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The Medici Mirror
The Medici Mirror
Price: £3.95

1.0 out of 5 stars Starts well but becomes very boring, 3 July 2015
This review is from: The Medici Mirror (Kindle Edition)
This started out well - we have a third-person historical opening, introducing us to Catherine de Medici who is concerned about her husband (the King of France) and his dalliance with a mistress. Then we move on to the present-day and architect Johnny's first-person narrative of the abandoned shoe factory he has been tasked to renovate for a client. The shoe factory was well described and I really thought I was in for a treat with this book. However, the tension which was building well began to crumble away after Johnny discovered a secret underground room in the shoe factory. The discovery itself was intriguing and eerie - but it soon became very repetitive, with numerous visits to the room (with Johnny and his assistant, Johnny and his new girlfriend Ophelia, Johnny alone, Ophelia alone).

I soon began to sense that I wasn't in the hands of a truly accomplished author - certain parts of the writing niggled (for example, the constant references to Ophelia's green eyes - we don't have to keep getting told what colour they are. Trust a reader to remember and think of other ways to describe a character or their attributes). Or Johny's habit of saying 'I coughed' to indicate his discomfort during a conversation. There are also amateurish slips - such as the fact Ophelia is described as wearing a black sleeveless dress, but when she and Johnny get it on later that same night, he then says, 'I unbuttoned her blouse...' This I could overlook though, had the story kept my interest. However, it just didn't seem to move on well enough and I had to give up at 47%. The tension and 'scare' factor just wasn't there. People waking up in front of a mirror, unsure how they got there, or characters having dreams with strange people in them just isn't compelling enough, chilling enough or page-turning enough.

The whole mirror topic was handled infinitely better (and with more scares) by Graham Masterton in his aptly-named novel Mirror - which recounts the story of Martin who becomes terrorised by a mirror that hung in the house of murdered child-star Boofuls. Now that one is genuinely chilling. So if you're after some mirror-based scares, I'd suggest buying that one instead.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini i9195 SIM-Free Smartphone - Black
Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini i9195 SIM-Free Smartphone - Black
Price: £154.39

1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible phone - disappoints in all respects + over heats, 1 July 2015
This phone is probably the worst I've owned in a long while. I had the Samsung Galaxy S3 (which was excellent). That became sluggish after a couple of years, so I traded it in for a more budget handset (as I was out of my contract and wanted to remain with Giffgaff). So I purchased a Motorola Moto G 4g. This was a great little phone - apart from the fact that the 5mpx camera didn't seem like quite enough for me - I'd previously taken some great photos with the Samsung Galaxy S3. So, I decided to trade in the Motorola and go for a phone with a better camera - which brought me to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

I've had this phone a day and already there are issues - the first (and most worrying) is severe overheating with even moderate use - and also while charging. I dread to think what it would do if I held it up to my ear to make a call while it's in that state. The display is incredibly disappointing (especially compared to the Motorola Moto G) - it looks grainy and washed-out.

However, the biggest disappointment is the camera. Had the photos been superb, I could maybe have overlooked the display (if not the over heating). However, I've done a test - taking the same photos on both the Motorola and the S4 Mini and, amazingly, the Motorola pics are coming out better - sharper, clearer, better zoom. So, I've sold my Motorola via eBay and am now having to reluctantly pack it up and send it off to a new owner, and am left with the frankly inferior S4 mini. I can't quite express how bad the pics are (both when viewed on the phone screen itself) and also on a computer.

Maybe this is a dud phone that I've received. Who knows. However, I will be sending it back to Amazon asap and hopefully repurchasing something that doesn't reach boiling-point when used for any length of time.

It Follows
It Follows
Price: £6.99

9 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It Follows Through, 27 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: It Follows (Amazon Instant Video)
Yeah, 'It follows through' because this film is seriously s**t! The rest of this review CONTAINS SPOILERS because in order to convey just how pony it is, I'll need to tell you why.

Things do actually start out quite well in this film - it has a certain timeless quality to it - and if you squint, you could almost think you're back in the 80s watching something like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween (except they were good, back in the day). There are certain kitsch elements - like the clamshell e-reader (a combination of old-school and modern), and I seriously want one of those! Anyway, the film gets going when the main character, Jay, sleeps with her boyfriend then wakes up tied to a chair (for some, that might count as a fun date - I've certainly had worse). He gives her a friendly enough warning that he's passed something on to her - except it's not as treatable as gonorrhea or crabs and the STD clinic is unlikely to be much use. No, what he's passed on is something (which is never properly explained or described) that is going to follow her. Very Slowly. Throughout the rest of the film. If it catches her, it'll kill her - then it'll go after him again.

What we have here is a really good excuse for promiscuity - if ever there's a reason to bounce around on every bloke you meet, it's because you've got a paranormal entity hot on your heels. But no ... this doesn't seem to occur to Jay. Instead, she and her mates (who can't see the thing) decide to aimlessly drive around from one place to the other, waiting for the thing to turn up, so that they can run off again. Nobody comes up with the idea of taking a trip overseas (or even interstate) and bonking someone over there, to buy Jay more time - instead there's just a lot of riding bikes (oh, the irony!), driving off in cars and holing up in various houses. At this point my husband and I began to discuss, with searing logic, what any rational person might to do spread the 'disease' away from oneself. At first we figured she ought to sleep with another bloke then get him to go sleep with a pro - but then we reckoned that maybe this wasn't the best answer, since the blokes who visit prossies are often doing so because they're not getting their end away with ease. So the next logical step would simply be to put yourself up on Tinder or Grindr or Swingers United. Whatever - just have a quickie with the most promiscuous set of people you can find!

Eventually, after getting into a swimming pool surrounded by electrical gadgets (a stunt almost guaranteed to end your life before the STD specter would) and sort of failing to kill the thing off, Jay finally sleeps with her old beau. Oh, the romance. At which point, he then does the second-most-logical solution and visits a pro - see, they didn't think it through like my hubby and I did!

I'm not quite sure what the end meant but I'm pretty sure they were being followed again. I'm not quite sure I could even be bothered by that point to work it out. This was a slow, slow film with a repetitive 'scare' theme that literally was more painful than the mythical umbrella up the urethra swab!

How on earth this is being hailed as something great to hit the genre, I have no idea. Drag Me to Hell (which was kitsch in its own way) was far superior. Cabin in the Woods was far superior. In fact, most other horror films I've seen in recent years (Insidious, Sinister, The Woman in Black, Paddington (oh no, that wasn't a horror was it - but Nicole Kidman's Botox made me forget that it wasn't)) have been far superior.

In fact the only truly horrifying thing about this film was the fact I spent a tenner on it before it became available for rental.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 1, 2015 2:34 PM BST

The Invention of Wings
The Invention of Wings
Price: £4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and profound, 25 Jun. 2015
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Some books pull you in and don't let go - even after you've turned the last page. And this novel is one of them; made even more profound due to the fact that it's based on real events and real people. It's a beautifully told account of a decades-long struggle by Sarah Grimke (and, eventually, her younger sister, Nina) to not only bring about the abolition of slavery but to also champion equal rights. It also brings in the story of Hetty (or Handful as she's known), a little girl who is given to Sarah for her 11th birthday, and promptly rejected as a 'gift' by Sarah. The story is told in alternating chapters by both Sarah and Handful and is deeply moving.

What is particularly fascinating is that Sarah had to overcome obstacles of her own in order to find her 'wings' and seek out the meaning of her existence during a period in history where women were to be seen and not heard - and were definitely not expected to speak out against the status quo of slavery. This novel is full of beautiful descriptions and wonderful insights - for example, Sarah's thought process when she discovers Handful has used her bath. At first, Sarah is shocked and angered by Handful's actions - but then she realises that she has simply grown accustomed to what a slave should or should not do. It's at this point that she realises 'There's a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it." It's moments like these which bring to life the reality of what it must have been like living during this period in history - and the imagination, compassion and far-sightedness required by those born into the upper-class 'planter' families to manage to see beyond their slaves as mere chattels. For me, this novel raised questions for myself - it made me wonder, had I lived in that age, whether I'd have been one of the few who would have spoken out or whether I'd have lived with what was the norm. Much as we'd like to think (from a 21st century) perspective that we would have been on the side of the abolitionists, Sue Monk Kidd captures the reality of the time in such a precise manner, that the reader understands that not only wasn't it as simple as speaking out against a terrible injustice - it was a matter of seeing slavery as an injustice in the first place for those people who were born into a time where they knew no better.

As for Sarah, her struggle was immense and she gave up much for the cause she held dear - I felt so glad that a writer had chosen to bring to life this amazing woman and her sister. It makes you appreciate that for all the evils in the world, there are threads of decency too - and that any number of small voices are capable of changing history.

Handful's voice is equally strong, and her bravery and faith is both uplifting and heartrending at the same time. Although Handful did exist, and was given to Sarah as a waiting maid, the author's note at the end states that little is known of her and (in real life) she died quite young. As such, Handful's narrative is a work of pure fiction, but no less engaging for it.

This is an amazing and beautiful novel, and fantastic insight into the little-known Grimke sisters. Highly recommended.

Her Fearful Symmetry
Her Fearful Symmetry
Price: £4.09

1.0 out of 5 stars Utter stupidity, 5 Jun. 2015
I am not a huge fan of The Time Traveller's Wife - so I didn't come to this book 'afraid' that it couldn't or wouldn't live up to that. If anything, I had higher hopes for this than if I'd been a TTW lover. And I also don't think it would be fair (or even possible) to compare that first novel with this one. Niffenegger produced quite an original work with her first novel - clearly she couldn't write about time travelling again, so anything else was only ever going to be different.

This novel started out well - it was intriguing. American twins Valentina and Julia inherit their aunt Elspeth's flat overlooking Highgate Cemetary when she dies. Elsbeth is also a twin (to the twins' own mother) but they are estranged and we know there is a big 'secret' involving this estrangement. The Highgate block is also home to Robert (Elsbeth's grieving lover) and Martin who lives in the flat above, and is struggling with OCD.

So far, so interesting. However, the plot soon becomes silly - and just gets sillier as the novel goes on.

In order to explain what I really disliked about this book, there will be SPOILERS. So stop reading now if you don't wan to know!

Early on, we discover that Elspeth's ghost remains in the flat - and much of the book is told from her third-person POV. This is not a creepy book at all - if you're expecting a ghost that will scare you, this novel doesn't contain that. In fact, as soon as the twins realise Elspeth is hanging around, they almost unquestioningly start communicating with her via automatic writing and a ouija board. They have nice little chats - and Robert joins in too. I can't think many people would be happy staying in a flat with a ghost - and the ease with which the twins accept this situation is the first bit of 'silly' or 'unbelievable' to hit this book. I realise many novels require a suspension of disbelief if the reader is to go with it - The Time Traveller's Wife is a case in point. However, in TTW, the reader was able to believe that it could be possible. By comparison, this novel descends into farce.

None of the characters felt very well drawn - and their motivations were spurious. Robert spends a lot of time moping for Elspeth but then enters into a sort of relationship with Valentina - although it never quites get going. He's quite a bit older, she's still a virgin. Nothing really happens - you're left wondering what the appeal is for him. We then get to a point in the novel where, via a kitten, Elspeth works out that she can hook out its spirit and replace it again. At this point, she and Valentina come up with a plot to make Valentina die (funeral and all) and then come back at a later stage (unbeknown to Julia) - all so Valentina can escape her twin, who she's getting a bit fed up with. Come on!!! As if! Would anyone on earth risk that, rather than just claiming their half of the estate they've been left and saying 'tata'? For a novel to be believable, characters' actions and motivations have to be believable - and this book totally unravels at this point. Also, it was very easy to guess what was going to happen once Valentina's spirit was removed from her body.

All of this is interspersed with Julia trying to help Martin overcome his OCD, so he can leave the house and travel to Amsterdam to be with his wife (who left him at the start of the novel). All this feels like filler - and having now concluded the book, Niffenegger could have left out the whole bit about Martin without impacting on the rest of the novel at all. It added nothing. I'd have liked to have seen it mean something or tie in more. But we're supposed to believe that a man who's been housebound for years (with newspapers covering the windows) eventually manages to get a train abroad, just because Julia was duping him into taking medication for a few months. I think it would take a lot more than that to overcome such a high-level obsessive compulsive disorder.

Then there is the whole reaction to Valentina's death. Her parents fly over from America but don't appear too distraught - even doing a bit of sightseeing with Julia and eating out. As for Julia - would a twin really choose to remain in the flat (by herself - because Robert and Martin have moved out of their flats above and below by that point) with all those memories?

Finally, the 'secret' of Edie (the twins' mum) and Elspeth's estrangement was just stupid. Honestly ridiculous. It was another 'as if' moment.

If I had to summariase this novel in two words, they would be: silly and unbelievable. The parts about Highgate Cemetary are interesting - but it feels as though that's shoehorned in too; as if the author did a lot of research and was determined to use it. But it just didn't work in the context of this novel. All the threads - the haunting, Martin's OCD, Highgate, the 'secret' - seemed very disperate.

How this ever got past a publisher is a wonder - but they clearly hope that it'll ride on the back of Niffenegger's first success. Personally though, I don't think I'll be reading any more of her novels in future.

The Mother's Tale: A Novel
The Mother's Tale: A Novel
by Camilla Noli
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly disturbing., 26 May 2015
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You often read that novels' protagonists should be likable - someone you can relate to as a reader. Well A Mother's Tale proves this doesn't always have to be the case. The(first person present tense) narrator remains unnamed throughout. She is everything a mother shouldn't be - a dark, cunning, narcissistic, manipulative character. Above all, she's the mother no child ought to have. This book is gripping because it's an insight into what happens when that maternal gene just doesn't get switched on at all. It's an admittedly uncomfortable read - one I'd say new mums should avoid; or if you're someone who simply can't bear to read about harm coming to children. However, it's a novel - and if you take it as such, it's gripping and incredibly well written. After all, why shouldn't writers tackle dark or distasteful issues? It's never gratuitious - instead, it's insidious and the more you get inside the narrator's mind, the more you dislike her; yet you're still gripped by her story. All mums will know that there are times when you're bored or frustrated with your child. When you're deathly tired and feel like you can't go on - anyone with little ones will be able to relate to this. Up to a point! It's incredibly clever.

This is a quick read - it could possibly have done with being longer (I'd have enjoyed reading more about the narrator's battles with motherhood). Some people complain about the ambiguity of the ending - but I didn't think it was ambiguous! If you like things spelled out very literally then, yes, you could feel that the end is a little vague - but if you think about it for a moment, it's not really.

All in all, a great read.

Price: £8.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So disappointing., 22 May 2015
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This review is from: Quicksand (Kindle Edition)
Oh dear. I don't think I've felt as let down by a novel ... well, ever. A Fraction of the Whole is up there as one of my favourite books of all time. I have waited years for Steve Toltz's next offering; periodically checking to see if anything new was out. When I saw about a month ago, Quicksand was due out, I was so excited and immediately per-ordered it. However, at just 13% in on the Kindle, I'm giving up. Whereas A Fraction of the Whole was engaging, page-turning and quirky, this new novel is weighed down by overly-long sentences, reams of lists (whether it's Aldo's strange business ideas or medical neuroses) and not much pace. While some phrases and sentences are suitably humorous, the effortlessness of AFOTW seems to be missing here. Aldo, as a character, is supposed to be intriguing (intriguing enough for failed novelist and best friend Liam to use him as a muse). However, Aldo just seems like an overwrought construct of Toltz's imagination ('how odd can I make him?' you can almost hear Toltz thinking) rather than someone who could be real. While A Prayer For Owen Meany had a distinctive and oddball lead character, Irving imbued him with life - it seemed natural that he might have existed. Again, with Toltz's first novel, the characters seemed like they could exist - and while they had faults and foibles, you warmed to them. But Aldo (and Liam for that matter) just seem so overly verbose and introspective, that by 13% I just couldn't care less about them. I found myself skim-reading - something I'd never have done in Toltz's first novel. Every sentence of that was a joy to me. I really don't know what's happened here - whether Toltz has began believing his own hype, edging towards a more word-heavy literary novel. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like literary novels; but Quicksand is just so below-par when compared to Toltz's first novel that it feels like he's messed with a formula. AFOTW was so clever, with so many amazing passages and witty turns of phrase that it appeared as though the author had brought the story effortlessly to life. Quicksand, on the other hand, feels like waaayyy to much thought and effort has gone into it. And, as a reader, I want to be pulled along with ease, not to be hearing the clanking of the author's toils beneath each passage.

Mooncup Model A Menstrual Cup
Mooncup Model A Menstrual Cup
Price: £16.44

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My learning curve might save your hoo-ha some woe!, 17 May 2015
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The first time you use a Mooncup (or any menstrual cup) can feel a) like you've been sucker-punched in the fanny and/or b) that a tiny, sharp-clawed alien has taken up residence in your hoochie. But - don't let this put you off! Come on - you've probably been through worse (gynae exams; cystitis; thrush; insensitive lovers; childbirth (for those using the larger size) - and, let's face it, nothing assaults your fandango quite like a baby punching its way out! So - go into this knowing YOU CAN DO IT. Or if you can't at least you gave it your best shot and it's a tale to tell your granddaughters some dark stormy night 20 years from now.

Going forward, I'm going to refer to any menstrual cup - because there are tons out there (which I hadn't realised when I picked up my first Mooncup at Boots). So if one type doesn't suit you, another might. The reason I'm giving the Mooncup a 3 (any cup for that matter) is because they take time for a lot of people to adjust to. But if you can get used to them, the benefits are huge - putting them up to a 5. They work out a lot cheaper in the long run because they can be re-used for years (some of you will hit the menopause having not needed to buy a replacement!); they avoid the risk of toxic shock; they're environmentally friendly (if that's something you're concerned about); unlike tampons, they can be used before your period starts - so are a great safety barrier; they fantastic if you're travelling; and they do work. The reason I started using one (and stop reading if you aren't ready for a TMI moment!) is because my periods had become heavier for some reason and, of a night, I had had a bit of fallout. Since using a cup, this has never happened. So those are just some of the plus-points.

The negative is that while many people love these in theory, they can't get on with them in practice - which would make them 1 star for those people. Out of all the products on Amazon, this is the one thing that's difficult to do an objective review on because it's so personal. So here are my tips (from my own learning curve)

1) Don't necessarily expect to get on with a cup immediately, It can take a bit of determination to find what works for you
2) If you are not comfortable touching your own privvies, then don't even think about one of these
3) If you can't handle seeing liquid blood in a cup - move on. You need to not be squeamish because there will come a point when you need to extract the cup, full of its contents, and wash it out.
4) If you can't get on with the Mooncup, try another brand. The Comfy Cup is actually a lot softer and more comfortable. It's also wayyyy cheaper - so if you can't get going with it, you've only spent about £7.99. If you're starting out, I'd recommend going with the Comfy Cup first (you can get them on Amazon too)
5) Experiment with trimming the end. Again, the Comfy Cup is good for this because if you ruin it (as I just did by eventually cutting a hole in mine!) you're not £20 down! Regarding the end, I actually think that trimming it could cause its own issues. When I first used the Comfy Cup, I thought it was much better than the Mooncup - I was sort of aware of the end though (which is a bit thick). I trimmed it and then found it chaffed. If the edge isn't exactly smooth (and it's difficult to ensure it is), then this can almost be more irritating. In a way, I wish they'd make them with two options - with a tab and without a tab. Some people might be afraid that if they cut the tab, they won't be able to pull their cup out - but don't worry. While it's true that you need to be okay putting your digits inside yourself to retrieve these, you'll still need to do this even with a tab (because you need to break the seal). It can't get lost either - if you're struggling to remove, just bear down - like giving birth or doing a poops! So, trimming might or might not work for you - but if you're going to experiment, do it on the cheapest cup first.
6) Use the punch-down fold - it's far easier. If you've done any research on these cups, you probably already know about the different ways of folding them prior to insertion - if not, a quick Youtube search will show you.
7) Now here's something I've only recently found out that MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE ... after you've done your punch-down fold, make sure you insert the cup with the longer side upwards. You wouldn't think it ought to make a difference, as once it's inside you, it opens up into the same shape whatever. However, it does make a difference. I've used a cup for months now and always been vaguely aware of it. I've sort of put up with it because I like the security of it. However, it's been like a vague irritation (again, partly, I think, because of the jagged trimmed end). Recently though, I tried inserting it with the longer smooth edge of the punch-down fold upright and it just seemed to position it better and make it comfier. I now can't feel it.
8) If you can't get on with a cup during the day, don't necessarily give up on it for night time. Like I say, I was vaguely irritated with the cup mainly when walking - but couldn't feel it when sitting or lying down. In fact, the act of lying down can help it get into a better position (you could even try rotating your hips and lying on your front after inserting it for daytime use). So if you have a heavy flow and struggle going through tampons in the night, then maybe just use a cup of a bedtime.
9) Do your research - this is something new for most people. There are tons of different cups out there. A brilliant website is Menstrual Cup Reviews Net ( which compares all different types. The newest cup - The Lily Cup compact folds down for storage - so length can be adjusted. I haven't tried it but it looks very soft and really narrows at the tip; so less intrusive. Another great source of information is Precious Stars Pads (both site and youtube). She's only 16 but is a wealth of knowledge.
10) Don't give up first time! If you can get the hang of these, they're great. And I do rate the Mooncup - it's very reliable and a fantastic product. But if you don't like this one, then maybe experiment with the Comfy Cup too.

Good luck with it!

Price: £2.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as solid as it could have been., 16 May 2015
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This review is from: Seed (Kindle Edition)
To explain why Seed falls a bit short of being really great, I'm going to have to include spoilers - so stop reading if you'd rather not know.

First up - Seed is really well written; which is why I've given it 3 stars. In less able hands, the issues I had with certain aspects of the novel would have downgraded it to a 1 or 2. It's a first person present-tense narrative by Pearl, a naive girl who has been born and raised in Seed - a community of people who follow their charismatic leader, Papa S. BTW - I hated that name, each time I read it, it reminded me of Papa Smurf!! Pearl's tone of voice is fresh, and different from most other YA novels. She's unworldly and shut-off, so there's none of the usual teen-speak, which can get annoying in some YA books. In fact, the author has managed to achieve something quite unique in young people's novels today - creating a somewhat timeless feel. Pearl could be living in any time, and any place. At first, I thought that it was set in America - but it's supposed to be the UK I think. And because Seed's so cut off, it could be any period in history really. I thought Lisa Heathfield handled this really well and it was a refreshing change from the glut of dystopian YA fiction out there.

The novel is intriguing - and as a reader, I wanted to learn more about Pearl's lifestyle and the community. There are a few peers - Kate (who is a little older) and Jack, as well as some children. The adults seemed a little sparse - apart from a couple of women, including Elizabeth (who may or may not be Pearl's mother - the children born at Seed aren't told who their true mothers are) and the senior men - Kindred John and Kindred Smith, along with Papa S.

My main issues with this book revolve around a number of small things (that don't seem very well thought out) which add up and somewhat spoil the authenticity of the novel. Firstly (and this is something I was willing to overlook), the novel begins with Pearl getting her period for the first time, aged 15 - and due to her naiveity - believing she's dying. I took this as a bit of dramatic license but it's sort of unbelievable that someone would be starting their period so late (especially since this happened with Kate too). Yes, I know it can happen - but most girls have well gone through this by the time they're 15. I do understand why the author did this though - the fact being that once the girls attain 'adulthood' at Seed, they are then eligible to become Papa S's 'companion'; and, perhaps, to have placed the age any younger might have seemed unpalatable. That said, I think if the writer was brave enough to do so, this could have added an extra element of 'fear' and 'wrongness' to the novel. It's also not quite clear why people who worship Mother Nature wouldn't have told the girls about periods. But, hey, I let that go.

My next issue surrounded the number of people on the commune - which just didn't seem many at all. In particular, there seemed few adults. So what was Papa S's aim? Not, it appeared, to grow the community. Issues of in-breeding and keeping the gene pool clear just didn't arise. Also, while Pearl was very much consumed with the notion of who her true mother was, she never questioned who her father was. I found this unusual, since I'd imagine someone would want to know that too.

The crux of the novel centers around Pearl's growing awareness of the wrongness of Seed - particularly once 'outsiders' are introduced, in the form of a lady called Linda (who bumped into one of the Kindred whom she used to know) and her 5 year old daughter and teenage son Ellis. In a way, I found it difficult to believe that Papa S would have so easily allowed outsiders in who could very well explode the myths and lies he'd been feeding the community. But this is exactly what happens. For example (for some unknown reason), Pearl has always believed that if she eats honey, bees will grow in her stomach. This seemed an odd bit of mind control to me. They drank the milk from the cows and ate the vegetables they grew, so what was the rationale in keeping them away from the honey?!

Interspersed throughout some chapters is another first-person narrative from an unknown member of the community who has been locked away. We do later learn who she is - however, again, this seems to be a storyline that fizzles out in a way. It is concluded, but I feel that it could have been dealt with without the introduction of another narrative voice. Indeed, the fact one was brought in, I think more could have been done with that character. She had clearly been locked away for years (raising the question as to how nobody else knew) but only then decided to stop eating and give up. Why? It would have been far more interesting for this character to have been brought into Pearl's story in a more direct manner. I can think of any number of storylines involving this character that could have been more interesting. It ended up just feeling like a bit of filler.

This failure of the writer to take a character/plot development and follow it through also arises in the form of Simon - a boy from the outside who Kate and Pearl meet when they go to the market to sell vegetables. We learn that Kate is plotting to run away with him - and as the other teens (Jack and Pearl) become more disillusioned with life at Seed, they agree to go with Kate. But the storyline with Simon just peters out. It's not really good from to introduce a character then discard them. It would have been far more exciting to see Simon trapped at Seed with them or helping them to effect an escape. Instead, he's never mentioned again.

The next disappointment was the fact that the author seemed to shy away from really hitting home the horror and reality of the girls becoming companions to the senior men at Seed. There were lots of allusions to the fact that Kate was not only being forced to sleep with Papa S but also one of the Kindred men. When Pearl's time comes to be with Papa S, she runs away - and he sort of lets her get away with it. So while they're punished for thinking 'bad' thoughts, we're to believe he'd let that go. Sorry, it wouldn't happen. I think by making this aspect much darker, it would have added that edge of terror and reality that was missing.

The end then seemed to fall into cult cliche. I won't say what it was - but, again, I felt that a different twist would have been more satisfying with the reader. And one of my final quibbles was the fact that cloistered Pearl (who hadn't even known what a tape recorder was) was able to identify a gun immediately and know what it was. Unbelievable.

This does, I'll admit, seem like a long list of what I found wrong with the book - but I feel that it was a number of small issues which, put together, made the book less realistic than it might have been. It's always disappointing to enjoy the way something's written, see the potential of a book but to be left feeling short changed. That said, I would read another book by this author - and it would be interesting to read a follow-up to this, finding out what happens to Pearl and the rest of the kids.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost its way a bit as the novel went on, 7 May 2015
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This review is from: Normal (Kindle Edition)
Spoiler alert ... Some of this review contains details of plot. So if you don't want to know anything, stop reading now!

Things start out strongly in Normal - we see a serial killer who has just stalked and murdered a girl. Then another girl (Erica, the first victim's friend) gets taken and thrown into a cage in the killer's basement. So far so interesting. However, this novel ultimately fails to deliver. It's neither gory nor thrilling enough to fall firmly into the nail-biting serial killer camp (with the likes of Mo Hayder, James Patterson, Michael Marshall etc) but nor does it present a truly intriguing or unique case-study into the mind of the protagonist. When I read the blurb for Normal, I thought it was going to be a lot more serious - playing more on the juxtaposition of the killer's secret life, set against his day-to-day life. However, we never see this character go to work, mix with friends (he has none) or do the 'normal' things that could make a novel like this quite chilling and interesting. In fact, the lack of an apparent job is a bit of a plot failure - as it's never explained how he affords a large house, a custom-built basement, cars etc. And then there's Erica ... thrown into the basement at the start, but for what purpose? It's never entirely clear what the narrator's motives are - surely not sexual (because he never abuses Erica). But if he is a killer simply driven to torture or driven to kill, this isn't shown very well either. It's highly unlikely that he'd lock somebody up and not do anything further. To this end, the book lacks credibility and believability - and it gets sillier as it goes on, descending into farce. It almost doesn't know what it wants to be - a comedy or a 'thriller'. But there's not enough tension for a thriller and not enough slapstick or amusing antics for it to be a truly humorous book either.

As for the ending, I'm not quite sure I got it. It featured one of the lesser-mentioned characters who'd appeared a long while back in the book (I had to use my Kindle 'search' function to double check who it was) - and it wasn't entirely clear how that character came to be in the situation they were in. It just all sort of ended on a very average, disappointing note.

The only reason I've given this novel 3 stars is because it is well written. There were some very amusing turns of phrase used and it was mainly readable (although some bits seemed a little garbled and confused). I'd read other novels by this author in future - I just think a bit more could have been done to make Normal fantastic, as opposed to okay.

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