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Reviews Written by
Sid Nuncius (London)
(No. 1 Hall OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   

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Nokia Thermo - Smart Temporal Thermometer
Nokia Thermo - Smart Temporal Thermometer
Price: £89.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Requires phone app and account set-up to work at all, 25 Jun. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This thermometer will not work at all without a phone app and an account, set up with Nokia, which records, "analyses" and keeps all your data. This is not what I was expecting, nor is it what I wanted; I thought I was getting a simple device for taking a person's temperature easily, quickly and reliably.

Once unpacked it is impossible to activate the thermometer until you have downloaded and installed the app. Even this isn't simple because the instructions are incorrect. They direct you to a website which doesn't exist, but I eventually found the app myself by searching the Play Store for Nokia Thermo. Once installed, it insists that you register and set up an account, and at this point I rebelled. It's just a blooming thermometer, for heavens' sake! I don't want yet another account which I have to log into to use the thing and – worse – I don’t want some anonymous company to have access to my own or my family's personal and medical information, thank you very much.

So…I'm afraid I can't comment on how the device is in use, because I won’t use it on those terms. I can see the point for something complex like a heart trace (I use the Kardia device in this way and it has been invaluable) but for a single, simple number like a temperature it strikes me as simply absurd. I recognise that other people may feel differently and be happy to use the app and its features, but you may wish to be forewarned. For me, this is very overpriced, ridiculously over-complex and very intrusive.


What Would Freud Do?: How the greatest psychotherapists would solve your everyday problems
What Would Freud Do?: How the greatest psychotherapists would solve your everyday problems
by Sarah Tomley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and informative, 25 Jun. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I enjoyed this book. It's not quite what it claims to be, I think, but it is an entertaining and interesting introduction to the thinking of the best-known (and some less well-known) psychoanalysts and psychotherapists.

The first thing to say is that although this book is subtitled "How the greatest psychotherapists would solve your everyday problems," it contains very few actual solutions - as you might expect from psychotherapists. However, it does have more than I expected in the way of helpful guidance rather than just a lot of theorising about how the psyche works. This is not in the form of "if you have problem x, then do y," but rather some helpful perspectives (and, it has to be said, some considerably less helpful ones, in my view). For example, in the short section on procrastination and why some of us tend to put things off, I liked this quote from Oliver Burkeman (whom I'd never heard of before, by the way): "The problem…isn't that you don't feel motivated; it's that you imagine you need to feel motivated."

This is much less of a self-help book than an introduction to the thinking of various psychotherapists, which it does very well. In the introduction Sarah Tomley writes "feel free to pick and choose your own truths," which I found a questionable use of the word "truths," but then, we are dealing with psychotherapy here. I can certainly agree that you need to decide which is the most helpful approach offered toward each problem. Tomley writes very well, presenting the ideas with clarity and sometimes with wit. There are some very clear and helpful explanations – for example of Freud's idea of the relationship between the ego, the superego and the id (although she fails to include my favourite definition of the superego as that part of the ego which is insoluble in alcohol).

Do be warned that the text is printed in a very small font which can make it a little hard on the eyes, but the general layout is friendly and I found this a readable and informative book. Recommended.


The Last Place You Look
The Last Place You Look
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and exciting, 24 Jun. 2017
I enjoyed The Last Place You Look very much. It's a well-written and exciting crime story with an engaging protagonist.

The story is narrated by Ohio private investigator Roxane Weary, and sounds rather well-worn. A man's date of execution is finally fixed for two months hence, but his sister believes that she has just seen his alleged victim whose body was never found and she seeks Roxane's help in proving him innocent. Roxane meets suspiciously strong hostility from the local police as her investigation leads her into unexpected and dark territory.

So far, so familiar, but it's very well done so the whole thing felt pretty fresh to me. Roxanne is a fine creation: tough and determined but flawed, she seemed very real to me, as did the other characters. The plot development was well handled and the final stages are genuinely exciting. Kristen Lepionka writes very well; I know it's usually just lazy cliché to trot out the name of Raymond Chandler when talking about a PI novel, but there did seem to me to be some Chandleresque features here. There's the odd striking simile like "My stomach felt like I'd swallowed a bottle opener," for example, and the smug, hostile small-town police department felt rather like Bay City Police in Farewell, My Lovely. Nonetheless, Lepionka has her own style, and I like it.

This isn't an instant classic, but it's an enjoyable, well executed thriller and a very promising start to a series. I'll be looking out for the next Roxane Weary book and I can recommend this one warmly.

(I received an ARC via NetGalley.)


Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc
Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and interesting, 24 Jun. 2017
I very much enjoyed this book. The beginning wasn't great, what with the statement on page 6 that the elements came into being a few moments after the big bang (they didn't - they began to be formed a long time later) and then a lengthy and slightly clunky section on gold, but it got better very quickly. Each element is treated in an eclectic and quirky section which may deal with its origins, its importance in human history, its odd properties, its influence in literature and so on, including a lot of amusing and interesting anecdotes.

Badly done, this could be dreadful, but Hugh Aldersey-Williams handles it very well and the whole is highly entertaining and very informative. He is extremely erudite, he makes very wide-ranging and shrewd choices about what to include and above all is genuinely hugely enthusiastic about his subject. He also writes very well and I found myself keen to get back and read more, which is by no means always the case for me with this sort of book. It's an excellent read and I recommend it very warmly.


J.S. Bach: Sonata and Partitas BWV1001-6 (harmonia mundi catalogue CD 2016) by Isabelle Faust (2016-02-28)
J.S. Bach: Sonata and Partitas BWV1001-6 (harmonia mundi catalogue CD 2016) by Isabelle Faust (2016-02-28)
Offered by Smaller World Future
Price: £134.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great interpretation, 23 Jun. 2017
This is a wonderful issue of the complete Isabelle Faust recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I have owned and loved the original single discs since they came out – and were both Gramophone Editor's Choices. Faust's remarkable skill and musicianship produce a terrific interpretation. She plays with minimal vibrato, exceptionally intelligent ornamentation and a directness which is very striking. The closing Presto of the First Sonata, for example, is quite brilliant here, taken at a thrilling speed with Faust's magnificent technique allowing her to remain utterly fluent and completely engaged, and other movements show similarly exceptional skill and imagination.

Whether this is the recording for you will depend upon your response to Faust's interpretation, which may not suit everyone. As an example, in the hands of Rachel Podger the opening Adagio of Sonata No.1 is mournful but humane and Viktoria Mullova's reading is more sinewy but shot through with human melancholy. For Isabelle Faust it seems rather bleak and desolate - marvellously played and interpreted but, for me anyway, not an easy listen.

The recording is slightly dry which adds to the slight sense of mortality and darkness which seems to me to pervade much of Faust's playing. Personally, I think that's great and the effect is powerful and moving. I am very glad to have this alongside my other loved interpretations and I am sure this will be a recording which I will still be playing in many years' time. Very warmly recommended.


American Epic: The Collection (Box Set)
American Epic: The Collection (Box Set)
Price: £49.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant collection, 22 Jun. 2017
This is completely and utterly brilliant. No, really – I don't usually use quite such hyperbolic language when reviewing, but American Epic is an astonishingly fine collection of early recordings of American music. It is curated with immense depth of knowledge, shrewdness of choice and, very noticeably, a genuine love for these wonderful recordings.

Much of this material was new to me. There is a decent sprinkling of well-known names like Robert Johnson, Ma Rainey, Lead Belly and others, and some tracks have appeared on other compilations but much of this collection is of little-known but fabulous recordings. We get the blues in all its variety, gospel, jug bands, Cajun music, and so on and so on. It's a terrific, varied collection and the standard of musicianship and singing is wonderful throughout.

It's also fascinating to hear the roots of so much of the music made since. I started, as is traditional, with Disc 1 Track 1 – The Coo Coo Bird by Clarence Ashley, which I didn't know. It's obviously a distant cousin of The Cuckoo, which I have loved since I heard the Pentangle version 50 years or so ago, there are echoes of Jack o' Diamonds, recorded by so many great artists, it seems to have influenced Blues Run The Game, another classic modern blues by Jackson C. Frank…and so on. Not every song is so rich in resonance, but there is real musicological interest here as well as just the sheer pleasure in the music.

The sound quality is as good as it can be. Given the age of many of these recordings there's a good deal of hiss but it's never intrusive enough to spoil my enjoyment and for me just adds to the atmosphere.

I really can't speak highly enough of this set. It is a treasure trove of fantastic music which I can recommend very warmly indeed.


Did You See Melody?
Did You See Melody?
by Sophie Hannah
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, 21 Jun. 2017
This review is from: Did You See Melody? (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I thoroughly enjoyed Did You See Melody? It's ostensibly a psychological thriller – which it does pretty well – but it also has a witty and rather penetrating take on US "justice-by-media" and other aspects of the differences between US and British culture.

The plot sounds fairly well-worn: Cara, an English mother has left her family to visit a luxurious spa in Arizona for a couple of weeks. On checking in, she sees someone who, it emerges, was declared to be murdered five years ago, although her body was never found. We get various, possibly unreliable, accounts of present-day events and of the circumstances of Melody's disappearance and the subsequent media and court trials. Cara comes under threat and around half-way through events begin to move in fast and frightening ways.

Frankly, the plot is…well, improbable, shall we say. However, Hannah writes so well and with such wit that I didn't mind that. Her picture of an ordinary Englishwoman pitched into extremes of American luxury and customer service is well observed and funny, Cara herself is made believable and there are two fabulous creations in a monstrous, ruthless, egocentric TV "justice-show" host and a pushy, rude fellow guest whom I ended up liking a lot. Hannah paints excellent portraits, sometimes in just a few neat words, like "…the blond, goodlooking one, made considerably less attractive by his air of seeming pleased with himself for no apparent reason."

There is more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek here, but Hannah still makes her points very well and presents us with a very cleverly structured and well-written story. I was very happy to suspend my disbelief for the duration and I found this an enjoyable read from a very good writer. Recommended.


John The Wolfking Of L.A.
John The Wolfking Of L.A.
Price: £17.52

3.0 out of 5 stars NIce but undistinguished, 20 Jun. 2017
I have the greatest respect for John Phillips' work, not least as the organiser of the legendary Monterey Pop and the musical power behind the Mamas and the Papas. (And I won't mention having been ridiculously jealous, like every other heterosexual male teenager at the time, of his being married to Michelle Phillips). I liked much of what he did and I was very sad at his untimely death in 2001. However, I can't really agree with the rave reviews here; this is a decent album but I don't think it's in the same league as his collaborative work.

This is a collection of largely pretty songs which sound very much of their time – a bit Dylan-ish in some places, a bit Al Stewart-ish or John B. Sebastain-ish in others and so on – and they're largely amiable and enjoyable. Nothing really stands out, though; the opener April Anne is good without being exceptional, most is pleasant but rather forgettable and a couple of tracks - Captain, for example – are really pretty weak both musically and lyrically. The sound is…well, it's nice. Nice but undistinguished. John's vocals are good, but he wasn't really a lead singer so they're quite laid back, and the whole things has a strong late 60s/early 70s/ Woodstock-y tone. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but there's not much to make me sit up and take notice as there was with the Mamas and the Papas' magnificent harmonies, original music and Cass Elliot's fantastic voice.

I'm sorry to sound critical, but over three-and-a-half decades on, this fades into the background hum of the time for me. There's nothing wrong with it and it's a nice-sounding album, but it's not one I go back to much.


Phone
Phone
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Long and involved but enjoyable, 20 Jun. 2017
This review is from: Phone (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed Phone. It is long, rather rambling and disjointed and full of distinctive style, all of which I would expect to combine to make me very grumpy, but it's very well done and I was surprised to find myself pleasurably immersed in it.

Phone is by turns funny, touching and full of sharp social observation. It's about…er…well, aspects of modern life, really. There are interweaving strands and we jump between stories and time periods. There is never any indication of the jumps, which happen in the middle of a paragraph, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, I think – you just become aware that suddenly he's talking about someone else in a different place and time. It sounds like the sort of tricksy, show-offy writing which generally puts me right off, but I found Will Self's style and his portraits of the minds of his protagonists so involving that I didn't mind that much. In particular, his depiction of a fine mind decaying into dementia is exceptionally good, I think, and he makes shrewd and witty comments on aspects of how we live now, too.

Some examples of Self's style may help to illustrate what I mean. This, about the workings of the mental health system, "..he'd passed all the required tests, and eventually gained a full-time position as a clinical depressive," or a description of nurse which I found witty and apposite, "..a hatchet-faced woman who wouldn't know what tenderness was…if you beat it into them with a meat tenderiser." Or this musing of the former psychologist succumbing to dementia, "…my brain is being choked in a convolvulus of neurofibrillary tangles…" If you like those, you'll probably like the book; if you don't, you won't.

I do like them, and although 600-odd pages at a stretch was too much for me and I had to take a few breaks and come back to it, I thought Phone was an engaging and rewarding read. Recommended.

(I received an ARC via NetGalley.)


Bach: English Suites 1, 3 & 5
Bach: English Suites 1, 3 & 5
Price: £7.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first-class recording, 20 Jun. 2017
Just to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this excellent recording. Anderszewski brings a slightly more modern feel to these Suites than some, but manages to do that without ever losing Bach's sense of dance, nor does he swamp Bach with a lot of over-fancy Romantic phrasing and other tricks. These are full, rich and respectful interpretations by a master pianist, which are beautifully recorded and extremely rewarding all round.

I have dearly loved piano recordings of the English Suites by Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt; Anderszewski's interpretation sits alongside them in my affections. This is a first class recording which I can recommend very warmly indeed.


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