes, but seemed to be lacking in a view of the bigger picture, often reacting to something created/caused by his predecessor, rather than developing the economy or ensuring adequate healthcare for its poorer citizens for the longer term. Wheeler doesn't bog us down with dry facts and figures but intersperses his personal observations and experience into a succinct and accessible narrative. He looks at human rights issues as well as foreign and economic policy without sounding like your old geography teacher. He also looks at the positives in these countries (often the people) and doesn't dwell on the negatives. A lot of his findings surprised me (and him) and I found this an informative and enjoyable read.


The Mystery of Mercy Close
The Mystery of Mercy Close
by Marian Keyes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.02

4.0 out of 5 stars Mercy me, 8 Jan 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have been a fan of Marian Keyes' books for a long time, but I have found that some of her later books were not as good as some of her early stuff that I have read, however I decided to give this one a go as a mystery was a bit of a departure for Keyes.

In previous books Keyes has introduced us to the Walsh sisters and The Mystery of Mercy Close features the youngest sister Helen. I have not read all of the novels in which the Walsh sisters feature, nor do I remember half of them, but I don't think this is a problem, the book can be read as a stand alone novel. Helen is a likeable character, down to earth and not a typical chick lit heroine. She has had her own problems with depression in the past, including an admission to a psychiatric hospital (a section which is written frankly and with pathos by Keyes, who knows what she is talking about). She is quirky and has individual tastes and a long list of things she doesn't like (also known as a `shovel list' - people of things she would like to hit in the face with a shovel). Apart from being quite a dark person, Helen is in a relationship with Artie, a divorcee with three children, something she never thought would happen.

As the title would suggest there is a mystery element to the book. Helen is a private investigator, it is the only job she has stuck at and times are tough so she has to take a job for her ex-boyfriend Jay Parker. Jay is a bit of a ducker and diver and is now managing a has-been Irish boy-band about to do some reunion gigs in a week's time, but one of the band members has disappeared. It is Helen's job to try and find the whereabouts of the missing Wayne Diffney. I enjoyed this aspect of the book and although I had a theory of my own I did not come to any firm conclusions as to Wayne's whereabouts and did not predict the end result. Aside from the hunt for Diffney we see Helen dealing with her personal problems such as her financial situation that has meant a return to the family home, her depression and Artie's ex-wife who hasn't grasped the concept of boundaries.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. Keyes has a knack of writing a story that keeps the reader engaged. Generally the book is pacey and witty, the dialogue to the point without any waffle apart from perhaps a humorous response. It is darker than her previous books, but she can still bring a smile to your face. However, in spite of this, I did find the book took a while to get going, and felt that perhaps the early part of it could be condensed a bit further, at 536 pages it is not a quick read, or easy to shove in a bag.


Amsterdam (City-Pick Series)
Amsterdam (City-Pick Series)
by Heather Reyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.80

2.0 out of 5 stars Dam Disappointing, 11 Dec 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I chose this book as part of my selection as I have been to Amsterdam many times. It is not like a guide book but more a collection of writing about the city, billing distinguished authors such as Ian McEwan, Geoff Dyer and Alain de Botton amongst its contributors.

However I realised as soon as I got it that it was not what I expected. My main problem was that the contributions were taken from another book or publication, so were really extracts rather than the original prose I was expecting. Some were fiction, some non-fiction but often the extracts were short. Some were only a long paragraph or a short page at best. Because of this I didn't actually engage with a lot of the shorter offerings - I read them but I didn't really take them in, they were over to quick. I often prefer quality over quantity, and that is not to say that the texts aren't well-written, it is just that I found many extracts didn't work out of context - it sometimes seemed like number of random passages collated together that coincidentally happened to be about Amsterdam.

One of the top billing authors was Ian McEwan, and the editors have selected a passage from his novel `Amsterdam'. This took up about half a page, and fans of McEwan's writing who purchase this book on the strength of his name, will be disappointed.

Some sections had several extracts from the same book, but they were not in this book consecutively, nor did they follow on from the previous extract so there was no continuation. It just seemed a bit lazy and pointless as I couldn't relate the later extracts to the previous ones in most cases.

On a more positive note, in the `Must see...' section there were three different extracts dealing with people's visits to the house of Anne Frank. I thought they were very good choices as the texts complemented each other whilst being suitably different. I also found the section `The Amsterdam-nation' which collected writing about the people of Amsterdam - both residents and visitors - more interesting. The extracts were of a reasonable length (2-3 pages) and the non-fiction seemed to engage me more in this context.

I hesitate to recommend this book as it just wasn't `me' but looking on this Amazon page, it would seem that I am in the minority. Yes, with any collection of short stories or similar you will find pieces that engage you more than others, but for me the selections were too numerous, too random and uncohesive, that the genuine gems in here are just lost in the muddle.


Devil's Consort
Devil's Consort
by Anne O'Brien
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.23

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil's Consort, 27 Oct 2012
This review is from: Devil's Consort (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
We first meet Eleanor as a young Duchess in her opulent home about to meet her new husband, who would become Louis VII of France. I believe it is well documented that this was not a happy marriage. Prior to becoming the heir to the French throne, Louis was intended to become a monk, and it seemed old habits die hard. Used to the glamorous court of Aquitane, Eleanor struggles with dull, draughty Paris and is not happy. With limited powers, even over her own lands, and marginalised by those influential to her husband, she has to develop a new way to manipulate the power of the French court in order to get her own way.

O'Brien describes Eleanor as a powerful and influential woman, but only through her own wiles. A woman in the twelfth century would not be welcomed as a leader (although it appears the Aquitanians respected her) and Eleanor had to live on her wits to achieve her will. She wants to escape her unhappy marriage, but it is a long (and eventful) journey involving wars, crusades, lovers and allegations of incest. The book finished as Eleanor and Henry II are crowned in England. It would seem many biographies and even historical fiction written about Eleanor tends to start at this point (which is the point by which most people, including myself, would be mostly familiar with) so this book is a bit different in that respect.

I enjoyed O'Brien's style of writing and found it engaging and accessible, much like Gregory's. It is easy to read, and although a large book, I found I read it at a reasonable pace as the story moves along reasonably well, with no stagnant or long-winded parts.
O'Brien keeps the book moving by jumping ahead and looking back on events that occur in retrospective summation, so that we get the story but are not bogged down in potentially irrelevant detail.

Obviously it is important to remember this is fiction, therefore a bit of artistic licence needs to be allowed for. The events happened over 1000 years ago, so in many cases their accuracy cannot be certified, and in other cases the author may have to re-interpret events to keep the story on track. O'Brien does not claim to be a historian. I am not familiar with this period of history or Eleanor sufficiently in order to comment on where artistic licence has been used and its appropriateness. One thing I find historical biographies good for is as a way to introduce you to new people and characters, which can encourage you to read more. I was always intrigued to learn more about Eleanor and this has not changed, but the Tudor ladies will always be my favourites.

I do recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, who may enjoy Philippa Gregory's work, or are just interested in this period in history. The book is a comfortable read and O'Brien is obviously a talented author in this genre.


Rhod Gilbert's Bulging Barrel of Laughs: Mark Watson (BBC Audio)
Rhod Gilbert's Bulging Barrel of Laughs: Mark Watson (BBC Audio)
by Rhod Gilbert
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £7.40

3.0 out of 5 stars Not all Rhod's and not exactly bulging., 18 Oct 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an hour long radion show from Radio 2 in 2010, recorded in front of a live audience.

Rhod Gilbert is the lead presenter and he is ably assisted by Greg Davies and Lloyd Langford. Another regular is Sarah Millican who does a short stand-up routine based on the female viewpoint. This was a bit of a bonus for me as I am a big fan of hers. It is only a short slot of a few minutes, but very typical of Sarah's other comedy work you may have heard.

Mark Watson has a slightly longer slot as the guest stand-up, and again this is very much in his usual style and was definitely a highlight for me. Something a bit different was live music from UK Ska band Kid British who played three original songs. I was not familiar with them prior to listening here, but enjoyed their music, but of course they won't be to everyone's taste. Realistically, you don't buy a comedy audio CD for the music... The main downside I would say is that although they performed live, the format seems to suit a TV show rather than a radio show.

Although there is quite a bit of comedy within the show, I found some of the links and informal off-topic chats and banter sometimes fell a bit flat, and it lost its momentum slightly. To claim the show is Rhod Gilbert's is a bit mis-leading as it is more a combined effort from a number of comedians and some audience participation.

However for an hour long show, it was a bit too hit and miss for me, and I think it could have been condensed into a half-hour episode easily enough. It is also strange that this is the only episode available on CD (apparently others are available to download) and the price for a one hour episode isn't really good value, as the comedy (at least in this format) doesn't really inspire a re-listen in my opinion.

By all means give it a listen if you are a fan of any of the contributors, especially if you can get it for a good price, otherwise, I am afraid you many be better off listening to something else.


Charlotte Street
Charlotte Street
by Danny Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.63

3.0 out of 5 stars Just Another Boy meets Girl?, 20 Sep 2012
This review is from: Charlotte Street (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have enjoyed my (admittedly limited) forays into the non-fiction work of Danny Wallace before, so was keen to try his debut novel. The synopsis is thus: Jason Priestly (no, not that one) a former teacher, now struggling freelance journalist, bumps into a stranger on Charlotte Street in London one day. As he helps her pick up her stuff and clamber into a taxi, he finds he is left standing with a disposable camera in his hand. Captivated by this girl and easily influenced by his friends, he gets the film developed and tries to track her down through her random assortment of pictures.

Personally, I found the beginning of the book slow going. Jason isn't the most dynamic character in the world: He has screwed up his previous relationship, plus felt he couldn't cope with his job as a teacher and seemingly is drifting along with no real direction. Eventually the cast of supporting characters helps the book pick up pace a bit. Poor Jason can't seem to do anything right and with reflection, his best ideas, however well-intentioned, haven't really been that good.

Jason seems to be a bit of a screw-up and at times rather pathetic, but as I have mentioned above, most of his efforts are well-intentioned, if misguided and that means you stay on his side and root for him. The character of Jason is well-written as are the supporting characters to varying degrees. I found them well-drawn and easy to imagine. The story generally was good, and there was more to it than just a search (which at times bordered on stalking) of a random girl. However, whilst I mostly enjoyed the light humour of the story (never `laugh-out-loud') it did seem to meander in occasional places, and lose direction slightly. Generally the book is well-written and a good, easy read without becoming `pulp' or trashy.

I assumed the book would fall under the `lad-lit' genre, but I think that it is doing it a slight dis-service, I think it is certainly accessible to the female reader; it isn't crude or `bloke-ish'.

Whilst I enjoy Wallace's writing style and subtle humour and generally enjoyed the book, I did find it slow to get going and think it could be tighter at the beginning. The various strands of the story detracted from the original premise (a girl who loses her disposable camera) to the extent that the book wasn't necessarily about that but a meandering tale of a few months in Jason's life. Ideally I would give this book 3.5 stars, but that isn't an option. I'll knock off the extra half a star as it didn't live up to my expectations.


The Little CBT Workbook
The Little CBT Workbook
by Michael Sinclair
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little CBT Workbook, 26 Aug 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I selected The little CBT Workbook as I had a little experience with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through some counselling sessions I attended following a bout of depression. Prior to this I had little or no prior knowledge of CBT, but I found the process worthwhile. I chose this book as I thought it would help me continue the work that I did with my counsellor and also act as a refresher as time went on if I ever found myself struggling with negative thought again. I haven't used the book fully but have dipped in and out of it as what I have read has been helpful and has built on to the work I have already done. It is compact at only as 187 pages but I think this book could be helpful for people continuing their journey with CBT. As that is my experience, I am not sure how helpful it would be to someone with no CBT experience, but I think it would be a good introduction for mild depression and in fact for a tool for anyone prone to negative thinking, but I recommend talking to your GP if you think your situation is more serious.


My Life: A Coach Trip Adventure
My Life: A Coach Trip Adventure
by Brendan Sheerin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Yorkshire Lad made Good, 21 Mar 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Channel 4's weekday teatime show Coach Trip is my guilty secret so I was thrilled to find this book available on the vine programme before Christmas. Brendan, the shows international tour guide became involved purely by accident. He writes positively and engagingly about his Irish-Catholic upbringing in Yorkshire, how he wanted to be a priest and then a teacher and how he dealt with his homosexuality.

He writes frankly about the love of his life, Les, and how after a summer job working as a holiday rep with Les in Spain, Brendan's career choices changed. He is modest in the fact that the opportunities that Coach Trip presented came about due to a simple e-mail from a friend at a low point in his life. Brendan comes across as grounded throughout, just like on TV - charming, entertaining, genuine and slightly camp. You can hear his voice is the writing, there are no pretentions to him.

As far as his Coach Trip tales go, he is very discreet. He describes the characters on the show and some key events which regular viewers may recall, but he doesn't dish any dirt, and you get very little insight to what happens behind the scenes. He is also very pleasant about all the people he has met and worked with on the way, and makes sure to name-check everyone.

The book is not going to be a challenging read and will no doubt have limited appeal outside of fans of the show. Brendan's writing is straight-forward and honest, without bitchiness or bitterness. The book is broken down into various chapters about different parts of his life, and as such is easy to pick up and put down. I read it whilst ill, when I was struggling to find a book I could get into and hold my attention. I am not going to claim that is the most insightful autobiography you will ever read, but if you enjoy the show and love Brendan's character than I think you will really enjoy this light read.


A Small Fortune (Fortune Series Book 1)
A Small Fortune (Fortune Series Book 1)
by Audrey Braun
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Fortune-ately I enjoyed it, 21 Oct 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
New authors are always a bit of a risk (the first book is rarely their best work) but something about the synopsis appealed to me. Celia Donnelly is married to Jonathan, the president of an American bank and has a teenage son called Oliver. Jonathan spontaneously organises a holiday to Mexico for them and early on in the trip (and the book) Celia is abducted from the beach, but this is no ordinary abduction as when she comes round in a strange room, her original abductor is tied to a chair beside her.

If I had to pigeon-hole this book into a genre I would go for 'romantic thriller'. Whilst the action is not as frantic as some action/thriller type books I have read before, there generally was enough pace to keep the book flowing and, for the most part, I was suitably intrigued and caught up in the story to keep turning the pages. I do have a number of niggles however. Classing this as a 'romance' may be a bit of a stretch on my part, it is more like 'erotica-lite'. I didn't find it particularly titillating and didn't really feel that it fitted in with the story. However this is a small aspect of the book, and doesn't really detract from the main events.

In the last quarter of the book Celia learns a bit about her family history and I find this a bit far-fetched and too convenient and think this could have been handled better. However, to a certain degree I think that the reader has to accept that this is the nature of the genre - it wouldn't be a pacey, action thriller if things happened in a real-life time frame and if there weren't a few handy coincidences to keep the story going. In this particular instance however, I think the author could have come up with a better plot device. There were also a few minor loose ends I would have liked being tied up too.

As a main character, Celia wasn't too bad. She was normal with flaws if not relatable (at least by me), but whilst the Celia we meet seems quite capable and strong, the Celia of old which is referred to is quite weak. I found that character differentiation a bit frustrating. Other characters aren't drawn in detail, and again I think this the nature of the genre - there isn't the time to build up supporting characters if you want to keep the plot going.

Braun's writing style is unpretentious and accessible, if not quite polished. She has the knack of getting you to turn the pages, and leaving you hanging at the end of her chapters, so that you think you'll carry on for just one more. Chapters are fairly short (often less than 10 pages) and punchy to help keep the pace up and she has used them effectively. Whilst it seems that I have been quite critical of the book above, I did generally enjoy it. It is by no means perfect but there is some good writing here and I would certainly be interested in reading some of Ms Braun's future work.

If you have read thrillers and action style books in the past then you will be aware that you need to suspend your disbelief to a certain extent when reading this genre. If you are happy doing this then I think you may enjoy this book. I liked the fact that there was a female heroine for a change and certainly Braun has come up with enough of the goods to mark her out as an author to watch.


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