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review 2018-09-25 09:59
REFLECTIONS OF LIFE IN LONDON'S EAST END IN DECADES PAST
East End Tales (Quick Reads) - Gilda O'Neill

"EAST END TALES" gives the reader through the veil of Gilda O'Neill's own personal experiences and the experiences of East Enders she interviewed, what life was really like in that area of London from the early 1900s, the interwar era (the years between 1919 and 1939), the war years, and during the 1950s (when O'Neill lived there as a child). 

Much of what I read in this book reminded me of the stories I had read several years ago of the British poor and working class --- in their own words --- of the Edwardian Era (1901-1910). In that era, though a basic education was free, people lived hand-to-mouth in shabby housing with outdoor toilets and washtubs for weekly bathing and for tending to laundry. They also worked long hours in labor-intensive jobs and could ill-afford medical care. The highest aspiration any woman could have in that time would be to secure secretarial work or a job as a schoolteacher, nurse, or journalist. 

The commonality between the life that I had read about in Britain during the Edwardian Era and the life of the East End of London (circa 1900 to the 1950s) as described in "EAST END TALES" was that East Enders tended, in general, to stick together and shared what little they had with each other. Any reader of this review who has watched the TV series "Call the Midwife" would understand that.
 

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review 2018-08-16 12:35
A good old-fashioned and convoluted mystery with a Poirot in good shape.
The Mystery of Three Quarters: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) - Sophie Hannah

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins UK for the ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had not realised that an author had been commissioned to write new Poirot mysteries, and as I saw this book after a conversation about Agatha Christie, I could not resist requesting a copy of it. This means I have not read the author’s two previous New Poirot Mysteries (The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket), so I cannot discuss the evolution of the characters or compare this one to the previous two. I am not familiar with any of Hannah’s previous writing either. I have read some of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories, some of them I read translated into Spanish many years back (and might not have fully reflected her style of writing although I remember enjoying them) and I have not read a Poirot one in many years, although I have watched both films and TV series adapting some of Christie’s classic Poirot novels, so I would not dare to address this review to connoisseurs. Still, for what is worth, this is my opinion.

I enjoyed the novel. The case starts with four seemingly random people accusing Poirot of sending them letters accusing them of a crime. Not only has Poirot not sent them such letters, but the alleged victim died of natural causes (he was an elderly man and drowned whilst bathing, alone in his bathroom). So, who is behind the letters? And what’s his or her motive? I will try and not reveal any spoilers, but I can say that there are plenty of clues to follow, red-herrings along the way, peculiar characters, true and false motivations, slices of cake, dogs, a public school for boys, a wonderful old mansion, faulty typewriters, likeable and less likeable characters, and a Poirot in full form.

The novel is told by Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard Inspector who, like Captain Hastings in Christie’s stories, is the scribe behind the stories. He is a new creation and one of a couple of characters that, from the comments, I have read, are regulars in The New Poirot Mysteries. The narration is split between parts written in the third person (when Catchpool is not present) that, when we are some way into the book, he explains he has compiled through later discussions with Poirot, and those written in the first person, that pertain to events he witnessed or participated in himself. This works well, in general (we might wonder briefly how Poirot might have become aware of some detail or conversation, but we all know he has his ways), and it also allows for any differences in style with previous novels to be blamed on Catchpool’s own style of writing (that would not be the same as Hastings’). The language is straightforward and effective in conveying the story, without any jarring moments due to usage inappropriate to the historical period. Catchpool himself does not reveal much of his own personality through the novel and he is mostly a blank canvas to reflect Poirot’s thoughts and his deductive process. There are some interesting personal morsels about the inspector included in the narrative (he does not like his boss at work and he is averse to the idea of marriage, especially one to suit his mother’s taste) but not enough for readers to become truly attached to him. As this is the third novel and I have not read the two previous one, it is likely that people who have followed the whole series will know and appreciate the character more fully (but this is not necessary for the enjoyment of the mystery).

Notwithstanding my disclaimer on my limited expertise in all things Poirot, the Poirot in the novel will be recognisable to most people who have some familiarity with Christie’s detective. People still think he is French, his ‘little grey cells’ are mentioned often, he sprinkles his dialogue with French terms and some peculiar English translations (‘oil of the olives’ instead of olive oil, for instance), he is a keen observer, opinionated, with high regard for himself, and a lover of comfort and good food and drink. Perhaps he is an extreme version of Poirot, but I could not help but remember, as I read the book, that Christie expressed her dislike for the character and called him: detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep. (We might agree or not with her assessment, although her Poirot had some moments of weakness and sometimes showed more of a soft heart than he would have liked to admit). He is that here and keeps making demands on people, puts to the test his ideas and theories in pretty cruel ways, and drags the resolution of the case, creating anxiety and disquiet among all. But he can come up with pretty amazing insights and his figure has always been one of those that perhaps we would not like to meet personally, but we nonetheless admire.

Some of the secondary characters are almost caricatures, and the story is fundamentally about the plot and not about the psychological complexity of those involved, but there are some likeable characters, and I had a soft spot for the younger generation (and the dog). There are good descriptions and observations that will keep people guessing and turning the pages, although the story is not told at a fast pace, and the ending drags on (as is usual for this type of stories, where the reveal can become as frustrating for the readers as for those present). Although the evidence, in this case, remains mostly circumstantial and stretches somewhat the imagination, everything is explained and tied up and people who like a definite ending will have no complaint. There is a murder but there is no explicit violence or bad language and although it will not suit readers looking for gritty and realistic thrillers, it should not offend or discourage most readers who love a gentler mystery.

I am not sure if this would fit into the category of cozy mystery. By its tone and nature, it should do, but many books marketed as cozy mysteries abound in over-the-top characters, seem to place more emphasis on other aspects rather than the actual mystery (romance, recipes, pets…), include elements of other genres (paranormal, for instance), and can be frustrating to any readers looking for logical explanation and a meaty, intriguing, and complex mystery they can actually solve. This is like a good old-fashioned mystery, with plenty of character, a light read that will keep you entertained, and if that’s what you’d like to read, I’d recommend it. (Does it add anything new to the Poirot canon? Well, that is a matter for another discussion. Judging by the reviews, most people think the author has done a good job and has made the character her own). Personally, I’ll keep track of the author and future novels in the series.

 

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review 2018-07-17 18:23
STRANGER IN THE HOUSE: Examining War's Impact Upon Women & Families
Stranger in the House: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War - Julie Summers

"STRANGER IN THE HOUSE: Women's Stories of Men Returning from the Second World War" is made up of multi-layered stories spanning generations of the adjustments women in Britain had to make upon the return of their husbands or sweethearts from war.   Many of these men had served in the military in places as diverse as France, Italy, India, Singapore, and Java during various stages of the war.   Indeed, a large majority of these men ended up as POWs of the Germans (most of them ended up in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and Poland for almost 5 years) or the Japanese.   The ones who were prisoners of the Japanese suffered the worst in terms of physical and psychological abuse.

 

Many of these stories I found deeply moving.   Julie Summers is to be commended for her research into an aspect of the war and its impact on families that has been little explored by historians.     It is my hope that a similar book will be written, detailing the impact of the Second World War on returning American veterans and their families.

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text 2018-06-10 13:49
Puffins!
RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe - Rob Hume

Have just got back home after visiting friends and family back in the UK. We had a great time catching up with everyone and celebrating my Dad's 86th birthday, but one of the highlights of our trip was the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire.

 

We saw gannets, razorbills, guillemots (or murres as they're known in the US), kittiwakes, fulmars, and shags. But none of them are as cute as a puffin.

 

Gannets

 

Razorbill

 

Puffin (seriously, can you get any cuter than this?)

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review 2018-05-13 19:21
WALKING WITH NATURISTS IN THE UK
Naked Britain - Amelia Allen

A year ago, I learned about this book in a radio interview the author, an established fashion photographer, had given BBC Radio London. As someone who once tried the "naturist lifestyle" many years ago in the West Indies, I was curious to read, see, and learn about Amelia Allen's take on the naturist world in the UK. 

For Allen, "[s]hooting 'Naked Britain' was a study in mindfulness for me. I photographed this book fully naked, because I wanted to completely immerse myself in the world of naturism and understand how this way of life feels." Allen met with many of the people - of various ages and backgrounds - who practice naturism at a naturist club about 20 miles from London. The photographs - all in B&W - are of the highest quality. and show people engaged in conversation over cards, cycling, swimming, doing calisthenics, walking in the woods, playing tennis, gardening, playing billiards, sitting poolside, and standing on the shore. There is a pure and simple honesty in this book about living and being at peace with one's nakedness among one's fellow human beings similarly free of clothing. 

Two of the more memorable insights Allen said she got from the time she spent among naturists are the following --- 'Naturism changes how you feel about our body and yourself, it changes your perspective on what the body is.' AND - 'People are just people; it's liberating to just be yourself.'

"NAKED BRITAIN" is a book I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about naturism and values quality photography

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