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Dr. G. E. Grant (Manchester, UK)
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The Only Quiz Book You Will Ever Need
The Only Quiz Book You Will Ever Need
by National Quiz Team
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely stuff., 19 Jan. 2015
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Lovely stuff.


A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1)
A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1)
by Deborah Harkness
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

103 of 122 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Quite possibly the worst book I have ever read, 26 Feb. 2012
I will try to begin on a positive, and with the one good thing that I was able to take away from the feat of endurance that constituted reading this novel: if this can get published, and onto the NYT Bestsellers List, then if my own career goes belly-up I can always become a novelist, because I surely could do no worse than this. This book is bad, folks. Really astonishingly, befuddlingly, car-crash bad.
Where to begin? On the cover it implies 'if you like Twilight then you'll love this'. Now no-one will pretend that the Twilight series is great literature, but it has been astonishingly successful, because it combines an enjoyable, vampire-filled escapist world with 'teenage girl wish fulfilment'. A Discovery of Witches is presumably attempting to cash in by doing much the same, but trying to substitute 'teenage girl wish fulfilment' for '30-something middle-class woman wish fulfilment'. Which leads onto a 1000 year old supposedly-dangerous, predatory vampire taking the heroine, Diana Bishop, on a date to, er....yoga. With the yoga mat he keeps in his car. Naturally our vampire hero, Matthew, is also a dab hand at horse-riding, speaking romantic French and wine-tasting. Presumably to complete the picture of an ideal vampire lover for a middle class lady he is also a member of a Book Club, but there wasn't enough space to write the meetings in. Menacing, dangerous and unpredictable? I've felt more bloodsucking menace while watching Count Von Count on Sesame Street.
In keeping with the sub-Mills and Boon romance, we are also treated to a paragraph describing what the heroine wears on every single day, irrelevant and uninteresting though this is (it's usually black leggings, fashion fans) and truly cliched attempts at making Diana seem like the average woman, with references to her 'unruly hair' and troublesome relatives.
But the major flaws run deeper than this. This is, after all, supposed to be a bit of escapism - even the author wouldn't claim that it was written with the intention of winning any literary prizes, but one of the secrets of writing a bit of escapism involving vampires, witches and daemons is that your created world must be consistent and seem at least semi-plausible, and here Harkness fails utterly. As the novel goes on more and more concepts are chucked piecemeal at this world, seemingly culled from any popular series going, from Harry Potter to Twilight. We are initially given a world in which humans co-exist with 'creatures' who remain hidden to them, but as we go on, talking ghosts, time travel, talking animals, magic with seemingly no boundaries and living inanimate objects are added to the mix so that the overriding impression is of a world made up by the author as she went along, with no internal consistency or rules whatsoever. Thus, by about 75% of the way through the reader is exasperated and any sense of belief in the world created has vanished. This is not of course helped by the characters, who themselves seem to vary in personality from one chapter to the next, and who are given creaking lines of expositional dialogue that at times actually make the reader laugh out loud with the sheer implausibility of anyone actually saying them. The central romance runs from the characters meeting to becoming lifelong soulmates without much in the way of explaining how this happens. Perhaps Harkness feels she doesn't have to.
And last, because I could write so much more but am losing the will to live, the plot. First, concepts such as 'show don't tell' and 'expounding plot points later rather than immediately' seem entirely alien concepts to Harkness. Every event is elaborated on straight away, no secrets are left for the reader to feel curious about and again the prevailing feel is of a novel written 100% on the hoof, events at the start bearing little relation to events by the conclusion. Perhaps most importantly, there is no sense of this being a stand-alone novel - it is intended to be one of a trilogy, but absolutely no resolution to the 43 chapters of successive almost random-feeling events is achieved by the end. In fact feel free to stop reading at any point, as you will achieve as much resolution as you will at the designated end, and will give yourself free time to do things other than read this appalling drivel. In summary: I regret the time wasted reading this sorry excuse of a book, and would implore anyone who does not actively enjoy masochism to look elsewhere. Anywhere.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2015 4:47 PM BST


Prime Minister Box Set: Asquith (20th Century PM)
Prime Minister Box Set: Asquith (20th Century PM)
by Stephen Bates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Short Summary, 24 April 2010
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For those with an interest in 20th century political history, but not much time, these books (in the main) are an interesting and succinct little series. The Asquith book is one of the better examples, offering a balanced view of a man who on the one hand was an effective instigator of badly-needed progressive policies and a very effective politician of his time, and on the other a borderline-alcoholic who had a slightly creepy need to use young women as an emotional crutch, and who wasn't really cut out for wartime leadership.
To chart both sides of Asquith's character - whilst remaining in the main, sympathetic to his subject - and to distil the turbulent, ever-changing era of the early 20th century into a book you can read in one (long) sitting is an impressive achievement - a reader will come away from this book with a good understanding of a flawed but perhaps underrated prime minister. Recommended.


The Ghost Road
The Ghost Road
by Pat Barker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving and worthwhile read, 27 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Ghost Road (Paperback)
This is a wonderful conclusion to a wide-ranging and thought-provoking trilogy, exploring not just the now-familiar horrors of the Great War, but psychological trauma, death, sex, morality and - in the Melanesian scenes in this book - truisms across cultures.
The Ghost Road is in many ways the best of the three, focussing primarally on the psychologist Rivers and the anti-hero of the trilogy, Billy Prior, who, in his return to France, is given a much more meaningful and emotional role than was apparent in the fairly middling second book 'The Eye In The Door'.
One of the obvious criticisms is that these characters - even though many are based on real, historical people - are defiantly NOT people of the 1910s, but - in morals, outlook, and mainly a pervasive sense of modern liberalism - people of our own time. Rivers the psychologist heals the 'shell-shocked' not by the crude electric-shock treatment of his peers, but by empathy, understanding and psychological techniques that would not be out of place in today's healthcare system. The fighting men and patients have attitudes to homosexuality and trauma, and a level of worldly cynicism, that are not apparent in contemporary accounts, but which make them seem much more creatures of our own time.
I do not see this as a bad thing, however; by giving her protagonists modern values, Barker allows her modern readers to empathise with, and understand, her characters better, increasing the emotional impact of their various ups and downs.
This is a wonderful book, haunting and thought-provoking, and deserves its place as one of the best books written about World War One, or even of the last 20 years.


Prime Minister Box Set: Lord Salisbury (20th Century PM)
Prime Minister Box Set: Lord Salisbury (20th Century PM)
by Erik Midwinter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The first in the series, and definitely not the best, 21 Feb. 2010
It is something of a shame that this book is the first chronologically in the '20 Prime Ministers' series, as it has a pretty good claim to being the weakest of the lot, and may put some readers off exploring the other books - some of which are very good indeed.
The fault lies entirely with the author, Dr McWinter, who I presume is a rather dry, left-wing scholar with no particular interest or fondness for his subject. He manages to add in several completely irrelevant references to cricket (a pastime which it is clear from his other published books, McWinter has a passion for, but this slightly overlooks the fact that it has nothing whatsoever to do with Salisbury) and perhaps more impressively, a little rant about Thatcherism, which is quite a feat in a short book nominally about a man who died in 1903. Add to this a frequently bizarre turn of phrase (eg "the ulcer of South Africa had to be lanced" - do you lance ulcers? As a GP, I would thought this rather painful) and whole sections, especially the foreign policy chapter, that read like a cursory description of contemporary events with only passing references to the nominal subject of the biography.
The only saving graces, I suppose, are that it is short and doesn't make the complexities of late-19th century politics too difficult to grasp, although the latter benefit may be a consequence of the former.
I came away with little understanding of Salisbury as a person, save for the oft-repeated facts that he was a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud who wished to preserve the rights of the aristocracy, and preferred foreign to domestic policy, all of which, to be fair, I could have gleaned from his Wikipedia entry in a lot less time.
Oh, and as Dr McWinter points out, he had a long beard. Just like WG Grace, the cricketer, apparently.


Rebecca (VMC)
Rebecca (VMC)
by Daphne Du Maurier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Deeply flawed but deeply haunting, 18 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Rebecca (VMC) (Paperback)
I write this review as a brief corollary to the praise that most reviewers are lavishing on 'Rebecca'.

Yes, it is a novel deeply rich in atmosphere, with the brooding, haunting setting of the country house of Manderley, and the ghosts of its past, possessing as much of a presence as any of the characters. Yes, as stated on the 'blurb' on the book's cover, it is perhaps the greatest evocation in modern literature of one woman's struggle to deal with the unseen presence of 'The Other Woman'. And yes, it is an absorbing and enjoyable page-turner, that you will probably not regret reading.

But - it is deeply, deeply flawed, and it certainly does not come into the category of 'great literature' in which the book's champions would want it included. The character development simply does not ring true. A revelation that occurs two-thirds of the way through the book is supposed to explain one of the characters prior diffident behaviour, but in fact does nothing of the sort - and this simply leaves the reader puzzled and feeling that they are having to indulge du Maurier's plot devices. This revelation also produces a change in the actions of the (never named) main protagonist where she changes, in the blink of an eye, from the shy, awkward 'child' that the first part of the novel has built up - including a character back history that explains this shyness - to an immediately more confident woman, capable of bossing about those she has previously feared. Again, this never rings true, and does fatally undermine the whole novel.

There is little doubt that in terms of producing a brilliantly sinister atmosphere, where the setting, the past and a never-seen figure from that past overshadow and dominate the main characters, 'Rebecca' succeeds, and succeeds brilliantly. But in terms of getting the reader to believe in the characters, and ultimately to see the novel as anything other than a terribly clever plot construction, it doesn't quite work. It is however, such a powerful novel that you can see why people fall in love with it - and to be fair, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it - but do not be misled, this is not a 'great' book, merely a good one.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 15, 2013 4:28 AM BST


King Charles II
King Charles II
by Lady Antonia Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.09

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best monarchical biography I have read, 12 Sept. 2009
This review is from: King Charles II (Paperback)
I do not profess to have any great all-consuming interest in history, let alone the period of the Restoration; I read solely for pleasure on a wide range of topics and will quickly drop any book that does not sustain my interest.

I did not come close to wishing to put down this excellent work. Unlike other 'scholarly biographies', Fraser's book is anything but dry, or difficult for a non-expert to follow. It paints a very clear picture not only of Charles, but of his family members, court and acolytes such that by the end I really felt that I had an understanding of the man - his personality, his sense of humour, his temperament and the events that shaped him as a king. The events of his reign are consistently presented with humour and verve, with even the internecine events of the Commonwealth and post-restoration Dutch Wars, and Charles' struggles with parliament easy to follow, and made entertaining. The early part of the book, regarding Charles' flight after the battle of Worcester even reads like an adventure story, without losing authenticity, accuracy or scholarship.

My sole criticism is that in writing the book Fraser seems to have become rather attached to the figure of Charles (who does admittedly seem, on the whole, an attractive and witty personality) to the point where she appears to make excuses for his mistakes, and perhaps defends his corner a little too vigorously. Nonetheless, I would thoroughly recommend this as an entertaining and enlightening book for the general reader.


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