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Reviews Written by
Chantal Lyons "C.S. Lyons" (England)

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The Art of Flight
The Art of Flight
by Fredrik Sjöberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really nature-writing [2.5 stars], 5 Jun. 2016
This review is from: The Art of Flight (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was disappointed with this book, unfortunately. I hadn't heard of "The Fly Trap" before picking its sort-of-sequel "The Art of Flight", but a quick Google and indeed the praise on the back of this book led to believe I'd be in for some excellent nature writing. Rather tellingly though, the praise is for the author's previous book and not this one.

"The Art of Flight" is far more about art, and its creators, than nature. There are the odd delightful deviations into the author's own childhood and adulthood experiences of Sweden and the West Coast of the US but mainly what I came away remembering was watercolours and letter-hunting. Sjoberg's narrative bounces between people like a dog in a park with too many smells to follow. He acknowledges from the start that this is his intention but even prepared, I struggled to hold onto the sheer number of names flung at me and to recall where the key artist had last been left in his life when Sjoberg finally returned to him.

I didn't scan-read, but neither did I read with my usual appetite. Sjoberg has occasional flashes of literary genius with some lines, for example one on photographs: "they banish the half-lies that make up the authentic half of all true memories". But these weren't enough. Having not read "The Fly Trap", I can't say whether fans of that will enjoy this book as much, but the former seems much more strictly nature-writing in theme, so it seems likely that some fans will indeed be disappointed.

One extra note - I didn't care for Sjoberg's vague criticism of accepted scientific opinion on climate change. He says he has reasons for believing things aren't as bad as we think they are and will be, but refuses to go into these. Given that in a Guardian interview with him that I came across, he also said something along the lines of "nature in Europe's doing really well now, we should stop worrying", I think he ought to stick to collecting hoverflies. His stance on nature reserves - that the belief that shutting people out completely is the way to save nature is wrong - I could instead agree with, partly. But again, frustratingly he skirts around the issue (and I totally disagree with his rhetorical question of "is there anything as sad as wilderness without people working?" Bits of wilderness free from the stresses of human activities will always be needed by the nonhuman life within them). To be honest I think he ought to have either left such things out, or addressed them properly. He also clearly has a bone to pick with modern art, emphasising repeatedly how hollow and unoriginal it is. And I just wanted to read more about moths at night...

Nails Inc Trio Power Treatments Set
Nails Inc Trio Power Treatments Set
Price: £20.85

3.0 out of 5 stars I rarely use nail varnish on my fingernails because I dislike the heavy feeling of it, 4 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Context first: I rarely use nail varnish on my fingernails because I dislike the heavy feeling of it, and it gets chipped so quickly it's pointless.

The heavy feeling aside, I've experienced no less issues with chipping with this set of nail varnish. I let each coating dry for a good deal of time (WAY more than 45 seconds as one reviewer says it's meant to take) but ridges and dents showed up almost immediately once I'd gone off to do things. The finish makes my nails look lovely and shiny... until it gets scratched off. So any hopes that the finish would give the varnish extra protection were put paid to.

On a different note, I don't know why this set doesn't come with instructions. There's plenty of blank paper on the inside of the packaging to print it. I had to check the Amazon product page to double-check how to use the set properly...

All that said, this is an attractively-presented set and would make a nice gift (if you can afford it) for someone into their nail varnish. The "overnight detox" has a handy applicator and indeed washes off easily (so you have to put it on literally just before you go to bed), although I don't know how to judge if it makes any positive difference to my nails.

On a Wing and a Prayer: One Woman's Adventure into the Heart of the Rainforest (Bloomsbury Nature Writing)
On a Wing and a Prayer: One Woman's Adventure into the Heart of the Rainforest (Bloomsbury Nature Writing)
by Sarah Woods
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable, 2 Jun. 2016
Product warning: this book will infect you with an insatiable urge to travel to Central/South America.

The prose isn't as soaring as a lot of the nature writing pouring into bookshops at the moment, but Woods' accounts of various different trips into the rainforest, to see wildlife and occasionally live with indigenous tribes, are detailed and immersive. Birders will especially love the profusion of birdlife, and for the non-birders like myself, the names of the many species are a delight - jacaranda, mountaingem, quetzal...

Woods is hard not to admire. She throws herself into the landscapes and cultures she visits, and does good when she can. She never makes a link between climate change and the enormous number of airmiles she's clocked up, but then again, that's the paradox of travelling to see and protect the natural world.

I consider myself somewhat of a traveller, but I'll never reach the level that Woods does. And that's OK - the way she narrates allows the reader to fall into her footsteps, see through her eyes. You'll enter tombs filled with carved walls; climb a giant tree; ford rivers; clamber up hills and through mud; and your mind will fill with the deafening colour of the rainforest.

I can't recommend this enough for anyone who enjoys going abroad in search of wildlife and wild places.

Garnier Ambre Solaire Protection Mini Lotion SPF50 50ml
Garnier Ambre Solaire Protection Mini Lotion SPF50 50ml
Price: £3.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Standard sun cream, 28 May 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There's not really that much to say about this product - it's factor 50 so will definitely protect your skin (although of course, in really hot/sunny countries you should still cover up or keep to the shade during peak sun time).

It's got the usual, pleasant, memory-invoking sun cream smell, and the usual viscosity to make it easy to squeeze out of the tube and spread across skin. Unfortunately the lid of my tube was partially open when it arrived and it had leaked, but that could've been a failing by whoever packaged it for delivery.

As it's travel size, you'll be able to take it through security at airports; it's also handy for carrying around in a handbag. I personally never use anything below factor 50, and can't imagine why anyone would waste their time with something as low as factor 20.

Zero K
Zero K
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.99

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So high-brow it's barren, 17 May 2016
This review is from: Zero K (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This not a story. This is a paper vehicle for a writer’s ruminations. There is no plot; the characters are not real, they don't think or talk as real people do.

Here’s an example of the insufferable dialogue, just after the narrator has told his girlfriend about a job offer:
"You look forward to this."
"Yes I do."
"Will this transform you?"
"It will remind me that this is the man I am."
"Down deep," she said.
"Whatever there is of deep."

I haven't read any DeLillo before, and he's clearly a big deal, but it also seems from other reviews that this book is not the finest example of his work. Certainly I have no inclination to explore him further. He seems to be afflicted by the same belief that many literary writers do - that anything and everything he writes is meaningful, whatever random order it's shoved into between the covers of a book. As I said before, the narrative has no plot - it's more or less a stream of consciousness in which the narrator goes randomly between different memories and subjects. On a single page he tells us about when he pretended to have a limp as a teenager; an old photograph of his mother; the anxiety of taking down phone messages for his mother; and wanting to read heavy European literature.

DeLillo flits around interesting philosophical musings about the preservation/evolution of human life, but without the flesh of a story around them, they weren't memorable enough (and the dialogue that carried much of the discussion was just irritating). The descriptions of various earthly horrors (natural disasters, warfare, terrorism etc) had no flavour of originality whatsoever. Reading this book made me feel as if I was standing in a modern art gallery, trying to work out why a million-pound blank canvas was on display.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 17, 2016 4:26 PM BST

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown: the second Baby Ganesh investigation (Baby Ganesh Agency)
The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown: the second Baby Ganesh investigation (Baby Ganesh Agency)
by Vaseem Khan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good continuation, 15 May 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you'll enjoy this one too. If you didn't enjoy the first book, I suspect you won't enjoy this one either.

"The Perplexing Theft..." repeats the successful ingredients of the first book: a warm narrative in the style of Alexander McCall, a foreign setting enlivened by the main character's love for it, japes, a slight bending of reality, and crime that never gets too gritty (although there is one quite nasty death!). My one issue with this book was that it took the far-fetchedness a bit too far - I can't imagine the UK's reaction to the theft of the Koh-i-Noor being as low-key as in the story, in which they send a few people over (and exaggeratedly English people at that) who aren't great at their jobs. The stereotypical characterisation surprised me somewhat - I've heard the author speak and he sounds as British as the next person, so I assume he's spent a great deal of his life in the UK. Exaggeration is very much part of the Baby Ganesh Agency brand but it made the story feel even less real in this case.

Still, there were plenty of moments that had me snorting with amusement, and baby Ganesha and his interactions with his human friends are a delight as usual. May there be many books in the Baby Ganesh Agency series.

Rams [DVD] [2016]
Rams [DVD] [2016]
Dvd ~ Siguršur Sigurjónsson
Price: £6.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nope, 15 May 2016
This review is from: Rams [DVD] [2016] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't want to give this film a low rating - I want to support foreign films. But this one didn't satisfy me on any account.

The vistas are beautiful, but that's about the one good thing. "Rams" is not a dark comedy as a review led me to believe (I laughed once), but it's not much of anything else either. The plot's compelling, but there aren't nearly enough dark laughs, and it's so short that it doesn't have much of a chance to develop. If Icelandic films are often like this, then it's just not my thing at all. I wish I could write a longer review like I normally do but in this case I don't have anything else to say!

GOURMETmaxx 09873 Julienne and Vegetable Spiralizer | Compact Spiralizer | Fruit and Vegetable Slicer
GOURMETmaxx 09873 Julienne and Vegetable Spiralizer | Compact Spiralizer | Fruit and Vegetable Slicer
Price: £9.98

3.0 out of 5 stars Holding review, 8 May 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This will have to be something of a holding review for now - I have been ill and am only just beginning to test this product out.

So far I've sliced carrots with it. I wasn't hugely impressed - it was quite difficult to get good long slices, so it wasn't much different to using a normal grater in the end. You also can't slice up the whole carrot. Although it did result in amusing pencil-shaped carrots. I'll try cucumber and courgette next.

The device itself is nicely compact, and light. You can choose to make wider or thinner slices, and you can use it either by sticking the vegetable straight in (like sharpening a pencil) or impaling it on the spiked inside of the cap and turning the cap (will try this when I can - I wonder if it's easy to keep the vegetable stuck on the spikes). Washing up is a little fiddly, but not much more fiddly than a grater or a garlic press, for instance.

So far, I probably wouldn't recommend this, but hope to update my review soon.

The Girls
The Girls
by Emma Cline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 24 April 2016
This review is from: The Girls (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I love it when a book matches up to the hype.

It takes a few pages to get comfortable with Cline's style - you get the feeling that she, like a lot of writers of this generation, had a checklist next to her while she wrote, at the top of which said "ensure other every other paragraph contains a figure of speech that may make complete sense, or may only make sense if the reader tries really, really hard to make it make sense". Thus we have lines like "Sasha was quiet. Her silence seemed like a kind of love". Some description could've been trimmed down.

But really, that's my only criticism. Because after the first few pages I was hooked. Cline calibrates the back-and-forth of time superbly. The end is inevitable, the dread ratchets up, and the story refuses to let go after the last word.

"The Girls" is a thriller that could be called feminist, except for me the feminist project is about how to make a better world; it isn't only about exposing the existing one. This book only does the latter, but that's no weakness. The story is, fundamentally, about the vulnerability of girls who think and believe what the world has told them they must think and believe because of their XX chromosome. I dog-eared so many pages so that I could go back to the best lines:

"I was, first and foremost, a thing to be judged, and that shifted the power in every interaction onto the other person."

And then there was an amazing line that I was certain I'd dog-eared, and I can't find it now, which is driving me crazy - but it was something about how girls spend so much time trying to be who they think the world wants, while boys get to focus on simply "becoming themselves" (if I ever find it again, I'll update this review...).

All political/social passion aside, this is a cracker of a reader, and one that I can't recommend enough.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 22, 2016 9:38 AM BST

Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future
Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future
by Svetlana Alexievich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable, 23 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I felt privileged to read this book, given Alexievich's fight against state oppression and her recent Nobel Prize for Literature. I wasn't wholly sure what to expect, but I am so glad that I did read it.

The book is essentially a collection of "monologues" from the people that the author interviewed, who all have or had some link to the Chernobyl catastrophe - wives of clean-up workers, scientists, residents within the affected zone, children... there's hardly any sense of actual interviews, because the author so rarely inserts herself, so that the whole thing feels like a multiple-stream-of-consciousness most of the time. No detail is too trivial. I was never bored - I was immersed.

There is so much horror in this book, of course - the wife watching her husband disintegrate inside and out; the little boy who died of a brain tumour because he wore a hat that his father had brought back from Chernobyl; the ignorance of or the deliberate suppression of information by those in positions of authority. But as the blurb promises, there is much life too. Though perhaps most compelling of all, the monologues afford a fascinating glimpse into the cultural and political fabric of the Soviet region within which the disaster of Chernobyl occurred; a glimpse into the mindsets of the people who lived through it. We learn why people volunteered or else went without protest to help "clean up" Chernobyl. I wondered so many times what would have happened had something like Chernobyl occurred somewhere such as the US (the Three Mile Island accident doesn't compare, I don't think) - would people there, ruled by a far more individualistic mindset, have sacrificed their own health and lives in a bid to contain the crisis?

In my experience, the most fascinating stories - true or fiction - are those that contain paradoxes. "Chernobyl Prayer" is one of these - because several monologues touch on or explain how the Chernobyl disaster "liberated" their society, by giving them the impetus and the courage to rally against state suppression; and that it gave the people of Belarus an identity - "Now we have become a people. The people of Chernobyl. Not just a stretch of the road from Russia to Europe."

As the praise from the New Yorker on the front cover says, Alexievich "serves no ideology". She has passed no judgement except through seeking out any and all voices on Chernobyl. I'm pro-nuclear power myself (coal and oil has caused far more pain), but there are still things in this book that chilled me to learn, that I'd never truly grasped before. We must remember the lesson of Chernobyl, and never unlearn it. Even though it feels as though we are already forgetting. After finishing the book, I went on the Wikipedia page for Belarus. It has no section for Chernobyl - just one or two click-through links. I was astounded, given how much Chernobyl has affected the very fabric of Belarus.

A parting passage, from pages 173-4:

"There was a moment when there was a real risk of a nuclear explosion, and it was essential to drain the ground water beneath the reactor so it wouldn't be reached by a molten mix of uranium and graphic which, coming in contact with the water, would achieve critical mass. The power of the resultant explosion would have been three to five megatons. Not only would Kiev and Minsk have been wiped out, but an enormous area of Europe would have been made uninhabitable... The situation required volunteers to dive into the water and open the latch on the drainage valve... The boys dived, repeatedly, and managed to open the latch... Those people are no longer with us."

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