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A Ryder (London UK)

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Playthings
Playthings
by Alex Pheby
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.69

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately frustrating, 15 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Playthings (Paperback)
I hadn't read up on Daniel Paul Schreber before reading this, so I read it purely as a work of fiction and while it was ok, I couldn't see in it a particularly fresh exploration of one man's mental illness, nor read it as a metaphor for the soul of the German nation. Until I looked up Schreber's biography, I wasn't even able to place the events in any kind of context, except that the references to carriages implied it was before the advent of motorcars.

The device of random chapters (almost as random as BS Johnson's 'The Unfortunates' in terms of chronological content) is fine as a reflection of scattered thoughts, but the allusions to Schreber's forbidding, damaged father and their contact with a Jewish family at his clinic are undeveloped. What is the significance of Alexander? Anti-Semitism was rife across Europe in the 19th Century, so as a basis for Nazism it is rather flimsy, and Schreber himself never lived to see fascism flourishing in Germany.

The attendant Muller comes across as a cliche of the stifled 'little man' who takes his revenge on the class he feels has always judged him and his in every sense, and found them wanting. Deeply unpleasant, yes, but the abuse of institutional power was no more a 'great ill of the 20th Century' (to quote the blurb) than it was of any previous era.

Pheby's use of Schreber's life to magnify German traits, such as the obsession with manliness, made me slightly queasy. For example, according to factual sources, Schreber's feminine urges were part of his (middle-aged) breakdown, while Pheby plants them securely in his childhood, suggesting that they were innate. There is no right and wrong, but there is accurate and inaccurate, and these traits are fundamental to Schreber as a man and, later, as a patient. We see his adopted daughter Fridoline (or do we?) but we have nothing with which to compare their encounter because there is no depiction of Schreber in his prime, as a sane, respected judge and family man.

Finally, the writing felt stilted somehow, almost as though it was in translation, which I assume from the blurb about Pheby that it wasn't. This was underlined by an unfortunate mix-up between 'bought' and 'brought', with the former always being used in place of the latter. Bad proofing not to correct such a fundamental error.

If you have read about the real Schreber, this may mean something to you as one man's interpretation of his illness. If not, I wouldn't recommend reading this, as It just doesn't work as a stand-alone piece of fiction.


StrapsCo Purple Padded Croc Leather watch Strap size 22mm
StrapsCo Purple Padded Croc Leather watch Strap size 22mm
Offered by strapsCo
Price: £14.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty but not durable., 10 Feb. 2016
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Fine for the price but I don't believe it's real leather. The colour is coming off after less than two months.


The Man in the Iron Mask: the True Story of the Most Famous Prisoner in History and the Four Musketeers
The Man in the Iron Mask: the True Story of the Most Famous Prisoner in History and the Four Musketeers
by Roger Macdonald
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A possible story rather than the true one, but nicely told, 25 Jan. 2016
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I bought this at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Fouquet's former home and partial reason for his downfall, which was very atmospheric on a stormy summer afternoon with hardly any other visitors at hand. Along with the fetching tea-towels, there were various books about 17th Century France and I love the Dumas novel of the same name. MacDonald is a very readable writer, which is no easy task with the plethora of characters that flit in and out of the pages as they must have done at the royal French palaces. A great strength of this book is the background detail which, as other reviewers have mentioned, takes the reader convincingly into the murky, dangerous grime of Louis XIII and XIV's Paris,

Some basic knowledge is assumed, i.e. if the names Athos, Porthos and Aramis mean nothing to you, then it's highly unlikely you'd pick this up to read anyway, but in tracing the intrigues of the French court from around 1640 until the following century, it's easy to see the nuggets distilled by Dumas into a classic adventure story. As with most fiction based on truth, the facts are less neat and structured, and often stranger.

I declined to give the final accolade of a fifth star because the book claims to solve a mystery which will in all probability never be solved because we lack the evidence, and/or ways of verifying that evidence so long after the events. MacDonald's theory is bold and argued with spirit, but without giving the game away while his research turns up a fairly plausible candidate, it relies on his interpretation of certain documents in a way that supports his theory, when they can clearly be analysed to further other theories in the same way. I was also unconvinced by the reasons for keeping this person alive, rather than simply killing them outright at some point. In short, I remain open-minded about the identity of the unfortunate man condemned to live out his life in a mask of iron, or even velvet, but it was an enjoyable read.


Rieker Z7984-14, Women's Chukka Boots, Blue (Blue), 6 UK (39 EU)
Rieker Z7984-14, Women's Chukka Boots, Blue (Blue), 6 UK (39 EU)
Offered by Schuhe24
Price: £42.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A1, 2 Dec. 2015
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Love Rieker and these are no exception. Comfy, attractive and light.


delightable24 Premium Protective Case Bookstyle for Samsung Galaxy S5 / S5 Neo Smartphone - Eiffel Tower Balloon Edition
delightable24 Premium Protective Case Bookstyle for Samsung Galaxy S5 / S5 Neo Smartphone - Eiffel Tower Balloon Edition
Offered by BF-Commerce GmbH
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very acceptable case for the mobile, 26 Nov. 2015
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Lovely case, protecting well so far. I tend to keep phones for 2 years and I'm not sure whether the plastic will last quite that long without looking tatty (I've been using this for about a month now) but very good at the price and I love the design.


Skin Doctors Vein Away Plus 100ml
Skin Doctors Vein Away Plus 100ml
Price: £15.04

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No visible effect whatsoever, 11 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I had noticed a tiny patch of these behind my knee that appeared after a bruise and never went away. My options seemed to be expensive private laser treatment that isn't guaranteed to work, or something like this. I thought I'd try and after well over a month of applying as indicated, it has made no difference at all. Maybe it works for some, since everyone responds differently to treatments, but I won't be buying again. I'll just have to use fake tan if I am wearing a short skirt in hot weather and if I want something soothing will try any of the variety of horse chestnut creams.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2016 11:18 AM GMT


A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change
A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change
by Elaine Graham-Leigh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good argument for a new system, 25 Oct. 2015
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Since the financial crisis of 2008, a number of books have been written about the failures of capitalism to sustain growth, to promote prosperity and to effectively combat climate change. 'A Diet of Austerity' brings forward an issue - or rather a host of interconnected issues - that most of the others have only mentioned in passing: that of feeding a growing population by means which will not devastate the planet, and whether this is even possible within a predominantly capitalist system.

Ms. Graham-Leigh's arguments are compelling, and backed up by many other sources all referenced for the reader. She draws in history and economic theory from Malthus to Keynes, and it's difficult not to conclude that a neo-liberal, free-market utopia would always have relied upon low-paid labour, and any wastage, human or otherwise, disposed of with as little cost as possible. A huge problem for the average person wondering what they can do in the face of dire warnings about impending global disaster is, as is always the case when large sums of money are involved, that myths and rumours abound. One such pernicious idea is that the lower-income class in the western world (the 'Chavs' defended by Owen Jones) are fuelling climate change through their love of burgers. That they are also fuelling an obesity epidemic which, in Britain, is draining the NHS, strengthens the notion that if the have-nots had less, then everyone would benefit. If this particular style of argument seems familiar, it's because it echoes the ethos of our current government, who seem less concerned with the billions owed by global corporations than they do with cutting the millions claimed by low-income families.

I have heard the class/meat argument first-hand. I attended a talk by the Compassion in World Farming group at about the same time as this book was published, and while they would seem to be arguing from the same anti-mass production (and therefore capitalist) stance, I came away with the distinct message that I am doing wrong when I buy a pork chop on offer at the supermarket. What I should be doing is saving my pennies until I have enough to head for a small butcher whom I know selects only ethically-reared, local meat, and walk away with my small and very expensive package feeling good about myself, if hungry.... I must at this point say that factory farming is revolting, and I support regulation of any industry involving livestock, which probably puts me in the vast majority of omnivorous consumers. What galled me about the talk I attended was that the message was delivered by people whose trips to that butcher or deli could be daily (and a stone's throw from their front doors) because they clearly had the funds to eat the best food, with a clear conscience, and without giving up anything. For someone who labours manually, let's say, and earns the minimum wage to feed their family, whether that's in Bolivia or Basingstoke, they are going to need the calories and protein offered by a meat-rich diet, or an affordable alternative.

What the author is arguing is common sense, and what applies to food is also applicable in general principle, i.e. that individual action, however well-meaning and self-sacrificing, will not save the planet, and the inference that it will is a deflection, on the part of those with the power to change things, away from their own reluctance to make those changes. A prime example is, once again, the current government, who emphasise the budget deficit as a reason for cutting public services, which of-course is their natural policy as Tories anyway. The book doesn't claim to have the answers. Who knows what an alternative system to capitalism would look like? It does seem from the evidence given here, though, that among the many factors to consider are grounds for optimism. There is arguably land enough to cultivate and feed the earth's population, and the reasons it is under-used are to do with profit motives rather than conservation.

The book is very timely in light of the overwhelming popularity within the Labour movement of its new leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faces down Machiavellian assaults with honesty and an unwavering commitment to proving that the TINA (There Is No Alternative) message we've all been fed for the last 35 years is just plain wrong and highly dangerous for all of us.


Frances Kray: The Tragic Bride
Frances Kray: The Tragic Bride
by Jacky Hyams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An account of lasting emotional damage, 25 Sept. 2015
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A book to explode the myth that the Krays 'only hurt their own kind', this is a biography of Reggie's first wife Frances, who was an East End girl but a very reluctant gangster's moll. In the current film 'Legend', Frances has a voice-over, which critics have panned because it's a device that rarely works well and in this instance, Frances wouldn't have known the events which she narrates on film. This is a rather more successful examination of the life of a woman who was almost literally crushed by the negative power of the Krays.

If you are someone who devours every publication on London gangsters, then this won't hold any dark-deed revelations about 'The Firm', but I came to this wanting to know more about the shadowy figure of a pretty sixties girl who married a violent criminal and then committed suicide at the age of 23. The establishment of the post-war East End scene, and both the Kray and Shea family's place within it was therefore a useful scene-setter, and Hyams makes good judgments about which of the notorious incidents of the twins' career to include. The murders of Cornell, Mitchell and McVitie here bookmark the relationship between Reggie and Frances, and show how the marriage was entirely dictated by Reggie's need to help his sadistic, power-obsessed brother maintain their menacing reputation.

Some reviewers have criticised the writing style and the level of speculation. It's not badly written, however, and is very readable. Hyams is a journalist on popular magazines and papers, and the style she uses reflects that, but this was a tabloid tale, so it's not incongruous. As for supposition, it's inevitable when the facts aren't always well established. Where there is information, it often comes from several sources that are contradictory, and it's not departing from the norm to argue a theory. There's no attempt to establish a viewpoint as fact, so the reader is free to differ from the author. Perhaps most importantly, Hyams doesn't omit circumstances that show Reggie in a more sympathetic light, nor Frances as something other than a total innocent.

Whatever the truth of the complicated motivations on both sides, the marriage was mainly a sham, and Frances a victim of depression that was aggravated beyond endurance by her bi-sexual, controlling, yet chaotic husband. It's understandable that a war baby, growing up in a house later demolished in slum clearance and catching the eye of a rich older man, wouldn't be flattered and tempted by pretty things and foreign holidays she couldn't otherwise have. Perhaps the bigger enigmas are the flipside personality of Reggie, who in his letters to his then-girlfriend 'Frankie' cherished a dream of a country home, a family of his own and a legitimate business, and the enduring myth of the Krays as near-loveable villains who were nice and polite to women, loved their mum, taught kids a thing or two about respect and were latter-day Robin Hoods. So much of their legacy to the East End is the image of sixties glamour, mixing with the likes of Lord Boothby, Diana Dors, Babs Windsor, Shirley Bassey and David Bailey; yet the smart suits, the flashy cars and the charitable deeds were largely the proceeds of protection rackets and illegal gambling. A newspaper article during Reggie's lifetime describes him as a 'businessman', but the National Portrait Gallery's photographs, some taken by Bailey, refer to him simply as 'gangster'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 30, 2015 5:14 PM GMT


This House is Haunted
This House is Haunted
by John Boyne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.58

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Workaday effort from a usually-impressive author, 7 Sept. 2015
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This review is from: This House is Haunted (Paperback)
A ghost story in the classic mould by John Boyne, probably best known for 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'. The set-up is very much like 'The Turn of the Screw', in that a young woman of no particular family finds a post as a governess in a quiet country house, where her two young charges are orphans who behave rather strangely. With such a familiar setting, the ensuing plot and/or the writing need to be very good indeed for the novel to work, however, and this wasn't really up to the mark.

The first problem is that London and Norfolk in 1867 aren't brought to life at all. With a genre novel, the reader wouldn't expect to be swamped with period detail, but a few deft touches would have made all the difference. It was difficult to picture Norfolk's Gaudlin Hall, for example, the Caine home in London, or any of the characters. Where he does mention something, such as a dandy horse, it seems flung in as a bit of Victoriana rather than rooting the characters in their time. The language is also rather stilted and odd. While he avoids obviously modern slang, the turn of phrase has more in common with laboured current speech than 19th Century vernacular of any description. Presumably Boyne made a deliberate decision to keep the language accessible to all, and while this has something to recommend it, it comes here at the expense of atmosphere.

Then there is the pace, which is irregular. There's a slow build up, which is fine per se, but there are more implausibilities in Eliza's continuing ignorance than there are in an average soap opera. Would an independent woman who had been a schoolteacher accept endless evasions from people who clearly know that terrible things have happened in the house in which she's staying? Then, about halfway through, and from a character who should and surely would have told her sooner, she learns everything, and from that point on all the tension dissipates. Any vaguely alert reader will have worked out who or what is tormenting and protecting her. In fact, it was so obvious that I felt there had to be an unforeseen twist in the tale towards the very end, but instead there was a melodramatic and rather ludicrous scene that even on a big screen with CGI would be far fetched. Much of the second half of the book to that point involves Eliza waiting for random malevolent acts from the fury that is hellbent on destroying her. Mysterious are the ways of ghosts, I suppose, but why wait? There's no date significance or extra element expected.

Finally, in place of the nuanced narrative of 'The Turn of the Screw', and despite a few red herrings involving an object of Eliza's fancy, there are no real ambiguities at all. There is, as in so many ghost stories, a moral in the tale, but even this feels too up-to-date, involving child abuse of girls by the men in their lives. It was far from unknown in the 19th Century, but the age of consent in England was twelve and women and children were not the legal equals of men, so it was not the public spectre that it is today. Paedophilia undoubtedly has serious consequences - did we ever think otherwise? - but the depiction of a (foreign) child abuse victim as a psychotic murderer who becomes a vengeful ghost is perhaps not the most constructive way of looking at it. In all, while this is a reasonable read, the characters were unconvincing and the horrors rather dull.


Sophie Scholl and the White Rose
Sophie Scholl and the White Rose
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and mostly good, 4 Sept. 2015
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My knowledge of the White Rose and its members comes from brief references in wider books about the Nazis, and from the German film about Sophie Scholl. This is a welcome addition to my scant knowledge, and was for the most part a readable history. For the above reasons I can't comment on factual errors, although it's not an uncommon problem - the introduction to Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen's 'Diary of a Man in Despair', for example, has a different description of Reck's fate than does one of Richard Evans's tomes on the Nazis (he is referenced in this volume, and refers to the deaths of the Scholls and Probst in his memoirs).

The absence of the fifth star for me is first of all for the American-English of the text. It may be my problem rather than the author's, I admit, but it jars. The second and more important reason is that there's a lot of speculation in the backstory, along the lines of semi-serious textbooks for young readers rather than history. At some points it felt like the narrative was a book accompanying an American tele-biopic. It's true that some correspondence of the Scholls and their friends and family survives, and that Sophie and Hans's sister Inge spoke about her executed siblings after the war, but the book begins, "As the train pulled out of the Ulm railway station, Sophie Scholl sat back in her seat..." and continues in that vein. Quite how much is documented account, and how much the author's whim, is unclear, and in a book about young idealists' sacrifice in order to expose the truth, it feels like it should be an important distinction.


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