Share this page on

gold Status gold (Level 9/10)



Trusted by 687 members
See member statistics

Kites rise highest against the wind - not with it.. (Winston Churchill)

Reviews written

since 07/12/2002


A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman 12/05/2016

The man with the big heart

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman A few months ago, Amazon were urging readers to sample books by authors new to them. They offered quite a wide selection books for 99p each. Being an avid reader, I had already read many of the books on offer. Of the few remaining books, A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman caught my eye. The book cover is eyecatching with the silhouette of a man and the title in red and blue with the name Ove emphasized. The novel was first published in 2012 in the author’s native language Swedish. It was translated into English by Henning Koch and published in 2014. The protagonist of the novel is a 59 year old grumpy, somewhat obsessive compulsive man called Ove. We are introduced to him as he is trying to buy a computer, struggling to communicate with the young sales assistant. The novel then proceeds chapter by chapter to the reasons behind his intended purchase. When the reason is finally revealed, even the hard hearted would find their heart melting a little. The chapters are juxtaposed in the past and present revealing how and why Ove has become the man he now is. Not as confusing as you may think - it is quite clear which is which. It is mainly written in the third person providing an overview to Ove; the events and relationships that contributed to the formation of his personality and motivations. The novel is centred around Ove as the main character. Ove is a complex character who the author develops slowly with the events in his past foreshadowing his current situation. Other ...

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt 12/07/2012

DeWitt's Wild and Whacky West

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt It has been some time since I last read an historical Western – probably in my teens some forty years ago. I have read and enjoyed modern-day cowboy stories – Brokeback Mountain and All the Pretty Horses but not historical westerns. It isn’t a genre that I normally would choose. I opted to read Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers as a 2011 Man Booker shortlisted book and from the cover without really knowing what the book was about.. The cover is very striking and unusual – orange with a white skull and two black silhouetted characters (heir heads forming the eye sockets). The plot of the novel is somewhat straightforward. Eli and Charlie Sisters are hired killers whose mission is to find and to kill one Herman Kermit Warm – a wonderful evocative name for a character if ever I read one. Not just to kill him but to steal his formula for prospecting for gold. DeWitt presentation of the story is also somewhat straightforward. Written in the first person by narrator Eli Sisters, it is written in a chronological format with short chapters detailing incident following incident as the brothers follow Warm’s trail from Oregon to San Francisco. And what wild and whacky incidents there are. DeWitt’s novel is almost a parody of a Western . There are saloons and bawdy house girls; men with hats, boots and spurs; gun fights and cherished horses. The 19th century world that Eli entertainingly narrates is certainly amusing but underneath his lyrical language lies a very dark, dismal ...

Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee), Florence 04/07/2012

Michelanglo's New Sacristy and Chapel of the Princes

Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee), Florence In my opinion, the Medici Chapels are the most interesting part of the monumental complex of San Lorenzo. The complex consists of the church of San Lorenzo, the basilica, the old sacristy, the library and the museum of the Medici Chapels. San Lorenzo was the official church of the Medici family for over three hundred years. In 1520, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici (Pope Clement VII) decided to build a mausoleum for the Medici family. The family were still paying for it until the death of the last Medici – Anna Maria Luisa de Medici in 1743. The mausoleum is now a museum. Entrance and outward appearance The entrance to the museum is to the back of the church and there is a separate entrance fee. The entrance was a little difficult to find. We found the church with no problems but to get to the chapels you have to pass through a row of busy market stalls to the side of the church. The dome is distinctive – rather like a baby version of the Duomo’s dome – mimicking both colour, and shape. The Crypt After paying the entrance fee at the ticket office (€6 for adults and €3 for children), you enter the crypt - somber space with lowered vaults supported by large pilasters. Here are numerous tombs including Anna Maria Luisa’s. A bronze statue of the Anna Maria Luisa sits in the crypt overlooking her tomb. There are various exhibits situated around the crypt The main interest for visitors though – the two Medic chapels, the Chapel of Princes and Michelangelo’s New Sacristy, are ...

Bring up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel 30/06/2012

Cromwell - his part in Anne's downfall

Bring up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel Bring up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall – the novel that won Hilary Mantel the Booker Prize in 2009. Both books and indeed a third book (yet to be written) are historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell chief minister to Henry Vlll from 1532 to 1540. Cromwell, though the veils of time, has gained a reputation as a scheming brutal man. However, in reality not much is actually known about Cromwell – the private man. What we do know is from written artefacts of some of his public actions as Henry’s minister. Mantel takes these facts dressing them up a little to form a more intimate portrayal of Thomas Cromwell. There is such a plethora of books written about Henry Vlll and his six wives that you may well wonder what new or different can be said about the period. Well, Mantel believes she has by providing the story from the perspective of Cromwell. Cromwell’s perspective is more objective bypassing a lot of the clichéd seductions and bodice-ripping scenes in most novels featuring Henry and Anne. Before, I can talk about Bring up the Bodies it is necessary just to mention a little about its processor, Wolf Hall. Wolf Hall was a tome of a novel at 650 pages long. The book covered Cromwell’s rise to favour and his involvement in procuring Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It won the Man Booker prize in 2009 (not my choice by any means). And so the story continues with Bring up the Bodies. Henry is married to Anne Boleyn who has given my baby Elizabeth but no son. ...

Restless (DVD) 17/06/2012

The young and the restless

Restless (DVD) I wasn’t too sure about this film. The DVD, Restless, which arrived from lovefilms. The blurb on the DVD advertised it as” a coming of age story . . . two outsiders, both shaped by the circumstances that have brought them together, forge a deep and lasting love”. Not the type of film, I would generally go for. But we were paying for it, so hey I was going to watch it. In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a corny teen romance. The film is emotional but not too over-sentimental. Yes, it is geared towards teens but it also has a wider appeal and adults will enjoy it too. The two outsiders are Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) and Enoch (Henry Hopper). They meet at a funeral – both are obsessed with death for very different reasons. And so the romance begins . . . Annabel has terminal cancer and has just six-months to live. She plays a very likeable young girl who has come to terms with her condition exceedingly well. She sketches bugs and water birds. Mia Wasikowska gives a first-class performance. She already has an impressive film history – Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre. With her cropped hair and somewhat quirky personality in Restless, she is reminiscent of Mia Farrow in the 1960s in the Woody Alan films. She plays a quirky enthusiastic sympathetic character – easy to relate to. Enoch is a troubled less-likeable youth dealing with the loss of his parent in a car crash which nearly killed him too. He is expelled from school and gate-crashes funerals as a ...

Duomo - Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori, Florence 13/06/2012

Saint Mary of the Flower

Duomo - Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori, Florence The Cathedral or Duomo with its distinctive Renaissance Dome dominates the skyscape of Florence. Set in the Piazza del Duomo, it is the heart of Florence and the cathedral complex which includes the cathedral, the baptistery, museum and 28 storey high bell tower. Entering into the piazza the cathedral’s façade is undeniably striking. Unless you are very lucky, you will have plenty of time to study the intricate arrangement of geometrical shapes in three different coloured marble – red Siena, green Prato and white Carrara. The queues can extend the circumference of the cathedral. What’s in the name? The Cathedral or Duomo is also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore which translated into English is Saint Mary of the Flower. The flower refers to the lily, the symbol of Florence. It also refers to the symbolic white flower given to the virgin Mary by the Angel Gabriel. The cathedral stands on the site of the 4th century church Santa Reparata whose remains still lie in the crypt. History The cathedral took a staggering 600 years to complete. It was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1294 with the first stone laid on September 8th 1296. The three mighty bronze doors to the front of the cathedral were completed in around 1899. Afetr Arnolfo died in 1302, various architects (about seven) took over the work. The nave was completed in 1380 and the dome in 1436. The cathedral was consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV on March 25th 1436. The facade The current ...

Half Blood Blues - Esi Edugyan 07/06/2012

The past comes to collect what you owe

Half Blood Blues - Esi Edugyan "Half-Blood Blues" is the title not only of the 2011 novel by Esi Edugyan but it is also the tile of a fictitious 1939 song recorded by the multi-racial jazz band The Hot Time Swingers in war-time Germany featured in the novel. The song in the novel was written as a subversive jazz parody of the actual Nazi anthem, the ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’ – the lyrics and tune which are now illegal in Germany and Austria. In the book, “Hot blood blues” was cut before the war, lost and then discovered many years later. Along with the band’s talented, young and presumed dead trumpet player, Hiero Falk, the record attracted a cult following which culminates into a documentary screened in Berlin in 1992. “Of course, the recording’s cult status had to do with the illusion of it all. I mean, not just of the kid but all of us, all the Hot-Time Swingers. Think about it. A bunch of German and American kids meeting up in Berlin and Paris between the wars to make all this wild, joyful music before the Nazis kick it to pieces?” Hiero’s story (and the novel) is told by his fellow band member Sid Griffiths. Esi Edugyan writes in the first person. Through her narrator, she speaks largely with an American casual jazz patter peppered with slang: Men are "jacks", women are “janes” and the gestapo “boots”. “We talked like mongrels, see — half German, half Baltimore bar slang.” "Half-Blood Blues", is key to the band’s identity. The band is multi-racial with the main characters with mixed parentage. ...

Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Bargello Museum), Florence 23/05/2012

A Marble - ous Museum

Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Bargello Museum), Florence After a number days of hot and crowded sightseeing days in Florence, the Bargello Museum proved to be a welcome and peaceful cool haven. The Bargello has been a museum since 1865 with a superb collection of sculptures gathered mainly from the Uffrizi Gallery & various monasteries in Florence augmented by items donated by private collectors. As one of the oldest buildings in Florence dating from 1255, it has quite a history – some gruesome! We had booked tickets in advance over the internet. We need not have done so. The museum was quiet with only a small but steady trickle of tourists mainly in search of the more famous works housed here. The name and the past The Bargello is one of the oldest public buildings in Florence dating back to 1255 when it was built as the Palazzo Pretorio for the Captain of the People. In the 16th century, it was made over to the Captain of Justice known as the Bargello and the building assumed his title. The Bargello was made into a city prison and the building adapted for its new role. The chapel was utilised as a death row – original frescoes still on the walls depict scenes from the Last Judgement rather fitting contemplation for the occupants at the time. Prisoners were tortured and executed here – their bodies hung from the windows in the courtyard. If ever a place was to have ghosts, this would be it. Exterior The Bargello still retains the appearance of a solid austere fortress. A square stone three-story building is crenulated with a ...

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence 21/05/2012

The Old Palace

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence I submitted a proposal for the Florence Attraction - Palazzo Vecchio as the only category listed on Ciao was for a hotel which it clearly isn't. Ciao in their wisom have ignored my request and placed the review under Florence Hotels. This is Ciao's error and not mine. Please rate for review content not for where it is placed - or don't rate at all. I have contacted Ciao requesting they correct their error. The Palazzo Vecchio or the Old Palace is one of the must-see sights in Florence. As with many of the attractions in Florence, it is best to pre-book a guided tour. Firstly as it beats the queues; there is so much to see and know and lastly a tour gives access to parts of the musum unaccessible to the genreral public. There are many trips available tyo pre-book over the internet. We originally tried booking a tour via expedia however this fell through as did a number of other activities booked through expedia but thats a different story. I, then, booked a guided tour with the museum itself using their email address ( provided on the their website http://www.palazzovecchio-familymuseum.i​t. I received a prompt reply and given a meeting place for the tour. The price dealing directly with the museum was significantly less than with expedia – prices to follow. What’s in a name The original name of the palace was the Palazzo della Signoria. Cosimo’s wife Eleonora of Toledo however didn’t like the palace – it had no garden! And so in 1540, the ...

Hotel Orto De Medici, Florence 16/05/2012

Sculpture garden

Hotel Orto De Medici, Florence Choice of Hotel and history So out of all the possible Hotels available in Florence, why did we choose the Orto de Medici? I researched hotels reviews on the internet (including those on Ciao), I asked for friends personal recommendations and looked at photographs & websites. I prefer quiet to busy. The hotel is close enough to all the attractions in Florence to walk but just outside all the noisy hustle & bustle of a city. One of main choices of Florence for a holiday was a trail of Michelangelo. I loved the history of the hotel which claims the “prestigious past”. Lorenzo de Medici in the sixteenth century set up a school for sculptors. Included in its many students was none other than Michelangelo . The garden area of the Orto de Medici formed part of the renowned sculpture garden as verified by research see​n/schede.php?nome=Giardino_di_San_Marco)​. The garden is mentioned in Michelangelo’s biopic, The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, which I loved and spurred on my dream to visit Florence. I loved the photographs. The hotel is filled with character. The hotel was originally a 19th century palazzo (palace) and still boasts original frescos and parquet flooring. I liked the fact that is owned and run by an Italian family - father-and-son team Emilio and Giacomo Bufalini. Location The Orto de Medici is situated in a long street – Via San Gallo to the north of the city. It is one short street away from Piazza ...

Miss Chopsticks - Xinran 04/05/2012

Chopsticks do not always break

Miss Chopsticks - Xinran Miss Chopsticks was written by Xinran and translated into English br Esther Tyldesly. It was first published in July 2007. What’s the book about Miss Chopsticks is a contemporary story of three young Chinese sisters who escape from the poverty of their small village in the Anhui province to the prospect of a better life in the city Nanjing. The story begins in 2001 and covers about four years. The Li sisters don’t have much – they have little education, no money or belongings. They don’t even have names. Girls, their father drums into them, are like chopsticks: they are easily broken. Boys, on the other hand, are strong like the roof beams that hold up the roof of a house. As such they are given numbers instead of names in the order they are born. Li Zhongguo has six children – all girls and is known in his village as The Chopstick Man. One is married off to a man older than her father. Two commits suicide rather than be married to a man paralysed from the waist down. Three is the first to take action. She leaves home with the help of her uncle and gets a job at a small restaurant in Nanjing. After a successful year, she returns home with money and presents for her family. And so, sister Five and Six accompany their sister back to city eager to seek their own fortunes. Five is given a job in a health spa and Six in a bookshop / tearoom. What I liked about the book The book is based on real people their life stories. Much was changed to protect their identities. The real girls ...

Bel Canto - Ann Patchett 03/04/2011

The hostage that swallowed a bird

Bel Canto - Ann Patchett The novel, Bel Canto by Anne Prachett, is a multi-layered love story which develops within the unlikely setting of terrorism and music. The story is set in an unnamed South American country. A concert is arranged for the birthday of Katsumi Hosokawa, the visiting chairman of an important Japenese electronics company. Hosokawa is a lover of opera and in particular an American soprano, Roxane Coss so sparing no expense she is flown in to provide the entertainment. The party is gate crashed by a group of terrorist whose goal was to take the President hostage. When they discover his absence (to watch a soap opera), they decide to take the whole party hostage! After initial negotiations, they agree to let the women hostages go free – that is with the exception of Roxanne Coss. Supporting the main characters is a eclectic supporting ensemble: hostages - Gen Watanabe a translator; a Frenchman, Simon Thibault who weeps into his wife's scarf; a chain-smoking Russian, Fyodorov and a local priest Father Arguedas. Not to mention the terrorists comprising of three generals, Benjamin, Alfredo, and Hector, and fifteen teenage soldiers (expect some surprises). And from outside a Swiss hostage negotiator on holiday, Joachim Messner. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, I will only say that two main relationships develop as the negotiations proceed - both unlikely, ill-fated and ill-matched. The novel was written by American novelist, Anne Prachett in 2001. She has stated ...

Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, St Louis, Missouri 21/10/2009

The Home of The Entertainer

Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, St Louis, Missouri The Scott Joplin House stands unassuming on a quiet section of Delmar Boulevard in Saint Louis. A small plaque at the side of the front door announces the House to be a Historic Landmark. Signs to the house were very sparse and we almost missed it nearly driving past. Parking was easy as we were able to park directly outside the house – almost no other cars around. Things were, of course, a little different when Scott Joplin and his new bride Belle moved into the house in 1900. The area, then called Morgan Street was not quiet. It was a busy and vivacious district of African-Americans and German immigrants. Nearby were the honky-tonks bars and clubs populated by jazz and rag-time musicians. Maybe it is time to say a little about who Scott Joplin was and why this house is listed as a historic landmark. Scott Joplin is best known for his piano rag-time music including The Entertainer (featured in the film “The Sting” starring Paul Newman) and the Maple Rag. He was an African-American child prodigy exhibiting musical talent from an early age. By the time he was 11 years old, he was able to play several musical instruments, and compose his own music. He went on to complete a degree in music eventually became the leading exponent of the new, syncopated musical genre earning the title of "The King of Ragtime." 2658A Delmar Boulevard is the last surviving home of Scott Joplin in Saint Louis. He and Belle lived here for a short time only - between 1900 -1903. When living in this ...

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga 08/10/2009

A rare novel only coming along once in every generation.

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga The White Tiger penned by first-time novelist, Aravind Adiga, debuted to very positive acclaim winning the 2008 Man Booker Prize. I was given a copy of the book by my daughter who said that she was unable to get into the book. I, on the overhand, was immediately hooked by the book unable to put it down. Let me begin by telling you a little about the style of the book. It is written in epistolary (letter) format. It is in fact one long letter penned over seven nights addressed to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China on the eve of his state visit to India. The letter-writer is Balram Halwai, who describes himself as “the 'White Tiger': servant, philosopher, entrepreneur, murderer.” Balram’s aim in writing his letter is to help the premier understand what life in India is really like as compared to the false pictures the politicians he meets might paint. And so Balram tells the story of his life. Balram Halwai grows up in "the Darkness" of northern India. “India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. The ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near the ocean is well-off. But the river brings darkness to India - the black river.” In his home village of Laxmangarh, his father is a hard-working rickshaw driver. His mother died while he was very young leaving instructions that Balram is to have a good education. The household is however ruled by his grandmother and Balram is forced to leave school and work in a tea shop to ...

The Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri 28/06/2009

Travel to the top of The Gateway Arch Mork-style - in an egg.

The Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri The elegant Gateway Arch, reaching up to 630 feet dominates St Louis’ skyline. Standing in the Jefferson Natural Expansion Memorial Park, the arch symbolises the role St Louis played as the gateway to the west. Shortly after the Second World War in 1947, a competition was privately financed to find a suitable architectural centrepiece for the park. The aim was to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s vision of the spread of freedom and democracy from “sea to shining sea” and his commissioned expedition in 1804 to the west coast headed by Lewis and Clark. Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel’s design of this graceful tapered stainless-steel catenary arch won over the 171 other entries. Construction of this remarkable structure took around three years to complete. Pictures of the construction can be seen as you queue to travel up the top of the north leg of the arch or you can see the film “Monument to the dream” showing in one of the theatres in the arch (for a fee). The arch opened to the public on 24th July 1967. Sadly, Saarinen died of a brain tumour in 1963 and never saw his design completed. The arch stands on the exact border between Missouri and Illinois and is the centre-piece of the Jefferson Natural Expansion Memorial Park which is landscaped to reflect the curves of the arch. Getting to the entrance of the arch necessitates a longish walk through the park. Pathways ensure that it is wheelchair accessible and there are seats ...
See more reviews Back to top