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Elizabeth Harris

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Brass in Pocket: An exciting British crime thriller (Inspector Ian Drake Murder Mystery Series Book 1) ((Inspector Drake Murder Mystery Series Book 1))
Brass in Pocket: An exciting British crime thriller (Inspector Ian Drake Murder Mystery Series Book 1) ((Inspector Drake Murder Mystery Series Book 1))
Price: £1.99

2.0 out of 5 stars In search of a good copy editor..., 9 Feb. 2016
I was swayed by the reviews and the publicity, and downloaded the 'package' of the first three novels in the Inspector Ian Drake series. I'm now around halfway through the second one, and I'm not sure I'll finish it, never mind going on to the third. To begin with the plus points: the author is a fine storyteller and there's nothing wrong with the plot of the first book (since I'm still trudging through the second one, however, I suppose that ought to be a cautious plus). The character of Ian Drake is quite interesting, although I feel his OCD could have been made more compelling; so far, it's just many repetitions of desk-tidying, worrying abut dirt in his Alfa, etc. His wife and daughters are (so far) no more than vague people in the background, although they may emerge in their own right later on. His sick father and anxious mother, similarly, seem to be there only to indicate that Ian has a life away from work. There's a sort of frustration in knowing these family members exist yet not being told enough about them to make the reader care very much.

The main minus point, for me, was the poor and unprofessional quality of the writing. It could be argued that if a story rattles along and makes you want to keep turning the pages, then the grammar, sentence construction and attention to detail don't matter too much. I don't agree. Even the best of plots can be spoiled if the reader has to perpetually go back over a sentence or a paragraph to extract what the writer actually means, and I'm afraid this happens far too frequently in the book and a half I've read so far. One example: often a new scene begins, with little to go on concerning where we are and who Ian is with; the reader jumps to a conclusion based on the paucity of available evidence, only to realise a line or two later than actually the protagonist isn't where you think he is and he has other people with him who you had no idea were there... When it goes on happening, it makes you want to chuck the book across the room.

There's definitely promise here. Although I don't think I'll be reading any more, I wish the author well with future titles in the series.

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life
The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life
Price: £7.46

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreaming of a clutter-free world..., 11 Feb. 2015
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As a minimalist de-clutterer of many years' standing, I have read several books on the topic, and wasn't really expecting much in the way of fresh ideas and concepts; I was attracted to 'The Joy of Less' initially by the beautiful jacket. And I'm so glad I was, as I thoroughly enjoyed both the content and Francine Jay's very readable style. The range of the book is wider than merely a practical guide to the physical process of de-cluttering, although this is covered with efficiency and enthusiasm; Francine Jay also encourages the reader to think about usage, wastage, wanting things for the wrong reasons, analysing the all but irresistible attraction of buying stuff, and many other thought-provoking topics.

This book really echoes my own life philosophy. I like space and air around me, and often feel physically ill at ease in places where clutter has taken over (someone suggested this was to do with the clutter blocking the flow of chi, but my jury's out on that one). I do find it odd, though, that every time I mention I've been having a tidy-out, or people come to my house and remark on the clear, airy spaces, the usual comment is 'Oh, you should see our place! We so need to have a clear-out!' Then why not do it? What on earth holds people back? People say they couldn't contemplate parting with Object X as it belonged to great-grandfather, yet when Object X is in an ancient bin liner right at the back of the attic, what's the point of hanging on to it? Somebody, some day, is going to have to deal with it. Why shouldn't that someone be you?

I would love this book to be widely read. It is written with understanding and compassion, yet neither of these fine qualities is allowed to dilute the strong message. I wish the author good luck in perpetrating the benefits of less; I'm right behind her.

Turin Shroud: How Leonardo Da Vinci Fooled History
Turin Shroud: How Leonardo Da Vinci Fooled History
Price: £7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars "Miserable mortals, open your eyes"; Leonardo da Vinci, 23 Jan. 2015
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One of the main fascinations of this enjoyable book is reading about the intricate and often ridiculously contradictory knots into which people tie themselves in defence of their Shroud theories, and this applies almost as much to the doubters as to the believers. The trouble with making up one's mind about its authenticity is that, unless you've lived in an isolated cave all your life, everyone comes to it with preconceived ideas; perhaps the most honest reaction recorded in this book was that of the child who, on first seeing a life sized image of the Shroud, remarked innocently that the head was too small.

The authors take us on a quick romp through some of history's darkest and most sinister corners, and out pop popes, Merovingian kings, apostles, scientists, alchemists and ruthless modern fundamentalists. Way ahead of them all strides Leonardo da Vinci, notebook in hand, lifting every stone and peering under it to see what he can discover with which to dazzle the world (if nothing else, this book prompted me to find out a great deal more about him). Without risking any spoilers, I'll just say that what the authors propose he did in respect of the Shroud is entirely plausible.

The image on the Turin Shroud can't have been made by bodily fluids staining it as it was wrapped round a corpse; you can prove this yourself by painting your face and carefully covering it with a cloth, proving that the resulting image is distorted and nothing like the beautiful and haunting Shroud face. Still, this doesn't necessarily rule out some sort of magical process reserved solely for the Son of God (I particularly liked the ingenuity of the nuclear radiation theory, although, like the authors, regretfully had to dismiss it as implausible). Was the Shroud painted or otherwise manufactured by the hand of man, or was it a miracle? The carbon dating results suggest that, even if it is a miraculous image, it can't have been made before the Middle Ages, which rather defeats the object...

When I was young I briefly attended a convent, and a very senior nun told her class of seven-year-olds about faith; "If you have sufficient faith'" she told us firmly, fixing us with intense dark eyes, "you can move my big, heavy desk." Fourteen small girls screwed up their faces in a desperate attempt to Have Faith. Nothing happened. "Ah, there you are," said the sister, with a certain amount of satisfaction. "Not enough faith." I bet that sister believed in the Turin Shroud, and I hope her willing suspension of disbelief made her very happy; part of me, I must admit, quite envies her.

A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1)
A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1)
by Deborah Harkness
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

2.0 out of 5 stars Where did the magic go?, 11 Jan. 2015
I really wanted to like this book, as it contains so many of the elements which I enjoy: old books, a bit of magic, beautiful, historic libraries, mysteries concerning figures and events from the past. However, far from romping through it - my problem usually is making myself slow down - I struggled to finish it. What was wrong? For me, it was the characters, closely followed by the plot. The characters just didn't engage me; they were shallow, superficial, and, I have to say, a bit derivative; I'm not ready for another manly, authoritative vampire wooing and winning (and managing not to drain) a sparky, independent woman. Diana wasn't even all that sparky, giving up her independence rather too easily whenever Matthew flexed his biceps and came over all masterly. There was so much potential with many of the characters, for example, the aunts in their wonderfully magical house with the ghosts of the Bishop forebears. As for the plot, it managed both to be meandering and a bit boring, frankly.

I've had a look at book 2 and, although I'm intrigued at the idea of Elizabeth I's England, and have a soft spot for Kit Marlowe, I think I'll give it a miss.

Asta's Book: Psychological Thriller
Asta's Book: Psychological Thriller
by Barbara Vine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than I'd remembered, 18 Dec. 2014
I recently downloaded 'Asta's Book' on my Kindle, and have just finished re-reading it after a gap of many years. I think it may be my favourite BV/RR, and that's saying a lot. I agree with the opinion of some other reviewers that the pace is quite slow, but for me this is an advantage, allowing the atmosphere within the various houses, and the tensions and mysteries within the family, to develop properly. In addition, the author gives herself room and time to present a thorough and highly informative picture of both Britain and, to an extent, Denmark in the early decades of the twentieth century. I'm fascinated by family history, and, apart from being a first-rate story, there's much to interest those with a similar obsession. Incidentally, I'm not sure I agree with the shout line claiming it's a 'psychological thriller' since this really implies something more ruthlessly paced and with a lot more dramatic action.

Highly recommended to those with the time to relish the slow unfailing of a truly satisfying mystery set against a thoroughly and lovingly created background.

In Falling Snow
In Falling Snow
Price: £2.62

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel that works on many levels..., 2 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: In Falling Snow (Kindle Edition)
I was fascinated and moved by this beautifully-written novel. I had never heard of the hospital at Royaumont, and didn't realise until the author's note at the end that it was a real place. It is a compelling story; a glimpse of hardship and terrible suffering at a traumatic time of history, an intriguing family mystery, and also a hymn to the huge private war fought by women of my grandmother's generation to prove they were capable of living lives other than those that society and the majority of men deemed suitable for them. There's an exchange between Iris and Violet which encapsulates this struggle:- Violet says she has the feeling that men are always watching, "waiting for us to do the wrong thing so they can blame us". Iris knows what she means, and rejoices in the fact that there are no men at Royaumont:-"At Royaumont, where we didn't have a man in charge... it was different, as if we'd all breathed out a sigh and could relax". Any woman, no matter what her age, who has ever had a man stand over her while she fits a plug, or express surprise and grudging admiration because she can change a wheel, will understand.

There is also a love story in the book; several love stories, in fact. But the focus is on motherhood; the mother figure, whether she is truly the blood mother or whether she takes on that role because it is the right thing to do, and whether there's any difference. It's a book that makes you think, and that has to be good.

The Nun's Story [DVD] [1959]
The Nun's Story [DVD] [1959]
Dvd ~ Audrey Hepburn
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film to watch over and over again..., 1 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Nun's Story [DVD] [1959] (DVD)
I watched a few minutes of this film last night when it was shown on TV, and it reminded me how much I like it; my own DVD makes it out of the cupboard every two years or so. I have loved the book since the first reading, probably half a century ago, and both book and film (and the film is a first-rate adaptation) catch the heart because, whether or not one is religious, it's a story of human courage; of people facing almost impossible challenges ('It is a life against nature', as the wonderful mother superior, Reverend Mother Emmanuel, says both in the book and the film) and rising to those challenges, moreover keeping a serene smile on their faces even when inside they are in torment.

The film, naturally, is dated - the music in particular is intrusive and personally I find it unsympathetic; it would be done so much better today) but then it was made a long time ago, so it's only to be expected. However, in almost all respects it stands right up there with the best of today's offering: stunning locations, from the austere beauty of the mother house in Belgium to the sultry heat of the Congo; beautiful costumes (ok, most of the cast are nuns, but how impressive they look); incredibly good actors, selected from the very cream of their age. And Audrey Hepburn; as another reviewer commented, so good to see just how good she could be when she wasn't being cute and snuggling up to the hunk of the day.

I don't often confess my addiction to this film as my loved ones and close friends tend to look at me strangely and step away when I say I'm going to watch a film about nuns. But I'm coming clean here. Watch it, appreciate it, watch it again. I hope you'll come to love it as I do.

The Taxidermist's Daughter
The Taxidermist's Daughter
Price: £3.99

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A promising plot in search of decent characters..., 29 Nov. 2014
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I loved 'The Winter Ghosts' and the short story collection entitled 'The Mistletoe Bride', although I confess to having been underwhelmed with the much-loved Languedoc trilogy, which I didn't finish, having found the middle one tedious and a struggle to get through. To some extent, my problems with it are the same criticisms I have with 'The Taxidermist's Daughter' and involve stories far too drawn out for their content and characters that fail adequately to develop.

The basic plot is promising, although, in common with other reviewers, I realised what was happening, and where we were going with this, quite early on. There wasn't really a character I cared about: Harry was a bit of a dummy, Connie was too good to be true, and poor Cassie, driven to madness and violence by the one terrible event in her past, was underused and could have come across with so much more punch. There was also a constant sense of disbelief: I kept asking myself, do people really act like this ?The trouble with not engaging with characters means you don't really care what happens to them, and hence the book becomes nothing more than a drag with which one perseveres in the optimistic hope that it'll get better. I'm afraid that 'The Taxidermist's Daughter' didn't, and I crawled to the end with a sigh of relief.

The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us
The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us
by Martha Stout
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.38

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cold heart: a sociopath in the family, 16 Nov. 2014
This wonderful book is like a light shining on a dark night. For almost a year, my family have suffered horrendously because of the appalling behaviour of the woman my dear, loving, big-hearted brother married four years ago. To cut a very long and horrible story short, she wanted my brother all to herself, and set out to try to alienate him from his daughters and the rest of his family. We are a very close family, and we don't do alienation, and my brother refused to go along with her (she had previously alienated her former husband's daughters). This horrible woman tried everything: she fabricated so-called 'damage' that she claimed my nieces and my brother had done to the house co-owned by my brother and her; she reported my niece to the police; she summoned the police to check for this 'damage', and, naturally not finding it, the police quietly said to my brother that she was mentally ill and needed help.
She is not mentally ill: she is a sociopath. She is malice in human form, and the most horrible person I have ever met. Thank you, compassionate, loving Martha Stout - you feel like a loving friend holding my hand through some of the worst moments of my life. I can't tell you how much it helped, to have you gently point out that it is we, the conscious-possessing majority, who ultimately win.
For anyone who finds themselves in my position, you have my sympathy and I do hope you come through. Read the book, learn, begin to understand. Martha, thank you.

I Remember You
I Remember You
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Edition: Paperback

1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Step away from this book., 1 Sept. 2014
This review is from: I Remember You (Paperback)
I have finally struggled to the end of this tedious book and I'm now wondering why I didn't listen to my instinct and stop after the first couple of chapters. Because I read it In translation, it's impossible to say whether the author or the translator is responsible for the terrible, amateurish style, so let's be charitable and decide on 50:50.

The bones of this book constitute what could have been a tight, scary story, if the reader were in a tolerant mood and prepared to suspend disbelief to an unprecedented extent; among other challenges, this would mean accepting that three presumably functioning adults would behave with the irresponsibility of three-year-olds and that mind-boggling coincidences happen all the time. We are also expected to believe that quite a big bit of Iceland is in the grip of the ghosts of two children, who appear to have acquired every super-power going: they are able to manifest in many different places; they have the strength to break into and trash buildings; one of them is able to inflict sadistic and usually fatal injuries on those who have aroused his enmity. It's as if the author, coming to an impasse in the plotting, scratches her head and thinks (in Icelandic), 'Hmm, how am I going to get round this little hiccup? Oh, I know - I'll bring that very useful and ubiquitous ghost back again! That ought to do it, and I'm sure my readers will be so scared by now that they won't notice that's exactly what I've been doing for the last 20 chapters!'

It's a very long time since I've read such an appallingly-written book. Years ago, I used to read manuscripts submitted by would-be writers, and this one is right down there with the worst of them. If I'd bought it in paper form, it'd now be in the basket by the fire along with the junk mail, waiting for winter.

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