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Thomas Cunliffe "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England)

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A Spool of Blue Thread
A Spool of Blue Thread
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

4.0 out of 5 stars The last Anne Tuler book - good, but not quite good enough, 27 Feb. 2015
This review is from: A Spool of Blue Thread (Hardcover)
I have been reading Anne Tyler's books for many years and think I've read all of them now. A Spool of Blue Thread was therefore eagerly awaited, particularly when I read that this would be her last novel.

The book concerns Red and Abby Whitshank, an elderly couple who are reaching the age when their grown-up children are having to think about how best they will be able to navigate their latter years. They have lived in the same house most of their married life and are the centre of a large family of children, grand-children and various waif and strays who call in from time to time.

Much of the book is concerned with this period of transition and the impact it has on the family. Tyler is adept at capturing the sheer humanity of the relationships and their stresses and strains. Some of her insights bring you up short as you read them, causing you to stop and relish her turn of phrase (this is why we love this writer).

The family doesn't think straight, having typical ingrained habits and prejudices that stop them making the right decision. Abby's sister Merrick appears as a breath of fresh air and says things other dare not say - I would have liked her to make more appearances because it is frustrating to hear so much of what this family say to each other go uncorrected.

I don't like books which start in the present-day and then go back many years in extended flashbacks. There are a couple of these, not least the story of how Red and Abby first got-together. I didn't find this at all interesting and longed to get back to the main story.

Other sections left me cold, such as the long account of an annual holiday at the beach certainly captured the routine boredom of these vacations - but surely Tyler's readers should not have to share in the family's tedium? Similarly a lengthy account of a wedding.

The character development was good in parts but story of the "black-sheep" son Denny (Tyler always includes one of these) was never properly resolved and readers were left with as much wondering about his behaviour as the family themselves. Some inside information might have been interesting here. Similarly, I would have liked to know more about daughter-in-law Nora; a rather mysterious figure who must have had something going on in the background to make her how she was?

Has Anne Tyler gone out on a high? Although this book has many of the Tyler trademarks, I regret to say that I found it rather disappointing. It's not that it's badly-written (heaven forbid!) but just that from time to time the content left me slightly bored and for the first time when reading an Anne Tyler novel I found myself rushing through some of the sections.

Janice Turner in The Times wrote:

"I want everyone to enjoy this exquisite portrait of a family. Tyler has said that “there aren’t enough quiet, gentle, basically good people in a novel”. Which might suggest the Whitshanks of this novel are bland when in fact they are driven and tormented by their compromises and convenient lies".

I know what she means but for me I saw little of the "driven and tormented" and I found that this family of construction workers were just too ordinary, their concerns too small, their engagement with the outside world too little. I need to have more interesting characters in a book for me to be fully engaged with it. I think I'll now go back and reread Ladder of Years, The Accidental Tourist, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant to remind me of what a great writer Anne Tyler can be.

Algarve Travel Guide: 54 Cities/Towns/Villages
Algarve Travel Guide: 54 Cities/Towns/Villages
by Karl Bradshaw-White
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An insider's view of the Algarve, 27 Feb. 2015
This guide to the Algarve has all the hall-marks of being written by somebody with an intimate knowledge of the area. Karl Bradshaw-White has been going to the Algarve for many years and visiting the area with this book in your hand is like having a personal guide with you who has genuinely "been there before".

The book covers everything you could possible need to know, from basic information about airports and travel, through to where to find the best markets and fairs and which towns and villages are the best to visit. There is even information about the best waterparks, golf courses and other attractions - everything for the whole family is covered.

You don't have to start looking elsewhere for details of speed limits, currency, English language radio stations for these are all covered together with many other items of crucial information. There is even a section on food and drink with translations of the many different types of fish, shell-fish, herbs and spices.

The main part of the guidebook is the 140 pages devoted to places to visit, divided into three sections, Central, Eastern and Western Algarve. Along with the usual resorts, the book covers many inland towns and villages so if you have a car you will know where to drive to for a day out. I have visited some of these places and wish I had had this guide book with me as I would have been able to make much more of my visit with this insider's information about what to see and do.

Ten pages of beach guide lists all the main beaches with access information and the facilities you can find there. I don't know any other guide-books which tell you about disabled access, public toilets and baby-changing areas as well as the type of beach and the clarity of the water. Very useful indeed!

This is a very useful little book and although it might lack some of the publishing polish of the bigger ranges of guide-books it is crammed full of information and feels like a one-to-one introduction to this popular holiday destination.

AmiGami Monkey Figure
AmiGami Monkey Figure
Price: £6.02

5.0 out of 5 stars A well-presented toy for a creative child, 22 Feb. 2015
This review is from: AmiGami Monkey Figure (Toy)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I gave this toy to my six year old grand-daughter and once she had understood what she had to do she enjoyed decorating the figure and showing it off to her friends and family. The monkey is about 8cm tall and comes with 30 shaped paper parts which can be attached to the model with jewel pins (supplied). 70 reusable stickers can be stuck on the monkey. There is a curling rod which lets the child curl some of the longer paper shapes.

There are some very good videos on YouTube which show children playing with the toy - these give you a very good idea of what it is and how a child can use it.

My grand-daughters love sticker books and this seems to be a nice development of the idea by using a three dimensional model rather than a flat piece of paper. The whole product is nicely presented and would make an ideal birthday present.

Set of 24 Fine Art Paintbrushes For Oil, Acyrlic, Watercolours in Canvas Storage Pouch by Curtzy TM
Set of 24 Fine Art Paintbrushes For Oil, Acyrlic, Watercolours in Canvas Storage Pouch by Curtzy TM
Offered by Kurtzie - Fast Shipping
Price: £11.96

5.0 out of 5 stars A great way to get a collection of paintbrushes - and with a useful brush-roll, 22 Feb. 2015
This is a very useful and well-presented set of paintbrushes which would cover most of the work which any artist would want to do.

The synthetic white haired brushes can be used for any media and are fine for water-colour, acrylic and oils. I have used them for watercolour and they are soft enough to cope with this delicate medium while having enough spring to be useful for acrylics and oil. Some water-colour painters prefer to use sable or mixed sable/synthetic brushes but for many years now I have been using synthetic brushes like these and the benefits are that they ave very good points, they hold the water well and they are very easy to wash out.

I am pleased that the set includes both flat and round brushes. While round brushes are my favourite, flats are useful for painting squared areas like brick walls, windows, vehicles etc and it it good to have a set of them here.

The bristle brushes are again both flat and round and are useful brushes for washes in skies etc and bigger areas like distant hills or seas. They are definitely substantial enough to cope with heavier painting mediums like oil and acrylic.

This set is extremely good value when compared with buying brushes singly and the canvas case alone is a very useful quality product which any artist would be grateful for. It would be ideal for someone starting off in painting who wants to build up a set of brushes quickly or for a more established artist who needs to refresh their collection at a reasonable price.

Bottoms up in Belgium: Seeking the High Points of the Low Land
Bottoms up in Belgium: Seeking the High Points of the Low Land
by Alec Le Sueur
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A funny and interesting journey, 17 Feb. 2015
Ever since Bill Bryson's early books came out I have enjoyed reading humorous travelogues so when I saw this one I had to give it a go. After all, I've been to Belgium several times but have never really read anything about it and this seemed like a great way of finding out more.

Alec Le Seuer married a Belgian woman so has had plenty of opportunities to give his readers many fully researched chapters on Belgian history and the things that make it special today, from its vast range of beers to the culinary delights of frites and mayonnaise via many topics as varied as the colonisation of the Congo, the nations inability to gain lasting success in the Eurovision song contest, the Belgian's love of comic books and a valiant attempt at creating a list of ten famous Belgians (difficult!).

There is much to amuse here but Alec finds it difficult to gain much of interest from a few topics like the cockerel-singing contests, or the European Union (a tour of it's headquarters was evidently as boring for him to take as it was for us to read about it). These are but a few blips in what is otherwise a funny and interesting journey around this, at times, very peculiar nation.

The beer guide at the end of the book occupies ten pages and is worth including - perhaps Alec has another book in the making here?

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes funny books about other European nations or anyone who would like a pretty comprehensive introduction to Belgium, perhaps as a visitor or worker. I will certainly be much better informed when I go there next and will be watching out for some of the features I've read about in Bottoms Up Belgium.

Dr KittyCat is Ready to Rescue: Clover the Bunny (Dr Kitty Cat Is Ready/Rescue)
Dr KittyCat is Ready to Rescue: Clover the Bunny (Dr Kitty Cat Is Ready/Rescue)
by Jane Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent choice for early readers, 16 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I gave this book to my 6 year old grand-daughter to see how she would get on with it. I would say that the reading age of the book is about end of year 2 or perhaps more realistically years 3 or 4. She coped quite well with it but needed help on some of the longer words. I note that with other books she is reading, the text is spaced out a little more (bigger font and lines a bit further apart), but overall, it does no harm to present a challenge and in any case this is a very good book to read to a child of say 4 and over.

The characters are all animals and these are well illustrated with a mixture of photographs and drawings. The book is very well presented with a strong cover and good quality paper and has an air of quality about it (perhaps what would expect from Oxford University Press).

The author, Jane Clarke is a very experienced children's writer with may books to her credit (check out her Amazon page), I would think there will be more book along in this series and this will be very welcome.

Acts and Omissions
Acts and Omissions
by Catherine Fox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific read. The highs and lows of the Cathedral Cloister., 6 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Acts and Omissions (Paperback)
At first glance you may think that a book about a Cathedral Close is going to be a bit twee, a bit cosy, the province of elderly ladies wanting a Sunday afternoon read. Catherine Fox confounds expectations in Acts and Omissions. This is an extremely sharp piece of writing providing a glimpse into the modern Anglican Church with it's sexual shenanigans, bitter politicking and bitchiness in extreme quantities. Fortunately, it is also a tremendously warm-hearted novel with many characters who redeem the overall picture of Anglican life by being kind, long-suffering and incredibly faithful to the ancient institution.

Catherine Fox is a brilliant drawer of character - there are so many wonderful characters in this book it would be hard to say who stands out the most. The Bishop is at the centre of the novel and what a flawed piece of work he is! His dearest wife, the classic devoted partner has a lot to learn about her husband, but nothing like as much as the popular journalist who pursue a variety of scandals, despite the cunning of the church's press officers.

There are some wonderful protrayals of gay people, ageing divorcees, monkish prelates, moody teenagers, magnificent arch-deacons and a whole cavalcade of officers of the church who both hinder and help the cause of faith.

I could hardly put this book down and would recommend it as one of my best reads in a long time.

The Girl Who Wasn't There
The Girl Who Wasn't There
by Ferdinand von Schirach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All is not what it seems, 6 Feb. 2015
This is a very clever book following the life and career of Sebastian von Eschburg, a controversial artist who designs complex art installations which are never what they seem and get every more complex and baffling.

The book opens by describing Sebastian's childhood - a fascinating portrait of a highly dysfunctional family which perhaps gives some clues as toe the character of the adult Sebastian. We follow Sebastian through boarding school and into adult life where he follows an artistic career in Berlin, achieving renown for his installations. Eventually he is accused of a murder and prominent lawyer Konrad Biegler is recruited to defend Sebastian, despite his confession to the crime. Thing are definitely not what they seem however and there are many surprises and denouements along the way.

I loved the way this book was written - it is witty and engaging throughout. It has a very European feel to it, with some subtleties which would be edited out from a more main-stream novel. This is high-quality fiction but is still very readable. Well worth the five stars I have given it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2015 9:46 AM GMT

Leaving Berlin
Leaving Berlin
by Joseph Kanon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb thriller set in the period immediately after World War 2, 6 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Leaving Berlin (Hardcover)
This is a superb thriller set in the period immediately after World War 2. The Russians are blockading Berlin to the West and the Berlin aif-lift is in progress, delivering food and fuel to the hard-pressed citizens in the Western Sector. In the Eastern Sector, the Russians rule and the German population are slowly coming to terms with their status as defeated citizens who have to accept Russian rule with raw materials being sent of the Russia and a plundering of their industrial base by the victors.

The Russians are keen to re-establish a cultural life in the city, partly to make things seem as normal as possible and when author Alex Meir returns to Berlin from America, he is welcomed back to the city and is rapidly drawn into a world of lectures, readings and literary receptions. Alex's secret is that he has been recruited by the CIA in America and is expected to report back on what he does and what he discovers. But he is not the only one who is scheming, and some very sinister people soon seem to be pressing him to report to the new authorities on the people he meets - the life of a double agent awaits him.

This is a gripping thriller in the mould of John le Carré, David Downing and Philip Kerr. Joseph Kanyon is the equal of all these writers and this book has the stamp of quality on it. I found myself totally absorbed in it as Alex Meir gets discovers the secrets about Russian occupation which the invaders are determined to suppress. Before long he finds himself on the run before the Russians catch up with him.

Cinderella Girl (Hammarby 2)
Cinderella Girl (Hammarby 2)
by Carin Gerhardsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Why so many people are addicted to Scandi-crime, 6 Feb. 2015
I enjoyed reading this fast-moving thriller which follows Detective Conny Sjoberg around as he and his team investigate a murder which takes place on a ferry going from Stockholm to Finland. There are several threads going on in the book and although it jumps around a bit, I found this not at all confusing and you know that they are all going to come together in the end. Apart from the murder of a young teenage girl, we have the death of a young mother, apparently in a hit and run accident, which leads to another sub-plot about the woman's little daughter left abandoned in their apartment without anybody knowing about it.

Good writing depends on strong characters, and this book is full of them. Detective Petra Westman who finds herself the victim of sexual crime and harassment, the dead girl's 14 year-old sister who gets into all manner of trouble, and a quirky team of supporting detectives with a variety of back-stories.

The criminals in this book vary from waifs and strays through to vicious manipulators - this is not a book for the faint-hearted. But as a prime example of why so many people are fans of Scandi-crime this book shines out as one of the best I have read and I have already pre-ordered Carin Gerhardsen's next book, The Last Lullaby (Hammarby 3) which is published in four month's time.

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