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Reviews Written by
boingboing "koshkhasbooks"

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Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea
Price: £13.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Misery by the Sea, 26 Sept. 2017
This film is infused with the cold, icy, dampness of its wintery setting and whilst it's beautiful to look at, it's hard to watch. Lee has a dark secret that just about explains both his aggression and his apparent lack of engagement with the world around him. He has a boring job as a janitor - unblocking toilets, fixing minor issues in several apartment blocks. But despite the drudgery of shoveling snow that falls every night and dealing with demanding tenants, it's his 'normal' and we only understand why he likes it when he's called back to his hometown - the place from which he's been running after a family tragedy.

A new tragedy drags him back - the death of his brother - and a new family demand threatens his 'new normal'. As we learn about the past, we understand why these demands are so tough on him. Will he take on the parenting of his teen-aged nephew, will he find a place in the town he ran from, and can he find a kind of peace again.

It's slow. It's painful to watch because the emotions are so raw. It's moving - without much ever actually happening - and it demands a lot from the viewer. But astonishingly, it breaks all the usual Hollywood rules that the public demand a happy ending. It could have been jollied up at the end - it's not. There are a dozen potential happy endings and all of them are given a quick body-swerve. I'm amazed it won so many awards and nominations when it's just so bloody miserable.

Pawn Sacrifice
Pawn Sacrifice
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Hot Chess in the Cold War, 25 Sept. 2017
This review is from: Pawn Sacrifice (Amazon Video)
TV viewers were much easier to please back in the '60s and '70s. The idea that anybody - let alone most of the US population - would be hooked to their screens watching two men in suits play chess seems beyond parody but that's how it must have been. As great spectator sports go, it's not up there with most athletic contests. My grandfather would watch snooker for hours in black and white - times were different.

I really enjoyed Pawn Sacrifice and would say it's well worth a watch whether you know anything or nothing at all about chess. Equally, whether you know anything or nothing about Spassky and Fischer, it's compelling stuff.

We watch as the cool, state-supported Soviet Hero Spassky takes on the renegade, rapidly mentally deteriorating Fischer in a battle on 64 squares that's every bit as heated as the Cold War. The use of chess players as 'pawns' in a battle for propaganda is fascinating. And with the Russians using their men to show their intellectual superiority, young Fischer has both the weight of his country's expectations and his own competitive drive to contend with. As viewers we're left wondering just how mad he really is and whether - as the T-shirt slogan used to go - "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you".

Tobey Maquire is made to look like a spotty little man with very little going for him. He's definitely more Peter Parker than Spiderman in this one. The make-up artists do a great job giving him a nasty little mark on his nose and a few spots. No glamour in this role.

A very enjoyable film that reminds us how far we think we have come with the Russians at a time when we might be heading back in the wrong direction. Good job Kim Jung Un doesn't have a crack squad of international Scrabble champions in his armoury.

Genuine Sebo dust bags x 20 - Amazing value 20 pack of Sebo GENUINE dust bags from a Sebo dealer
Genuine Sebo dust bags x 20 - Amazing value 20 pack of Sebo GENUINE dust bags from a Sebo dealer
Offered by SussexSpares
Price: £14.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Great value deal, 25 Sept. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Sebo make fabulous vacuums but you do need to buy bags - no so fashionable in these days of bagless competition. The bags last well and I can't remember the last time I bought any, but my cleaner demanded some new ones and this turned out to be the best deal that we could find. 20 genuine bags at less than a pound a time is great.

YAHE Women Small Square Dial Leather Strap Classic Unisex Dress Unusual Quartz Watchs (Bronze)
YAHE Women Small Square Dial Leather Strap Classic Unisex Dress Unusual Quartz Watchs (Bronze)
Offered by YAHE
Price: £7.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Great value - but the strap will be too tight for many people., 25 Sept. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Sometimes you just need something in a hurry and you're not too fussy what you get. My usual watch had just run out of power and I simply couldn't squeeze in a trip to Timpsons to get a new battery. So I ordered a cheap watch for next day delivery for about the same it would have cost me in fuel and parking to go get mine fixed.

It's a nice little watch - small face but very clear hands and easy to read. I like to have a second hand but it has to be a much thinner hand than the hour and minute so it doesn't confuse. This one is fine.

I have very small wrists and I can totally understand why other reviewers have said the strap is too small. On most watches I'm on the tightest or second tightest hole - with this I'm half way down the strap. Anybody with a large wrist will struggle and a regular size may find it still quite tight. Probably better as a child or teenager's watch.

I honestly don't think that anybody glancing at this watch would think it's a £6.99 cheapie.

Family Life
Family Life
Price: £5.03

3.0 out of 5 stars The American dream turns into a nightmare., 25 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: Family Life (Kindle Edition)
Akhil Sharma's first book 'An Obedient Father' is one of the most disturbing novels I've ever read and one of the most memorable. It won Sharma awards, acclaim and attention. And put incredible pressure on him to repeat that first success. 'Family Life' as the difficult second novel was clearly a hard one to write and a long time in the making.

I had 'Family Life' on my Amazon wishlist for a long time, anticipating something equally special. Sadly, 'Family Life' will inevitably suffer from sitting in the shadow of 'An Obedient Father'. It's a solid, well-written and interesting book that tackles difficult topics but it lacks the oomph of its predecessor. In the notes after the book finishes, Sharma pays tribute to the editor who took him for lunch each year to 'celebrate' another year late with his submission. He eventually turned it in NINE years beyond the deadline. The end when it comes reads as if he rushed it before the next annual deadline - after 200+ pages of detail and introspection, it 'phts' out like a wet firework.

An Indian family move to the USA, filled with the American Dream and all starts well. Only when a freak accident damages a family member, pushing that person into a zombie-like half-life and the rest of the family into a loving drudgery of care, does the dream go bad. As readers we're left wondering how people can suffer and love SO much, and whether death would have been better for all concerned. We see how the stress of their new life pulls the family apart, attracts freaks and weirdos and turns them into outsiders, set apart by their tragedy.

I enjoyed the book - if it's possible to 'enjoy' something so sad - and I'll continue to read anything else that Sharma rights, but I fear he'll live his career in the shadow of 'An Obedient Father'.

After writing an earlier version of this review, I did a bit of googling and was shocked to learn that the story is broadly autobiographical and that Sharma's own life closely mirrors that of his protagonist. I think this explains why it took so long to write, why it lacks the brutality of his first novel perhaps in the interests of protecting his family from too much intrusion. In the book keeping up appearances, hiding the trauma, pretending the father isn't a drunk, all take on great importance. With such a family, it must be very hard to draw the line between honesty and hurt feelings. I have greater respect for the author's personal challenges - but I still stand by the three star rating. It's good but not great and I shouldn't change my rating because of a greater understanding of his circumstances.

I hope that getting 'Family Life' finished will allow Sharma to unblock his writing mojo and get him back to writing fantastic fiction again.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Price: £4.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 50 Shades of Brown, 16 Sept. 2017
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This book pulls off the seemingly impossible by being both very good in parts and truly terrible at the same time. But then perhaps that's what was intended and it's not as if a book title like this isn't promising something quite challenging.

Young British-Punjabi Nikki is not into the whole 'good girl' routine. That's not to say she's wicked or anything, but compared to her older sister who wants an arranged marriage and lives with their widowed mother, Nikki does have a long way to go if she wants to win any 'Sikh daughter of the year' awards. She's dropped out of university, moved out of the family home and works in a pub. Ouch! She even smokes.

Whilst doing a favour for her sister - putting up a 'matrimonial' advert in the gurudwara in Southall - she finds a job advertisement to teach 'creative writing' classes to the temple ladies. The woman who hires her doesn't really understand the advert that she placed (she copied it from one she saw elsewhere) and thinks that Nikki will teach middle-aged and elderly immigrant ladies to read and write but the ladies have other ideas and soon their weekly gatherings are generating some very 'creative' writing indeed. As the stories circulate and create their own Punjabi '50 Shades of Grey' boom in marital relations, it's clear that the secret group can't stay secret very long.

The base storyline is interesting - new world versus old, shame versus honour, pressures on women especially widows to conform to gender-appropriate behaviour as defined not by them but by their menfolk. There's an interesting mystery to be solved, a love story to evolve and most of all, a great examination of the potential within people to be more than their society expects of them. It's also a really great cross-culture and cross-generational story about friendship and its setting in Southall is rich and vibrant.

The problem is the erotica - it just doesn't fit and you could make a better story by just taking it out altogether. Most of the women are supposed to be functionally illiterate. They can't even write their names in English. Some have to get relatives to fill in their registration forms for them. Yet somehow, despite lives of bringing up children, cleaning and cooking, the women produce stories with a vocabulary that just doesn't match their education or background. And Nikki is recording their tales on a tape recorder. Seriously, a tape recorder? What next, a gramophone?

I would read this author again but preferably without the erotic short stories. She plots a good intrigue, develops characters you care about, but I could have done without all the stuff about his throbbing aubergine and the peach between her legs.

The Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch (Xenophobe's Guides)
The Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch (Xenophobe's Guides)
Price: £0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Tot siens, 11 Sept. 2017
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After absolutely slating 'Why the Dutch are Different' for being way too long, far too dull and almost entirely lacking in humour, I thought it was time to balance that out with examination of the Dutch from the 'Xenophobe's Guide' series. I've read other guides from the series a long time ago - in fact, I might well have read the Dutch one when I first started working with an Anglo-Dutch company many years ago - but it was worth another read.

I'm torn on this one between 2 points and 3 and have decided - for a change - to be charitable. It certainly squeezes a lot of observation into a very small book and shoe-horns some very wry observations in without going all out for every possible joke. It is pretty superficial though - it's the easy and obvious stuff that you'll learn about. The outer layers of the onion are clearly displayed but little attempt seems to be made to get into the why instead of the what.

The author is described rather bizarrely in the end-notes as 'African' which is more than a little ambiguous (I think he's actually South African which is a rather special and perhaps atypical type of African. There's a risk that asking a South African about the Dutch is like asking an Australian about the British).

If you already know the Dutch ways of living, attitudes, sense of humour etc then there's plenty in this that rings true. If you've never been there and don't know Dutch people, I'm less sure that it will hit home in the same way. Thankfully the author doesn't feel the need to go into tedious detail about long ago history, instead focusing on the kind of things you're likely to observe and notice.

The book is overdue for an update - mentioning as it does that Queen's day is at the end of April. The Queen abdicated in 2013 and now they have King's day instead (around the same time - for Willem Alexander's actual birthday - the old Queen's day was actually the Queen Mother's birthday, I believe).

Quite a few reviewers have commented that some of the humour is offensive to Dutch people. If they are themselves Dutch and they are offended, then that's very unfortunate. If - as I suspect - many of them are not Dutch but are doing the very on-trend thing of taking offence on behalf of other people, then I offer this quote from the book "Tolerance is not simply a virtue, it is a national duty." It's quite hard to offend a Dutch person - they really are very thick skinned and tolerant which makes them such a joy to work with and to have as your friends.

I Am Watching You
I Am Watching You
Price: £3.98

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not outstanding - well worth a read., 9 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: I Am Watching You (Kindle Edition)
I enjoy good crime fiction but it's hard to make a mark in a very crowded marketplace. I am Watching You is better than many, but when I reflect on giving 4 star ratings to great writers like Val McDermid, I can't match that rating for this one. It's good but not great - if you see what I mean.

Two 16-year old girls are on a train, heading for a weekend in London when they get chatting and flirting with two young men who've just been released from prison. Another passenger overhears the conversation and wonders if she should report the incident to the police, fearing for the safety of the girls. But then she passes the train toilets and hears 'intimacy' between one of the girls and one of the men and figures they can look after themselves. The girl goes missing that night and is never seen again. The woman gets hate mail and public shaming for not having 'done the right thing'. She becomes one of the many characters whose story is shared in this book.

To be honest, there are a few too many characters and most of them are not very nice. It takes a very long time and a lot of points of view before everybody finally slots into place. It seems like almost everybody has a secret, most are hiding things from the police and from their families. Nobody's entirely likeable though I understand that's quite on-trend at the moment.

It's a good read, I didn't predict the killer but I equally found that the 'reveal' was rather rushed, rather hard to believe and a bit too convenient. This was my Amazon prime 'free' book this month and I rather enjoyed it and would read this writer again. I wish we had half points as this is a 3.5 from me

Price: £3.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is there a word for the opposite of synergy?, 5 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: Commonwealth (Kindle Edition)
Is there a word for the opposite of synergy? A state where the whole is so much LESS than the sum of parts? If there is, then I'd have to apply it to Commonwealth. I decided to read this after hearing Ann Patchett interviewed on the radio. I have a copy of Bel Canto 'somewhere' but couldn't find it, so thought I'd start with this.

The weird thing is that at any point in the book I felt fairly engaged with what was going on, but once I reached the end and looked back, it all seemed horribly disjointed. The characters are not very developed - there are perhaps a few too many - and sometimes, such as with the wife who was cheated on early in the book, it's only very near the end that we get to know anything about her at all. When you do, she's lovely and the trip to Switzerland is very enjoyable, but just as you think you've met somebody new....... well let's just say she doesn't get much more attention.

Plot wise, the leaps in time are distracting. One minute a girl is a babe in arms, the next she's nursing her elderly father, then she's a 20-something law school drop-out working in a bar, then the lover to an author, then back to being a carer again before bouncing back to taking her step-kids to meet some or other parent or step-parent or......confusing stuff.

The promise of the cover blurb is a mystery inappropriately revealed - a personal story confided and then spread around via a novel that reveals things the protagonists didn't know. I expected some great scandal or horror but instead the book just dances around the death of a young man without ever really explaining why it's such a devastating dereliction of family loyalty to have revealed what happened.

Much is hinted at, much is promised, and at times the prose is beautiful. But like a buffet that leaves you simultaneously stuffed and hungry, it doesn't satisfy. It's also SO much like a second rate Anne Tyler novel that I kept thinking how much I wished SHE had written it instead. I'll still keep hunting for my copy of Bel Canto, but that will be make or break for me with Ann Patchett.

Elemis Hydra- Boost Day Cream for dry skin 50ml
Elemis Hydra- Boost Day Cream for dry skin 50ml
Offered by BeautyEnhancement
Price: £36.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great non-greasy cream for dry skin., 1 Sept. 2017
I have quite dry skin - but not excessively so. I find a lot of creams for dry skin are too heavy, greasy or oily and leave me looking a bit 'basted' after I've applied them. What I particularly appreciate about the Elemis Hydra-boost, is that it sinks in quickly, gives a little bit of a tightening boost to the skin and then leaves the skin smooth and not greasy to the touch. I don't wear make up, but if I did, I'm sure this would be a great base for applying it.
I like the richness of the cream but I find the scent a bit weird - it reminds me of fruit and tea.
Disappointingly for a day cream there's no sun protection, so it's limited to use in the less sunny months or for those who don't go outside very much.

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