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J. Wickens (Nottingham)

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
by Joanna Cannon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars It lacks a Dramatis Personae, so here's one I made earlier, 29 Aug. 2016
This book was chosen by my reading group. I loved it - the language is a delight and the story is engaging. We all enjoyed it, but some in the group were a little dismissive, calling it lightweight. It is certainly an easy read, but actually quite thought-provoking.

The hardcover version is nice to hold and admire and nice to read, with well-spaced text.

What the book lacks is a Dramatis Personae to help us keep track of who's who and who lives where, so here's the one I made for my group (please forgive any mistakes!)

=== Residents of The Avenue

No.2 Mrs May Roper, separated, and son 'Thin Brian'
No.4 Derek & Sylvia Bennett, daughter Grace, and dog Remington
No.6 Harold & Dorothy Forbes, and cat Whiskey
No.8 John & Margaret Creasy
No.10 Eric Lamb, widower (late wife Elsie)
No.12 Sheila Dakin, daughter Lisa, and son Keith
No.14 (Empty, then...) Mr & Mrs Kapoor, and son Shahid

No.11 Walter Bishop

=== Residents of Rowan Tree Croft

No.3 Mrs Beatrice Morton, widow (late husband Ernest)

=== Other locations and people

(Exact location unknown): Tilly Albert
The British Legion: Clive
St Anthony's Church: the Vicar
The shop: Cyril?
The police: PC Green, PC Hay, DI Hislop
Local news photographer: Andy Kilner

Offered by JMS Photos
Price: £2.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Great value and a good product, 25 Aug. 2016
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If you don't mind the colour, this is a great value A4 week-to-view diary. Compared to my 2016 Letts diary, you get slightly less space for each day Monday-Friday, but you still get 8 lines for each day Monday-Sunday and a Notes section. Layout is: left page Mon Tue Wed Thu; right-hand page Fri Sat Sun Notes; a full year calendar across the bottom of each double-page. And you get a marker ribbon. Quick delivery, so I am satisfied all round.

JnDee™ Surface Mounted LED Panel Light Ceiling Downlight Lamp Circular 12W 960 Lumen Cool White Commercial Quality
JnDee™ Surface Mounted LED Panel Light Ceiling Downlight Lamp Circular 12W 960 Lumen Cool White Commercial Quality
Offered by JnDeeLighting
Price: £10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lights up the room!, 2 Feb. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This product is brilliant (in both senses). Even this 12W model gives a bright, even, daylight-like white light. It reaches full brightness instantly and only wastes a tiny amount of energy as heat (the rim gets just slightly warm to the touch). As an average DIY-er, I found it easy enough to install. But note that there are no cut-outs in the rim, so the cable must be fed in from behind (so if you're after a quick fix with visible wiring - e.g. on a cellar wall - you couldn't mount it flush on the wall). No problem for most people, who will be connecting it to an existing cable coming through the ceiling.
Seems very sturdy, and good value.

The Duke Of Burgundy
The Duke Of Burgundy
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Ethereal, captivating, 26 April 2015
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Ethereal, captivating. Close your eyes and be transported to another place...

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
Price: £1.09

5.0 out of 5 stars I'm still not a punk aficionado, but..., 26 April 2015
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I was never into punk and don't know most of the bands and musicians Viv writes about, but I still found this a really good read. The short chapters, a punchy style with a nice balance of action and reflection, and above all her extraordinary frankness meant that I raced through this book in no time.

Clothes, clothes, clothes:
Amazingly, Viv always seems to remember exactly what she was wearing at any moment in her life, and doesn't hesitate to describe it - but normally only briefly in passing, so it doesn't bore you. You do get to understand that expressing herself through clothes is hugely important to her, and how punk is about the look as much as the sound. BTW I calculate that she's had over 30 years' wear from her favourite red Vivienne Westwood boots!

Music, music, music:
There are a great number of names mentioned which will mean a lot more to veterans of the punk rock scene of the 1970s than they did to me. But many of them quickly turn into real people on the page, like characters in a novel. Most of the others did not detain me, but one or two prompted me to check out their music. If you're at all interested in hearing new sounds, I'm sure you'll want to do the same. Viv's musical journey (starting from not being able to sing in tune, read music, or play guitar) is quite instructive - she tells you how she blunders her way determinedly through (no wonder her neigbours complain!) and only in later life does she take a more conventional approach to musicianship.

Boys, boys, boys:
Viv is desperately trying to find her true self through clothes and music, and, you feel, through boys too. That means real relationships as well as a lot of casual sex (for want of a better term), and quite heart-rending honesty about how she tries, or doesn't try hard enough, to make the relationships work. The second half of the book is mainly about one 'boy': an anatomy of a marriage complicated by gynaecological difficulties and serious illness. Her father is a constant disappointment, whereas her mother and her daughter are the true anchors in her life. If that sounds like 'women's stuff' I would still urge other blokes to read it!

Kindle edition niggles:
1. Nuggets of hindsight and explanatory notes on people and places - the equivalent of footnotes - appear within the narrative in italics. This is a great idea and would work really well, except that italics are also used to show what is going through Viv's mind in certain situations. These two different uses of italics should have been differentiated - e.g by using square brackets for the 'footnotes'.
2. The tiny, lo-res, black & white illustrations don't do justice to the subject-matter, whether faces or clothes.

Viv shows us one way to write a brilliant memoir - keep the story moving forward, don't tiptoe around the subject, don't hold anything back!

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Carson McCullers
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sympathetic to black people, but unhelpful?, 15 Nov. 2014
This is a remarkable work, drawing us into the world of a number of people who feel lost and alienated, and creating a powerful atmosphere of deprivation, struggle and despair. However, I found it difficult to engage with as the attention shifted from one character to the other, but nothing changed - it was misery upon misery. When there was a flicker of hope, it was soon extinguished.

So I abandoned this book halfway through. I gather from others in my reading group that the action picks up in the second half, so maybe I should have persevered. But there were other problems for me besides the relentless pessimism and the lack (in the first half at least) of plot development:

CM's simple writing style, praised by many for its clarity, I found monotonous.

Her racial stereotyping made me feel very uncomfortable. She clearly has sympathy for 'coloured' people and the injustices of their position, but nonetheless she insists on drawing attention to their otherness: "The feeling that would come on him was a black, terrible Negro feeling"; "The rooms had a coloured smell"; Portia ... began arranging her tight, oily hair"; "Doctor Copeland moistened his thick lips with his tongue". And of the Greek character she writes: "Antonapoulos kept his dark, oily eyes on his friend...". I have no problem with the words "negro" and "coloured" here, since those were the (more or less neutral) words used in that era; I find it impossible, however, to engage with an author who repeatedly presents people of other races as alien.

Like others, I found the number of uncorrected scanning errors in the Kindle version unacceptable.

This book generated a lively discussion in our book group (at least half liked it better than I did), and should be recognised as a landmark piece of literature/social history, but whether you, the 21st-century reader, would find it an enjoyable read is another matter.

The Swimmer
The Swimmer
Price: £4.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going most of the time, 10 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Swimmer (Kindle Edition)
Since this was a prescribed book in our reading group, I persevered past the first half, which I found painfully slow, and found it picked up slightly. RT is a specialist in evoking atmosphere with beautiful prose but sometimes forgets she is supposed to be telling a story. There are moments of humour but also pages and pages of misery. The description of grief is very powerful, but naturally it is heavy going. We differed in how much we liked this book but all agreed it had its strengths and weaknesses - among the latter, some implausibilities that stretched credulity. Personally, I would rather read something that is a bit lighter on its feet.

City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and  the Search for Truth in Tehran
City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran
by Ramita Navai
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Optimal blend of journalism and storytelling, 10 Aug. 2014
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This is a remarkable piece of writing. Each personal story is as gripping as a work of pure fiction, yet all are as close to fact as RN can safely make them. There is a wealth of detail about everyday life in Tehran, as well as helpful explanatory reminders of the recent historical context, woven into the narratives.
Some might be irritated by the liberal use of Farsi words (always accompanied by their meaning in English), but since they are italicised you can simply ignore them if you wish; for me they were a plus, as were the pages at the end on 'Sources', which added yet another layer of authenticity.
I am hugely impressed by RN's skill in not only unearthing these stories but presenting them in such a readable and informative way. It is a real page-turner, but at the same time I feel I learnt so much about Tehran on so many levels (I have not been to Iran myself). I would recommend it highly, while warning any sensitive potential readers about the frank descriptions of sexuality as well as the reality of corruption, intimidation and repression.
RN's tone is not judgmental; she lets the facts speak for themselves. In the face of such overwhelming evidence, one can draw one's own conclusions - not least that when moral strictures are imposed from above, they are likely, just as they were in Prohibition-era America, to be counter-productive.

The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery
The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery
Price: £5.49

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Like a dog worrying a bone, 15 Feb. 2014
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I really disliked this book, and only persisted with it (eventually skipping large chunks) in order to be able to discuss it at my book group. It is true that CB's tireless research is laudable, but what she then proceeds to do with the details and secrets she has unearthed is, for me at least, well-nigh unreadable:
She smothers us in excessive detail - surely it's the author's job to filter out the important bits?
There is no live dialogue and not a trace of humour in the book;
She can't seem to make up her mind what kind of book she's writing - historical novel? research manual? whodunnit? biography?

Her clunky attempts at suspense ("...his under-servants would glean some information about the Duke's rooms which surprised them." "The letter ... contained two pieces of momentous news." etc. etc.) become increasingly irritating, especially when nearly every 'surprise' turns out to be a damp squib.

Her own intrusion into the narrative is also irritating - I really didn't want to know about every box she opened and every letter that she read but found unhelpful to her search. Worst of all is her manipulation of the reader - she keeps asking the question why, when it should be the reader that does that: "So why hadn't he referred to the fighting?" "So why hadn't she cherished him after losing her elder son?", and so on ad nauseam.

If you are in thrall to the doings of the upper classes a century ago, you may not mind the inconsistencies of style, the relentless piling up of facts both relevant and irrelevant. Many people apparently enjoy this stuff (it went down relatively well among most of my book group), but to me it was laboured and self-indulgent.

The Rosie Project: Don Tillman 1 (Don Tillman Series)
The Rosie Project: Don Tillman 1 (Don Tillman Series)
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars No need to feel guilty about enjoying this very funny book, 29 Jan. 2014
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A most enjoyable read. The direction of travel is very predictable, but this hardly matters. I thought this might turn out to be just one joke stretched out over the whole book, but there are insights here into academia, the dating game, conventional marriages and indeed many of life's unwritten conventions, big and small.

I found the treatment of Don's character quite affirming - he may be 'weird' but he's never intentionally inconsiderate or malicious. Understanding what makes him tick is relevant to understanding not just Asperger's (I presume) but a huge number of people (mostly men) like me who have a bit of Don in them. Don shows us how it is OK to be rational rather than conventional - but even better if you know how to manage your behaviour around others.

It's worth reading the 'extras' at the end: the acknowledgements and the Meet Graeme section give a clue as to how the book we have just read came to be so tightly-structured and pacey, while the questionnaire is a further comedic treat (it's also a bit scary to find oneself scoring full marks in the sections on ironing, use of phone, smoking and working for tobacco companies). I didn't bother with the cocktails.

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