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Price: £5.49 from boots
Packaging: Not much to this - a see-through tube (so you can view product colour) with a nice bright orange lid.
What Rimmel says it does: "Rimmel Wake Me Up Concealer is our first full coverage concealer that visibly reawakens and illuminates under the eyes. Completely conceals spots and other blemishes. Instant anti-fatigue effect. With Peptides and a Vitamin Moisturising complex."
AQUA/WATER/EAU, CYCLOPENTASILOXANE, BUTYLENE GLYCOL, TALC, CETYL PEG/ PPG-10/1 DIMETHICONE, GLYCERIN, ETHYLHEXYL METHOXYCINNAMATE, TRIBEHENIN, ISONONYL ISONONANOATE, MAGNESIUM SULFATE, BISPEG/PPG-14/14 DIMETHICONE, LECITHIN, MICA, DISTEARDIMONIUM HECTORITE, LAURETH-7, POLYMETHYL METHACRYLATE, SILICA DIMETHYL SILYLATE, PHENOXYETHANOL, CHLORPHENESIN, DIMETHICONE CROSSPOLYMER, PROPYLENE CARBONATE, XANTHAN GUM, DISODIUM STEAROYL GLUTAMATE, TOCOPHERYL ACETATE, GLYCERYL POLYMETHACRYLATE, DISODIUM EDTA, ALUMINUM HYDROXIDE, PEG-8, ASCORBYL GLUCOSIDE, BHT, SODIUM PCA, UREA, SODIUM LACTATE, POLYQUATERNIUM-51, SODIUM HYALURONATE, TREHALOSE, PALMITOYL OLIGOPEPTIDE, TRIACETIN, BENZOIC ACID, POTASSIUM SORBATE. [MAY CONTAIN/PEUT CONTENIR/+/-: TITANIUM DIOXIDE (CI 77891), IRON OXIDES (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499)].
My view: I'm 43 and while I don't have many wrinkles (just a few fine ones under my eyes), I am blimmin tired, due to being a mum! Nothing quite whacks you out like parenthood - and even though my little one is now 5, she's been waking us up frequently most nights for two months. If you saw under my eyes, you'd think I was auditioning for a role in Night of the Living Dead!
I've tried lots of under eye concealers in the past and this is one of the best. In my view though, Wake Me Up is solely and under eye concealer - it wouldn't be great on spots. They're trying to have it both ways (eyes and spots) - but anyone who knows their makeup knows that one product can't target both; the under eye area is very different to the rest of the skin on the face. And the clue's in the name anyway - nobody ever wanted to try and wake up a zit!! But with that out of the way, I can say that this is a fantastic product, especially given the price. I've used pretty much every high street brand of under eye concealer, along with some high end brands, including Touche Eclat (which I've never really rated). The two things I demand from a concealer for this area is coverage without cake-iness and hydration. If I get illumination too, so much the better. Many products do conceal but dry the skin out, which ends up making you look even older and more tired. Others hydrate but don't conceal that well (Benefit Fake Up to name but one - lovely when it goes on but just slicks off in the end and does little to conceal).
I do use Bobbi Brown creamy concealer (which is excellent but pricey). I often go in with this first as it's slightly darker and more orange-toned which will eliminate that purple colour which screams 'I have kids'!!! After though, I like putting on a lighter, more illuminating concealer - which is when I use the Rimmel. Before this, I was using L'Oreal and Bourjois Healthy Mix concealer (and while the foundation version of this is hydrating, I found the concealer not to be). I was toying with getting the Nars creamy concealer (which gets rave reviews) but had heard the Max Factor Fit Me concealer was a dupe for that. I had also been using the Max Factor (and it is impressive - Goss the Youtube makeup artist raves over this; and he's usually spot on!). However, I picked this Rimmel one up on a whim - I was sort of reluctant to throw money at Nars having heard the Max Factor was a dupe.
Well, was I impressed! Application is by way of a doe foot applicator (you can dab onto a clean finger if you don't like smearing on directly with that). I went for a slightly lighter shade (wanting illumination - and using the Bobbi Brown for the concealing part). This goes on smoothly and when it's worked in with a buffing brush (I tend to pat it in using the brush), it really does make the under eye look fresh and hydrated. And that hydration lasts. It doesn't settle into lines, and it generally gives a flawless, youthful effect. You could set with powder for more staying power (although I find it lasts well and I don't like powdering under my eyes because then they do feel dry). I mentioned in another review (for Cetaphil Moisturiser) that I also tend to dab a teeny bit of that under my eye for extra, ongoing hydration.
All in all, this is a superb product that rivals many of the more expensive brands. It works to illuminate and conceal (you could get a darker and lighter shade, given how cheap this product is, for colour correction first, then illumination) and it doesn't suck the moisture from under that delicate eye area. Which, to me, is very important - because dryness and lack of elasticity is what causes wrinkles/discolouration in the first place; so it's counter productive using a product which makes the eye area feel uncomfortable.
In conclusion - if you're on the fence about which under-eye concealer to try, give this a go. For a fiver, you've got nothing to lose!
PRICE: £7.19 (was £8.99) at Boots for 236ml
PACKAGING: Nothing fancy here - what you see is what you get (it's like it looks in the photo). It's a white with blue and green (quite medicinal looking) and has a blue pump-action top. It's big! Yes, you get a lot of product for your money. But this isn't some L'Occitaine Precious cream that you'll want to display proudly on your dressing table. It's functional - but boy does it work (more on that below)
ABOUT THE PRODUCT: Cetaphil claims to be specifically formulated to soothe chronically dry skin. Once applied, skin feels soft and smooth. It is non-greasy, non–irritating and non–comedogenic (won't clog pores), leaving you feeling more comfortable in your own skin.
Purified Water, Glycerin, Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Macadamia Nut Oil, Dimethicone, Tocopheryl Acetate, Stearoxytrimethylsilane, Stearyl Alcohol, Panthenol, Farnesol, Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid.
If you're after a 100% natural product, this isn't it. Yet it has been around for years and is recommended by dermatologists. It doesn't have any whizz-bang anti-aging products contained within it; it's a very simple formula really. So if you're looking for your retionols and peptides, you won't find them here. Yet, this is still one of the best moisturisers I've ever used.
MY VIEW: I've used tons of moisturisers over the years. To put my own needs into context for you, I'm 43. I don't have many wrinkles yet, I still get the occasional spot - my skin is combination. I can get oily around the forehead but very dry-feeling on my cheeks (especially in winter). Over time, I've bought everything from Simple to that £70 L'Occitaine Divine Cream. It was nice enough but not worth £70. Just before trying the Cetaphil, I'd spent around another £70 on a number of Vichy products - including Vichy Idealia. The thing is, my skin was feeling very dry and dehydrated and nothing was making much difference - although I did try to up my water intake. Finally I decided to go back to basics. You often read that celebrities use quite simple products, like Ponds. And I believe Jennifer Aniston and Claire Danes use Cetaphil.
From day one, Cetaphil made a difference to my skin. A little goes a long way - it's sort of between a liquid and a cream (a lovely consistency; not thick but not runny either). It's easily absorbed but leaves your skin slightly moist (not greasy though). It's a great base for foundation - and I noticed that my foundation went on better and looked more polished. But the biggest test was that after a day in the office (with the air conditioning on, which normally dries out my skin), my face still felt smooth and comfortable. In my opinion, this is the best moisturiser I've probably ever used (and that includes the L'Occitaine). Experts may say that it's a 'surface' thing, and that the lack of fancy ingredients means it's not doing anything beneficial at the deeper layers for the long term. However, I do wonder about all the anti-aging things they shove into products now. My skin never felt more irritated than when I was chasing that elusive anti-ageing product. And despite all their claims, I never noticed a difference. I did notice (and continue to notice) a difference with Cetaphil. And unlike some of the expensive brands which come in jars with screw tops (thereby letting in air and bacteria and breaking down the effectiveness of the product over time), Cetaphil is preserved by its pump action. I just love this. And I do believe that most of our lines/wrinkles come from UV damage, smoking, drinking, what we eat. No product is a miracle cure for time or genetics. So if you top Cetaphil with a good sun protector, you probably don't need to stress that you've given up on your peptides!
TOP TIP: I have discovered that if you pat a teeny amount of Cetaphil under your eye area after you've finished your makeup, it keeps it looking dewy and hydrated (but won't make your makeup run). Or dot a little along the top of your cheekbone for a lovely dewy look.
TOP TIP 2: Mix together with a little Bio Oil of an evening for a really hydrating overnight skin treat.
COST AND WHERE TO BUY
It's £16.99 for a 60ml bottle, and I got mine from The Finchley Clinic online. You can also get it off Amazon (but with medicinal things, I only buy from there if I can be sure the supplier is above board).
WHY I STARTED TAKING AEROBIC OXYGEN
By way of background, I was ill for 4 years with recurrent viruses and infections which were taking ever-longer to recover from. There were days when I couldn't get up the stairs and I was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME.
During this time, I tried numerous supplements (all of which claim to be 'miracle' cures). I was becoming increasingly frustrated and depressed with recurrent ear and throat flare-ups and very low energy. And, deep down, I suspected that while I certainly had post viral fatigue, the CFS diagnosis was something of a cop-out by doctors who simply couldn't provide a proper diagnosis or remedy.
Cut to three months ago when I was actually searching for something that might help reduce a thyroid nodule (yes, I know, it sounds like I'm falling apart doesn't it!) and I came across aerobic (or liquid) oxygen. As I started reading up on it, it became clear that this isn't just a faddy product but something essential to the body. You need oxygen to survive and it's said that nothing bad can survive in an oxygen-rich environment (including bacteria and viruses - even early cancer cells). However, unlike antibiotics, oxygen doesn't kill off the good bacteria in our bodies. So, I thought it worth a go . . .
There are different brands of aerobic oxygen but this is the original product and it's been around for about 30 years. There's not much to the bottle - it's a small plastic thing (you can see it well in the photo). It contains 60ml of product - you think it won't last long because the bottle is small but it does - I'd say it lasts about a month.
HOW TO TAKE
You're directed to take 20 drops 3 times a day, half hour before food or two hours after food. To be honest, I don't usually take it three times a day (simply because that two hours after food may not always give me a clear window. I like to graze!) Start slow, because it can cause looser motions - so if this happens, just cut back a bit until your body adapts. Also, be sure not to take it at the same time as Vitamin C, as they cancel each other out.
TYPES OF COMPLAINTS AEROBIC OXYGEN CAN HELP WITH
While it's probably not limited to the following, there's lots of evidence that it can help with the complaints listed below:
Candida / yeast infections
Low Energy levels
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Frequent colds and flu
Sinus and catarrhal difficulties
DOES IT WORK?
I have to say yes. So far (and I never like to tempt fate), I feel better than I've felt in years. There have been times when I've felt like I'm coming down with something again but it just seems to have fizzled out. I have more energy - I won't say I'm full of energy; but compared to how I was, I seem to have more stamina and I'm thinking more clearly again. My husband also takes this and says he's noticed a benefit too. Again, he's felt the beginnings of a colds but they've failed to take a proper hold. As with all these things, it takes time to see if they are worth it for long-term use. However, I'd say that this is one of the few 'supplements' that absolutely cannot harm but can do a lot of good. I would highly recommend it if you are suffering from a condition that you can't seem to get a grip on - after all, oxygen is a fundamental building block of human life so it's got to be worth a punt!
My fantasy credentials are nothing beyond the 'norm' - The Hobbit, Narnia, Harry Potter etc with a little humorous fantasy thrown in, such as Robert Rankin and Douglas Adams. The point is - I'm not a hardcore fantasy fan and would never have picked up A Game of Thrones, had it not been for all the superlative reviews it gets. After all, 862 five-star reviews on Amazon can't be wrong! However, having now finished the first book, I also get why there are 32 one-star reviews. The thing is ... A Game of Thrones is, in novel terms, the start of what is supposed to be a long relationship. This, the reader knows, is never going to be a tale that's done and dusted in one sitting (or one book).
If you go into GOT with this in mind, and view this first (albeit long) book as the set up for what's to come, I think it helps. I've not read the others yet - but I do believe that this series is going to get better and better. Yes, there's a huge cast of characters and many different POVs, with chapters alternating each time (and often taking a long while to return to a particular character) - however, this is clearly an epic tale. It's not for a lazy reader or someone who wants a quick read. Dare I say it (without wishing to offend anyone who didn't like it) but it requires a certain level of intelligence to stay with it and 'get' it. That's not to say people who didn't like it aren't intelligent - but the novel does take some thought and input. Yes, you may have to flick to the end and remind yourself who certain characters are (the X-ray feature on Kindle comes in very handy for this). Yes, you might have to concentrate on the history a little. But it does pay off. This isn't a book that you can read in a semi mindless fug. You have to buy into it, engage with it and give it a bit of time and effort.
You will NOT reach the end of the book and feel satisfied in any way. It is NOT a stand-alone book. But anyone coming to it surely knows that - there are 7 books so far in the series, they're all like doorstops, so this first novel is only going to touch on what's to come.
Turning to the fantasy element ... personally, I found this to be more like an historical novel. It could almost be true. As other people have mentioned, the fantasy elements (at least in book one) are very vague and not in the forefront of the action. This reads more like a medieval tale of knights and kings and battles. There are hints of supernatural and dragons which are clearly going to become more present as the series progresses. However, don't be put off of this book if you think it's pure fantasy.
So, did I enjoy the book? Yes - to the extent that I think this is something you need to invest time in (on-going) to reap the rewards. I appreciate the sheer genius behind the plotting. To plot one novel must be hard enough - to plot seven with such a huge cast is the work of a literary giant. The writing itself is very good - excellent in parts. My slight criticism of the novel is that there's no real pace to it - it all sort of trundles along at the same speed. There are no cliff-hangers or sudden increases in pace. But, again, in the great scheme of things, this whole novel is sort of akin to chapter 3 of a regular book! The world GRRM has created is immense and, like real life, it takes time for things to unfold. Many people gripe that favourite characters are killed off - and, even though I knew it was coming somewhere (that someone of import would be given the heave-ho), I was still shocked when it happened. I was delighted too. It made the book more real. It takes a brave writer to kill of strong characters - people they've invested time in developing and who are actually liked by the reader. It rarely happens - and, for that alone, the author has to be applauded. As Cersi comments in the novel - 'When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die'. GRRM stands by his own 'rules'. The book is gritty, violent and, despite the fantasy element, utterly believable. He brings you passion, intrigue, humour, compassion, violence, cunning and so much more - he serves you life on a plate and, like life, what you get isn't always what you wanted!
The main question, when concluding a book that's 800-odd pages long, is 'will I read the next one?' Yes, I most certainly will. I have given GOT four-stars simply because it's not a stand-alone read. It doesn't 'work' fully as a single book. It's unresolved - and, due to that, I can't give it five stars. But it is worthy of five stars and I know many people are retrospectively rating this series - which makes me think that it will get even better. However, for me personally, I can't give full marks to a story whose conclusion is still hanging because I still don't have the full picture. I am definitely looking forward to the next 'chapter' in GOT though!
If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with Vaseline's Lip Therapy range. Basically, they all pretty much do the same job, but they periodically bring out different 'flavours', such as Creme Brulee a while back.
This particular edition was much-hyped and is a limited edition version - although it's been knocking around for a couple of months now, so probably isn't truly 'limited'. It caused a bit of consternation when it first came out, given that it was originally launched in Selfridges - and, quite rightly, a number of ardent Vaseline fans took to their Facebook page to complain about this. Now, it's available in Superdrug and Boots (priced £3.49 in boots), so sort of makes a mockery of the 'exclusive' launch. It gives the impression that Vaseline don't really know how they want to pitch this product.
At the end of the day though, it's just another bog-standard lip balm and, for many who don't like petroleum-based products, it's not going to be much to shout about.
So to the packaging - well that's actually very nice (and, personally, the main reason I think many women will like it) and the product itself is a pretty pale pink colour. It comes in the regular round tin, but with pink and black colouring which looks rather stylish. As for the product itself - I never find petroleum jelly a truly great moisturising product. It seems the more Vaseline you use, the more you need and I wouldn't recommend this if you suffer from badly chapped lips (my go-to remedy for things like that is Lucas Pawpaw - truly excellent). This really left me hoping for a great flavour (which is pretty much why I bought it) and, alas, I found it horrid. I can honestly say there was nothing champagne-like about it. In fact, it tasted quite perfumed - not the sort of flavour that's nice on the lips (and it made me feel that it would be doing more harm than good, simply because it was more akin to a body spray type smell/flavour). If I had to liken it to any food/drink (rather than a perfume), it has a vaguely orange undertone; but I still felt like I'd accidentally sprayed perfume onto regular Vaseline and then accidentally smothered it on my mouth.
For those of you looking for lip care to help with problem lips, I'd say steer clear of this - or Vaseline generally. If you do go for a Vaseline product, stick to the original, or maybe the Aloe, which is supposed to deliver extra hydration. But, as I've said, there are better ways to care for your lips than by using Vaseline.
For those who are just looking for a slick of lip balm, again I feel there are better options. I use the Pawpaw as a lip gloss and it lasts for ages - whereas many lip glosses, and also Vaseline, dry out quickly, especially in this cold weather.
So that just leaves the people who want a burst of flavour. Of course, this is subjective and there will probably be many who do like Pink Bubbly - however, I've tried tons of flavoured lip balms over the years and I have to say this is the one I've liked the least. If a company is going to launch a new flavour and also be so bold as to make it limited edition - then it really ought to be something fantastic; and Pink Bubbly just isn't that. And when you consider all their other Lip Therapy tins are £1.99, this is a huge mark up for something that isn't that nice. I mean come on, Vaseline - just because you create a bad champagne flavour doesn't mean you have to charge champagne prices (especially when your 'limited edition' is still available far and wide).
Amazon - well, it doesn't really need much background introduction does it! If you don't know what Amazon is (the online shopping giant, as opposed to the rainforest jungle in South America) then where have you been hiding?! Personally, I don't think I know anybody who hasn't bought something off of Amazon at some point. Apart from my 81 year old father - but even then, he's shopped there indirectly by asking me to get him stuff!
Often of a night, when I'm plagued by insomnia, I ask myself, 'How did I survive before Amazon?' That's because some people advise you to count your blessings when you can't nod off. And Amazon is up there - probably in no2 position, just after my child and before my husband! That's not to say my husband isn't great - he's just not able to fulfill my consumer-based desires 24/7 365 days a year.
So, what do I love so much about Amazon? Well, here's the list
1) You can trust them. They have a fantastic reputation and their customer service is (largely) very good. I recently had a problem with an Amazon Marketplace seller based in Italy and they were quick to resolve this. For those who don't know, the majority of products bough on Amazon are dispatched via Amazon directly. However, they also have Amazon Marketplace Sellers, who are supposed to adhere to strict guidelines (ensuring ultimate customer service). As such, there are quite rigorous procedures (and the opportunity to file claims etc) should you have an issue with one of their sellers. This is the first time I've ever had a problem though and I suspect that Amazon must thoroughly vet all sellers before they allow them to do any business under the Amazon banner.
2) The sheer choice. Amazon isn't just about books any more (although they have almost every title you could ever want). You name it and you can probably buy it on Amazon. In fact, I recently purchased some Sleep Aid tablets (which came from the States) to help the aforementioned insomnia! I've bought a whole host of products from Amazon over the years - from toys and watches through to electricals and beauty products.
3) Price. Amazon is one of the most competitive online retailers out there - and, often, you'll find you can't beat them on price. They consistently come out top on Price Runner and similar comparison sites and I feel pretty certain I'm not going to find something much cheaper than I do on Amazon. My husband has just purchased a Police watch for £88 and it has a normal RRP of around £170.
4) Try it and if you don't like it, you can send it back. Whether or not an item is faulty, Amazon's 'right of return' means you can send things back if they're not for you. Usually, if you're sending back an item that was fulfilled by Amazon themselves, it's a doddle (and free). They generate a pre-printed 1st class freepost label for you, so all you need to do is post it back and get a proof of postage. Word of advice - always keep boxes (including the box your item came in) as this makes it much easier if you do want to send something back. Even if you bought it through an Amazon seller you can return an item - although you may have to cover postage costs there.
5) Amazon Prime. This costs £50 a year if you choose to sign up - but as a Prime member you then get FREE next-day delivery (or 1st class delivery if next-day isn't available) for unlimited items. This means you could place four (or more!) separate orders on Amazon on any given day and you won't pay postage on any of them. Amazon also makes it very clear which items are covered by Prime (by and large, the majority seem to be). I still marvel at this service - I've placed orders late in the day and they've arrived by courier next morning. It's like magic! Plus, if you own a Kindle (more on that below) and you're a Prime member, you can borrow one free book a month.
6) Kindle. Ah, this wondrous object even on its own would, for me, make Amazon one of the best companies on earth. Space doesn't permit a detailed account of all this e-book has to offer. However, it's consistently cited as the top e-reader (and has now been taken on by Waterstones). Amazon is constantly improving the Kindle - it was the forerunner of e-books (and has recently taken another leap forward with the Paperwhite) and, whether you like it or not, has changed the face of reading; making it more accessible for students or those with sight-issues (not to mention people like me who struggle under the weight of 900-page novels!).
7) Reviews. All you dooyoo members will clearly appreciate the benefit of other consumers' thoughts and opinions. In today's world, we're able to honestly assess products and give other buyers' a heads-up. I find the Amazon reviews very valuable and you're generally able to form an opinion on what you're buying. However, I have noticed recently (more in the book category with the advent of self-publishing) that you need to be a bit careful re 'fake' reviews where a writer is clearly getting their mates to big them up. It's sort of easy to spot this though.
8) Self publishing. Okay, so while I'm not into forged reviews, I can see the benefit of self publishing. I have actually read a number of self published books that have been very good. So if you can't get of the slush pile, but have a talent (and talented people are rejected - including JK Rowling initially) then there is now an opportunity for you to get read. By the same token, however, I do feel Amazon might need to start managing this a bit. Right now, it's a free for all (mainly in the Kindle area) and people who clearly can't write are also putting their shite out there. Personally, I'd like to see some halfway house whereby Amazon allow for self publishing but also put in some form of quality check. Plots may be subjective but good grammar and punctuation aren't. I do feel though that this is an area that will have to be given some consideration by Amazon if they wish to retain their credibility.
9) Write enough Dooyoo reviews and you can even get an Amazon gift voucher. Hurrah!
So are there any negatives, apart from the few I've touched on? Well yes (but they can't be perfect can they). Firstly, while customer service is good and you usually get the outcome you want, it can sometimes take time. Occasionally when I've called, I've got through to the UK and at other times I think I may be getting through to Singapore. You have a choice - you can email them or get them to call you back (which effectively puts you through to an automated system (but for free) where you pick a number, then speak to a human. Although some of those humans can be quite dim!). If you email, they will resolve it but, again, I've found they sometimes don't 'get' the issue immediately. Anything a little complex is likely to throw them. And one of the few times when I've felt like banging my head against the wall was when I had a problem with their own product - the Kindle Keyboard. It made me feel that although they're happy to refund left right and center if it's another manufacturer's item, when it comes to their own, they're less willing. In the end though, I did get a replacement - but someone less determined might not have.
Any other 'niggles'? The have a section entitled 'Amazon and our planet'. Now I'm not the most environmentally aware person but even I baulk when I'm sent a small item in a large box. I've noticed that Amazon often have a tendency to over-package. Bad.
By and large though, they're a fantastic company, and whenever I see their logo it makes me happy. Nothing quite beats opening the door and seeing that 'smiley' yellow arrow. Plus, if you were so minded, you could do all your Christmas shopping via ONE website without leaving your sofa AND have your own novel published online in the same day! So try beating that.
Price: £6.99 (£4.19 on Amazon)
Length: 32 pages
I'm constantly looking out for different books for my 3 year old daughter and, although The Gruffalo's been on my radar for years (how could it not be!), I've avoided it until now. We have lots of other Julia Donaldson books, but I thought The Gruffalo might be a tad scary for a younger child. Now she's 3 though, I thought it was a good time to introduce her to him - and she loves the book.
So what is a Gruffalo? Well didn't you know?! 'He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws." And, really, he's just a figment of a clever mouse's imagination. Or is he? For this story begins with a mouse taking a walk through a 'deep, dark wood' where he encounters a number of other critters (an owl, a snake and a fox) who want to eat him. However, he puts them off by telling them he's going to be meeting a fearsome creature - a Gruffalo - for lunch and, each time, he embellishes the details of this beast! I won't say much more - if you don't know they whole story, it's a nice surprise to read it with your child.
For me, although the book's called The Gruffalo, the real star of the show is the mouse. He is super-cute and very smart. Personally, I find the Gruffalo just - ugly. I wouldn't be encouraged by all the merchandising spin-off to buy any toys relating specifically to him. Give me the rodent any day!
As with all children's books, credit can't just go to the writer - there are pictures too! And as most parents will know. Axel Scheffler is a hugely talented illustrator. I sometimes wonder if certain books wouldn't do as well if it weren't for the fact a writer has been paired with a certain illustrator. In the case of Julia Donaldson though, her prose is simply delightful - and, together with Scheffler, pure magic pours out of the pages. There are many books that I'm ho-hum about reading (and yet others I dread reading - although I try to put on a good show with all of them for the sake of my daughter. After all, she's the main critic!). But I never get bored of Julia Donaldson's writing (nor of Scheffler's illustrations). I understand it's more difficult for would-be writers to get children's books published if they rhyme (something to do with them not translating, hence less chance to sell them in abroad). However, as a mum, I think these are often the best books to read. They teach children to love the flow and pace of language. There is a 'beat' to the story - something that almost borders on the musical. It is through rhyme, I think, that children can first discover a true love of language - how words interact with each other and how inflection can make a difference to meaning. Julia Donaldson gets this right every time. I'd go so far as to put her up there with the likes of Dr. Seuss.
The story itself might take some explaining to a younger reader (there's a twist in it) but this is the sort of book that will grow with a child - and I don't doubt, when that child is an adult, this will be one of the childhood books that lives in their memory and still resonates with them.
On a different - but related note - there is also an utterly enchanting short film of The Gruffalo. It's about 25 minutes long and the animation (and music) is magical. It 'stars' big-names such as Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon and James Corden and brings the book to life without detracting from it in any way (you can find it on Youtube if you type in Gruffalo movie - it has Spanish subtitles for some reason (proving some rhyming books do still make it out into the wider world!)). And I think it's testament to the story that my husband and I often quote to each other, '... the mouse found a nut. And the nut was GOOD.' Read it and you'll know what I mean!
Price: RRP £7.99 (but £5.99 on Amazon or £5.22 via Kindle)
Length: 432 pages
Official synopsis: "In traditional fairy tales the handsome prince rescues the beautiful princess from her wicked stepmother, and the couple live happily ever after. But in Ruth Rendell's dark and damaged contemporary universe, innocent dreams can turn into the most terrible nightmares. Teddy Brex emerges from a loveless, isolated childhood as a handsome but autistic young man. Francine Hill, traumatised by the murder of her mother, grows into a beautiful young woman, who must endure the overprotectiveness of an increasingly obsessive stepmother. Teddy Brex does ride to her rescue, but he is a man who has already committed two murders."
My view: Although I'm 40 and a prolific reader, this is the first time I've picked up a Ruth Rendell. Perhaps because she's been going so long and I didn't really know where to start and felt beginning with the first Inspector Wexford might prove a bit of a `dated' read. So, I decided to start here - a stand-alone novel, which is then followed by The Vault (I believe this can also be read by itself, but picks up part of the story from A Sight for Sore Eyes).
I must say I'm torn as to how much I enjoyed this book. Did it keep me reading on? Yes. Did I enjoy the writing? Yes. However, I also felt that the tone of voice was somewhat twee, middleclass and dated (and I don't say this as an insult to the middle classes - I fall into that category myself!). At one point, I looked at the publication date and was surprised to see that it's 2011. This novel had the type of narrative inflection I'd assumed the Wexford novels would have. Incredibly middle England and a little bit out of step with real life and the present day. It starts in the 60s, but the two main characters, Francine and Teddy, are supposed to be modern - mobile phones are used; yet the whole feel of the novel is very past-times. I understand that due to both of their personal circumstances, Teddy and Francine have been somewhat isolated from the real world - yet there were times when Teddy (without giving anything away) was incredibly proficient and capable and other times when he was incredibly green; and these two sides just didn't seem to gel. Again, without wanting to reveal the plot itself, I was surprised by the number of `liberties' which seemed to be taken re getting away with a crime, covering it up etc. Rendell, as I've always viewed her, has to be one of the most proficient (and knowledgeable) writers when it comes to police procedure and tying up plot holes. However, I could imagine that if a first-time writer presented this book to an agent or publisher, they would be challenged on quite a few of the story strands. Overall, I get the feel that, maybe, Rendell is the equivalent of a boy band that hasn't moved with the times and is still churning out the same sound 30 years on! She's clearly a talented writer but I do wonder whether more modern, cutting-edge crime thrillers have left her in the shade and she's still turning out the types of novels she started off with. That said, for those who are die-hard fans, this may not be a bad thing.
All this aside though, I enjoyed the book. A lot of it was far-fetched - maybe quite a bit of it should have been challenged or questioned in order to provide a more `authentic' storyline. However, while many readers don't like coincidences in narratives and want things to run exactly as real life would, I am prepared to suspend my disbelief if I'm enjoying a novel. Technically, this wasn't perfect. The writing did feel dated - but I sort of enjoyed that too. I guess I would equate it to sitting down and watching Midsommer Murders or something like that; it's not anything most of us would recognise as feasible, nor does it capture what most people's lives are like - yet it's still good escapism. So, for that reason, I'm giving it three stars and I'll definitely be reading The Vault (and maybe even a Wexford!).
Based on a review I originally posted on Amazon.
LENGTH: 368 pages
PRICE: £5.49 on Amazon (£4.99 Kindle version)
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: "'You kept my secret. I know yours now. That makes us even.'
PAUL has been led into a life of crime by his schoolyard protector, Daniel. Now, at nineteen, he must bear witness against his friend to avoid imprisonment.
LOUISA, who years ago fled from her own dark secrets, spends her days renovating the grounds of a crumbling Elizabethan mansion.
A relationship develops between them, and Louisa starts to believe she can finally experience the happiness she had given up on; but it soon becomes apparent that neither of them can outrun their violent past . . ."
MY VIEW: I read, and loved, Erin Kelly's first book, The Poison Tree which I reviewed on here (http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/printed-books/the-poison-tree-erin-kelly/1615266/) and was itching to get hold of this next book. Her first novel had been infused with a sense of time, place and mystery - and each character was well-drawn and believable. The tension in The Poison Tree was almost palpable, so I was expecting more of the same (if not better) from The Sick Rose. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed.
Personally, I found that this book read more like a YA novel than an adult 'thriller'. Very early on, we learn that Louisa has done something in her past that she regrets (and has been hiding from for years) and it's not far into the book when we know exactly what it is - although I won't tell you here. Paul's past isn't quite as intriguing and then novel flitted back and forth between their past lives (as well as their present association). I found the chapters involving Paul incredibly boring - and these are the chapters that could be mistaken as being aimed at a much younger audience. Paul is only 19 (far younger than Louisa, whom he enters into a relationship with who is 39) and much of his back-story surrounds his involvement with a criminal family - in particular his friend Daniel. As such, his past centers around him being fifteen, sixteen etc and unless someone's writing about the gritty reality of youth, as opposed to what shirt someone wears for a party, it's not going to grip me! As a result of something that happens between the friends one night, Paul is sent, for his own safety, to work on a botanical project that Louisia is overseening in the gardens of a crumbling historical house, which is where their story comes together.
She is immediately struck by his resemblance to her first love, Adam (source of the 'mystery' surrounding Lousia) and they eventually strike up a relationship. In all honestly, there is nothing compelling about the 'love story' between them, nor is there anything mysterious about Paul's past as far as the reader's concerned. Louisa's past is slightly better written - and I do feel this author is at her strongest when describing the 80s and the complex and cloying relationships that people can form. Without a doubt, Lousisa's chapters are more interesting but still they didn't provide enough intrigue or depth to have me on the edge of my seat.
I can't say too much more about the book without giving away the central plot. Suffice it to say, I finished it feeling slightly cheated - and the ending itself was just too 'pat' for my tastes. Also, Louisa's 'big secret' which we know about quite quickly, didn't even pan out to be quite as bad as the reader may have suspected (the details put a different slant on it and, consequently, made me think 'Oh, is that it? So what'.) As ever, when I read such a strong first novel and a significantly weaker second novel, I do wonder whether the author actually wrote the latter first (but it wasn't strong enough for publication and was then shunted out after they gained success with another book). Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad read, it's just not what I expected, given how much I enjoyed The Poison Tree.
LENGTH: 384 pages
PRICE: £5.23 on Amazon (or £4.49 for the Kindle edition)
OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: 'Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered. When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime...'
MY VIEW: This has been touted as one of the biggest-selling Japanese thrillers ever with an 'utterly surprising ending'. Higashino has, obviously, been compared to Larsson (because, nowadays, it seems impossible for someone to write a novel without being compared to someone else who is writing within the genre). So, with all this hype, I expected a lot from this book. I'm not a huge Larsson fan but found The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo very readable, intriguing and satisfying. And if this book is one of the biggest selling Japanese thrillers, it must have something.
The story centres around Yasuko Hanaoka, a former bar hostess, who now works in a takeaway noodle bar. It's not giving anything away to reveal that, one night (very early on in the novel) she is visited by her ex-husband Toshigo and, whilst protecting her daughter from him, ends up killing him. So, the reader always knows not only who-dunnit but also how-dunnit. The meat of the novel then centres around her neighbour, Ishigami, who, smitten with Yasuko, helps her cover up the crime. He is a mathematical genius and, wouldn't you know it, this logic helps him weave together the perfect cover up! What the reader doesn't know is exactly how he manages to divert attention away from Yasuko because, naturally, she is the police's prime suspect.
For me, where the novel became quite unbelievable and also yawn-worthy, was when (by huge coincidence) the investigating officer happens to be good friends with a physicist (Prof Yukawa) who also happened to go to university with Ishigami. And, of course, this detective always happens to discuss his cases with Yukawa - as he does in this instance. I'd like to say 'so begins a game where two geniuses pit their wits as one attempts to cover up a crime whilst the other attempts to reveal the truth'. However, the novel isn't quite as exciting as this. Instead it's a journey through boring facts as the reader is expected to wonder exactly what it was Ishigami did to help make Yasuko's alibi so water tight. I guessed this about halfway through the book. I wasn't actually aware I was guessing anything - I just thought it was quite obvious. Also, the 'incident' which causes Prof Yukawa to begin to suspect Ishigami in the first place is based on so much coincidence (and also circumspection) that I found it ludicrous. For an otherwise paint-by-numbers factual crime book, it seemed like a bit of a liberty.
I don't wish to give away anything of the plot. However if you feel that passages on mathematical formulas and fact-heavy (and repetitive) passages (including TONS on an abandoned bike) might grip you, then go for it. As for the 'utterly surprise ending'. Um, no it wasn't. If I could equate this book to anything, it would be seeing a magic trick, being told early on that you've seen a magic trick, then having to spend hours listening to someone explain how they pulled off that magic trick. After a while, you just don't care. You know it was a trick - and, for me, hearing in minute detail how that trick was executed was mind numbing.
CONCLUSION: Not for those who like fast-paced thrillers. Not for those who like plot elements to be held back. Not for those who like cliff-hangers. Not for those who liked Larsson (there is no comparison between the two novels or writing styles). However, if you're into quite detailed police investigations - and are happy to read a book where the only 'mystery' is how someone provided another person with an alibi, then you might like this novel.
LENGTH: 528 pages
PRICE: £7.99 RRP (£4.31 on Amazon).
OVERVIEW: When two magicians decide to pit two apprentices against each other in the art of magic, they set in motion a chain of events that will reverberate through the ages. It is a game designed to take years to complete - beginning when Celia Bowen is just 6 and Marco is a young boy. In time, Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) becomes the venue for this 'competition' and those who make up the circus are drawn into Celia and Marco's world of magic and illusion. And, of course, along the way, Marco and Celia fall in love - but will their devotion be able to survive a game where there can only be one winner?
MY OPINION: The Night Circus is a beautiful book, full of vivid imagery and wonderful descriptions. Some have said that the pace is slow. I didn't find this to be the case - the novel moves forward at a good clip, with the third-person narration switching between Marco, Celia and another character, Bailey (a boy who is introduced to the circus as a child and who later becomes pivotal to its survival). Then there's a host of secondary characters - the flame-haired twins, Poppet and Widget, born on the night the circus opens, Chandresh, the circus proprietor, Friedrick Thiessen one of the 'reveurs' who follows the circus wherever it goes, along with many others.
However, although the novel wasn't exactly slow paced, nothing much ended up happening. There was a promise of much more. I enjoyed my time there, I loved the descriptiveness of the circus with its many fantastical tents, created by Celia and Marco. At the end of the day though, I was left feeling that there was even more potential that could have been drawn from the plot. If I were being very critical of this novel, I'd say it's a case of style over substance. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed it as a read. It was, I suppose, a little like visiting the circus for a few days. Sadly, unlike the reveurs, it won't linger or play on my mind for very long. I've finished it and that's that. I can't say that I miss any of the characters or the world of the circus. The magic, while ever-present, wasn't hugely fantastical - perhaps because it wasn't taking place within the 'real world' but within a circus where the unexpected is expected. Admittedly, the aim of Celia and Marco's illusions is to make people think they are mere tricks - and there were lovely passages, describing tents permanently bathed in snow and ice, or ones where 'stories' were bottled so that by uncorking them, you would smell a summer's orchard and imagine yourself there. Lovely stuff - I would just have preferred a denouement with more oomph. That said, it was a very enjoyable read.
CONCLUSION: If you're after a genteel, descriptive read that transports you out of the everyday ho-hum of the world around you, this is a lovely book. However, if you're looking for a gripping, edge-of-your-seat plot, this book won't provide it. The journey, though, is beautiful and the writing itself is magical.
WHAT ARE THEY? Apparently, these biscuits come from a unique Italian recipe. They're described as having a 'gentle crunch' but gently soften in a baby's mouth. They've been designed so that they're easy for babies to grasp and can help improve hand/eye coordination. They're preservative free, have no artifical colours and contain 10 key vitamins and minerals.
INGREDIENTS: Flours (Wheat, Oat, Barley, Maize, Rice, Rye), Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Yogurt, Reduced Fat Cocoa Powder (3%), Chocolate (2%, Sugar, Reduced Fat Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Butter, Emulsifier-Soya Lecithin), Skimmed Milk Powder, Dietary Fibre (Inulin), Raising Agents (Ammonium Bicarbonate, Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Barley Malt Extract, Calcium Carbonate, Flavourings, Iron Fumarate, Zinc Sulphate, Niacin, Vitamin E, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, Copper Sulphate, Folic Acid, Vitamin K, Vitamin B12.
PRICE: I buy mine at Boots where they're £1.09
PACKAGING: They come in a 60g silver foil packet which features an image of the biscuit on the front against a green background. Very attractive. Inside the pack, you get 12 biscuits. More on the actual packaging later...
MY VIEW: Okay, let's honestly set aside the fact that these biscuits contain '10 key vitamins and minerals'. We all know, truthfully, that our kids aren't going to gain any great benefit from eating these. It's something of a bugbear for me that most foods nowadays seem to make these claims, fooling consumers into thinking that what they're eating is good for them, just because there's a trace of some mineral or other in there. From my perspective, I bought my little one these biscuits when she was around 10 months old as an occasional treat - they also come in other flavours, such as Banana, Organic plain and Organic Gingerbread and these were the ones I originally introduced. I moved on to the chocolate flavour as a way of giving her a chocolate treat when she was a little older, without having to give her actual chocolate. Despite every intention of mine not to give my child chocolate, by the time she was 2, other people had got there and done it. I think, unless you are utterly firm (almost tyrant-like in expressing your wishes to others), this will happen - grandparents just can't seem to listen and I also discovered my little girl had been given a KitKat at nursery. Whilst I'm not anti-chocolate and I'd never want her to be the only one not to have a treat at a party, the introduction to choccy just came sooner than I might have liked (or ever expected).
So, to this end, the chocolate Heinz Biscotti are great - they give your little one a taste of chocolate without loading them up with actual chocolate biscuits. A word of warning though - if they regularly eat real chocolate too, the appeal of these biscuits will soon go out o f the window once they get a taste for the genuine article! Luckily, my daughter (who is two and a half) also loves grapes, bananas, satsumas and she has a varied diet so she doesn't kick off if she's offered something that's healthy as a treat.
For those of you with younger babies who are just discovering finger foods, these biscuits are ideal - they honestly melt so quickly in the mouth, there's no worries that a baby might choke on them. As for the hand/eye coordination thing ... come on, Heinz - this isn't unique to this product. Everything a young baby does is about developing hand/eye coordination - whether it's sticking a teether up to their mouth or any other baby snack product!!
My main gripe with the Heinz Biscotti range - and it's a huge gripe - is the packaging. Without fail, when you get the packet open, at least one biscuit will be broken (and that's on a good day). If you buy these, make sure you have a feel through the packets on the shelf first - some, you can tell by feel alone, have mainly broken biscuits in them. And not just broken in half - broken into smithereens! Don't even think about placing this item anywhere other than at the very top of your shopping basket - and then at the top of your shopping bag, otherwise you'll arrive home to ruined biscuits. And I can tell you this, a bagful of crumbs does nothing whatsoever for hand eye coordination! Even though I'm careful, I still often get home to broken biscuits. This has become such an annoyance to me that I'm thinking of complaining to Heinz! Their packaging simply isn't protective enough for such a delicate product. However, if you do find that you've got a lot of crumbled biscuits on your hands, they're great scattered over yogurt or porridge (yours or your baby's!).
Flavour-wise, these biscuits are delicious though - which is why I keep buying them. I now eat them myself if I want a chocolate treat. Yes, I eat chocolate too - however, it does make me feel quite virtuous if I forgo choccy and have a few of these instead! They are incredibly low cal and have what I would describe as a praline flavour. They are certainly in the same territory as things that are chocolate and hazelnut combos, such as Ferrero Rocher or Nutella. The taste is actually quite sophisticated, given that this is a babyfood product and I reckon Heinz would be onto a winner if they did a large version - after all, most mums have probably secretly scoffed these mini versions!
CONCLUSION: A good alternative choccy snack for you or your baby. Terrible packaging though means a lot of the biscuits end up broken. It's for this reason, and this reason alone, that I have only given the product 2 stars. Otherwise, I would rate them as a 4.
PRICE: £7.99 (but currently £3.99 on Amazon)
LENGTH: 464 pages
OVERVIEW: Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl, lives in a fictional dystopian country called Panem which is made up of the Capitol and 12 outlying districts - hers being District 12. Each year, two young people (a boy and a girl), under the age of 18, are 'reaped' from each of the 12 districts. Those 24 contestants then go on to take part in the televised Hunger Games - a sort of Big Brother with a twist; in that only one of these tributes will come out alive ... The games, ostensibly, are a reminder by the Capitol about the repercussions of rebellions and uprisings - one of which took place 75 years earlier. In reality, though, they provide excitement and entertainment for those who live in the Capitol - flamboyant individuals who have every luxury they crave, whilst those in the districts struggle to survive.
MY VIEW: I'd been meaning to read The Hunger Games for a while, so when the film came out I decided I'd better get to it, before someone gave away the plot.
I absolutely loved this book from the start (and I'll tell you now, I went on to devour the next two books in the series straight after, blazing through all of them in under two weeks).
Suzanne Collins has not only created a believable fictional world, she's created characters you grow to love and care about. Katniss is a wonderful creation - bold, tough, self-sufficient, compassionate but also flawed. Forced to care for her mother and younger sister, Prim, since her father was killed in a mining accident, Katniss illegally roamed the meadows outside District 12, armed with a crossbow, hunting for food. Together with her best friend Gale, they put food on the plates of their hungry families and trade in the Hob (a black-market establishment). Early on, we get a sense of Katniss as not only a survivor but also as someone who is willing to flout authority for a greater cause. When her 12 year old sister Prim is 'reaped' for that year's Hunger Games, Katniss instantly volunteers on her behalf - setting in motion a chain of events that will not only dramatically alter her own life, but those around her - and, ultimately, the fate of Panem itself.
Along with Katniss, Peeta (the son of District 12's baker) is also reaped as the male tribute. Again, Peeta is a multi-dimensional character - articulate, likable and utterly in love with Katniss. You're drawn into their complex relationship and find yourself rooting for both - even though you know, in the end, only one person can leave the Hunger Games alive. The only help they have is Haymitch their mentor, District 12's sole previous winner who triumphed in the games 25 years earlier. It's his role each year to bring one of District 12's tributes home alive - but he never does. Again, Collins has created a flawed yet lovable character in Haymitch. He's a drunk (but that's understandable) yet, during the course of his relationship with Katniss and Peeta, we come to see a caring side. Then, later, the reader twigs that he's more savvy than they first supposed.
Collins creates such a strong sense of place - along with a sense of drama - it's not difficult to see why this novel was turned into a film. Although we know it must be set in the future, due to the hardships the Districts endure, much of the book feels like it's actually set in the past. However, this is beautifully complemented by the grandeur and modernity of the Capitol - where plastic surgery has clearly been taken to extremes, food materialises at the touch of a button, and the Game Makers are able to create a complex and deadly outdoor 'arena' in which the contestants fight to the death.
CONCLUSION: For me, this novel ticked every box - it was well written, well paced, the characters were believable and the plot fantastic. Yes it's a YA novel - however, it was so well described (and so exciting to read) that it didn't really feel as if it was aimed at any specific target market. I've not often used the term 'rollicking good read' but I think it probably applies to The Hunger Games. And, I'll add, the series only gets better. The second novel, Catching Fire, didn't lag in the way many 'sandwich' books in a trilogy can - and the final book, Mockingjay, was equally compelling. If you want to lose yourself for a while, then I'd highly recommend this series. Having finished them all a few days ago, I keep forgetting they're over and feel a surge of disappointment when I remember Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch and Gale are now back on the bookshelf!
PRICE: £7.94 on Amazon.
THE STORY: There are a number of characters whose stories populate the book (more on that later). As an overview, there is:
Lamont Williams - a poor black man who, having served six years for a crime he didn't commit, secures a job (via a back-to-work scheme for ex convicts) at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in New York. His main objective is to get through a six month probationary period and be offered permanent employment which, he hopes, will strengthen his position in trying to find his 8 year old daughter, whom he lost touch with whilst he was inside.
Henryk Mandelbrot - an elderly Jewish patient whom Lamont befriends when they meet at Sloan Kettering. After his shifts are over, Lamont visits Mr Mandelbrot who tells him his life story and, in particular, shares the horrors of his time in Auschwitz with Lamont.
At the same time, Adam Zignelik, an untenured professor of history at Columbia University, is facing both a personal and professional crisis. With no new ideas for a history thesis or book, he faces losing his position at the university and, in turn, this drives a self-imposed wedge between himself and his long-term partner, Diana. Yet, even his close friend Charles (who is chair of the history department) cannot assist with his flailing career. During this time, Charles' father gives Adam the idea to research the involvement of black troops in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, leading Adam on a journey from New York to Chicago and then back to his home town of Melbourne, Australia and -finally - back to New York. Via this research, he becomes immersed in the work of a psychologist, Dr Border, who, immediately after WW2, went out to interview Holocaust survivors ...
MY VIEW: So, from a top line overview, it seems there would be a lot to this novel (and I have barely touched on the half of it re the connections between characters) and, at first, it seems as though there is. It would appear there's going to be a strong and compelling story linking the Black Civil Rights movement with that of Jewish immigrants and, as a reader (and being Jewish too), I was waiting for all this to come together. Unfortunately, it never did.
From very early on, this book came across as though a historian was writing a novel - rather than a novelist was writing about history. I've read numerous historical novels in the past, I'm interested in history and I'm downright fascinated by certain periods. However, I would never pick up a history textbook, nor do I choose to read historical non-fiction. Yet this is how I felt reading the Street Sweeper. In my view, history is best brought to life via showing (not telling) and a well written historical novel really can make a reader feel as though they've stepped back in time. However, Perlman commits one of the worst sins (in my humble opinion) that an author is capable of - he preaches to his reader. This is a long book (at 600 pages) so I gave it the benefit of the doubt and stuck with, even when Adam Zignelik regaled his students with a 'What is History' lecture. I stuck with it through the sometimes dry, textbook-like account of court cases which strove to ensure equal rights for black school children. And, by the time I was ¾ of the way though and it hadn't improved, I stuck with it just to see if there would be some great revelation. There wasn't.
Perhaps the strongest part of the book was the third-person account of Henryk Mandelbrot's time at Auschwitz. It was only then, for a short period, that the author managed to immerse the reader in the actual history of a time and place.
What really bothered me about this book, however, was the way the author would frequently weight the prose as though some huge revelation were about to be made, lending a significance to the text that just wasn't there. For example, when Adam plays an answerphone message: 'It was a woman's voice, a familiar one, and it cut through him before he'd had a chance to listen to its words or even place the voice. But the fourth word was her name'. WOW, you think, WHO IS IT? WHAT PORTENTIOUS MESSAGE COULD THIS BE? IS IT A LONG-LOST WHOEVER? IS IT A NEW AND SIGNIFICANT CHARACTER? No, it's just Adam's friend Michelle. Or how about: 'A man and a woman were about to meet casually, but by arrangement for a coffee...' Yup, it's Adam meeting Michelle again. Now, at page 323 of 617 (on my Kindle edition), I'm just thinking, 'Get on with it'. The writing did not need to be weighted in this way. Good writing should vary its tone and pace throughout (and it never did in this novel). At this point, 'Adam and Michelle had arranged to meet for a coffee' (or something along those lines) would have sufficed.
The book jumped around far too much for my tastes too. Usually I love a novel which focuses on different characters' viewpoints and experiences, leaving you on a cliff-hanger until you get to catch up with them later in the book. However, the jumping around in this novel just didn't lend any structure or significance to the book. No character was particularly well developed - nor given the time to develop (especially with all the fact-stuffing going on around them). I honestly felt that the characters were a means to an end - a way for the author to talk about the historical bits and bobs he wanted to get in there. None of them were brought to life for me - apart, perhaps, from Lamont; but the author wasted an opportunity in respect of this character too.
Finally, one of the last nails in the coffin for me was the sheer unrelenting and unbelievable scale of coincidence which occurred throughout this book. It irked me that, on the one hand, Perlman subjected me to a textbook-like take on history yet, on the other hand, called on me to suspend my disbelief in such an astounding manner. Now, I'm all for a good tie-up or coincidence in a novel - but this just took it to extremes. Perhaps, if I were to be more literary in my analysis, Perlman was seeking to show the fundamental interconnectedness between all things. The main theme of the book, undoubtedly, is 'tell everyone' - but I do think Perlman's somewhat missed the boat in this respect. The Holocaust has been well documented - both in historical texts and in literature. There are other novels about the Holocaust which have moved me more and, for that matter, said more. This 'tell everyone' theme might have had more pull had a novel such as this been written soon after the war - but as a reader, I struggled to believe that the cancer patient Mandelbrot had to rely on a random hospital worker (Lamont) to finally get his message out. Also, the historical significance of black troops at the liberation of Dachau sort of petered out - if you're expecting to learn something historically significant, then don't hold your breath. One other character was brought in, given sufficient page-space for you to think that it was going somewhere, then fell by the wayside. There was just too much content (the kitchen sink of history, if you like) and not enough focus on one or two specific areas to lend the novel the depth and gravitas I suspect Perlman was seeking.
Added to this, the one story line I wanted to see resolved (and I won't give anything away by telling you what it is) actually wasn't. I mean, come on Perlman - surely you could have popped in one final coincidence to tie that up.
I ended the book feeling I hadn't truly been taken into the history of the Civil Rights movement in the way I'd hoped for, I hadn't really been immersed in the Holocaust experience either, nor had I grow to love or get behind any of the main characters. But this is what happens when an author over-populates a novel and then layers a mishmash of history on top.
CONCLUSION: What had promised to be a deep, well-plotted account of the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust - demonstrating the role of black soldiers during the liberation of concentration camps - fell way short. If a chain of character-based coincidences (combined with an historical fact-dump) is your idea of a compelling plot line, then you may well love this book. However, if you want a 'plot' to serve as more than just a conduit for churning out historical facts, then save yourself the 600-odd page read.
PRICE: £6.99 (or £5.17 on Amazon)
LENGTH: 16 pages
SUMMARY: Aimed at little girls. 'Lulu is given a special present by Mummy - her very own potty. Lulu does her first wee-wee in the potty. Soon she's sitting on her potty everywhere - in the kitchen, in her bedroom, in the playroom, even in the garden! Then Lulu graduates from wearing nappies to wearing big girl knickers and using the big toilet, with a few tiny accidents along the way.'
MY VIEW: I'm going through the whole potty training thing with my 2 and a half year old daughter now and, in the lead up, I've bought a number of books to get her used to the idea. Last week, I took her into Waterstone's to choose a book - it took a while, with her not really going for anything I suggested. Finally, I picked up this one (yet another potty training book) but she immediately wanted it. She's already got quite a few potty books, but far be it for me to ever deny a child a book they want (especially one that might give yet another push towards the toilet!).
My view - this is actually the best child-focused potty book I've seen so far. Looking online, it seems that Lulu is an existing character and there are other books in the Lulu series (such as Lulu's Shoes, Lulu's Clothes, This is Lulu etc - so what I'd assumed was a name made up simply for the amusing purpose of calling the book Lulu's Loo can't have been the case!). What I love about this book (from a parent's perspective) is that, for once, the potty isn't used as a boat, a fancy flower pot, a hat etc. Lulu's mum gives her the gift, Lulu loves it and then proceeds to sit on it in the garden, in the playroom etc. Finally - a toddler who's depicted actually using a potty for its intended purpose. Whilst I'm prepared to be quite laid back about the whole toilet training thing, it still irks me that so many books feature kids using potties in a variety of unsavoury ways. I don't really want to put into my toddler's head that it's okay to use her potty as some weird sort of Vivienne Westwood style hat.
The book is wonderfully illustrated - Lulu herself is cute and endearing and the colour palette is lovely. Also, it's incredibly tactile. The potty is a squidgy pink material. There are tabs to lift - and a nice fabric skirt that Lulu wears which your toddler can lift to discover that she's wearing big girl knickers underneath. Finally, after mastering the potty (and having a few accidents, which are represented by fabric knickers hanging on a washing line), Lulu manages to tackle the toilet. Even there, it raises a smile - 'Not too much toilet paper Lulu' with a pull down flap to represent the toilet roll sheets!
My little girl loves this book and I love it because it seems to go through the whole toilet training process in a logical way - it ticks every box I'd want it to (practising sitting on the potty, little accidents, wiping, and finally making it onto the big toilet) but also engages my child. So what more could you want?! So far, she's taken quite well to wearing knickers and talks about Lulu. She's by no means trained, but I do feel this book is helping steer her in the right direction.