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Reviews Written by
Roman Clodia (London)
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Burt's Bees Miracle Salve, 55g
Burt's Bees Miracle Salve, 55g
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant balm, 22 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I love this salve! Incredibly versatile, you can use this on dry skin, dry or flyaway hair, to soften and smooth cuticles, as a lip balm, to slick and gloss eyebrows, to protect feet from new shoes that rub... It works wonders on heels and elbows especially after exfoliating, and seems to soothe sore skin as well as moisturise. I like to decant some into a smaller tin to keep in my handbag at all times - an all-round skin saviour.


Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
Price: £65.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Light liquid serum smoothes skin, 22 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I usually prefer liquid serums to the light creams like this one but the texture here is very light and the product sinks into skin and is absorbed immediately. There's a nice fragrance to this (so look out if you prefer non-fragranced products) and the serum is light enough not to feel claggy under moisturiser. It leaves skin feeling smooth - as with all retinol products, best wear this with a sunscreen. It brightens and may help re-texturise over time.


Burt's Bees 100% Natural Lip Shine, Whisper, 14g
Burt's Bees 100% Natural Lip Shine, Whisper, 14g
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Barely-there lip gloss, 22 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A neutral lip-gloss with a bare hint of colour - leaves lips soft and glossy but this doesn't last long and smears off onto glasses and cups so you need to reapply frequently. Not my favourite Burt's Bees lip product.


The Sleeper
The Sleeper
Offered by Audible Ltd

4.0 out of 5 stars Clever escapism, 22 Feb. 2017
This review is from: The Sleeper (Audio Download)
A clever piece of escapism that travels from Cornwall commuter-land to Thai islands - Barr uses the idea of 'sleepers' creatively, from the literal sleeper train to London, to women sleepwalking through their lives, albeit for different reasons.

At the heart of the story is Lara Finch: married to boring Sam and suddenly awakened when she meets Guy on the weekly London train; and Iris, similarly buried in Cornwall, until she, too, is brought back to life via her friendship with Lara.

The tale unfurls carefully and goes through different phases as we gradually learn the back stories of each woman and the precise reasons why they have retreated from life - there are gentle parallels between Lara and Iris, but nothing too obvious - and the plot revelation about Laurie is pulled off brilliantly! The second half set in Thailand ramps up the excitement but, to Barr's credit, she keeps things just about on this side of the plausibility line.

Barr is great if you want something which is relaxed and easy reading but which is also well-written with proper characterisation and emotional intelligence: I listened to the audio-book which kept me effortlessly entertained and gripped on the commute.


My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan)
My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan)
Price: £5.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Ferrante, 20 Feb. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've come late to Ferrante, I know, but I adored this book. In precise, clear prose, it tells the story of two girls and their entwined lives in a small, poor Neapolitan neighbourhood in the years just after WW2 till what must be 1960. Drawing on a literary tradition of girls coming-of-age (I was reminded, particularly, of Antonia White's Frost in May quartet), it traces the fragile, febrile and sometimes hidden lives of girls becoming women and their negotiations with a patriarchal world, with questions of education, with boys, sex and marriage. Layered onto this is an acute depiction of locale: the volatile, macho neighbourhood where a group of families live in close proximity, magnifying friendships, frictions and enmities.

At the heart of the book is the friendship of Lila and Elena, the narrator, one which stretches across their lives. From the start, it's a relationship that moves along a spectrum of intense bonding and difference, though however far apart they move, something always keeps them connected. Given that they are just 16 when this book ends, small events are treated with detail and are given emotional resonance within the context of these lives.

Only at the end does Elena's viewpoint pan out as she assesses her place as both a member of this tight community and as someone somewhat alienated from it by her extended education (though Ferrante is astute enough as a writer to complicate even this positioning of Elena as the 'educated' and Lila as the 'unintellectual' one): 'The plebs were us. The plebs were that fight for food and wine, that quarrel over who should be served first and better, that dirty floor on which the waiters clattered back and forth, those increasingly vulgar toasts'.

Ferrante's writing isn't striking or beautiful on a sentence by sentence level (possibly something to do with the translation) but it is clear, clean and precise. One of the things I loved most about this book is the reticence of surface emotions and the way what we feel emerges from the interstices of the text, from the things that aren't said: at points, I was physically anxious about what was going to happen to characters, especially Lila and her brother Rino.

So a deceptively straightforward text that has no narrative tricks, no great revelations or twists or time-switches: it relies, instead, on immaculate, masterfully-crafted story-telling.


Claretta: Mussolini's Last Lover
Claretta: Mussolini's Last Lover
by R. J. B. Bosworth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

3.0 out of 5 stars More about Mussolini than Claretta, 20 Feb. 2017
An interesting read that takes its lead from current historical interests in gender and the emotions to give an account of Mussolini's sex life using the resources of Claretta Petacci's journals and letters.

Bosworth is well aware of classical models such as those of Tacitus and Suetonius which equate sex and tyranny but he maybe does more to develop than contest them. The research here is extensive but remains accessible to those of us not familiar with Italian politics in the first half of the twentieth century.

In some ways, nevertheless, the book continues to marginalise Claretta herself in order to privilege Mussolini: while her writings are the archival sources, they are used to illuminate the public face of Mussolini via his private life. Somewhere amongst this, Claretta herself disappears.

The vast amount of material sometimes feels a little chaotic and might have been organised more coherently: for example, there's a passing circling of comparison between Mussolini's sexuality vs. that of Hitler (especially in relation to Eva Braun) and Stalin, but this discussion never feels definitive (as far as that is possible).

So unquestionably an interesting read with access to, and a marshalling of, a wide range of European sources.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley


Idaho
Idaho
by Emily Ruskovich
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous writing, 20 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Idaho (Hardcover)
The gorgeous cover drew me to this book and the beautiful, nuanced writing of the opening chapters lulled me into thinking this was going to be a strong 4-star+ book. But then, about a quarter of the way in, things started to wane - and when we jumped to prison and a completely different narrative focalisation, my heart sank a little. Ruskovich writes so well both at the level of sentences and in terms of emotional subtlety that we just don't need all that time-flipping backwards and forwards (so tired!) from the 1990s to 2025, or the switched focalisation between characters.

With issues of love, dementia (and those opening scenes are shockingly visceral), murder, guilt and redemption, there's an awful lot packed in here and some paring back of storylines and a more focused narrative telling would have kept this within the scope of the believable and the moving. Instead it becomes too drawn-out, too distant, and I was never able to believe in the murder at the heart of the book.

So awkward signs of the inexperienced novelist abound but Ruskovich writes so gorgeously that I hope she works on her story-telling craft - so a mixed reception from me but definitely an author to watch: 3.5 stars.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley


Miranda and Caliban
Miranda and Caliban
Price: £6.56

4.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical 'prequel' to The Tempest, 20 Feb. 2017
This is a lyrical story that takes place in the interstices of The Tempest: primarily in the backstory before the play begins. Miranda is 6 when it opens, and so we see her relationship with Caliban developing from when they're both children to what it is in Shakespeare's play. The storm which opens the play is at about 80% of the book, and the two stories come together beautifully.

Carey manages things very well: there are a few missteps at the start with some mock-Shakespearean language ('mayhaps', 'tis') but she drops this quite fast, and instead brings out issues over authority, gender and power.

The Tempest has such a long and complicated reception history that this doesn't hold any real surprises (and I did wonder if Carey has read Robert Browning's 'Caliban upon Setebos' for her characterisation) but it's full of lovely touches, not least Caliban's gorgeous linguistic musings on Miranda.

So a dreamy, hallucinatory book in places with some shocking moments (the inner workings of Prospero's workshop) and lovely lyricism - not everyone manages to rework a classic original without distorting it out of shape but Carey keeps Shakespeare intact while offering a nuanced re-reading at its boundaries.


The Other Half of Happiness (Sofia Khan)
The Other Half of Happiness (Sofia Khan)
by Ayisha Malik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Warm and witty family drama, 20 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is warm and witty with a surprising amount of emotion in the latter half: it has a slightly slow start as 30 year old Sofia is in Karachi with her camera-man Irish-turned-Muslim new husband, Conall, and looks like it will be entirely predictable chick-lit (marriage problems, attractive colleague, different expectations). Sofia can be a witty companion ('I caught a glimpse of my red pants flung over the fan on the ceiling right next to my red hijab... would it be inappropriate to Instagram that?') but there's a slight edge of try-hard about the start, especially the somewhat clichéd extended family. However, Malik goes on to address some real issues (marriage, second marriage, the choices and compromises we have to make in life) and by the end I was welling up on the bus!

So the book is overlong at 430 pages for the story being told but it offers something that is both funny and unexpectedly moving: good if you like warm family dramas delivered with both emotion and a comic touch - 3.5 stars.


The Daughters of Mars
The Daughters of Mars
by Thomas Keneally
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, almost documentary in its details, 20 Feb. 2017
This review is from: The Daughters of Mars (Paperback)
Keneally takes an almost documentary approach in this long book as he follows a group of Australian nurses through the First World War. There's a slow start to this so stick with the first couple of chapters but things pick up once the women board a hospital ship sailing to the Dardanelles.

Character doesn't seem to be the prime intention here (though Matron Mitchie gives a fine account of herself) and the two sisters, Sally and Naomi, who sit at the heart of the book are barely distinguishable. Instead Keneally concentrates on the work conditions and experiences of young Australians, most of whom have never left their country before, as they are suddenly faced with the realities of war.

The hospital ship background makes this a good complement to other WW1/nurses books and the first part, especially, set against the Gallipoli campaign, told me things I didn't know. The second part gets more conventional as the sisters move to the Western Front and France.

The book is perhaps overlong for its subject matter and doesn't have the same emotional impact as a couple of other Keneally books I've read set against WW2 (Shame and the Captives, The Widow And Her Hero). All the same, an extremely well-researched and detailed book that follows the war right through to the end.


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