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Zannie (London)

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On Chesil Beach
On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exercise in Englishness, 10 April 2007
This review is from: On Chesil Beach (Hardcover)
July, 1962, and Edward and Florence have just got married after a loving but chaste engagement. Dorset's Chesil Beach provides the backdrop of their wedding night, but the prospect of sex unnerves Edward and utterly repulses Florence. After a painfully awkward meal, she resolves to see it through, but what happens next will change the course of everything.

Florence and Edward's clumsiness and innocence risks becoming the stuff of comedy, and their first fumbled moments on the bed are wonderfully excruciating. However, this pre-dates the sexual revolution of 1963 - and these are two lives that will be tragically determined by things left unsaid and misunderstandings left unclarified.

Everything about Edward and Florence's courtship rests on idealised promise; everything that truly matters is buried and ignored with stiff upper lip. McEwan takes us from the start of their relationship to a point in the distant future, McEwan conveys the near-numinous significance of a single moment on two entire lifetimes with quiet, pervasive grace.

I normally don't read short books, because in all honesty I read very fast so I feel that I won't get value for money. However, this novella may be 3 or 4 times shorter than most of the books I read, but several times more satisfying. The plot may not be entirely credible in places, but that is not really what this book is about. It is a study and exploration of what it is about being English that is so counter to pure and clear adoration between two people.


The Quest
The Quest
by Wilbur Smith
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's not all bad!!, 10 April 2007
This review is from: The Quest (Hardcover)
I will agree with other reviewers that this is not as good as Wlbur Smith's previous novels in the series, which were awesome. However, he is still a very good writer and, on its own merits, the book is pretty good.

The Quest continues the story of Taita, the warlock from the previous work, who is steeped in wisdom of the ancient gods, magic and the supernatural. He is called in by the Pharoah as Egypt is hit by catastrophic plauges, culminating in the most crippling of all. The river Nile dries up. The source of the Nile is in the darkest depths of Africa and Taita is sent forth to find out what is the cause of the disaster.

The descriptive language Smith uses is exceptional as always, be it evoking landscapes or describing magical experiences and passionate battle scenes. Most of all, as a reader with a penchant for solid baddies, Eos, the beautiful witch who creates havoc and disaster is my favourite part of the novel.

Why not more than 3 stars? Well basically because it is a sequel and the Taita we have in this book bears little resemblence to the flawed anti-hero of the previous. It is inconsistent in plot as well - the previous novels were not magical fantasies in the same way.

If you have never read Wilbur Smith, you'll love it. If you're looking forward to the next in the series, you'll be confused!


Bad Luck And Trouble: (Jack Reacher 11)
Bad Luck And Trouble: (Jack Reacher 11)
by Lee Child
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, fast-paced read, 29 Mar. 2007
This was my introduction to both Lee Child and his character Jack Reacher and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read it initially completely oblivious to the fact that it is #11 in a series and it didn't affect my enjoyment at all. It has a man on a mission, mystery, paramilitary shenanigans and a bit of a random love affair chucked in to a story that twists and turns, and is told at breakneck speed.

Jack Reacher is my kind of protagonist because he is a great antihero, which seem to be on the wane in books of late. He stays in the shadows, fighting when he feels justice has been affronted and his fundamental goodness is clear from the solid friends who are so loyal to him.

In Bad Luck and Trouble, Jack is after finding those who threw out his buddies of a helicopter. Although they may have had enemies, it has been some time since they were making those so revenge to be sought on them now seems a little late. The outlines of a frightening conspiracy begin taking shape, suggesting that much more is at stake than any of them could have imagined at the outset. A point of no return approaches, and Jack Reacher has to face a major moral dilemma. On the one hand, the lives of two friends. On the other, the lives of thousands of innocents.

It's not going to go down in the annals of great canonical literature, but I think you'll be hard pushed to find a better, more tightly-constructed and drive plot in whatever comes out in 2007.


The Girls
The Girls
by Lori Lansens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An incisive read on several levels, 29 Mar. 2007
This review is from: The Girls (Paperback)
1974 sees the birth of Ruby and Rose Darlen - the world's longest surviving conjoined craniopagus twins. With their mother dying shortly afterwards, Aunt Lovey, a kindly overweight nurse, falls in love with these fragile and delicate young girls and adopts them. Together with her Canadian-Slovakian husband, she raises them on their isolated farm, trying to give them lives as normal as possible.

Taught by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash to be independent, the girls pour themselves into school and helping out around the farm. As adults, they work at the local library, shelving books and reading to school groups. Rose discovers she has a talent for writing and embarks on a novel about her life, and Aunt Lovey tells her to write her story fearlessly, "not just as a conjoined twin but as a human being and as a woman."

Meanwhile, the more mediocre student, Ruby develops an interest in local Indian archeology and enjoys watching American sitcoms, but her pleasure in life is tempered by her chronic gastrointestinal troubles. The drama unfolds as the two girls race against time to tell their story: now twenty-nine and constantly plagued by headaches, their lives are threatened by the tangled veins in their heads. An aneurysm in Rose's brain may kill them both.

Empathetic and compassionate, author Lori Lansens has meticulously researched the lives of craniopagus twins. Full of enthusiasm and purpose, there's no doubt the author's appeal for understanding and for public awareness is always perceptive. Methodically, she steadily reveals Rose and Ruby's inner world, shedding back the layers and exposing all their hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities.

As much as this is a story of love between sisters, it is also a book on writing. The craft of writing is shown through Rose's challenges of how to portray her existence and what to leave behind on the printed page. If Rose wants to be remembered for her words, then what does she capture? How can she properly tell the story of her life, and what repercussions will her work have in the future?


Curious Earth, A
Curious Earth, A
by Gerard Woodward
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous end to Woodward's trilogy, 27 Mar. 2007
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This review is from: Curious Earth, A (Hardcover)
I adored August and I'll Go To Bed At Noon, so I awaited A Curious Earth with great excitement and Woodward did not disappoint. All the characters are beautifully drawn in wonderfully described surroundings, enabling the reader to be all-consumed. It is a fine standalone novel, but if you have the time, read the first two because you will not be disappointed.

Aldous cuts a pretty pathetic figure at the start of the book. His only real interest seems to be watching the growing potatoes that he left in the cupboard. He is unmotivated to stay clean and there is almost some voyeurism in watching him amble his way through his foggy, drunken state, repulsing friends, family and strangers alike.

The reader cannot help but be relieved when Aldous suddenly regains his interest in life, although the pace at which he throws himself into ideas and relationships does almost feel like watching a train wreck. However, he gets away with a wonderful amount by being an innocent old chap and, while the alcoholism upsets his children, they are unable to turn him away because it is the disease that identifies them as a family.

Gerard Woodward is mainly known for his poetry, but he is one of the finest authors of the last decade. Any of his 3 novels can be read individually, but I urge you to take the time to read all of them, in whatever order you choose.


The Testament of Gideon Mack
The Testament of Gideon Mack
by James Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea - poorly executed, 27 Mar. 2007
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OK, so I raced through this, so maybe I didn't give it all the due attention it deserves, but this is the most over-rated book on any of the Richard & Judy lists so far. It is pedestrian, cliched and self-indulgent with the highlight being the character of Miss Craigie, a parishioner of Gideon and seemingly genuinely deserving of a story being written about her. I thought the text was clumsy, especially in the early chapters. Frankly, the only reason I kept reading was because I was on a plane with the rest of my books in the hold.

The premise of a faithless priest communing with the devil is very interesting and I believe that there is some kind of moral message that pervades about humanity being more important in a priest than theological doctrine. However, Robertson takes an age to get to the point, while rushing at the end with an odd device of interviews with people close and not so close to Gideon Mack, following his declaration of the time he spent with the devil. I think this kind of reporting style is only effective at the opening of books, such as E M Forster's letters at the beginning of Howard's End. Having waded through Robertson's narrative, it left me feeling shortchanged.

Characterisation is largely weak in places, with the exception maybe of Miss Craigie, as mentioned, and Mack's parents. I found the Moffats, Mack's friends from university and through adulthood, to be unconvincing so that I was unmoved by the revalations about them at the end (don't worry no spoilers!)

That said, the plot is solid and interesting, driving the text at a reasonable pace. However, while Robertson's imagination is certainly vivid and he has some good ideas, there are no real surprises and the movements in the main plot and sub-plots are predictable. There were some brief highlights of comedy, but they were laboured and the only thing I was particularly left considering at the end was why the devil wore scruffy trainers.


Empress Orchid
Empress Orchid
by Anchee Min
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Girl power!, 27 Mar. 2007
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This review is from: Empress Orchid (Paperback)
I am sure that Anchee Min would feel somewhat belittled by me delivering such a trite title for the review, but that is what kept me reading Empress Orchid. There are all sorts of better books available if a history of Chinese Imperial culture is what you are after, but for a solid page-turner with a strong female character at the centre, Empress Orchid doesn't tread far wrong.

Min's characterisation is patchy and sometimes sketchy of most of the cast which sometimes causes the narrative to lose pace. Some characters turn out to be wonderfully vile and evil but I would have liked to have seen them built up to this, rather than the sort of pantomime caricatures that they are reduced to. In addition to this, the text becomes a little introverted onto Empress Orchid leaving the reader feeling as though some action is probably passing them by.

However, writing style aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It will not suit a reader looking for the sort of literary depth of Wild Swans, for example, I will admit that. What it does do is provide a great story about a woman on a mission to improve herself and her prospects, without losing her compassion, in a beautiful setting that most people can enjoy


The Manny
The Manny
by Holly Peterson
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must-have for holiday reading, 13 Mar. 2007
This review is from: The Manny (Hardcover)
I loved this book because it appealed to the "Desperate Housewives" and "The OC" viewer in me. It is perfect for voyeurs like me who love reading about keeping up with the Jones' or as in New York, keeping up with the Vanderbilts.

Jamie and husband maybe rich but, unlike the other wives, she is a working mum and as such struggles to fit in with the lifestyle of the neighbours and this worries her rather neurotic husband. As life heats up in both Jamie's career and family life, it all seems too much to cope with. However, their life gets much more exciting when this is reversed by Jamie acquiring the must-have accessory of a male nanny and they are the family to be kept up with.

It isn't groundbreaking literature but it is a very good read. Holly Peterson is very incisive and witty which takes the book out of the league of normal chick lit that I find predictable and bland, and into the higher echelons of must-have holiday reading books.


Love In The Present Tense
Love In The Present Tense
by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful writing, 13 Mar. 2007
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The story revolves around a charming little boy called Leonard whose young mother is desperate for an equally charmed life for him. However, in the way of that is her lack of family and the violent secret she is running from. She disappears when Leonard is 5, leaving him in the care of a sweet neighbour called Mitch. He is in his mid-20s and doesn't know much about looking after young children, but they rub together to make things work.

The tale is boldly told and the book is refreshingly concise. There is little room for saccharine sweetness or weepiness, with the result that Leonard does not come across as a tragic little boy, despite everything that is thrown at him, but a little star that everyone wants to succeed. The relationships he forms are powerful and focussed, enabling the author to flow between decades freely without losing the emphasis or momentum of the prose.

Leonard becomes increasingly focussed upon finding his mother as he grows older and seems to be unable to be truly happy until he does. Mitch is his greatest friend because he understands this, treating Leonard's ideas without prejudice throughout. Whether and where he finds his mother is something for the reader to discover - I have no interest in spoiling any plot.

The only reason I have not given this book 5 stars is because at the end of the book Hyde chooses to switch from her very effective writing style to a letter device. This is not a device that I am generally keen on because it is normally done badly - it is only usually effective at the opening of a novel, such as with E M Forster. I thought it let Hyde down a little. However, I'm still very glad I read it.


Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner's Secrets
Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner's Secrets
by Gary Sutton
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read but not rocket science, 13 Mar. 2007
I'm one of those "overpaid consultants" to which Sutton refers early on and I am quite widely read in this genre. I also have solid blue-chip career experience behind me, though, so I don't feel unqualified to comment on Sutton's preventative medicine counsel.

Firstly, I would warn that this is written in a vernacular, chatty style, with fragmented sentences. This irritated me. While I am a firm believer in accurate and concise business language, I expect a certain amount of effort to be put into correct punctuation and grammar. This almost over-the-top writing style made it difficult for me to take the author seriously, regardless of how many businesses he has turned around. Would he go to a job interview or board meeting in ripped jeans and shirt? I highly doubt it. Therefore, regardless of how good his resume may be, he should make similar presentation efforts on his written word. If it were not for this ridiculous way of writing, I would recommend this book to my senior management. However, I would be embarrassed to do so.

That aside, Sutton has a talent for crystallising business issues and drawing similarities from seemingly diverse organisations. His simple messages are accurate and very tangible. There is a refreshing lack of economic theory, with only slight reference to interpretation of debt to equity ratio. The canary motif is quite cute, but is less important than the business lessons taught in following his Grandpa's career through the mining industry. What appears to be a fundamentally basic business structure proves to be the blueprint for any business, the same things go wrong regardless of what is being sold or marketed.

However, this book taught me nothing new. It may be useful to help articulate ideas but midway through I stopped reading it to find out hot new tips for running businesses and more to find out what happened to Grandpa.


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