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CarolineR-D

CarolineR-D
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Member since: 05.10.2010

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      04.06.2014 13:47
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      • "The moisturising effect lasts a while"
      • "Absorbs quickly"

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      • "Smell is overpowering and not too pleasant"

      A gel-based moisturiser that does what is needed

      Usually I prefer richer face creams. However, this gel-based product is intended for dull skin. As my own skin has been showing the effects of a busy, stressful few months, I was happy to try it. This water-based gel contains citrus extracts and offers 24 hour hydration, brightening your skin and making it look more radiant. It is recommended for use in the day and at night, although personally I think that the words ?Wake me Up'' are a bit contradictory if you are applying it before going to sleep! For a gel, it has a surprisingly creamy texture. A small blob on my fingertip goes a long way, spreading easily over my entire face and forehead. I find its strong perfume a bit of a turn off. It is quite overpowering when first applied, reminding me of a cheap deodorant. I can''t really detect any citrus and it smells unpleasantly synthetic. As it is targeted at sensitive skin, I am surprised by the heavy perfume level, although I haven''t personally experienced skin irritation after using it. The gel feels fresh and soothing when I apply it to my cleansed skin. I am impressed by its moisturising qualities and there is no sensation of tightness or dryness after using it. The gel absorbs very quickly, which is advantageous when I''m in a hurry. I was worried that a gel might leave my face feeling sticky, but that isn''t so. I do experience a slight (but not unpleasant) tingle to my skin, but only in the sense that it feels very clean. As to radiance, my skin always looks brighter and more ?awakened'' after a good cleanse and moisturise, whatever product I use, so I can''t say this cream has made much difference there. Not has it made my wrinkles less noticeable, although I wouldn''t expect that from any product. It lives up to its claims of providing all day hydration, because I don''t need to reapply it during the day. This is impressive, as I use so little of it at a time. I have been using this product a few weeks and find it reliable. It doesn''t clog up my pores as some creams do. It is ideal for summer when a light, refreshing product is welcome, not something that makes the skin feel greasy. It is paraben-free, which is always encouraging. It contains extracts of lemon and grapefruit. Although the wonderful scents of these fruits aren''t detectable in this cream, I appreciate their inclusion as they are considered helpful in fighting free radical damage to the skin.

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        12.10.2013 18:38
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        A treat for fans of the show

        If you have never seen Supernatural before, please don't be tempted to start at season 7 in the hope of making sense of it. Start with season 1.

        At the start of Season 7 Castiel, in a bid to defeat his enemy, has taken in all the souls from Purgatory and has become a being with god-like power, demanding that Sam and Dean bow down to him or face destruction. Tensions are running high with Sam also having to deal with a broken 'wall' in his mind as a result of his experiences in the cage with Lucifer, whilst Dean is at a low ebb as a result of Castiel's betrayal. The stage is set for a new, terrifying species of monster to make its Supernatural debut in the form of the Leviathans.

        Season 7 has a slightly different feel to it from the start, lacking the high drama of the earlier seasons and the wide variety of creatures of season 6. It is very much Leviathan-focussed and although these characters are pretty scary, they lack the charisma of some of the monsters we have encountered before. The demons and angels of earlier seasons had complex personalities which drew in the viewer in a more emotional way. It's hard to feel any real connection with the Leviathans and they lack the individuality of the demons. That said, top Leviathan, Dick Roman is interesting in a slightly comic-villain way, a caricature of the awful corporate types that make the capitalist world go round. Actor, James Patrick Stuart plays the part convincingly and with chilling calmness. His ability to smile and just reveal his top teeth gives him an animalistic, hungry look.

        One of the strengths of season 7 is that there are some highly creative episodes and although the Leviathans are the focus of this season, there are some great standalone episodes which introduce other monsters and themes. These include an angry psychic killing off fake mediums, a pair of cursed ballet shoes and a Japanese creature called a shojo. I particularly enjoyed an episode featuring the Egyptian God, Osiris, who puts people on trial for past mistakes and weighs their guilt. This episode dramatically addresses the on-going issue of Dean Winchester's guilt, which reaches almost overwhelming levels in season 7.

        The old theme of whether a monster is always a monster or whether it can change is revisited in 'The Girl Next Door', a powerful episode involving a monster called a kitsune, which creates an emotional dilemma for Sam. There aren't too many heavy, philosophical issues to grapple with in season 7. However, when Sam starts to see visions of Lucifer, the appearance versus reality question is intriguingly explored, thanks to the compelling performance of Mark Pellegrino.

        Overall, season 7 features simpler, less sophisticated storylines. There is quite a bit of gore (an episode in which victims are branded and have their hands and feet cut off is particularly gruesome) but the decapitations - and there are many - are very Madame Tussauds and laughingly bad.

        There is plenty of humour in season 7 including an episode about a domestic dispute between two witches who have been married for centuries, and a Back to the Future-like episode in which Dean hunts the God of Time with Elliot Ness. Season 7 utilises comedy well.

        There is a good blend of returning old characters and some interesting new ones. Season 7 introduces Frank, a paranoid conspiracy theorist; Charlie, a talented and geeky young hacker; and Kevin, a teenage student with high aspirations whose life is turned upside down by his entanglement with the supernatural.

        There are 23 episodes in season 7. With plenty of action and twists in the plot, it is entertaining throughout. Season 7 holds its own and will probably appeal to those who want to see the brothers hunting as a duo again without too many other characters getting in the way of their bond. However I did feel that in this season Dean desperately needed a new storyline and new interactions, instead of just being portrayed as Sam's care taker.

        You won't come away from series 7 feeling emotionally drained, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on what you want. Season 7 is very much a monsters versus humans kind of focus, without the grey areas that made earlier seasons so compelling.

        Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki look as hot as ever, Mark Pellegrino as Lucifer oozes sex appeal in a 'devilish' way and Misha Collins portrays the many variants of Castiel's character perfectly, at times coming across as innocent, at times powerful, at times achingly vulnerable.

        Special features include episode commentaries, unaired scenes and a gag reel. The DVD is available new from Amazon for £10.50.

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          27.08.2013 12:06
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          Hard work in places, but has its enchanting moments

          The Story of the Amulet is the final novel of a trilogy, following on from Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet.

          In this novel Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are living in a house in Fitzroy Street, London, close to the British Museum. They are being looked after by their old nurse because their parents and baby brother are abroad. One day when they are looking round a dismal pet shop, the children rediscover the Psammead ( a sand fairy) from Five Children and It and rescue it from captivity. The Psammead persuades them to buy an ancient amulet which has magical qualities, but half of the amulet is missing and the Psammead explains that only if it is whole can the amulet grant your heart's desire. The part of the amulet that they have is still very handy, however, because it can be used as a portal for time travel.

          So the children embark on a series of time travel adventures in the search of the missing half of the amulet. Will they find it? Will they get home safely? Will they achieve their hearts' desire? All is revealed.

          I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy so I was eager to read the final novel. However, The Story of the Amulet was my least favourite of the three. Although E Nesbit once again constructs a colourful, enchanting fantasy tale, this did not capture my imagination in the same way as the earlier books and I felt that the adventures could have been more exciting.

          One of the problems I had is that it feels slightly strange to be reading a book about time travel when even the 'present day' seems so long ago. (This book was written in 1906) No doubt Edwardian children reading this book would have appreciated the contrast between their own modern, progressive world and the ancient societies visited by the children, but for the 21st century reader it all seems very difficult to relate to. For this reason I think modern children might struggle with it.

          I was also a little disappointed by the children's reunion with the Psammead. In this book it no longer has the power to grant the children wishes (although it can still grant wishes for others) and because of this, the Psammead's role is less interesting. It gets bundled into a bag and taken on the various adventures, but it doesn't do very much apart from offer the occasional piece of pompous advice.

          Although its bad temperedness was part of its charm in Five Children and It, the Psammead's grumpiness became rather tedious to me in this book. I grew a bit fed up of the creature's constant criticisms of the children, often telling them how stupid they were. I would have liked to have seen the phoenix from the second book reappear, but apart from a brief mention, it does not feature in this final instalment at all. I feel the book would have been stronger if both the Psammead and phoenix had featured, or at least if the Psammead had undergone some kind of character development.

          Despite these criticisms, Nesbit's descriptive language is as charming as ever and brought the scenes vividly to life for me. The children visit some fascinating places, such as Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Atlantis just before the flood. They even meet Julius Caesar and influence his decision about whether to invade Britain. I confess to being rather ignorant of these periods of history and, although a work of fiction, this book taught me a surprising amount about these times. For example, when the children travel to 6000 BC Egypt they discover a lot about how people built their houses, hunted, how they made tools, weapons, boats, etc. However, at times it does feel as if you are being given a history lesson at the expense of action, and the chapters tend to plod a bit more than in the previous books.

          Although you can just take this book at face value as a magical adventure, it can also be interpreted as a story about the power of the imagination, how a creative mind can free us from unhappiness and restrictions. I found this quite uplifting. The children are very unhappy at the start of the novel as they are separated from their parents. The gloomy house in Fitzroy Street serves as a metaphor for their low spirits. In contrast, the descriptions of the ancient lands that the children travel to are vibrant and colourful with references to lavish banquets, conjurers, jugglers, snake charmers, ships sailing on blue seas sparkling with sunlight, temples and palaces glowing with gold and silver, prehistoric creatures and people in elaborate costumes. You can almost feel the heat of the sun on your skin and smell the exotic scents from the markets. It is the perfect escapism, whether you interpret the adventures in a literal sense or as the product of fertile imaginations.

          The character of the 'learned gentleman' who lodges in the children's house adds an interesting dimension to the book, expanding on the theme of the power of the imagination to transform one's circumstances. This lonely man is befriended by the children and they consult him on matters of prehistoric history, about which he is an expert. Although the learned gentleman does not believe that the children's stories of time travel are true, he is inspired by their imagination and they give him a new enthusiasm for his own work. The learned gentleman is quirky and likeable and does play a significant role in the plot as it develops.

          As a founder member of the Fabian Society, E Nesbit had strong socialist views which I have found do make their way into her stories at times. However, in The Story of the Amulet, Nesbit is rather less subtle than usual. The children witness a workers' revolt in Ancient Egypt where someone addresses the crowd with the words, "Comrades and fellow workers" and in one episode the children travel to the future where they meet a rather sanctimonious woman who lectures them on what it is like to live in a London that is "clean and beautiful and the Thames runs clear and bright and the green trees grown and no one is afraid or anxious, or in a hurry."

          In a rather amusing episode where the Queen of Babylon pays a visit to modern-day London, she observes the condition of the working people and remarks, "How badly you keep your slaves! How wretched and poor and neglected they seem." It offers food for thought and certainly reflects concerns that were starting to be addressed in the early 20th century, but whether the wage system of England is something that really belongs in a children's fantasy novel is debatable. I am all for encouraging children to think about social concerns, but here it does feel as though we are being preached at sometimes.

          I did enjoy the mystical atmosphere. The descriptions of the rituals, the children holding up the charm so that it turns into an arch that you can walk through into another time, were always gripping moments where the author created lots of suspense, with just the right balance of trepidation and excitement. Magic isn't just presented as some jolly game but there are darker connotations, a sense of uncertainty about the unknown which make this in many ways a slightly more adult novel than its predecessors. It does involve some quite abstract ideas as the children discover what the Psammead means by "Time and space are only forms of thought."

          Would this appeal to modern children? In all honesty, I doubt that it would. As a big fan of E Nesbit, even I found it quite heavy going at times with the language somehow seeming more bizarre and archaic than in the earlier books. However, an older child who liked reading about Ancient History and who likes time travel stories might give it a go. The chapter about Atlantis was particularly dramatic and I enjoyed that most of all. I felt the book lacked some of the humour of the earlier books, although there are some funny moments, particularly the chapter where the Queen of Babylon visits 20th century London. I think it is going to appeal more to adult readers who read Nesbit in childhood and want a cosy reminder of what books used to be like.

          I think this is one for those who have read the other books in the trilogy and I would not recommend it as a standalone novel. I am glad I read it because I wanted to know how things turned out for the children, as I had grown quite attached to them over the course of the books. I don't think I would read it again, however. Compared to the first two books, this one just felt a little dry.

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            24.08.2013 23:00
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            A little disappointing

            I have always been a fan of the Treacle Moon range of bath and beauty products. I love how the vibrant colours of the products brighten up my bathroom shelf and the products usually smell very appealing. I am always keen to try new products that are added to the range.

            At £2.99 for 500 ml this bottle of 'Her Lavender Story' bath and shower gel is not the cheapest product on the market, but I am happy to support a company that has never tested any of its products on animals and whose products do not contain any animal-derived ingredients. I am also impressed by the company's work with the registered charity, Khandel, which helps provided improvements in healthcare, education and housing for poor families in the Khandel area of India.

            You will either love or hate the quirkiness of the brand, the characteristic use of slightly surreal quotations on the front of the bottle, which are designed to inspire. For me, these add a nice touch. I find that these quotations can provide the focus for a visualisation/meditation exercise, so if you fancied adding that to your bath time ritual, it's a great way to relax. The quotation on the front of this product reads:

            "She walked by a meadow of
            deliciously scented blues and
            imagined mythical gods and
            fair maidens seduced by the
            magical lavender flower.
            Such tranquil, fragrant peace."

            I think it would appeal to those of a poetic persuasion, but even if you are not remotely interested in spaced out, hippy ramblings but just want to get clean, the product still has plenty to offer.

            It is handy that this product can be used as either a bubble bath or a shower gel, depending on your mood and it would certainly save you having to pack two separate products if you were going away. I was slightly disappointed in it as a bubble bath, however. I am the kind of person who likes masses of bubbles which grow into huge clouds that threaten to climb out of the bath and take over the room like some weird sci-fi experiment. I didn't get that. My modest amount of bubbles did not last particularly long either and most frustrating of all, I was totally unable to detect the fragrance of the product once I had poured it under the tap.

            It is quite a subtle fragrance, albeit a pleasant one. I don't think it is the sort of fragrance that is going to linger on your skin after you are dried, no matter how you use it. The best way to enjoy this scent is by using it as a shower gel and applying it to your wet skin. Even with this method, however, your experience of the scent is going to be quite short-lived. It is a shame because it is a lovely scent. If you think lavender is a bit old-fashioned and frumpy, I must stress that the lavender aroma in this product is musky and summery, with none of the 'soapy' qualities that you might associate with an old lady's perfume. Additionally, this scent has a sweetness to it. If you have ever made lavender sugar by popping a few lavender sprigs into a jar of sugar to subtly enhance the flavour, you will understand what I mean.

            Despite its weak fragrance, this is a pleasant product to use as a shower gel and I was impressed by its moisturising qualities. It is also great for shaving your legs with as it makes the razor glide very smoothly over the skin and it left my legs feeling really soft. A little of this gel goes a long way, especially if you use a shower scrunchie. I was so impressed with how well moisturised my skin felt after using this that I wasn't even sure I needed to apply a separate body lotion. It is good to know that on those mornings when I am in a hurry, I can get away without applying a separate moisturiser. It leaves my skin feeling clean, fresh and silky.

            When I look at the ingredients I am a little surprised to see so many multisyllabic, chemical looking ingredients. If you insist on totally natural ingredients, this could be quite off-putting. It does seem a little at odds with the chilled out, floaty vibe that Treacle Moon convey.

            In spite of some reservations about so many artificial-sounding ingredients, I have found it a gentle product to use as a shower gel and have experienced no skin irritation. On the plus side, this may be a small consideration but the colour is absolutely fantastic, an almost metallic purple which reminds me of a nail varnish I used to have. It is certainly attractive enough to make a nice gift.

            I just wish the scent was a bit more detectable in use and I fear the only way I can get my lavender hit is going to be from taking the cap off now and again and having a good sniff. If you like products that leave your bathroom smelling highly perfumed, it isn't going to happen with this, I am afraid. I can only assume that the "fair maidens" mentioned in the quotation on the bottle who were "seduced by the magical lavender flower" had a better sense of smell than I have.

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              13.08.2013 13:48
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              An introduction to some famous names in history

              I enjoy history but don't seem to have time to read lengthy books these days so I thought something from the 'Quick Reads' series might be ideal for me. In this book Alison Weir tells the grim and rather sad stories of seven so-called traitors who lost their heads in the Tower of London between 1483 and 1601. I hoped this book might refresh my rusty memories of distant school history lessons and rekindle my interest in the subject.

              Although we know from the start that all the individuals featured in this book were executed, this doesn't stop you wanting to explore the circumstances that led to their deaths.

              We begin with Lord Hastings, a loyal supporter of the House of York and good friend of King Edward IV. How did this popular man who had land and titles bestowed on him come to die on a makeshift scaffold without even having a trial, "killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted"? In this short but quite dramatic account, we find out what Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future King Richard III) had to do with it.

              Next we have Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, whose story I was much more familiar with. Ann was accused of adultery with five men, one being her own brother, the 'evidence' being compiled by Thomas Cromwell. Did you know that good old Henry, "moved by pity", allowed his former queen to be beheaded instead of "burnt here within the tower?" If that wasn't enough, the kind-hearted soul even sent to France for an expert swordsman to do the deed.

              Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was once referred to by King Henry VIII as "the most saintly woman in England" but she fell from favour when her son, Reginald dared to criticise the king. Margaret is perhaps most famous for her particularly hideous execution, the gory details of which are not spared in this account.

              The next chapter is about Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII. The Duke of Norfolk, having already plotted to put one niece on the throne (Anne Boleyn) tried again with Katherine Howard - and the results were just as disastrous, adultery rearing its ugly head once more.

              Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, was married to George Boleyn, one of the most powerful men at the court of Henry VIII. She accused her own husband of incest with his sister, Anne Boleyn. But why did she do this? Was she jealous of his bond with Anne? Did she want revenge because her husband ill-treated her throughout their marriage, or was she just a "wicked wife"? Lady Rochford also went on to aid Katherine Howard's affair with Thomas Culpepper but was finally caught up in her own web of deceit.

              Lady Jane Grey was a victim of ruthless plotting. The Duke of Northumberland and her scheming parents saw her as "a pawn to be moved at their will." She was forced to accept the crown against her will, but her reign lasted just nine days. "May I go home?" she asked, naively when it was all over.

              The rise of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was as rapid and spectacular as his fall from grace. A great favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Essex was ambitious and arrogant and ultimately betrayed her. Elizabeth must've wanted him dead because she sent two executioners to carry out the sentence - "if one faint, the other may perform it for him", yet she was to wear a ring Essex had given her until her death.

              The basic facts are here in this concise account and this is a good way to whet the reader's appetite for more detailed history books. It provides an introduction to key characters from history and does give you a flavour for the period, particularly the power struggles between rival factions and the religious tensions that existed, as well as some insight into cultural values and laws that prevailed at the time. I was sufficiently intrigued by the stories of Lady Rochford and Lord Hastings to want to find out more about them.

              I liked the fact that there was a good balance of well-known and lesser known historical figures. I knew quite a lot about Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, but very little about Margaret Pole, for instance. I felt that the order in which the stories were presented was sensible and helped me to understand the links between the different characters. For instance, we read about Lady Rochford's involvement first in the Anne Boleyn chapter and then in the Katherine Howard chapter before coming to Lady Rochford's own specific chapter.

              After reading the whole book I think you do gain a better understanding of the order of historical events, about who succeeded who, who was related to who and about the different royal houses of Lancaster and York.

              However, I found that some of the stories lacked atmosphere and although I realise that a Quick Read means just that, I was still disappointed at how sketchy the accounts were, with little attempt to build suspense and drama. To be fair, it is difficult to see how Alison Weir could do justice to these stories in this constrained format, but I am sure a few descriptive passages would have helped to engage me on a more emotional level.

              I found the characters quite one-dimensional, although it is true to say that some chapters are stronger than others. The chapter on Anne Boleyn was quite well-written and I felt it presented Anne as a complex individual. Her flirty, feisty nature at court was contrasted with her vulnerability on entering the tower, "veering from tears to laughter" her calm, composure at her trial and her dignity in death. By contrast, Katherine Howard is dismissed as an empty-headed, foolish, young girl with no real depth to her. Although Alison Weir does refer to Katherine's unsupervised, neglected childhood, including an inappropriate relationship with her music tutor which would be considered abusive today, there is no attempt to consider what impact such events might have had on the girl.

              The writing style reminded me of a history essay written by a 14 year old, simply recounting the main events but without much attempt at analysis. Although there are some quite moving moments - such as a reference to Katherine Howard being taken to the tower by barge and passing under London Bridge where the rotting heads of her two lovers can be seen on spikes, or the moment when Hastings attends what he thinks will be an everyday council meeting and walks into a trap - they are recounted in a rather prosaic way. I appreciate that the simple language is probably intended to encourage those who are not the strongest readers, but I felt that the complete lack of any vivid imagery or even mildly poetic passages meant I wasn't able to draw pictures in my mind of people and places. It gave me the information but it didn't move me as much as I hoped.

              Some of the language actually made me laugh. I'm sure this was not intended, but at times it reminded me of the kind of tongue-in-cheek remarks you might find in a Horrible History. For example, we have this observation on the marriage of Katherine Howard and Henry VIII - "Katherine also had to put up with the stink of his leg ulcers." There is also a reference to poor Margaret Pole being unlucky enough to end up with an executioner who was "new to his job and not skilled at cutting off heads." I don't know why this made me giggle, but it did. It just read in a blunt, inelegant way and was crying out for a Horrible Histories- style comic strip illustration complete with L-plates.

              Another thing I found annoying was the author's tendency to provide quoted material without acknowledging where the quotation had come from. Also the pages often contain rather vague statements, such as, "Gloucester had to make a bid for the throne itself. Some people thought that he had plotted that all along." If I had written that in a history essay at school, no doubt my teacher would've scribbled in the margin, "Which people? Be specific."

              I do think this book may be of interest to anyone who is planning a trip to the Tower of London and wants to learn a little about the grim and tragic events that have unfolded within its walls. It does provide some useful information. I hadn't realised that although best known as a prison, the tower used to be the place where a monarch would reside in preparation for his/her coronation.

              Overall, I found this book a bit lightweight, but it did make me want to seek out other history books, so was not a complete waste of time. However, if you want to know about the characters contained therein, you could probably find just as much factual information by looking online, the plus side of this being that it is free and you would have the benefit of pictures as well.

              At the modest price of £1.99 for the Kindle version, I can't complain too much. I read it in less than an hour, so I suppose it's a handy length for reading on a journey, particularly if you're tired and don't want anything too complex. There are more engaging, in-depth history books out there but this is a useful taster to help you to decide where to go next. Perhaps this book will inspire you to check out some of Alison Weir's acclaimed historical novels.

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                06.08.2013 22:51
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                Makes science fun

                Like all the books in the Horrible Science series, Bulging Brains starts from the premise that the more gruesome a subject is, the more it will appeal to children. Horrible Science books offer "science with the squishy bits left in," and this particular edition provides a fascinating insight into how the brain works.

                Nick Arnold uses a characteristic blend of humour and silliness to make his subject engaging and fun, covering such topics as the senses, learning, memory, thinking and feeling. There are lots of amazing 'brain facts' to discover and the information is presented in a variety of forms, including quizzes, spoof newspaper articles, Test your Teacher sections and Bulging Brain Fact Files.

                What I particularly appreciate about this book is the way it makes this very complex scientific subject meaningful to junior school children. For example, Nick Arnold tells us that the brain feels, "like squidgy blancmange or soft boiled egg", to illustrate the point that the brain is 80 per cent water. When he explains how the brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) he states that if you laid the cells from just one human brain in a line, they would stretch 1,000 kilometres - a quarter of the way across the United States.

                I also like the way that Nick Arnold encourages children to carry out their own investigations and make observations. In considering how the left and right sides of your brain work and what makes us ambidextrous, the author refers to a 19th century artist who could simultaneously draw a horse with his right hand and a stag with his left. "Try it for yourself - it's much harder than it sounds," he invites. He also suggests a simple experiment using just two A4 sheets of paper to demonstrate why the cortex is wrinkly. Nick Arnold tells us, "if your brain was flat it would be the size of a pillowcase and you'd need a huge head to fit it all in."

                A key part of science lessons is practical experiments, so it is encouraging to find experiments in this book that can be conducted safely and easily at home, without having to go out and buy any unusual equipment.

                In another section children are asked to concentrate on trying to feel the clothes they are wearing against their skin without touching them with their hands. My daughter tried this and quickly realised that she could actually feel her clothes but hadn't noticed them before, which is a simple way of illustrating the point that when the nerves feel a sensation constantly, they get used to it and stop firing.

                The book uses humour to good effect with cartoons and talking body parts communicating via speech bubbles. For instance, two important brain chemicals, Dopamine and Serotonin are presented as cute characters with faces. A little girl is eyeing up some cream cakes and Dopamine is egging her on - "go on, grab another two" whilst Serotonin says, "that's enough, you've already had three." It's an amusing way of showing how emotions can become complicated because the brain is releasing different chemicals, one that fires you up and another that calms you down.

                Some of the jokes are on the corny side, but we have to remember this book is aimed at children. Although some of the jokes make me want to groan, I love the facial expressions in the cartoon illustrations by Tony De Saulles. Other amusing inclusions are a labelled diagram of 'A Teacher who is just about to explode' which shows how the body responds to feelings of anger and a spoof text book entitled 'Brain Surgery for Beginners.'

                Sometimes too many jokes can be distracting, but I feel that in this book the humour really helps to emphasise particular concepts so that the information sinks in. It also stops the subject matter from feeling too 'heavy.'

                My daughter was particularly interested in the section about what is going on in the brain during sleep. Here we encounter an 'Effects of Sleep Deprivation Experiment Diary' recording the findings of a volunteer called Arthur Sleep and two doctors, Dr Irma Wake and Dr Hugh Kant-Dropoff. For all its silly wordplay, this section presents some intriguing facts about how lack of sleep affects perception and causes the body many problems. There is also a funny anecdote about a businessman who sleepwalked in the nude and fell into a rubbish chute.

                Even an adult can learn some extraordinary things from a book like this. I find the Horrible Science books are great for providing a basic introduction to a subject. I wouldn't have minded reading this book a few years ago before embarking on a psychology course as I think it would have been useful preparation for the cognitive psychology module.

                In the chapter entitled Bangs 'n' Bashes we learn about the sort of damage that can occur to the brain as a result of accidents. I was intrigued to discover that before the 1950s footballs were made from heavy leather which sucked in water when it rained and so they became very heavy. If such a ball hit you on the head, it could knock you out. I also enjoyed reading a hall of fame of people with powerful memories, particularly the astonishing story of a Russian journalist called Solomon Veniaminoff. The book suggests some handy ways of improving your own memory.

                In the section on learning, the book presents some scientific findings that have shown how boys and girls tend to be good at different things. For example, some studies have shown that boys work out maths problems quicker because they use the right side of their brains more than girls and that girls have a better memory for words. The author does make the point that the findings are somewhat contradictory, but I felt this section might have been more balanced if mention had also been made of how social and environmental factors can affect gender behaviour.

                I recommend this book. Whilst I do find it a slightly patronising assumption that children will only be interested in a subject if you make it gory and amusing, I can't deny that my own children really enjoyed this book and it seemed to supplement what they were learning in school. The use of different fonts and illustrations contribute to the light hearted style which I feel encourages children to learn in a relaxed way.

                The 'Bet You Never Knew' fact boxes encourage interaction as children can share what they are learning with friends and the quizzes are fun for all members of the family to join in with. I like the way that, as in the other books in the series, the pronunciations are given for medical terms - for example, 'ser-ra-bell-um' for 'cerebellum' and 'hi-po-thal-a-mus' for 'hypothalamus.'

                A new copy of Horrible Science: Bulging Brains can be obtained from Amazon sellers for a mere £0.01 (plus post and packaging.)

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                  03.08.2013 10:48
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                  A story that celebrates the power of make believe

                  Two sisters, Annie and Flora, find a big box on their lawn and wonder what might be in it. "Whatever it is, can it be mine?" asks Flora. This is a lovely, simple tale for pre-school children, which celebrates the power of the imagination, encouraging young readers to join in with Annie and Flora as they ponder the different animals that could be inside the box.

                  Colourful, vibrant pictures really bring this book to life. They contain just enough detail to hold the reader's attention but not so much as to make the pages too 'busy' and distracting. I think the pictures could carry the story quite well even without the words, which means that children who have already had the story read to them could re-tell it for themselves as they turn the pages, an important pre-reading skill.

                  The book draws the reader in from the first page as we come face to face with this intriguing-looking box, tied up with parcel string and bearing curious labels which say things like 'Fragile', 'Do not Crush' and 'Handle with care.' Children are bound to want to keep turning the pages in the hope of seeing something emerge from the box, but they will have to wait until the end of the story to find out what is inside.

                  What I like about this book is that there is a good balance between predictability and surprise elements. A pattern is quickly established where Annie suggests an animal that she thinks might be in the box and Flora says, "Can it still be mine?" Then Annie rushes off to find something that she thinks that particular animal might need, such as a banana for a monkey, and Flora asks if she can have one too. I think it is quite reassuring to young readers to have a degree of repetition in a story, but I like the way the author has included an unexpected twist here and there to stop things becoming boring.

                  For instance, just when the reader is used to Flora piping up, "Can it still be mine?" each time a new animal is considered, Annie notices the edge of the box has been chewed and she suggests that maybe there's a crocodile inside. This time Flora says, "In that case, I think it might be yours."

                  This story provides an opportunity for young children to think about the relative sizes of different animals. Although at first Annie thinks the box might contain a monkey, she then deduces that the box is too big for a monkey, so maybe it's an elephant. Then she notices that the box is really tall, so perhaps there's a giraffe inside.

                  One of the most amusing features of the story is the way Annie keeps rushing into the house to find something for the animal that she thinks is in the box. Fetching a banana for a monkey is perhaps an obvious choice, but some of the things she finds for the animals are a bit more random. For example, when she thinks there might be an elephant in the box, Annie goes in search of a spotted handkerchief, "in case he has a runny nose." When she thinks it might be a crocodile, she heads off to find it a toothbrush. For a giraffe, she finds a scarf to keep his neck warm. It's a fun way to get children talking about the key characteristics of animals, such as an elephant's long trunk, a crocodile's sharp teeth and a giraffe's long neck.

                  The ending is capable of several interpretations and may be a bit frustrating to those children who prefer things to be spelled out absolutely clearly to them. I think the ending could stimulate some really enjoyable chats though. Annie and Flora are about to go in the house to have their dinner, but what will happen when they come back out again? Although in some ways it seems that the story is being left at a really crucial moment and leaves you wanting a bit more, it does encourage children to use their own imaginations to tie up any loose ends.

                  It's the sort of story which could have a different ending every time you read it, depending on your mood and how you choose to interpret things and I think that is quite a clever technique on behalf of the author. My youngest daughter always found ambiguous endings intriguing, but not all children do.

                  Reading this story may encourage children to talk about which animal they would have liked to find in the box. What things would they have collected for it? What size box would that animal have needed?

                  I think this is a delightful book and an endearing portrayal of a relationship between two sisters. Annie, the big sister, takes the lead in the game, but little Flora is very much a part of it. I love the way the author captures the enthusiasm of childhood games, the way the girls use whatever props they have available to them to spark their imaginative play. It's quite inspiring. It is also rather sweet for adult readers to observe the sisters' child-like logic at work. I think it is very well observed.

                  I have no hesitation in recommending this for children age 2 to 6, especially those with a fondness for wild animals. It's great for reading aloud as the use of a larger font to emphasise key phrases really spurs you on to give the words a bit more oomph and enthusiasm. The repetition of phrases like, "Can it still be mine?" offer an opportunity for children to join in with the telling of the story.

                  The Box is available used from sellers at Amazon from £0.01.

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                    30.07.2013 15:53
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                    A fresh, summery hand cream

                    Although most women seem to be clued up on the importance of a regular facial beauty routine, hands can become rather neglected. I have never forgotten my granny's words of wisdom, that a woman's hands will always give her age away before her face will, and with this in mind I have stepped up my game in recent years, determined to take better care of my hands. As a result, I purchase a lot of hand creams. Instead of splashing out on one expensive top of the range hand cream, I prefer to find reasonably priced products so that I can buy several of them at a time, as I like to keep a tube available in every room and in my handbag, which gives me no excuse not to apply them frequently.

                    La Maison de Senteurs is a product range available from Marks & Spencer, inspired by the character and ingredients of Southern France. A 75 ml tube of Fleur d'Orangier hand cream is currently priced at £3.50. According to the information on the packaging, this cream is, "blended with essential oils of sweet orange and petitgrain to refresh and revitalise."

                    This cream has a sensual, sophisticated fragrance which conveys elegance and class but there is also something a little herbal and earthy about it, which offers a comforting, wholesome quality. I have always been drawn to orange-scented products, but the orange aroma in this cream is quite unusual. Although the citrus is very apparent, it seems more like a blend of lemon and orange than pure orange and there is also something a little floral and grassy to the scent.

                    I found out that petitgrain is extracted from the leaves of the bitter orange tree and is a key ingredient of Eau de Cologne. My mum and granny used to use Eau de Cologne and I remember a big bottle of it on their dressing tables when I was young. The refreshing, reviving scent takes me back to those happy childhood days. Although the Eau de Cologne qualities might make it seem a bit old fashioned, once this cream is applied to my skin the scent becomes much more subtle and I love how clean, fresh, feminine and slightly mysterious it smells. (I can't say how truly reminiscent of France it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if Catherine Deneuve's hands smell like this!) I have to keep sniffing my hands when I am wearing it. It is one of those scents that does make you think of positive things - summer days, freshly mown grass, cool drinks on the patio with a slice of lemon, flowers, trees, green leaves, etc.

                    This hand cream contains Shea butter, an ingredient well-known for its softening qualities. I only need to use a small amount of this cream as it goes a long way. The texture is just right for me. It isn't so runny that you squeeze out more than you need. I would say it is sufficiently thick to feel voluptuous and pampering when applied to my skin but not so thick that it is difficult to squeeze out of the tube or spread on the skin. Most importantly, it absorbs quickly and leaves no sticky, greasy residue on my hands. As my job involves typing and proof-reading, the last thing I want is to get grease and oil over my keyboard or my papers.

                    I am quite impressed with the moisturising qualities of this product. After a couple of hours of applying, my hands still feel quite silky, although after long typing spells I find that my fingers and palms might be ready for a top-up. I am not sure whether I would find it rich enough for winter use, however, when my hands really do seem to take more of a battering from the elements. I would say that if your hands are in fairly good condition, as mine are, this cream should serve you well as a general maintenance, day-to-day hand cream, but if you have particularly dry or sensitive skin, you may need something a bit more intensive. I do tend to opt for something a bit greasier at night, such as 'Smitten' by Lush, which I find has more obvious hydrating and softening qualities, but that would be way too messy for me to consider using in the day.

                    It's worth keeping a tube of this in the kitchen. If you spend a lot of time cutting up onions, garlic, fish or other evil smelling things, applying this cream after washing your hands can help remove any lingering odours. I find it a godsend. This may be because petitgrain has natural deodorizing and antiseptic qualities.

                    Over the years I've got into a habit of giving my hands a 'sauna' when I'm doing the washing up. I apply this cream before putting on my rubber gloves and the heat seems to improve the efficiency of the product, making my hands more receptive to the moisture and leaving them extra soft. So if you want to boost the performance of this hand cream, I would recommend using it this way.

                    This product is approved by the BUAV, which is a huge plus as I prefer to avoid products that are tested on animals. Other products in this fragrance range include body wash, bath cream, body lotion and scented candles. Being so reasonably priced, you could put a few Fleur D'Orangier products together to make a really indulgent gift.

                    I would recommend this hand cream. It is great for a quick moisture boost for normal skin and its summery aroma is delightful.

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                      24.07.2013 12:30
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                      An enjoyable, magical tale

                      This is the first book in the trilogy of novels that also includes The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet. Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and their little brother, known as 'The Lamb', move to a big house in rural Kent. While digging in a gravel pit, they find a Psammead or sand fairy. The Psammead grants them one wish each day, which will last until the sun goes down. The wishes lead to exciting, amusing and near-catastrophic events, never quite working out as the children planned.

                      This book was first published in 1902 and you will either find its old-fashioned style off-putting or quaint and delightful. For me, the book paints fascinating pictures of what it was to be a child in the early years of the 20th century, and we see lots of examples of the children being resourceful and using whatever props they can find to bring their imaginative play to life. In this age of TV, computers and entertainment provided on tap, I find it refreshing to read about the games children used to play.

                      You need to be prepared for some stereotyping that seems outrageous by today's standards. As in The Phoenix and the Carpet, there is an encounter with some "untutored savages", Red Indians in this case and there is also a chapter in which the children have to deal with a pack of gypsies. I winced at one scene where Nesbit tells us that, "even the girls were feeling almost brave now" and she also reminds us that "a really heroic boy is always dry-eyed after a fight."

                      However uncomfortable we feel when confronted with stereotypes and racist/sexist writing, it is always illuminating and gives you a very clear flavour of the social attitudes that existed at the time the book was written. So, although this is obviously a work of fiction, it also provides something of a history lesson.

                      E Nesbit was a founder member of the Fabian Society and a little bit of socialist propaganda does creep in when the Psammead talks about the "silly" things grown-ups would wish for if they got the chance. "They'd ask for graduated income tax and old age pensions and manhood suffrage and free secondary education....and the whole world would be topsy-turvy." (It is pleasing to see how many of these "silly" wishes came to pass in the years that followed.)

                      The phrase, "be careful what you wish for" could apply to this book. In the course of this novel, the children wish for many things, including beauty, riches, flying and being big enough to get revenge on a bully. Through the granting of their wishes, the children come to realise what really is important to them and what is not, so there is a moral message to be found, although a subtle one. In fact at one point the narrator says, "And that, my dear children, is the moral of this chapter. I did not mean it to have a moral but morals are nasty forward beings and will keep putting in their oars where they are not wanted."

                      One of the good things about this novel is that you don't have to wait very long for the action to start. The children meet the Psammead in the first chapter, so there is no ponderous build-up. The wishes start happening almost straightaway. The Psammead is an interesting character, not at all what I expected, because it is quite a grumpy, irritable little thing. Nesbit's description of it paints a very curious picture - "it's eyes were on long horns like snail's eyes....it had ears like a bat's ears and its tubby body was shaped like a spider and covered with thick, soft fur." It's certainly not your typical, 'pretty' fairy to be found in children's storybooks. We learn that the Psammead has been around for thousands of years and it talks about pterodactyls and megatheriums, which adds an interesting dimension to the novel, combining the Edwardian world with some references to prehistoric times.

                      E Nesbit certainly knows how to set the scene for her novels and her descriptive language appeals to all the senses. There is a lovely description of the children exploring their new home, which makes you appreciate the excitement they must have felt to find themselves in the countryside after two years in London. Nesbit describes the back of the house, which is covered in jasmine - "all in white flower and smelling like a bottle of the most expensive perfume." When the children are digging in the gravel pit she describes what it feels like to dig and dig until your hands get sandy and hot and your face is damp and shiny, a feeling that no doubt will conjure up fond memories of childhood trips to the seaside.

                      I like the way that Nesbit is able to anticipate what her reader may be thinking and her narrative addresses particular questions or concerns that the reader may have. It is almost as if she is there with us, offering these little aside and pearls of wisdom. For instance, she says, "I dare say you have often thought about what you would do if you had three wishes given you," which encourages the reader to engage with the story. At times she takes a rather conspiratorial tone, having a laugh at the expense of adults, pointing out the silly or inconsistent things that they say and do, but is never disrespectful.

                      There is plenty of humour in this novel. The antics of the baby ('The Lamb') are particularly amusing as he gets into all kinds of scrapes. The fact that the servants can't see the things the children wish for leads to some amusing consequences. In one chapter the children wish for a castle which manifests itself in the exact same spot that the house is, so the house and castle have to exist simultaneously - but the servants can't see the castle and the children can't see the house, so there is plenty of dramatic and comic potential as a result.

                      Although modern children may struggle with such an old-fashioned book, I think it has plenty to offer a child with an interest in the olden days. I thought it was less heavy than The Phoenix and the Carpet, where the language seemed archaic and scholarly at times with some inevitable references to Ancient Greece and legends that perhaps today's children are not so familiar with. This is much easier to follow and although the children come out with outdated expressions like - "Don't be a jackanapes! I'm not humbugging" this isn't really a problem.

                      There is plenty to enjoy here. Nesbit has chosen a theme that still has relevance to children today. Surely we must all have wondered what things we would wish for if we were in this situation and, although we think we would have no problems choosing, it gets complicated when you have to consider the impact your wishes will have on others.

                      This book is free on Kindle and I would certainly recommend it for a child who enjoys books from long ago and likes fast paced, magical adventures.

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                        17.07.2013 09:03
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                        An enjoyable magical tale

                        I have a fondness for the books of E Nesbit. The Phoenix and the Carpet was one of my favourite stories as a child and I also remember enjoying a BBC dramatization of it in the 1970s. So when I found that the book was available free for Kindle, I didn't hesitate to add it to my collection.

                        The Phoenix and the Carpet is the second book in a trilogy that begins with Five Children and It and ends with The Story of the Amulet. It is about five children - Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and their baby brother known as The Lamb (because "baa" was the first thing he ever said) who go on a series of magical adventures.

                        Although the first book of the trilogy does get referred to, I really don't think it is necessary to have read this before embarking on The Phoenix and the Carpet. All you really need to understand is that in the first book the children met a character called the Psammead (a sand fairy) which could grant wishes, so that you can understand the role played by the Psammead in the second book. You very quickly get to know the children in The Phoenix and the Carpet, without having to read of their prior adventures.

                        The Phoenix and the Carpet tells us how the children get a new carpet for their nursery. Wrapped up inside the carpet is a mysterious egg which falls into the fire and hatches into a golden phoenix. The phoenix tells the children that the carpet is magic and will grant wishes. So the children and the phoenix travel to many different places and have all kinds of exciting adventures and near-calamities along the way.

                        The novel was written in 1904 and is very of its time and very middle class. Phrases like, "don't be so jolly clever" and "you young duffer" abound. The gender stereotyping made me cringe, as the boys are portrayed as the fearless, adventurous ones and the girls are easily upset and more afraid. Particularly irritating is Jane, the youngest, who has a tendency to burst into tears and say, "I wish we hadn't come" whenever things become tricky. However, there is one episode in which Jane takes the lead and shows herself to be less of a timid, wet blanket. It goes without saying that when the magic carpet becomes patchy and threadbare, it is the girls who set about darning it. Even more blatant is the racial stereotyping. When the magic carpet transports the children to a tropical beach, they encounter "brown coppery people" referred to as "savages."

                        The book certainly offers an insight into life in Edwardian England and the values which prevailed, which I find fascinating, even if the sexist and racist elements made me feel uncomfortable. It does show how far things have moved on. I think a child (or indeed an adult) who was learning about Edwardian history could read this book and gain a very good understanding of what the suffragettes were up against in their struggle for equality, and you can also see examples of the proud, nationalistic mentality that existed in the glory days of the British Empire.

                        It is interesting to pick up little details about everyday life in this era. There are references to old money, cold mutton dinners, whooping cough, servants, etc., which all show what a different world it was. As you might expect in a children's novel from this period, there is a strong moral focus. The children are concerned with doing good deeds in the course of their adventures. Some of the children are not comfortable with the idea of keeping secrets from their mother and there are many references throughout to the importance of not telling lies, having good manners, being honourable, etc. However, despite their strong sense of right and wrong, the children are still spirited characters and their battle between their own wishes and their sense of duty adds an interesting dimension to the story.

                        I love E Nesbit's narrative style with little asides and tongue-in-cheek observations, as if she is speaking directly to the reader, making them feel involved in the story. For example, she tells the reader, "I'm sure you would rather wait till the next chapter before you hear about THAT" and at one stage, when describing the children in the book, she tells the reader, "They were not bad sorts on the whole; in fact they were rather like you." There is something cosy about the way she makes the reader feel as if the story is especially for him/her.

                        I am not sure how well-received this book would be by modern children. It certainly contains some quite obscure references that would have no doubt been very familiar to children living in the early years of the 20th century, but not so now. For instance, when the children visit India on the magic carpet, we are told it looked "like in Mr Kipling's books." There are also references to Arabian Nights, The Count of Monte Cristo, Westward Ho and other books that probably are not read much by today's children. There are some weird religious references too. At one point in the story, the children are burning fragrant oils and trying to light a magic fire and they start singing, "The hymn of the Moravian Nuns at Bethlehem", whatever that is! The book's language does seem quite archaic at times. The phoenix, in particularly, speaks in a rather scholarly manner which takes a bit of getting used to. There is also a quite tedious scene involving a couple of stereotypical villains, whose cockney dialogue left me baffled. I felt like I needed an interpreter.

                        However, in spite of the antiquated writing style, I still find this quite a charming book with fast moving, exciting story-lines. It captures the reader's attention from the start when the children decide to 'test' their fireworks before 5th November and end up setting fire to the nursery carpet. It is a dramatic opening chapter and it introduces the theme of fire which is to run throughout the book. I love the descriptions of journeys on the magic carpet. I could really imagine the dizzying heights and the exhilaration of feeling as if you were tobogganing through the air. The children visit lots of atmospheric locations. Whether they are exploring dark, secret passages in an old tower or a golden beach surrounded by palm trees, flowers and basking turtles, the scenes are wonderfully vivid and created some colourful pictures in my mind.

                        I think this novel will be of interest mainly to adults wanting to relive a story from their own childhood, but I would not rule it out for children who are particularly interested in this period of history, perhaps as something to read in conjunction with history text books. If you can get your head round some of the unfamiliar language and outdated concepts and focus on the magical elements, it is an entertaining story. The story of the phoenix is always an intriguing one and is found in legends and sacred texts from cultures all around the world. The book has plenty of humorous moments too and I particularly enjoyed the comparison between children's readiness to believe in magic and adults' inability to do so, assuming it must be a dream or madness instead. Each chapter brings in a new adventure, which keeps things interesting, with no one adventure going on for too long. The book has quite a moving ending, without being over sentimental.

                        In some ways it is a pity that this book can't renew itself, phoenix-style, as its datedness will no doubt put some readers off. However, for others I suspect that the old-fashioned style and the quirky combination of a mystical character and Edwardian London will just add to the book's charm.

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                          10.07.2013 09:44
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                          A concise and interesting account of King's life

                          In this book from the Pocket Biographies series, Harry Harmer presents a concise account of the life and achievements of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King.

                          Although this book does make you appreciate the role King played as a figurehead for the Civil Rights Movement, we are left in no doubt that the movement depended on the brave actions of many other men and women. It is pointed out that the campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the sit-ins were initiated by others, although King gave vital support, providing a focus and bringing things to the attention of the media. I think it is important to remember activists like Rosa Parkes and Claudette Colvin and the Freedom Riders who rode buses into southern states to take part in desegregation. Their stories are also told here, instead of King getting all the credit. However, this book made me appreciate King's ability to express what many black Americans were feeling in a way that made the world take notice. I enjoyed reading excerpts from his inspirational speeches, which are still moving today.

                          The book begins with King's assassination on 4th April 1968 on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis. His death triggered the worst race riots in the history of the United States of America. "What had brought America to this?" asks the author. He then traces events back to the North's victory over the South in the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, freeing sleeves and making Constitutional amendments to guarantee their social and political freedoms. However, the South resisted progress and deep-rooted racism persisted.

                          Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. I was interested to read that King had a middle class upbringing which perhaps prompted his critics to say he was out of touch with what was happening to blacks in ghettos, but his early experiences of racism are recounted. What comes across is that rich or poor, black people were still not treated as equals.

                          This is not the portrayal of a 'saint.' King emerges as a somewhat flawed character, the devout Christian minister whose extramarital affairs revealed a degree of hypocrisy. It is also suggested that he plagiarized his PhD thesis. At times we see hints of arrogance. There is reference to King identifying himself with Christ, quoted as saying, "I think I should choose the time and place of my Golgotha."

                          However, at other times we see glimpses of private doubts and fears which contrast starkly with King's defiant, confident public persona. Persistent death threats towards one's family would grind anyone down. Harmer presents a balanced picture and I appreciated the fact that I didn't read a gushing tribute to King the icon, but also saw the less commendable features of King the mere man.

                          The book explores King's philosophy of non-violence, showing the influence of his Christian values but also the impact of time spent in India with the Gandhi Peace Foundation. King's moderate policies are contrasted with the approach of militants such as Malcolm X. It certainly made me ponder the question of how much peaceful protest can achieve and whether there are any circumstances in which violence can be justified. In addition to his personal values, King was astute enough to recognise that any associations with violence would alienate the Congressmen whose support he needed for new legislation.

                          But was King naïve when he claimed that, "non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people"? There is reference to King condemning black rioters and sanctimoniously calling for a "day of penance" when many believed he should have been focussing on condemning the behaviour that triggered the riots - the beating of a pregnant black woman at a jail near Albany. It is perhaps not surprising that this angered some of the more radical activists.

                          I was interested to read of King's interactions with President John F Kennedy, which reveal how JFK used the civil rights cause to win Northern black votes, yet snubbed King by not inviting him to his inauguration in January 1961. Lyndon Johnson, his successor, promised firmer action and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed. One thing the book makes you appreciate is how legislation is just the start and that attitudes and behaviour do not change overnight. There was plenty of violence and unrest still to come.

                          The book ends where it began, with King's assassination and asks the question, who was James Earl Ray and why did he plead guilty to the murder then deny his guilt right up until his death? An interesting conspiracy-theory involving J Edgar Hoover, U.S. military intelligence and the Mafia is discussed. It seems that King's criticisms of U.S. involvement in Vietnam represented a dangerous shift to the left in many eyes.

                          There is plenty of quite shocking detail in this book and at times it was hard to believe I was reading about events that happened in the 20th century, not so long ago. After reading it, I felt a lot of respect towards King for the way he tried to find common ground between blacks and whites, a shared sense of decency and justice, although many criticised him for supporting integration rather than separatism. However, I also felt sympathy for the extremists and could understand why they felt the need to meet violence with violence.

                          The book offered lots of food for thought and I pondered whether being an idealist is a good or bad thing. I also felt that King's story revealed that race issues cannot be looked at in isolation. The Vietnam protests that King became involved with in later years showed an awareness of the impact of imperialism and capitalism on working people, regardless of race.

                          For a short book this certainly offers a lot of detail and seems well-researched. A selection of photographs also help to tell the story. If you are interested in the Civil Rights Movement, it isn't a bad place to start. This book is available new from sellers at Amazon from £1.63

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                            06.07.2013 10:06
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                            Good choice for anyone with an interest in language

                            I love words. I am a voracious reader and I experience a geeky pleasure whenever I discover the meaning and origins of a new word. My youngest daughter shares my obsession. We talk about the words we have a particular fondness for -- words like wanderlust, cadence, popinjay, menagerie and panache - and we have both been known to pick up the dictionary in an absent moment and browse its contents just for the hell of it. (Perhaps we need to get out more!)

                            Hubert van den Bergh clearly had people like my daughter and me in mind when he decided to write this book, a collection of 600 English words that you pretend to understand but don't. The idea is that once you master these words, you can start using them in conversation and appear very clever. I am certainly a believer in expanding one's vocabulary, not specifically to appear clever though. I think that the more words you have at your disposal, the better your ability to communicate. My daughter and I both enjoy writing and we want our writing to be as powerful and expressive as possible, something that is not going to be helped by using the same words over and over again.

                            The author suggests that this book should be kept on your bedside table or on top of the toilet cistern. I couldn't agree more. This is a useful family resource, the type of book that can be dipped into when you have a few minutes to spare. If you just learn a new word every day, you can gradually widen your vocabulary. I also think this could be a handy book for those who are learning English as a second language and want to improve their comprehension skills.

                            It isn't the sort of book you would want to wade through page by page and I must admit I find the A to Z layout of the words a little bit laborious. I think it would have been more interesting if the words had been grouped by theme. The format of the book is just like a mini dictionary which of course makes it easier to look up a particular word, but you might well be thinking why not just read the conventional dictionary? However, Hubert van den Bergh's book is no weighty tome and it does lighten the subject by the inclusion of illustrations, which serve as an aide memoir to the word's meaning. He also provides comprehensible examples of word usage and additional details about the origins of particular words.

                            I like words that have surprising origins. Not only will this book help you expand your word power but also your general knowledge. As you get to grips with words like Orwellian, Dickensian, Kafkaesque, Byronic and Tartuffe, you learn useful snippets about the world of literature. There are many historical and political references too as we explore the origins of words like Machiavellian, Luddite and blitzkrieg.

                            To add to the relaxed style of the book, you can also pick up some QI-like pointless yet fascinating facts in the course of learning about words. For instance, did you know that, "Author, Virginia Woolf drowned herself by putting stones into her pockets and walking calmly into a river like an automaton"? or that "while conducting, Tchaikovsky held onto his chin with one hand: he had a phobia that his head would roll off otherwise due to his hortatory hand movements"? I find that the stranger or more shocking the piece of trivia, the more likely you are to remember the word it is illustrating.

                            One of the disappointing and frustrating aspects to this book, however, is there is no guide to word pronunciation. I think this would have helped, especially with tricky words such as Quixotic, synecdoche, schadenfreude etc. It is all very well knowing the meaning of a word but if you mispronounce it in company, it isn't going to make you look clever at all (just like someone who has been reading a book on how to sound clever!) So I feel this was a major omission on behalf of the author.

                            I was half smug and half disappointed to realise that I was already familiar with a large number of the listed words, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book. I never tire of reading about the rich history and evolution of our language and how much it has been shaped by other languages such as Latin, German and French.

                            It is hard to understand why certain words were included. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would fail to understand what was meant by the word 'carnivalesque' for instance, but it is worth including because of its interesting etymology. The word 'carnival' derives from the Latin, carne vale, meaning 'farewell to meat.' In Roman Catholic countries the carnival was the period of weeks leading up to Lent, the last time to indulge before the Lenten fast.

                            Another word with an unusual story to it is roué, the word for a sex-obsessed old man. This derives from 18th century France where men who became sexually involved with much younger women were punished by having their backs broken on a wheel, or roue.

                            I have found that this book comes in handy for quizzes too. If you have a crowd of people, it can be quite fun to test their word knowledge. For instance, you can read out one of the example sentences such as "Henry VIII became obese in his old age and later portraits of the monarch show him looking positively costive" or "A Judge will not stand for contumely from a witness in court" and see who can tell you what those words mean.

                            This book is available new from Amazon for £6.99 for a hardback copy. There is also a Kindle version for £6.64. So if you want to be less obtuse and oblique in your communication and you want something to help you to develop acuity and the confidence to expostulate and extemporise on a regular basis, it may be worth buying.

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                              03.07.2013 10:56
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                              This product could ruin your diet plans!

                              I enjoy using wax melts and tarts to fragrance my home and, like many people, my first choice is usually Yankee Candles. However, just before Christmas I spotted a range of Ecosoy Wax Melts listed on Amazon made by a company called Whicksnwhacks and they seemed to offer some interesting scents. So it was that I decided to give them a try and the scent I chose was Lemon Meringue Pie.

                              For £2.58 I received 10 wax melts. Each wax melt is much smaller than the standard Yankee wax tart and it is recommended that you melt 2 or 3 at a time. The melts are heart shaped and rather cute-looking, definitely a nice present for a loved one, although if I gave them as a gift I would consider putting them into an organza bag. Mine came in a basic grip-sealed plastic bag which was practical but not particularly attractive.

                              The cost works out at around 26p per melt. I use 2 melts at a time, which offers me fragrance for roughly 8 to 10 hours, so this is slightly more economical than the standard Yankee wax tarts.

                              According to the listing, the melts smell like lemon meringue pie "fresh from the oven." As lemon meringue pie is one of my favourite desserts of all time, I hoped this wasn't an exaggeration. I find floral scents can be a bit headache-inducing so it is the wholesome, 'foodie' scents that I tend to favour. I was pleased to find that the 2 hearts I placed in my burner melted very quickly and began to release scent after just 10 minutes. After roughly three quarters of an hour, this scent was strong enough to be detectable all around the downstairs level of my home. It really did smell as if I had been baking.

                              Was the aroma authentic? The answer to that is a resounding yes. If I put my nose up very close to the pool of melted wax (probably not the most sensible idea!) I can detect a more obvious, zesty lemon fragrance, but the scent that fills the room, although undoubtedly fruity, is also buttery and sugary, reminiscent of freshly baked pastry and crisp meringue. I know some people are put off by lemon fragrances as they expect them to be too strong, but there is absolutely no way the lemon in this product would remind you of cleaning fluid. It is a 'pudding' smell through and through but it isn't a sickly smell at all, because the refreshing qualities of the lemon are balanced beautifully with a comforting but not overpowering vanilla fragrance.

                              I regret to say that this fragrance was perhaps a bit too authentic, because it made me crave the real thing. As a result I went through a lemon meringue pie phase in the build up to Christmas. I just couldn't get enough of them. I have to say though that, delicious though they were, the smell that came from the oven was not as inviting as the smell from the wax melt. Such was my craving that I would often melt a couple of wax hearts while the pie was cooking to torment my taste buds.

                              I started a diet in the New Year and lemon meringue pie is now strictly off the menu, but when I decided to use up the last couple of wax melts for the purposes of writing this review, the cravings resurfaced. So this is not a good wax melt to use if you are watching your waistline. That said, there are some people whose cravings can be relieved by smelling, vanilla-esque scents, without them having to eat anything sweet, so you may be one of the lucky ones.

                              Although I am impressed with the scent of this product, I am none the wiser as to what has actually gone into it. My wax melts arrived in a plain plastic bag with no list of ingredients. I find that a little frustrating as I would prefer to know exactly what oils have been used. For example, does it contain synthetic fragrance oils or natural essential oils? It certainly doesn't smell fake and nasty, but I am always a bit nervous if I don't know what I'm dealing with. You are not supposed to use certain essential oils in pregnancy, for instance, and although that isn't applicable to me, I can understand that those who were pregnant might want to know what oils they were releasing into their living space.

                              On the plus side, these are not mass-produced melts and are freshly made on receipt of your order. I understand that soy wax has benefits over paraffin wax as it is natural and renewable and apparently has a superior fragrance throw. The scent is strong enough to be detectable even when the hearts are in their sealed bag. I was treated to a lovely whiff of lemon meringue pie whenever I opened the drawer where I kept them.

                              Although it goes without saying that you need to take care with wax melts, especially when there are children around, it is perhaps more important in this case that you store the packet of wax melts out of the way because they look and smell so edible. In fact, they could easily be mistaken for white chocolate and lemon hearts.

                              I have found that 2 hearts produces quite a small puddle of melted wax compared to the standard Yankee wax tarts, which means that if the burner is accidentally nudged it is less likely to spill over the sides. This is beneficial in my home where cats are always likely to jump up and knock the burner. However, care still needs to be taken.

                              I am impressed with the longevity of this scent. Once the tea light has burned out I can still smell it, even the following morning when I get up. Once the wax hearts cool and harden, I find they are a little trickier to remove from my burner than Yankee tarts. Although I try to run a blunt knife round the edge to loosen them, they tend to break up. I understand you are supposed to put the burner into the freezer if you have problems removing a tart, but I haven't ever tried this so can't say whether it helps.

                              I would like to try out more scents in the Ecosoy Wax Melts range. Other fragrances that appeal to me include French Vanilla, Cinnamon Spice, Night Blooming Jasmine and the mysterious-sounding Love Spell. I find them an effective and affordable way to scent my home and although I would like to know a little more about what goes into them, I can't argue with the divine smell of this variety.

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                                25.06.2013 14:00
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                                A good I Ching book for beginners

                                The I Ching or Book of Changes is a centuries-old oracle from China.

                                I have an interest in divination and I regularly use the I Ching to guide me in my day to day life. I have acquired several different books on the subject containing different translations. What I have found is that many translations of the I Ching are written in obscure and arcane language which is sometimes hard to relate to and comprehend. The Everyday I Ching presents the wisdom of this ancient oracle in modern, straightforward language, making it relevant to our lives today.

                                Sarah Dening is a psychotherapist who has used the I Ching in her work as a way of offering alternative perspectives on problems. She emphasises from the outset that the I Ching is not to be seen as mere 'fortune telling' but as a powerful self-help guide and perceptual tool which can enhance your life.

                                The introduction to the book explains that the I Ching dates back to at least 3000 BC, which is quite astonishing to think about. Without doubt that must make it the oldest agony aunt in the world! To help us understand what the I Ching is, Dening tells us - "The Chinese invented the compass as a way of orientating oneself in the physical world. Likewise, they created the I Ching to help us to point ourselves in the right direction in daily life." I think this is an excellent way of explaining the concept in a nutshell.

                                Dening also compares the workings of the I Ching to the practice of acupuncture, to help us to understand the significance of energy flows. I found this a really interesting metaphor. An acupuncturist identifies blocked and imbalanced energy flows within the body; the I Ching identifies similar blocked and imbalanced energy flows in everyday life. The I Ching's wisdom tells you what you need to do in order to change this energy flow for the better.

                                I found Dening's comprehensible introduction to Chinese philosophy quite absorbing. She explains the principles of yin and yang (feminine and masculine energy forces) and shows how every situation in life is made up of a combination of these two forces. It would be easy for such a subject to become 'heavy' and complicated, but in the space of a few paragraphs Dening gives the reader a good grasp of the basics.

                                For those who are not familiar with the I Ching, the oracle is consulted by tossing 3 coins a total of six times and, according to how those coins land, building a hexagram (a figure made up of 6 lines) then identifying the hexagram in the book and reading its interpretation. The I Ching has 64 hexagrams and each of those hexagrams can be interpreted in a general sense and by looking at its individual lines. All this is explained with clarity in a step-by-step way with useful hints on how to frame a question so that you receive the clearest answer and how to relax your mind so that you focus on your issue without distractions.

                                This is the I Ching book I turn to when I want quick, straightforward answers. That is not to say that Sarah Dening's interpretations are in any way superficial. Far from it. She keeps them clear and to the point but her explanations of the hexagrams are very insightful.

                                Some translations of the I Ching use quite strange language. Typical phrases you might encounter include, "It is advantageous to step into the Great River" or "The King makes a sacrifice and receives blessings on the twin-peaked mountain." You won't find this kind of language in Sarah Dening's interpretations. For example, in Sarah Dening's version, hexagram 54 is called 'Playing a subordinate role.' Dening captures the essence of this hexagram (which is all about subservience) without the obscure references to older men and concubines that appear in the original.

                                Although I can see how quaint language might complicate things for the modern reader, personally I feel that this language is part of the I Ching's eccentric charm. Consequently, I feel that Dening's interpretations, revealing though they are, lose something of the I Ching's original character. This isn't really a problem for me, however, because this book is just part of my collection. I use this book in addition to other I Ching translations. I feel that this is a great book for a beginner, but if you want something that feels more faithful to the original text, you might wish to check out some of Stephen Karcher's work.

                                One thing I like about the classic I Ching is its rather abrupt, somewhat scholarly manner, which does not come across in Dening's interpretations. However, I can appreciate that for some people, a less 'bossy' oracle may be advantageous.

                                I do like the way Dening introduces her interpretation of each of the 64 hexagrams with a quotation. There are quotations from a diverse range of people including Shakespeare, W.B. Yeats, Cervantes, Lewis Carroll and even Field Marshal Montgomery! It may not give a very Chinese feel to the book, but the quotations are always appropriate and help you to focus on the key point of the interpretation.

                                As a regular user of the I Ching, I find this oracle extraordinarily insightful and accurate, as if it is holding up a mirror and reflecting my moods, bringing to the surface things that I am already aware of on a subconscious level. Because Sarah Dening's interpretations are written in such straightforward language, I often find myself reading the guidance for a particular hexagram and a certain phrase or sentence will jump out at me. It really hits the nail on the head. There is absolutely no room for doubt about what the I Ching is telling you. In my experience, the I Ching is very much an oracle that 'tells it like it is' (even though you sometimes wish it wouldn't) and when that advice is being presented in the vernacular, it becomes even more difficult to hide your head in the sand and ignore what you're being alerted to.

                                To provide an example of how this book has offered me insight, a couple of days ago I found myself feeling quite stressed about changes in my routine. Although hopefully these will be temporary changes, I was getting myself into a bit of a state thinking about how I could keep up my current commitments during this time. I consulted the I Ching and got hexagram 17, which in The Everyday I Ching is called 'Being Adaptable.' The interpretation seemed very relevant to my situation. Key phrases in Sarah Dening's interpretation were - "make sure what you're aiming for will truly enhance your life", and "you cannot pursue a new path if at the same time you are trying to follow old, familiar ways." It made me realise that perhaps I was trying too hard to keep up my old commitments, when I would be better off yielding to the flow of events and taking the path of least resistance. Sarah Dening also includes a lovely quotation from Ralph Waldo Emmerson - "Hitch your wagon to a star" which I find quite uplifting and apt.

                                I find the tone of this book very upbeat and encouraging. In some I Ching translations, the oracle can seem rather scolding and disapproving in tone, but even with the most challenging, depressing hexagrams, Sarah Dening maintains a positive outlook. For example, hexagram 23 is about a situation that is deteriorating, something that has been a big part of your life coming to an end. Sarah Dening asks you to accept that you are already feeling vulnerable and that it is better to avoid confrontation when you are so emotionally fragile and easy to undermine. Sometimes just being told that there is no action you can take to improve the situation is quite a relief, because it means you can use that period to rebuild your flagging energy for the future.

                                I feel that this I Ching book would be good for people who are feeling a bit insecure as it does not lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel, however dim that light may seem. Some forms of divination can be rather dark and can do more harm than good if consulted by vulnerable people, but Sarah Dening's approach is responsible and empowering.

                                From reading this book, I feel that Sarah Dening makes us understand how something as ancient as the I Ching can still continue to have relevance today. She explains how the Chinese viewed change as an intrinsic part of life's flow, whereas in the West we tend to think of change as something to be feared. Through acquainting ourselves with the I Ching we can start to view change differently and learn to use it to kick start positive new chapters in our lives.

                                I have no hesitation in recommending this book if you would like to explore the I Ching in a down to earth, relevant and non-scary way. This book can be obtained from Amazon used from £3.50.

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                                  19.06.2013 09:58
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                                  A slightly unsatisfying true crime book

                                  In 1908 a wealthy lady, Mrs Caroline Luard, was murdered in a Kent village, shot dead in an isolated summerhouse. Describing it as "one of the great unresolved mysteries of the twentieth century", Minette Walters reconstructs this true crime story in an account that features real and fictional characters.

                                  Being set in 1908, this book instantly appealed to me as I find the Edwardian era a particularly interesting period of history. I love reading about true crime and I had never heard of the Luard case before, so was keen to find out more. This book is one of the Quick Reads series, primarily intended to enthuse reluctant readers but also handy for those of us who don't have as much time to read as we would like.

                                  As I read the foreword to the book, I was a little surprised and somewhat disappointed to be told straightaway that no one was ever arrested for this crime and that Mrs Luard's husband was suspected by many of being the murderer. My initial reaction was that the author had given too much away, but as I continued to read I quickly realised that this did not lessen my interest in the story but actually highlighted the drama for me. Because you know that Charles Luard was the prime suspect in many people's minds, you view him as a potential murderer from the start. This makes you pay special attention to his every gesture and every word. Everything has significance and you are drawn in from the first page, never quite sure whether you want to find him guilty or innocent.

                                  What I liked about this story was the way the author managed to keep me questioning throughout. One minute she has you thinking that the crime was the work of a novice, the next minute you're contemplating whether it could have been carried out by a hired professional. Sometimes the evidence seems to point to Charles Luard, but a few pages later you are given another piece of information that seems to put him in the clear. Before long you are suspecting him again. The gradual introduction of new theories and new characters held my attention and really helped me to relate to the frustrations of those involved in the investigation, trying to piece together such a complex jigsaw puzzle.

                                  As you might expect from a Quick Read, there isn't time for extensive description in this book, which will suit those readers who get bogged down by too much poetic language. That doesn't mean that the writing lacks atmosphere, however. I felt that Minette Walters painted very vivid pictures in my mind and I loved her attention to detail, particularly the way she uses contrast for dramatic effect. For instance, she made me imagine Caroline Luard and her husband strolling along a dusty lane on a sunny afternoon, a scene that should have been idyllic but for the gruesome events that were to follow.

                                  She also describes the glow of the police lanterns that are lit around the crime scene, their soft, beautiful glow seeming at odds with the brutal acts that had occurred within the summerhouse. We are left in no doubt that violence has intruded into a world of hitherto calm and respectability. The silk glove and straw hat with cherries on the brim, which are found close to Mrs Luard's blood-spattered body seem to symbolise the absurdity of murder occurring in such a genteel place.

                                  I loved the period detail and I felt that a credible picture of England in 1908 emerged. It illustrates the class divide sharply. I winced at some of the dialogue when the police officers spoke of the murder being the sort of crime that "low-grade vermin" or "worthless layabouts" might commit and the way the victim's husband, who is a Major General, a County Councillor and Justice of the Peace, is treated as being above the law by his close friend, the Chief Constable of Kent. The book sheds light on what life was like for rich and poor - it is shocking to think that the summerhouse where Caroline died was big enough to house four poor families - and for women in general, although some of the depictions of the poor are rather clichéd. 1908 was a time when the suffragettes were in full flow and the state was starting to become more involved in social welfare, with the introduction of Old Age Pension and education for the poor. The book highlights some of the reasons why this was so necessary.

                                  I enjoyed reading about the way the police conducted murder investigations back in 1908 in the days long before DNA profiling and complex forensic science. It is fascinating to see how their theories develop and you do feel as if you are getting inside the mind-sets of the officers and the police surgeon as they ponder the various possibilities. I found the contrast between Scotland Yard officers' 'modern' approach to policing and the sometimes amateurish methods of the local force quite amusing. Many of the Scotland Yard officers would have been old enough to remember the Jack the Ripper murders and would have better appreciated the importance of preservation of evidence.

                                  I felt that this was a very well-observed account of the impact of such a shocking crime on a sleepy little village, showing the role played by idle gossip. The case illustrates the way that memory can become tainted after the event, the difference between what people claim to have seen and what they really did see. I found this interesting because of what I have learned about 'reconstructive memory' in psychology and its effect on the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

                                  This is an interesting read but its inability to come to any definite conclusion makes for a slightly unsatisfactory ending. You are given a few possibilities to mull over, but don't end up feeling that you have enough information on which to make a firm decision. It is all speculation really. It's more a question of whether you think Charles Luard did it or not, than an attempt to pin down any other suspect. The way that the author has added fictional characters to the story feels like a bit of a cop out, especially as you don't find out until the epilogue who was real and who was invented. If you were hoping to actually gain some insight into a true crime, creating a few imaginary villains just confuses things.

                                  I think this would be a good introduction for anyone who wanted to find out whether they liked the true crime genre before diving into a bigger book. Quite frankly though you could look up the Luard case online and inform yourself almost as well without spending any money at all. That said, this book is reasonably priced on Amazon at just £1.00 for a paperback with the Kindle copy being only 20p, so it will hardly break the bank. From my point of view, 20p is well worth paying to find out about an Edwardian murder mystery I haven't heard of before, even if it isn't the most compelling account. It would certainly pass an hour or so if you were on the train or something and it isn't a book that requires intense concentration.

                                  As a sketch of a very different England, a world of stiff upper lips, outward shows of respectability and social and sexual inequality, it is quite thought-provoking, In fact, the shocking murder of Caroline Luard could almost be a metaphor for the destruction of a more innocent world as Britain drifted closer towards the calamitous Great War.

                                  However, it certainly wasn't the most exciting crime book I have ever read and the blend of fact and fiction doesn't completely work, in my opinion. It wasn't gripping enough to compete with fictional period murder stories like Agatha Christie and it wasn't informative and analytical enough to compete with true crime stories. So falling midway between the two, it did leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed.

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