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Sue Kichenside
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The Girl in Green
The Girl in Green
by Derek B. Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Save Ferris: War thriller with an appealing moral hero., 24 July 2016
This review is from: The Girl in Green (Hardcover)
“I have this theory that everything you truly need to know,” Arwood said, “I mean, deep down and for the duration, can be learned from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The fact that there was no sequel only proves that there was nothing left to say. To me, the army is Principal Ed Rooney, and you need to be Ferris.”

So says US soldier Arwood Hobbes to UK war reporter Thomas Benton at a military checkpoint in Iraq just after Operation Desert Storm. Benton tells Hobbes that he has an “interesting name to take into a war zone” (a remark in reference to moral and political philosopher Thomas Hobbes that whistles like a bullet over Arwood’s head). It’s 1991 and the war is meant to be over; they’re just “waiting for paperwork”. But for Hobbes and Benton, the heavy stuff is just about to begin. Caught up in a local village attack, their failure to save a 14-year old girl haunts both of them for decades. Twenty-two years later, Hobbes offers Benton a route to redemption.

Here at last is Derek B. Miller’s much anticipated follow-up to his debut Norwegian by Night, a literary thriller par excellence. Once again, he gives us something that defies easy classification. Written before the rise of so-called Islamic State, this is a prescient account of how the group’s early activities gave them a foothold in the internecine tribal rivalry that is such a unique feature of Middle Eastern discord. Into this imbroglio, Miller interposes the various relief aid agencies and shows how their workers have to juggle multiple elements and manoeuvre within situations so complex that their simple aim to help victims of war would defy the strategizing of a world-class chess master. This aspect of the book really is eye-opening.

And then there is Arwood Hobbes. In Arwood, Miller has created a true hero. A magnificent character who wears his moral integrity so lightly and so humorously that the smugness one usually associates with nobility of purpose is here rendered irresistibly appealing. We are hardly aware we are reading about a saint. And an arms-dealing saint at that. This is a very impressive book that cannot help but enlighten, entertain and enthral the reader. 4.5*


Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author
Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author
by Herman Wouk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars From gags to gravitas., 21 July 2016
Wouk started out as a gag-writer writing material for radio star Fred Allen. This slim volume consists of his reflections on his early career, then joining the navy after Pearl Harbour and his subsequent change of path towards novel writing. It was The Caine Mutiny that made his name and opened doors for him. His life-span provides a unique vantage point of an eventful century but this mini-memoir is more about the genesis of Herman Wouk’s books - his life’s Wouk, as it were. At the end, there is a wonderful fan letter from Joseph Heller praising Wouk’s semi-autobiographical novel ‘Inside, Outside’, first published in 1985. Worth catching up with, I reckon.


Native Believer: A Novel
Native Believer: A Novel
by Ali Eteraz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The USlamist., 19 July 2016
Some years ago, Ali Eteraz wrote an acclaimed coming-of-age memoir called Children of Dust and this, his first novel, has been long-awaited in the States. The narrator is not so much a lapsed believer in Islam as a non-believer. As the second-generation son of immigrant Asian parents, what he does believe in is America. So strong is his faith that he yearns for nothing more than to father children, to feed his DNA into the native fabric of his country. If only his wife could – or would – oblige.

We are not told until the end of this book that the narrator calls himself M; no guessing what it stands for. Physically slight, an intellectual and a dandy, M is married to a giant of a white wife from the top tier of South Carolinian society. Marie-Anne has become obese and hirsute, the side-effects of her meds for an unusual medical condition. They make an oddly compatible couple. For a while, he thinks he’s going places in the world of PR. “Marketing was a religion that paid well and we would have been foolish to cast doubt upon our deity.” But post 9/11, the establishment is not quite as colour-blind as he had assumed. It comes as quite a shock.

This Philadelphia story tells of the narrator’s strange marriage, his journey into the small city’s underworld (with its Muslim porn industry, Talibang Productions) and how M finally decides where his loyalties lie. Does he alter his original self-assessment that he feels “five-eighths American. 62.5 percent”? With its shocking conclusion, this book is definitely worth reading to find out. Eteraz engages, surprises, chafes, outrages, reconsiders and - ultimately - gives the reader plenty to think about. Oh, and did I forget to say? It’s also very funny. 4.5*


HENRY Numatic VACUUM CLEANER FULL HOSE TOOL KIT 2.5MTR
HENRY Numatic VACUUM CLEANER FULL HOSE TOOL KIT 2.5MTR
Offered by KGA-SUPPLIES
Price: £11.78

3.0 out of 5 stars Replacement Henry tool-kit: Fors and againsts., 15 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
FORS:

Like having a new Henry for less than 12 quid!
The attachments are substantial – not in the least flimsy.
Powerful suction.
Undeniably good value.

AGAINSTS:

Chrome rod is longer - not as easy to manoeuvre.
Hose is also longer - good in theory but it tends to get twisted – keep having to unbuckle it. Very annoying!
Rod parts don’t stay together as well as the original ones.

CONCLUSION:

3.5 stars
Probably worth updating your lovely old Henry with this kit because the new Henrys have less powerful motors than the old ones.


Slow Horses: Jackson Lamb Thriller 1
Slow Horses: Jackson Lamb Thriller 1
by Mick Herron
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Spook-y., 15 July 2016
Slough House is the dingy east London office where intelligence operatives are sent when they mess up. These are ‘the slow horses’ and they yearn to be back in the game with the real spooks at MI5. When an apparent terrorist plot rather surprisingly and very dangerously comes their way, they almost wish they were back to shuffling paperclips.

This is a character-led spy story with whip-smart dialogue and a nicely intricate plot. It’s interesting in the light of the recent new cabinet appointments, to see a government minister clearly based on Boris Johnson (blond, bumbling, rides a bicycle) and characterised as an evil monster! The plot has a large cast which can lead to some confusion but overall, this is a well-written and entertaining read. Recommended.


Golden Hill
Golden Hill
by Francis Spufford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Please, Mr Spufford, I want some more., 11 July 2016
This review is from: Golden Hill (Hardcover)
New York: If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. Or so the song goes. Richard Smith, fresh off the boat from England on All Hallows Day in 1746, “skidding over fish-guts and turnip leaves and cats’ entrails, and other effluvium of the port”, is about to find out as he heads “hot-foot from the cold sea” to the Lovell counting house on Golden Hill Street. He is there to cash a bill for a staggeringly large amount of money. But who exactly is this Smith, with his good looks and winning ways? Will Lovell agree to turn the paper into gold when confirmation of its bona fide arrives? How will Smith survive in the town (not yet a city, not by a long chalk) with so little ready cash? And what is he to make of Lowell’s spiteful daughter Tabitha? The only way to tame such a shrew may be to play her at her own game.

Francis Spufford is one of the most original voices you could ever hope to read. He declares that this is his first novel. But if anyone had the pleasure of reading his book ‘Red Plenty’, they will know that he is a master at blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. Here, in another remarkable book, he seizes hold of the dusty sheets of historical fiction and gives them a firm, invigorating shake. Smith, epitomising the stranger in town, must negotiate the mores, the politics, the subterfuge and the hazards of an embryonic 18th century New York, riven by factions and driven by money. (Plus ça change, some might say.)

The writing is sensational and yet not (to my mind) overblown. Snow falls “in fat, tumbling clots, as if the stuffing of furniture were being tossed over the balconies of heaven”. A minor character - a grumpy Dutchman - sits “hunched up in fur like a dyspeptic bear”. And Smith himself, the man on a mysterious mission, has qualms that make him all too believably human: “…an unwelcome compunction was moving in him, sharp-pointed, stitching him through to the spot where he sat, attaching him by thin threads.”

The central thrust of the narrative, Smith’s own secret reason for acquiring the huge sum of money that he must cash, is not revealed until the satisfying conclusion. We not only agonise with his mis-steps along the way, we also find ourselves riveted by the other leading character in this story: the tiny seething port – little more than a village – that is destined to become one of the greatest cities in the world. Thank you for the splendid voyage, Mr Spufford. Dare we hope to hear more about the travails of your man, Mr Smith?


The Gustav Sonata
The Gustav Sonata
by Rose Tremain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars “Master yourself.”, 6 July 2016
This review is from: The Gustav Sonata (Hardcover)
The book starts in 1947 in the dull backwater town of Matzlingen in Switzerland. Five year-old Gustav lives in a poky flat, hardly made homely by his widowed mother Emilie to whom he is devoted. This love, however, is not reciprocated. As Emilie struggles financially, she becomes increasingly bitter about the comfortable life she lost before the war. When a new boy, Anton, arrives at the kindergarten, Gustav has a friend at last.

The story then goes back in time to show how Erich Perle, Gustav’s late father, helped Jews in flight from encroaching Nazism to enter Switzerland. Despite the fact that Erich is based on a real person, this character (to me, at least) fails to convince. The story then moves forward to Gustav and Anton in middle age but as adult characters, they are under-developed. Their boyhood selves - so skilfully rendered at the beginning of the book - seem hardly to have matured at all.

This is a novel of three distinct parts but unfortunately, the development of the story is disappointing. “Master yourself,” his mother is always telling Gustav early in the book. “You have to be like Switzerland. Do you understand me? You have to hold yourself together and be courageous, stay separate and strong. Then, you will have the right kind of life.” The issues of isolationism and Swiss identity – which at first seemed to lie at the heart of Rose Tremain’s story – are never to my mind satisfactorily explored. 3.5*


Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare)
Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare)
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Green cards, green fingers and the Baltimore blues., 1 July 2016
The latest literary update from the Hogarth Press Shakespeare project is The Taming of the Shrew. For Tyler fans, it’s a prospect to relish but this could more aptly be called The Taming of the Moue. Anne Tyler’s Kate is a downbeat young woman (and really, who can blame her with that father of hers?) but she’s hardly a harridan. “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart” is not a sentiment you can expect to hear from Tyler’s heroine. Kate’s anger is so quiet that even she seems unaware of it.

So forget The Taming of the Shrew. This is Vinegar Girl and it’s quintessential Anne Tyler: a small Baltimore-set story with wonderful characters, wry humour and Tyler’s inimitable insights into everyday life. Comparisons with the film “Green Card” are inevitable: two people who come together for reasons of self-interest - Pyotr to continue his research work in America, Kate who discovers a welcome new status in coupledom. And just like Brontë in the movie, Kate is also something of a horticulturalist. Plants, of course, are a whole lot less tricky for her to deal with than emotions - but when Kate's heart does eventually start to beat a little faster, so too did mine!

Call me an old romantic, but I just loved this.


Waking Lions
Waking Lions
Price: £6.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The long drop down from the moral high ground., 28 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Waking Lions (Kindle Edition)
Dr Eitan Green is a highly skilled neurologist and a happily married family man. After an argument of principle with his hospital professor – a man who up until this point Eitan had much admired - he leaves his prestigious city post to take up work in the isolated desert region of Beersheba. There, one dark night, a fateful car accident leads him into close contact with an underclass of illegal Eritrean refugees. “He had allowed himself a moment to feel sorry for them and already his empathy had become uncontrollable, a monster of malignant guilt pursuing him relentlessly.” In no time at all, his perfect life starts to unravel...

Ayelet Gundar-Goshen understands the psychology and the minutiae of relationships very well. As well as examining the moral ambiguities of Eitan’s situation, she pays equal attention to the impact of its repercussions on his wife, Liat, and her insights strike many a chord. But then the author seems to lose momentum and treads water for a while as though she is deciding which way to go with her story. How often this is the case with an initially compelling premise that forces the novelist into something of a creative cul-de-sac. Should the writer go for the inexorable dead-end conclusion or contrive a three-point turn? Cleverly, she does neither and thus makes her book even more thought-provoking.

Following on from Ms Gundar-Goshen’s overly quirky debut One Night, Markovitch, this is an unexpectedly good read. The maturity, insight and compassion of Waking Lions demonstrates her ability in no uncertain terms and Sondra Silverston’s translation from the Hebrew is flawless. This could – and should - win awards.


A Life Discarded
A Life Discarded
by Alexander Masters
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read it or skip it?, 24 Jun. 2016
This review is from: A Life Discarded (Hardcover)
Two of the author’s friends (one of whom, Dido Davies, is the dedicatee of this book) discover 148 discarded diaries mouldering in a skip. Masters determines to uncover the identity of the diarist, eschewing obvious sleuthing methods for some strange reason. Early on in his quest, he pays a visit to a graphologist who takes one look at the handwriting and exclaims that the writer is, and I quote, “a complete nutter”. This doesn’t take the brains of an Einstein to work out as it is patently clear from the outset that the diarist is barking.

I couldn’t really understand why Masters was so fascinated (obsessed?) by these journals, even when he does eventually try to explain. Personally, I was more interested in the two friends who’d discovered them in the first place. Nevertheless, Alexander Masters is an engaging writer and interspersed amongst the diary snippets, you’ll find many a good turn-of-phrase. So there is that. I also rather liked the way he tried to work out the diarist’s height from the slope of the handwriting. But as far as biography goes, this is something of an oddity.


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