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Kiwi (Surrey, UK)

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Twisted
Twisted
by Lynda La Plante
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wholly unconvincing..., 23 July 2014
This review is from: Twisted (Hardcover)
Lynda La Plante, eh? Should be good. Well for the first two-thirds or so, it indeed seemed to be so, rattling along intriguingly (but, even then, with one or two "Just a minute!" moments which looked a bit odd - and I'm no sleuth - and indeed later proved to be relevant). But then we come to the last third of the book, as things begin to be resolved, and, goodness, things get increasingly bizarre and - for me - utterly incredible; this leads to an ending which is not only an anticlimax, but quite unbelieveable (even allowing for the fact that this is a novel).

The story is evidently Ms La Plante's take on DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) - she gives acknowledgement to third party medical expertise at the beginning of the book - and this might be laudable, but she allows it to give herself license to construct the most bizarre story resolution, anything being explainable as a result. It's most unsatisfying.

Next, please, Lynda.


Meadowland: the private life of an English field
Meadowland: the private life of an English field
by John Lewis-Stempel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, 18 Jun. 2014
Marvellous. Lewis-Stempel writes of his month-by-month observations of nature at work in a few acres of his Hereford farm.

I'm left in awe of the following: firstly, the quite astonishing range of flora and fauna thus seemngly-simple exercise encompasses (the list of same at the book's end runs to five pages), all under our eyes but largely never seen (or more accurately, never noticed). Second, the amazing powers of Lewis-Stempel's observation; his, compared to most of us, is x-ray vision - he can even find interesting things to see in the digging of a post-hole. A man to be envied, totally engaged with an intricate eco-system by the simple expedient of using his eyes.

A simple concept, an absorbing read.


Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, literally..., 15 April 2014
Motorists and pedestrians on the streets of Tooting of a morning may see an ordinary, middle-aged gentleman cycling into St George's Hospital. After parking his bike, Henry Marsh enters a world where he constantly walks the boundary between stunning surgical success and heartbreaking failure; and all this, enveloped in life-or-death advisory discussions with fraught putative patients. It is hard to imagine a closer, constant, and influential, proximity to the means of life or death which is the work of a neurosurgeon, certainly that of Marsh.

Against that background, this book is a compelling read. (I was going to say a 'fascinating' read, but that seems to rather trivialise the appalling dilemmas that Marsh and his staff constantly face). He describes it all in a calm, matter-of-fact way, which I suspect closely replicates his bedside manner. He gives examples of his successes and failures, leaving quietly unemphasised the fact that the former infinitely outweigh the latter. Many people can be grateful.

The thread of his intense irritation at the administration now relating to the modern NHS runs through the book and, the way he descibes it, it's indeed troubling. No-one can enter an NHS hospital as a patient without a frisson of concern about the care that will be received.

The book is a compelling view on the world of brain surgery, and on Marsh's leading role in it.

PS: Do you know that brain surgery is commonly carried out under local anaesthetic, with the surgeon chatting to the patient? I do, now.


HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton
HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton
by Jonathan Allen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A puff piece, 20 Mar. 2014
Authors Allen and Parnes are apparently Washington journalists. If so, any critical claws they have are well sheathed in this work, which sugar-coats Hillary Clinton in a supportive coverage of her time from her primaries defeat by Obama through her tenure at the State Department; the 'Rebirth of Hillary Clinton', so the subtitle tells us.

From page 1, we enter the surreal Clinton world (Hillary's, but with Bill always in soft-focus behind her) whereby everything, everything, is calculated as to its impact on her political standing. Lists of people are compiled, graded 1-7 in terms of loyalty, the worst deemed as 'traitors, all something for the memory-bank. Maybe this is all par for the course in high politics, particularly US high politics, but Allen and Parr write all this up in admiration of organisational competence, rather than any criticsm of attention-diverting pettiness.

We are told that Hillary's eventual acceptance, after much deliberating and hesitation, of Obama's offer of the position of secretary of state, was because of 'loyalty to her country'; how, she evidently mused, would she feel if she were president, and her pick for State turned her down? So, on this basis, she went for it. Really? Reading about her, my guess is she took the job (for a man who had defeated her, let's remember, something you don't normally get away with against the Clintons) purely and simply because, under cold analysis, the positives (for her) outweighed the negatives, just (and Obama, for his part, gritted his teeth, on the premise it was better she was in the tent, than out). But the Allen/Parnes slant on all this is that Hillary did it out of loyalty, put her shoulder to the wheel, and the Obama/Clinton duo worked happily ever after.

Time and again we are reminded that Hillary travelled about one million miles as secretary, visiting 112 countries. But, one might ask, to what end? (above and beyond promoting herself, one might suppose - imagine getting such exposure on, say, the US primary circuit). What did she achieve with all that? Can anyone remember? With a nod to that theme, Allen/Parnes say she revived the art of diplomacy, following the Bush years. So, softly, softly does it. Perhaps, but that doesn't sound like a Clinton, to me.

We do get some hard accomplishments, though, albeit perhaps unexpected. For example, Allen/Parnes argue it was Hillary who put together the coalition response over Libya (a response which led to the downfall of Qaddafi), with which 'Britain and France would go along'. Huh? I recall Britain and France leading the effort, with Obama in fhe background (and reluctantly, at that). We are told she was influential in the Egyptian 'spring' although, even re-reading this bit, I don't quite understand how, hampered as she was in having previously declared Mr & Mrs Mubarak as friends of the Clinton family. And, finally, there's the killing of Bin Laden, where Hillary is portrayed as a hawk, stiffening Obama against some of his cabinet wets. Hmmm. If the operation had gone south, my betting is she'd have quickly taken a very back seat and watched Obama take the heat.

All this leads to a friendly puff in support of Hillary's likely presidential ambitions. But, after all that, just why is she presidential material? Why do her supporters think she would make a good president? What has she done to show this, apart from a highly adept usage of the Clinton machine? Would she get anywhere near the presidency if her name wasn't Clinton? I'm willing to be converted, but it will take a lot more than this book to do so.


The Luminaries
The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

127 of 140 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars My dominant feeling on finishing this book was one of ..., 26 Nov. 2013
This review is from: The Luminaries (Hardcover)
My dominant feeling on finishing this book was one of self-congratulation in actually having made it to the end. I have joined the elite band of readers who have done so, but I have not made it to the super-elite group who not only finished it, but understood it (but then I wonder if there are many at all in this category).
Normally, I would give Booker-prizewinners a wide berth, fearing over-intellectualism and incomprehensible story lines, but here was one with a crime/mystery theme, and by a New Zealand author, and I'm a NZer myself so, here we go...
For the first 150 pages, I thought my Booker prejudices were validated: hard going, put-downable, especially when I considered the hundreds of pages still to come. But I stuck with it and, very gradually, I found myself getting drawn in, with a mounting curiosity as to where it was going (as one might hope with a mystery). Things were looking up! (aided, I should say, means of one of the characters providing a 2-3 page summary of the story so far at the end of Part I, some 350 pages in - very helpful, this, you can look forward to it). And so on to the full 827 pages, but, after all that, to a damp-squibbish ending. Was that it? - after all that?
Notwithstanding the critics' accolades, I dare to say I can't understand how this story can be highly rated. The book is far, far, too long, moving at a glacial pace; the story is stupifyingly complex, propped up with far too many coincidental events and long-shot chance happenings; then there's the sleight-of-hand techniques such as two characters having the same name (or was it one character having two names? - can't remember, it's gone); and don't get me started on the resolution of the "missing bullet" saga - I'll keep this from you. Is this really award-winning stuff?
For me, the star of the book is the town of Hokitika and, in this aspect, I am fulsome in my praise for Catton's description of the era of the 19th-century gold rush in NZ's South Island, particularly on the West Coast; it's highly informative and enjoyable in that respect. It's a pity it's taken such a cumbersome vehicle to convey this.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 2, 2014 11:56 PM BST


Great Britain's Great War
Great Britain's Great War
by Jeremy Paxman
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, well told., 13 Nov. 2013
This book is among the first over the top in The Great Centenary Book Battle - stand by for a fusilade to follow.

But if you want a very readable and comprehensive coverage of WW1 in 356 pages, this will serve you well. Nothing of any great revelation, but It's all there (perhaps not surprisng, given the bibliograhy runs to 26 pages), presented, as everyone seems to say, in Paxman's "ascerbic" style.


Prayer
Prayer
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Come back Bernie..., 1 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Prayer (Hardcover)
I'm a Kerr/Gunther fan, and I read this book knowing I wouldn't see Bernie but very hopeful I could rely on Kerr. Mistake! What a clunker.
I've read the analytical reviews of others, but I see little to analyse; what's to analyse about nonsense? I'm obviously missing something, maybe sci-fi/horror fans will get it.
Kerr, in his ending acknowledgements, manages to name and "unreservedly recommend" two Houston hotels he used whilst researching the book. And so it ends.
Come back Bernie!


No Man's Nightingale: (A Wexford Case)
No Man's Nightingale: (A Wexford Case)
by Ruth Rendell
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not 'inspector' Wexford any more...., 26 Sept. 2013
The good news is that here's another Rendell/Wexford mystery.

But there's a large elephant constantly in room, and that is that Wexford is retired, no longer a serving policeman. This does not not seem to trouble Rendell, who has Wexford carrying on pretty much as he always has: involving himself in a murder case (at the expressed telephone request of his old mucker, Burden) in pursuit of which he wanders in and out of Kingsmarkham police station, attends police meetings, visits crime scenes and even interviews witnesses, sometimes by himself. He even surreptitiously removes evidence from a crime scene, taking it home with him.

This is all so implausible, it continually detracts from the plot. Rendell was surely aware that when she retired Wexford, his police activities were over. He should be left with his books and slippers, free to irritate Dora.


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