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LittleMoon (loving my life in the rain)
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Reasons She Goes to the Woods
Reasons She Goes to the Woods
by Deborah Kay Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an unsettling look at growing up, 14 April 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I know I shouldn’t review this book by looking at other reviews, but it’s difficult not to. It’s really interesting to see some of the words used to describe this book, but even more interesting to see the comments made about Pearl, the little girl whose world we enter into in this novel. Experience tells me that some children are cruel to each other, and bully each other, that children feel jealousy, and love and that they feel these things deeply enough for their echoes to linger into adulthood; it also suggests that their world views, and sense of propriety are limited, usually to (or by) direct experience. Pearl seems typical in this respect and I admire the fact that Davies has chosen to portray her whims and wickedness with such candour.

If Pearl is perhaps more confused (horrid/evil?) than the “average” child, whoever they might be, there are at least some mitigating factors: a newborn sibling (aka “The Blob”), a mother who has significant mental health issues, and a loving father who is well-meaning enough but appears increasingly unable to cope. Again, to me, this seems a plausible slice of reality; dysfunctional being the new “normal”. Pearl is a wicked child at times, but not devoid of sympathy when placed in the wider context of the family situation in which she is growing up.

Davies has chosen to write this book in page long vignettes, each separately titled. She gives us a different take on the standard formula of the novel which I think works well. There is some jumping about in time, but the story doesn’t lose coherence because of this, and the overall reading experience is easy with enough of a “conclusion” for it to be fulfilling. The classic oedipal themes explored help to create this comfortable narrative arc within the more experimental structure of the novel. The prose is concise, conveying descriptive information of the sights and smells and textures of childhood; the woods are a place of worms, leaves, roots and water; everything is connected with the senses: this style makes the story feel as though it is experienced by the reader rather than being told to us.

I’m not sure if I enjoyed this novel, even though I admire the risks it is taking both thematically and stylistically. The character of Pearl is written in a way that is going to be divisive as she acts out a more extreme version of the desires and manipulative whiles that every child is subject to. Reasons She Goes to the Woods offers us an unsettling look at growing up through the eyes of a girl who is struggling to control, discover and understand her place in the world.


Ghost Moth
Ghost Moth
by Michèle Forbes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to connect with ..., 10 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Ghost Moth (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Forbes' Ghost Moth has a memorable opening, an encounter between Katherine Bedford and the "instant immutable presence" of a seal. The reader is submerged in a world where "sandpipers drop their miserable cries ... high voices peak on the blue wind" whilst "the sea continues its cool lamenting". It's a descriptive and tense moment where senses seem to be heightened and we might be floating there in the sea with her. We then return with her to reality, flashing back to the events that brought her to the beach and catching up with the moment in real time. It is 1969.

We meet Katherine's husband, George, whose approach to life with "sullen determination" had won her over (20 years previously) with its offer of "stability and reassurance". We meet their children in the back of the car. We slip back to 1949, where Katherine Fallon is being fitted for a costume for her part in the local dramatic society's production of Carmen. Tom McKinley is a young tailor who promises to follow her and dress her in silks as she travels the world and sings. He doesn't think her dreams for the future are mad.

The narrative's switching between decades works well to highlight the historical changes that took place in Northern Ireland when this story takes place. Some of the most moving aspects of the novel involve Katherine's children and the way this increasingly violent social and political landscape touches upon their lives. The twenty year gap also provides room for the contrast between the Katherine of "then" and "now", and offers momentum for the narrative to reveal its small--and monumental--secrets.

Whilst I thought the writing sometimes stunning: "The young woman wore a biscuit-colored blouse with an ivy pattern on it and sat so still in her dedicated accounting and leather-warming duties that it seemed that the ivy had grown on her while she sat"; I also found it a distraction. Forbes will use 2 or 3 adjectives where one might work more precisely, and her reliance on metaphor and simile weighed down the narrative. I also felt that much of the dialgoue fell flat, or, in the case of a crucial exchange when Katherine and Tom argue, seemed too obviously contrived.

At the same time that I admire Forbes for tackling the mundane, I admit to not being particularly drawn in by it: it is perhaps too subtle for my taste. I love descriptive and lyrical writing, but here I thought the prose too cluttered. What will stay in my mind are some of the scenes in this novel; the opening encounter that is symbolic of so much kept hidden beneath the surface, and Katherine's childhood tale (and its recurring motif) that provides the novel with its title.


The Enchanted
The Enchanted
by Rene Denfeld
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the place of true imagination, 14 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Enchanted (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"What matters in prison is not who you really are but what you want to become. This is the place of true imagination."

Rene Denfeld's novel, The Enchanted, is just that: enchanted. How else could a novel set in the dank windowless stones of a death row prison block offer up hope and light, freedom and beauty? Words are the answer, of course, and what a conjuror of language Denfeld proves herself to be, as comfortable in spinning the lonely existence of condemned men into lyrical fantasy as she is dealing with the brutality of "life" in a place where "ordinary men can be more dangerous than any others."

It seems odd to describe it as such, but this novel is a love story. At its core is a relationship between "the lady" - a death row investigator tasked with trying to get a prisoner's sentence commuted, and "the priest" - a fallen man who administers the last rights to inmates. They are watched over, it might be said, by our narrator, a mute prisoner who loves books and who waits for the warden to slip the next novel into his cell so that he can lose himself in it. It's the narrator who fills the story with imagination: he sees "secret basement warrens" and "the soft-tufted night birds"; he feels "the golden horses as they run deep under the earth" and watches the "flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks."

As the novel unfolds we follow the lady as she uncovers her prisoner's story; we come to learn her own story, and that of the priest; the story of Conroy (a guard), the warden, and of the prison and its deepest workings. There is no place to hide as the dark corners of the human psyche and the cellblock are exposed - it is bleak at times. That ultimately we are guided by a humane and compassionate voice that belongs to a death row inmate is one of the novel's triumphs; he is a master storyteller, a connoisseur of narrative and he begs our forgiveness if he "gets some things wrong".

The writing is another triumph. The prose manages to be at once stark and elegant; poetic and poignantly precise. I did have a tear rolling down my cheek at one point in the novel, when the golden horses are running as never before and the writing was so vivid that I could feel them myself ... I was there in the cellblock with all the terror and excitement and I felt for a moment how our narrator must have felt - out of time as he is - existing only in the words on a page.

The Enchanted is unlike any book I have ever read, but the experience of reading it reminds me of the experience of watching Guillermo del Toro's haunting film Pan's Labyrinth. There is the stylistic similarity, in the sense that fantasy and reality are given equal weight, and that we will never be sure where the distinctions lie. There is strong imagery too, sometimes beautiful and sometimes macabre. And there is tragedy on so many levels that, like the prisoners themselves locked in the depths, we dare not hope for a glimpse of the sky. Yet, we are uplifted. Whether redemption is real, or fantasy, the novel does not say, or perhaps it does not matter:

"truth is not in the touch of the stone but what the stone tells you."


Gingerbread
Gingerbread
by Robert Dinsdale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars snows, forests, and darkness ..., 18 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Gingerbread (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Set in the border country of Belarus, Dinsdale's novel takes its lead from this idea of edges and explores what happens when history blurs into fairy tale and when the wilderness creeps into civilisation. Gingerbread does this so well that it is not only the boy who is pulled in, but also the reader, and there is a point at which the snow and the trees and the stories infiltrate our perceptions to such an extent that we can almost imagine nothing beyond them.

Gingerbread begins with a boy making a promise to his dying mother about loving and caring for his grandfather (papa) "'forever and always'"; papa "'lived in terrible times'" but "'you're of him'" she tells the boy. When the boy reminds his papa of a promise made to scatter his mother's ashes in the forest, his papa is angry and reluctant, before finally relenting and agreeing to keep this promise. On the journey out to the forest the next day, the old man warns that it will be "bitter and cold before they are through." What follows is a descent into the forest and the wild, where stories interweave with reality, and the limits of even the most sacred of promises will be tested.

This is a dark read, which could have stumbled on into such a state of animalism as to be unbearable, but it doesn't. The arrival of a family brings both an increase in tension, and moments of welcome levity, in what is otherwise a claustrophobia-inducing novel. The family also provide a shocking contrast between the wilderness and civilisation, revealing how deeply the forest has permeated the boy and his papa. Dinsdale writes children well, and Elenya and the boy are compelling characters. So is papa, who undergoes a physical transformation that echoes the growing horror of his stories. It's difficult to say more without revealing too much.

I think this is a cunning novel, rich with allusions to fairytales but never beholden to them. My only complaint is that the finale--with all its pace--seemed too dramatic after the slow-building suspense that came before it. This is probably because I don't require a novel to be compulsively page-turning in the same way as a movie is action-packed, and I really enjoyed the writing and the creation of man and boy's descent into the wilderness.

Recommended for readers who don't mind being snowed in by a novel, or being snagged in forests that have witnessed the full darkness of human deeds.


Alpen Porridge Cranberry and Blueberry Pot 60 g (Pack of 8)
Alpen Porridge Cranberry and Blueberry Pot 60 g (Pack of 8)
Price: £6.40

3.0 out of 5 stars quickest easiest porridge in the world ..., 26 Dec. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Alpen is a brand I trust and for once I thought I would treat myself to an instant product. I will usually avoid buying something like this, as I would prefer to make my own porridge, in a pan with milk and water, and add whatever dried fruit or nuts are at hand.

All you need to do is boil the kettle, add hot water to the fill level in this 60g pot, stir it, wait 2 minutes and it's ready to eat. You really can't get simpler or easier than that, and for those looking to eat and run, this will probably be an excellent solution. Porridge oats are healthy, and filling, although I found this portion just a little too small for my liking.

It tastes like porridge, with a bit of extra sweetness. The addition of cranberries and blueberries is nice.

The packaging can (mostly) be recycled and there are relatively few additives--sulphur dioxide in the dried fruit (a pet hate of mine); an acidity regulator; a humectant and "flavourings".

So, if you don't have the time to make your own porridge in the morning, I guess this is as good an alternative as any. I would still prefer to get up 10 mins earlier to make my own though ... and then I can have a nice big portion too!!


More Than This
More Than This
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a hopeful and dystopian teenage quest ..., 27 Oct. 2013
This review is from: More Than This (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
More Than This (MTT) is my second novel by Patrick Ness in as many weeks, my first being The Crane Wife. Readers who enjoyed one might not necessarily enjoy the other, as the subject matters are quite different. MTT is darker and the novel opens with the death of our protagonist, whose drowning at sea is rendered stark with detail. When he "wakes" he finds himself in an empty world, a place at once familiar and unknown ... whether he is dead or alive, where this place is, and why he is here are questions that Seth seeks to find the answers to through the rest of the novel.

The novel is divided into 3 parts, and the first part is quite frightening in places; it's struck through with a sense of foreboding that comes both from the "world" he's in and from Seth's physical and emotional vulnerability. It's written in a way that is tense and absorbing and will keep you avidly reading in the hope that there will be "more than this". Interspersed with Seth's wondering about what has happened are italicised flashbacks to the past. These flashbacks serve to keep the narrative moving swiftly as we piece together the events leading up to his death.

A revelation at the end of the first part leads into the second part, and it's here that we learn the "truth" about the world that Seth finds himself in. I won't disclose how this truth is discovered, but I do want to mention that the plot's similarity (at this point) to the storyline of a well-known film did bother me. It's a film I know and love, so perhaps that's why. Part 3 opens on a minor revelation and leads to an open ending ... it could either be open for a sequel or simply left for the reader's imagination to complete. Time will tell.

Parts 2 and 3 are action-packed in comparison to the slowly unfolding suspense that defines the first part. The novel is graphic in quality, taking its cues from many a cinematic dystopian landscape; movies like Mad Max and Tron were often in my mind, and many others too. Ness, in my opinion, still excels when he writes about human life; he creates strong characters and through their interactions generates considerable pathos. The book excels as a serious and humane questioning of universal themes - life and death, guilt and tragedy, love and betrayal - through teenage eyes. I do think he's brilliant in these areas, and that all the rest, the action and science fiction/fantasy genre-blending, is surplus to requirement.

I find Ness an enigma. He's a good writer, but not a beautiful writer. He reminds me of David Arnold in that he champions teenagers who are often a much maligned age-group; unlike Arnold though, I find Ness's forays into fantastical realms detract from rather than enhance the overall effect of his works. Nevertheless, the characters met within these pages will excite sympathy and compassion to the extent that they will have you turning the pages in quick succession to find out about their pasts and possible futures ... and what story (or reader) could ask for anything more?


The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting fable on love ..., 14 Oct. 2013
This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"Let it be enough that I have lived and changed and been changed. Just like everyone else."

This is my first Patrick Ness novel, and it seems it is atypical of his work to date which is generally for a young adult audience and of a darker persuasion in terms of subject matter. The Crane Wife takes a Japanese folk tale as its central theme, extrapolating it into a novel of just over 300 pages, with the strapline: "the extraordinary happens every day". It is a love story that may or may not be magical depending upon how you read it ...

George Duncan is a print shop owner and all round regular "nice" guy who hears strange noises one night and discovers an injured crane in his garden. Not long after, the enigmatic Kumiko comes into his life, and together they start creating beautiful works of art (tiles) that are capable of bewitching everyone who looks at them into parting with vast sums of money for the honour of owning one. Meanwhile the best character in the novel, Amanda Duncan (George's daughter), is struggling with anger, bad luck, and being misunderstood in a world that seems to be wilfully setting itself against her.

The story burns slowly for the first three quarters of the novel and then kicks off with flying colours towards the end when the "something big" that is on the horizon, "terrible" and "wonderful" at the same time, finally happens. I preferred the character development and human interaction throughout to the rather top-heavy drama of the grand finale, and think Ness did a fine job in creating Amanda Duncan with all her fury and humour and awkward humanity. I saw in an interview that Amanda's character draws heavily from his own way of being ... perhaps this is why?

The Crane Wife is well written but I remain on the fence in terms of its narrative devices. The multiple viewpoints work well, and it's interesting when we see the same incident through the eyes of others. There are sections which tell the tale of the 32 "tiles" that Kumiko is designing that worked less effectively in my mind; it's true that they tell a brilliant tale of a crane and a volcano, but I still felt they signalled their presence in the text too strongly and weighed the narrative down. Likewise, when the cause and effect of the ending are written several times in several different ways, I can appreciate that the writer is questioning one definitive view of events, but found this a rather heavy-handed way of doing that.

For me, Ness is at his best when writing about human interactions in the real world. I never got tired of the sections with Amanda, out picnicking with friends, or meeting her ex-husband; she's a brilliant creation. Equally, when Ness writes (what turns out to be another event based on his own life) of the car accident that George experienced as a child, it makes for compulsive reading. The infiltration of elements of magic realism and narrative experimentation are where I feel the novel stalls and as a reader I am snapped back into remembering that this is a work of fiction that I'm reading. This may be the point, but I didn't enjoy that aspect of it.

It's clear Ness is a good writer, though I didn't really see evidence of him being an "insanely beautiful writer" as the Time Magazine quote states. Ness excels by investing his (on paper) least likeable character, Amanda, with empathy and charm, and the rest of the novel and its characters don't really reach the same standard. The Crane Wife is an interesting fable on the meaning of love, greed and desire, but not really memorably so.


Zyliss Swivel Peeler
Zyliss Swivel Peeler
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality, effective peeler, 2 Oct. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Like other Zyliss products, this potato peeler is a nice-looking, ergonomic, and stylish addition to the kitchen. It has a strong rounded handle that makes it comfortable to hold and helps to keep a firm grip whilst using the peeler. The blade swivels, is sharp and cuts a clean and thin swathe of skin away from the fruit/vegetable that you happen to be peeling. Probably my favourite element is the pointed tip, which makes it very easy to nip out any deeper blemishes in potatoes, or other veg ... and if you grow your own you tend to have quite a lot of these little imperfections.

I've been using this peeler for a few weeks now, and have peeled potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and cooking apples with it. As you'd expect it handled them all with aplomb; it is good for getting into the knobbles of sweet potatoes especially.

Potato peelers are probably quite a subjective purchase. I was brought up with my parents' type which was a Lancashire Peeler. I've always liked the control these provide, with their fixed blades, but admit that they do tend to take off thicker peelings than I'd prefer. And my favourite type of peeler see here for example is actually the type where the blade runs perpendicular to the handle, as this allows me to hold the veg at a distance and then sweep the peeler down it. I've never thought of my peeling habits before this review!

Overall then, the Zyliss is a good, effective peeler, appears to be of a good build quality and looks and feels great to use; I'm happy to recommend it.


Gillette Venus Embrace Razor Blades - Pack of 3
Gillette Venus Embrace Razor Blades - Pack of 3
Price: £8.49

3.0 out of 5 stars No better than the cheaper Venus blades, 15 Sept. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am an impatient shaver; I don't like doing it for so many reasons. As such, I try and shave as infrequently as I can get away with, and I also get it over with as quickly as possible. I've used Gillette's ordinary Venus blades for ages, since they came out in fact, and have been very happy to do so. They've always provided a good shave, hardly any nicks, and last for quite a while before they need changing.

Venus Embrace cartridges have 5 blades on the head, rather than the 3 that are on mine, but still fit onto the same Venus handle. To be honest, in practice, I didn't notice any difference when using the Embrace blades, in terms of the quality of the shave. I still needed to go over a few patches where my speedy shaving had missed, and I didn't feel that my legs were any smoother than usual. Sure, they were nice and smooth, but no more so than when shaved with my usual Venus.

Venus Embrace blades might also be expected to last longer, but again I haven't found this to be the case. I find that one Embrace cartridge lasts about the same time as my usual Venus; no worse then, but not noticeably better. I also find that the moisture ribbon is no more effective and tends to be non-existent after the first shave; this is exactly like my current Venus blades, and as I use a shave gel this doesn't really bother me.

These 5-bladed heads are also about half the size again of the 3-bladed Venus heads, and when shaving under my arms I actually find them a bit too big, and less easy to manoeuvre.

Overall, I will not be swapping my usual Venus blades for these, and would recommend Gillette Venus as being better value for money. The Venus Embrace are more expensive, and don't provide a significantly cleaner or closer shave.


Zyliss Coarse Grater, Acid Etched
Zyliss Coarse Grater, Acid Etched
Price: £18.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Just not quite coarse enough, 25 Aug. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Zyliss grater really is a fine tool for the kitchen. It looks stylish and is robust yet light and easy to hold over bowls or plates whilst grating; you can also lean it upon its rubber tipped end too, and it grips the surface nicely. The plastic cover is a handy addition that will surely save many a finger from being sliced if you store the grater in a drawer, and although I hang mine up, I still like to keep it protected.

Zyliss state that they aim to create highly functional products that are about "continually delighting all who use them" and when I see this smart grater in my kitchen I do smile! I think it's partly because it feels professional, and looks so much cooler than my bog standard, non-acid etched box grater that I've had for far too long. Also, it's because when I grate hard cheese, or chocolate, the curly shavings produced are beautiful. The chocolate is perfect for a decorative topping on cakes or tarts, and the delightful cloud of cheese (almost too pretty to melt into a quiche, or as a pizza topping) really does dress up the likes of jacket potatoes, chillies or pasta dishes. I've even used this to grate the zest of a lemon (that was then blitzed into hummus) and grate nutmeg, though there is a Zyliss Fine Grater, Acid Etched available that's probably more suited to this purpose.

Before I get too carried away though, this product does have one limitation. I really like to make crunchy raw grated salads using apples, carrots, beetroot, and celeriac. Whilst I've not tried grating celeriac with this grater, I have used it for apples, carrots and beetroots, and must admit that I was a little disappointed in the results. The grater is actually not coarse enough, and grates such fine shavings that the salad ends up much too wet with quite a mushy consistency. For me this is a drawback, and emphasises where my low-tech box grater remains absolutely invaluable.

If you're looking to replace a box grater with this Zyliss, I would caution against that. This grater works well for offering a more refined, elegant shaving with things that are very hard, like chocolate and some cheeses. It also does ginger nicely, and can be used for coarse(ish) zesting. However, if you need a grated fruit or vegetable to have some crunch and body, such as for a salad or coleslaw, then this won't produce the desired result.


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