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emma who reads a lot (London)
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

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The Art of Flight
The Art of Flight
by Fredrik Sjöberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Tale of obsession..., 7 July 2016
This review is from: The Art of Flight (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had read the Fly Trap, the first of Sjöberg's books to be translated into English, and loved it: he is an amateur entomologist with a passionate interest in hoverflies, and with that book managed to make me catch the bug too (HA!).

The Art of Flight, despite the similarly evocative title and cover, deals with completely different subject matter. It concerns Sjöberg's long-term obsession with the Swedish landscape artist Widforss, who became famous for his paintings of the American National Parks. Sjöberg becomes totally fixed on the idea of tracking down paintings, letters and details about the life of Widforss, which towards the end leads to a completely unexpected and for me, very moving turn of events (NO SPOILERS!!).

Because of the subject matter being art, there is much less of the nature writing he does so well in the Fly Trap. However there are some common themes: Sjöberg is simply very funny and revealing writing about himself, and he does describe the American landscape in particular, extremely well. And Widforss was a painter of nature, and so you do get beautiful passages. But you are best off reading this book as a slightly eccentric statement of one man's obsession with whether it's ever possible to recover the life of another, and what happens to what you find out - should it be made public, or not? Wonderful, diverting, relaxing, and yes, I found it pretty moving at the end.


Fates and Furies
Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I have no idea whether to hate or love this book., 29 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Fates and Furies (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't think I've ever felt so divided about how to review a book. Firstly, the positives. This book is compulsive reading, I wanted to know what happened, read it in about two days. And Lauren Groff is clearly astonishingly talented as a writer. I don't say that lightly, but her ear for the flow and beauty of language is extraordinary, and the characters are vividly conjured up. She really is one of the most prodigiously naturally talented writers i've ever read.

HOWEVER: Mathilde and Lotto (who annoyed me from the moment I found out their names, to be honest) are INCREDIBLY IRRITATING. All the lovely meals described in sort of House and Garden magazine detail, all the stupendous sex, oh jesus, even a quarter of the way through i wanted to strangle them, and then it went on, and then it got weirder and weirder and then i was like, SERIOUSLY THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE CLAIMING FOR A PLOT?

Some of the best parts, I absolutely loved the lyrical descriptions of Lotto's plays (he is a playwright). Such a lovely, unexpected turn in the book.
Some of the worst: there are a couple of plot developments where i was just like, ""SHUT UP, really, just shut up."

I don't want to discuss the book more because I hate spoilers, but suffice to say I have finished it unable to rate it. I don't want to give it three stars for being 'okay' because in some ways it was all-involving and stupendous, and in others, just the most diabolical waste.
So there you go. !


Vikings (What They Don't Tell You About)
Vikings (What They Don't Tell You About)
by Robert Fowke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable popular history of the Vikings, 22 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book, from experienced children's book author Bob Fowke, aims to convey the life of the Vikings to kids via cartoon strips and gory facts whilst smuggling in a lot of good quality history along the way. "Vikings" has several strong things going for it: it's very vivid, it's accurate and it appeals to kids' sense of the larger-than-life. (It has a lot more proper prose in it than competing "Horrible Histories" - you may think that's good, or bad, depending on your view of what kind of history books kids should be reading :-) Each topic is discussed in slightly more detail than Horrible Histories would be - in fact I think it would be a useful supplement to those books, perhaps?)

IN terms of subject matter, it covers, initial Viking invasions of the UK, who they really were, their farming backgrounds in Scandinavia, the role of women in Viking society, the social structure. Then it moves on to getting drunk, the way they fought battles, their nautical skills, and those in navigation, covering their exploration of the globe from America to Russia and India.

The story in Britain finishes with the arrival of the Normans - the Norsemen - which begins a different chapter for us, and then a chapter on their religious beliefs.

These lively, enjoyable history books will please kids who like a bit of exploring into the past. I suspect it will appeal the most to a slightly older age-band than horrible histories as the balance of history and entertainment seems slightly more 'grown-up'? It would be a really good basis for a school project. I should think a bright six-year-old could enjoy it, as well as probably its central target market, the Year 6s etc!


Harmless Like You
Harmless Like You
by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An oddly compelling novel that grips much tighter in the second half, 20 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Harmless Like You (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As the novel begins, art dealer Jay Eaves' father has just died. As a consequence, he goes to find his mother. She is an artist, Yuki Oyama, who left her husband and child (when he was a baby) and never saw them again. The rest of the book explores Yuki's life, why these events happened, and the impact of his mother's absence on Jay and his adult life, and new fatherhood.

This is a rather magical book. It starts incredibly quietly. I didn't enjoy it much to start with; I felt that every time anyone spoke even briefly in the novel, it was followed by too much clarification in prose. I felt that the author wasn't letting the book flow; but later on, I felt that Hisayo Buchanan was trying to tell the reader something about her two main characters - both of whom THINK about what they are saying as least as much as they actually speak.

The impact of the book is slow to hit. The atmospheres are carefully, cooly created, and you may find (I did) Yuki's passivity frustrating. Not in terms of her as a person, but as a character, it's difficult to read about someone who gives so little of herself away. There's just not much on the page. And Jay has some appealing qualities, and some odd tics, which I wasn't sure about. (At one point he starts talking about how his wife's thigh gap has disappeared since having a baby; I'm not sure I've ever met a man who even knew what a thigh gap is.) However, I REALLY enjoyed Jay's relationship with his wife, which seemed original and beautifully captured; and slowly, the story is created, and by the end I felt quite moved by the whole thing. And REALLY cried towards the end.

I was left with questions about whether the novel was really excellent, or just good; but I admired the ambition of it I was left with questions about the way that Yuki behaved, and whether the novelist had really given me enough to understand, or forgive. (Also there were a few weirdnesses - a British gallery owner called Quentin Taupe which just felt to me like a joke name! Taupe is such a trendy colour, and Quentin seemed like a joke English name. But maybe that wouldn't bother others.)


Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future
Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future
by Svetlana Alexievich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Feels wrong to have to give this extraordinary account a star rating out of five, 15 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a really harrowing and very moving account of real people's experiences of Chernobyl, drawn from many interviews and edited together to form a kind of chorus of voices. You hear from parents (extremely painful, in many cases), from soldiers and emergency workers, from old farmers and young women, people from all walks of life. Some of the details are almost unbearable indeed: details of what made children ill, and their brave struggles with congenital problems; details of the Soviet posters which still, ragged, watch over the empty site; details of how people were sent to clean up because the Japanese robots intended for the job had their circuits burnt out by the radiation levels; details of how all the library books on radiation were removed overnight to stop people panicking....

Everything about this book makes it difficult to read it in one go. I feel uncomfortable giving it a 'score'. It's an extraordinary account of an accident we hope will never happen again.

PS would like to add - I've just been checking how this edition differs from my older US translation (from about ten years ago). It turns out the author has added a section meditating on her own role in recording the disaster, which wasn't in the older translation. This is very interesting and well-worth having. Also, the two translations are quite different: the older translation, the language is more epic and grand; the newer translation, more sanctioned by Alexievich, is more down to earth - it uses the word 'bum', just as an example.


Insider's Italian: Intermediate Conversation Course (Learn Italian with the Michel Thomas Method): Book, Audio and Interactive Practice (Conversation Companion)
Insider's Italian: Intermediate Conversation Course (Learn Italian with the Michel Thomas Method): Book, Audio and Interactive Practice (Conversation Companion)
by Paola Tite
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £32.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Great course, but with a few caveats as mentioned, 15 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a really great intermediate Italian course. It uses the Michel Thomas method, focusing on spoken language, and trying to get you to learn the way you would if you lived in the country - by listening and talking - rather than by book learning. It is divided into ten chapters, each taking a separate area of modern life, such as climate change or organic farming (very modern!).

There are a few important things to know though. Firstly, this isn't a course by Michel Thomas himself. It's led by Paola Tite, who does a great job. Each section has conversations between her and outsiders, which is great for hearing different accents and sounds of the language.

Also, being a more advanced course, it has to take a slightly different way of doing things. Grammar is tackled explicitly, in the accompanying book, for example the subjunctive, an essential part of everyday italian, is addressed in the first chunk.

Other important points? It's quite advanced. If you'd only done Total Italian, and were expecting this to follow on, this would be a big leap up. This is like the kind of stuff we were learning after about three years in French class! Complex grammar and interesting vocab - NOT 'asking for directions' and ordering a beer but expressing opinions, asking questions and talking about social problems. I think you would need to have done both Total and Perfect, and THEN have done a bit of studying or visiting Italy, for this course to really work for you.

I found the course really satisfying, and just at the level I wanted, but would just like to make it clear to potential purchasers what it IS and what it is not.

One more thing - it doesn't have CDs that you can just put into the car CD player and play! The CD contains MP3s (perhaps this is standard these days, but it may confuse anyone not techno-savvy?) which need to be downloaded into itunes and then put onto something you can plug in in the car, or burn a CD of them. Bit of a faff but there we go.

Given that all my small downsides might not be downsides for some people, I'm not marking the course down, because I thought it was great.


Zero K
Zero K
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, delicate, profound book, turning over some of life's biggest mysteries, 13 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Zero K (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a beautiful haunting book by a great master, and if you are a fan of writers like DeLillo or Doctorow you should definitely read it. I am slightly astonished (and only 'slightly' because we Amazon reviewers don't always have the best reputation for being good readers) that other people have said 'nothing happens'; or that they were left cold.

The central character is Jeffrey Lockhart, the son of a billionaire, Ross Lockhart, who left Jeffrey and his mother many years before. Ross's second wife Artis is now dying, and Ross has funded a strange project in the desert which will allow Artis to be cryogenically preserved until such time as she can be cured. (If you don't find this a dramatic situation, I don't exactly know what you WOULD find dramatic...)

Add to this that that the place ("The Convergence") where the freezing of Artis is due to take place is itself very mysterious, located in a desert and full of odd, arresting art pieces whose provenance is not totally clear to start with... doors that lead nowhere, passages that just end... It's incredibly vivid, poetic and strange, and the image of the Convergence has not yet left me. I actually find DeLillo's descriptions of his imagined art some of the most special bits of the book. Extraordinary.

The landscape (supposedly Kyrgistan or something, but for me, another version of DeLillo's Western America) is evoked with great skill, and when Jeffrey returns to his home, in the second half of the book, there are also fantastically beautiful descriptions of Manhattan, and of his efforts to make his relationship with his girlfriend work.

Plus, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that Ross himself is tempted by the cryogenic process. He cannot bear the idea of being separated from Artis. Which left me with many questions about love, duty, family, and what happens to us when we lose our life partner.

I really found this book unsettling and powerful. What would you do if someone you loved died, but might be revived at a future date? Would you go with them? And if a member of your close family chose to do this, would it mean they were abanding you? These are profound yet currently unreal questions, yet they relate to the issue of suicide when a life partner dies, or having another child to donate blood cells etc to one you already have; and even if you are put off by the science fiction aspect of the novel, they are put in such a way as to directly address human dilemmas we all experience. Wonderful reading.


Petal, Leaf, Seed: Cooking with the treasures of the garden
Petal, Leaf, Seed: Cooking with the treasures of the garden
by Lia Leendertz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Treasures from a failed peach tree...., 7 Jun. 2016
Lia Leendertz explains in her intro that this book came about when she tried to grow peaches on a tree in her garden. Peaches never turned up, so she was about to uproot it when she heard that the leaves have flavour too. She cooked them up, and produced a fragrant liquor, which got her thinking about how else to capture and taste the smells and flavours of the garden.

This is probably one of the prettiest cookbooks I've ever seen. Forget about the manicured cupcakiness of Primrose Bakery etc, this is homemade, sweet, delicate stuff. Plus she begins with a cocktail, haha, how much better does life get?

The text is divided into ingredients sections - where Lia explains how to cook for eg Garlic scapes, or what to do with different kinds of mint - and then recipes themselves. If you are the kind of person who hates seeking out new ingredients, this may not be the book for you; but if like me, the hunt for ras al hanout is PART OF THE FUN, then keep reading. Gooseberries aren't often in the shops; you will need to wait for the right moment then pounce. But these days, they are in Tescos during the right bit of the year (though you'll have to produce the Sweet Cicely yourself). ANd I love that she says, don't stew them, try baking them - what a great tip to concentrate the flavour. We get into ways of doing things, which are just stuck patterns sometimes. It's good to be shaken! And her matching of flavours is so careful and delicious - beef and mustard flowers, for a different kind of spiciness than our normal predictable horseradish.

Despite the emphasis on flowers and leaves, I think there are lots of strong usable recipes here. I know one of my main anxieties about new cookbooks is WILL I USE IT?, but for eg, the potted shrimp comes with a fridge pickled cucumber that you could also match with mackerel pate, or even steamed fish and rice in a slightly Polish way. And the potato egg and nasturtium seed salad or the coconut rice pudding BUY THE BOOK JUST FOR THIS PLZ.


Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book
Shakespeare's First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book
by Emma Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful evocative account of the history of our reverence for the First Folio, 20 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a brilliant, enjoyable though certainly academic account of the First Folio (the first publication of all Shakespeare's plays in a single huge book, in 1623). Shakespeare's singularity as an author is explored through the singularity of this book, the First Folio, with Smith explaining how it came to occupy such a central and recognisable position within book-collecting, and within our culture as a whole (she's very good in how it often is evoked during moments of technological innovation, such as the Cd-ROM for instance).

Zigzagging back and forth across time, Smith explains her approach from the point of view of material history and cultural theory: Bourdieu, Benjamin, Chartier, Veblen, Mauss and Habermas all get name-checked. However Smith is also the master of the appropriate illustrative detail, and it's these wonderful evocative details that really bring this book to life. I can live without modern-day parallels (such as when she discusses people buying clothes similar to their own, for their children, using the phrase 'Mini-Me') but her command of the material moments of the book itself is fantastic and amply compensates for a couple of uses of the word 'networking'....

From the early modern owners who didn't mind spilling food or leaving cupmarks on the book, to the Victorian booksellers who could cut and 'scrub' a copy into fresh new life (even minting new pages where necessary - one such 'fixer' so talented he had trouble identifying his own work when summoned to do so by the British Museum), the users and fans of this book are vividly conjured up. And so is the sense of the volume's meaning: I adored the Protestant ascetic who thought the paper was too posh for mere plays and complained it was better than that used for some Bibles; I loved the library who keep the ashes of a Folio that burned in a house fire visible inside a glass sarcophagus; I loved the owner who inherited Samuel Johnson's copy, and then had to replace all the pages upon which Johnson had 'scribbled' (!!!) it tells us SO MUCH about how our culture and attitudes have changed.

Most of all though I loved the little seventeenth-century girl who drew childlike houses and furniture inside one copy; and the two sets of cat footprints identified, quietly making their way across pages of these (nowadays) million-dollar volumes. The evidence of USE. Wonderful. And Smith caused me to reflect on today's Instagram, with Bookstagram in particular, and ponder the relationship we have with books as objects of show, display, learning, wisdom and enlightenment, and wonder whether that aspect of our human nature has changed at all.

Wonderful book that i looked forward to reading each night. Might be in places slightly too academic for some tastes (you need a basic vocabulary of folios, quartos, signatures etc but these can be googled....) but all in all a brilliant read. Highly recommended.


4M "Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur DNA" Electronic Toy (Augmented Reality)
4M "Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur DNA" Electronic Toy (Augmented Reality)
Price: £13.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly OKAY toy but not brilliant, 18 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Okay this review is from my point of view but I will try to reflect the view of my six year old too.
This toy looks really good. It's a nice big box (bonus for birthday present purchasers) and very colourful and appealing.
Inside is a dinosaur dig - bones encased in plaster - which the child needs to chip away to get the bones out. We ended up using a much bigger hammer or it literally would have taken all day. Some of you might want it to take all day.... we were a bit more impatient. The skeleton is not as substantial OR sturdy as some other dinosaur excavating things I've tried - it was hard to get it to stand up properly, and it was a bit flimsy, though my son was pleased it glowed in the dark. And, like some others on here, we had a bit of difficulty getting the virtual reality bit to work really well.

I would say on balance - if you just want a nice looking toy and activity for a gift that will look good and bring a bit of joy, fine. But if you want something really good, don't go for this :-(


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