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The Devil's Feather
The Devil's Feather
by Minette Walters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 11 May 2014
This review is from: The Devil's Feather (Paperback)
I'm slightly embarrassed to say I bought this in a charity shop, hence no verified purchase.

I enjoy Minette Walters’ novels because they are well plotted, both from a narrative and a psychological viewpoint, her characters make sense, even though I sometimes find the actual writing somewhat cold and have trouble identifying with the protagonists, which means I feel slightly detached from the action. Her stories are logical, plausible and above all, intelligent. The Devil’s Feather is no exception, and I think it is the best I have read so far. (I have not yet read all of hers, so can’t really judge.) The characters seemed very real, the writing as always was excellent, and there was no irritating overt political intrusion, something which has annoyed me in some of her novels. It was quite slow paced for a thriller, or perhaps it's better described as having a long fuse, but this did not detract from my enjoyment one jot.

I know from reviews of my own work how sensitive some readers can be to crude language, so I will warn potential readers that there are several used of the F word and the C word, but every single use is not gratuitous and essential to the plot. Personally I have no problem with it, indeed, think it utterly appropriate in a novel of this ilk, but if you as a potential reader are easily offended by such words, this may taint your enjoyment.

Anyone who enjoys a well-written and realistic psychological crime novel will enjoy this one.


Grow your own food
Grow your own food
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Curate's Egg, 2 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This promises much but mostly fails to deliver more than waffle. Parts of it are good, but the overall quality is brought down by parts which are lackluster or downright confusing.

For example, regarding rootstocks, the chapter on fruit trees says, "With apples, the stock ranges from M.27 for a small tree up to a couple of metres high, to the vigorous MM.111 that grows to 5m plus." - A novice might, from reading this, expect that the higher the number, the larger the tree, something which is just not true. It wouldn't be so bad if the author went on to describe each of the common rootstocks; M9; M27; M25; M26; MM106 and MM111 and inform the reader which is best for certain conditions. This is what I mean by waffle and no substance. Although it does mention self-incompatibility, it doesn't go into enough detail.

The part about soil answers a "question" about mushroom compost but fails to mention that it is alkaline and so unsuitable for lime-haters or where the soil is already alkaline.

In the Organic Gardening chapter it says, "And by the way, John Innes is a type of compost based on loam rather than a brand, and was developed by Mr Innes in the late nineteenth century. So now you know." Quite apart from being stylistically irritating, the second half of this statement is incorrect. John Innes was a merchant and philanthropist who bequeathed money to set up The John Innes Institute. It was this institute which developed the range of John Innes compost recipes for different purposes. If an author is going to discuss John Innes composts, s/he should at least discuss the various types and what they are used for. The use of peat is also treated in rather a cavalier fashion. If someone is relying on a crop each year they simply haven't time to experiment from year to year to find which brand suits their needs, because some low-peat composts are so poor as to result in utter crop failure. In my experience John Innes composts are at least reliable, though some brands are better than others. There was no real discussion about the use of peat substitutes, no mention of sequestration of nutrients by these substitutes, just a mention of blood boiling about the continued use of peat. This was of no help to the would-be organic gardening novice wanting to reduce their reliance on peat.

It would be nice to have enough land to leave part of my rotation fallow.

There are a number of quotes from famous people, such as Bob Flowerdew and Monty Don. I do hope permission was sought before using any copyright material, and appropriate fees paid. So many people nowadays seem to think that anything published can be repeated without permission. I would be outraged if I discovered my words had been quoted without my permission, especially in a book of this quality.

The style of some of this book left me wondering if it was written by an American or for the US market with the use of the word "yard" rather than "garden". It grated on me, though I don't understand why because I enjoy reading some US homesteading publications. Perhaps I just felt confused and disorientated.

The Henry Doubleday Research Association is now called "Garden Organic". I would expect an expert gardening author to know that. Later on, in a different chapter, Garden Organic and the Heritage Seed Library are mentioned. The editor has not done his or her job properly, then. These inconsistencies should be ironed out.

I was not impressed by the chapter on preserves. I would not bottle fruit that way, I boil my jam to reach setting point, jellies are not made by sieving the pulp but by straining through a bag. You can sieve fruit to make pip-free jam, indeed I do this.

I quite enjoyed the chapter on smallholding, as far as it went, but it didn't go nearly far enough. There was nothing about the legal pitfalls and legal obligations in keeping stock. It mentioned about having well water regularly checked, but there is no information about how to get this done.

There are very few references in this book. If it's aimed as a self-help book I would expect references such as The National Allotment Society, Garden Organic, DEFRA, and so on.

There are no illustrations.

As an overview, this book is tolerable. It's mostly well written and does give some food for thought. But it is in no way a "how to" type guide. I would not recommend it because there are far better books available.


25 Cool Things to Do with Wine Bottles
25 Cool Things to Do with Wine Bottles
Price: £0.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me, sorry, 2 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The only reason I got this book was for instructions about cutting down glass bottles. This book just refers us elsewhere. I wasn't inspired by any of the projects.


Pure, White And Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it
Pure, White And Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it
Price: £3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be read by everyone, 2 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Although dated this book should be read by anyone who wants to know how damaging sugar is to our health, and how devious industry can be in protecting its profits.


The Forager Handbook
The Forager Handbook
by Miles Irving
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

4.0 out of 5 stars I'm glad I got this, 2 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Forager Handbook (Hardcover)
I bought this book because it's mentioned as a reference in Alys Fowler's foraging book. Its strength is that it covers plants which are toxic yet might be confused with the edible plants. Its weakness is the monochrome illustrations. It's a weighty tome unsuited to carrying around, and is more use in informing the forager before we leave home with a good identification guide, or for use in confirming a plant is edible before we eat it. Some of it seems to be rather "extreme foraging" in that if a plant is so bitter it needs its flavour tempering with lots of fats, I'm not convinced I'm dedicated enough to try it. But that's personal taste. As a reference book this one is very good and one I will refer to often.


Coconut Oil and Flour Recipes : Healthy and Natural Cooking Using Coconut (Cook the Coconut)
Coconut Oil and Flour Recipes : Healthy and Natural Cooking Using Coconut (Cook the Coconut)
Price: £0.77

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good number of recipes, 2 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I downloaded this book to get some ideas about using coconut products. I haven't actually tried any of the recipes yet, but enjoyed browsing through the book. The use of English is quite quaint and this added to the charm because it felt like friend with an accent telling me how she makes a certain dish, rather than just another reiteration of a standard recipe. This characteristic of the book might annoy some people.

I had a quick look at some of the other coconut books available, and this one seems to be good value because it's quite long, but size isn't everything, the quality of the content matters. I do get fed up when I access the "look inside" only to find the entire sample is taken up with large, occasionally repeated generic photographs, a table of contents and affidavits of dubious provenance. Thankfully this book is free of such dross, and the sample takes us into the Table of Contents and some of the recipes, so a potential purchaser can see more than promises.

There were no illustrations. I suspect there were a couple of typos in one or two of the recipes which might mean too much oil would be used, but overall this wasn't a problem. Coconut oil is pricey in this country so some recipes will be expensive to cook.

This review may be a bit pre-emptive because I haven't tried any recipes, but I'm getting very bad at intending to write reviews and never getting round to it, so thought I'd do this one while I remembered.


Food, and How to Make a Healthy Meal of it
Food, and How to Make a Healthy Meal of it
Price: £3.08

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, easy to read treatise on what we should be eating and when, 23 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
We all know we should eat healthily, but what exactly is healthy eating? We are bombarded with shock-horror headlines in the media, which has often extrapolated wildly from the conclusions of a research group’s paper, and if a food manufacturer can use a health claim to promote their product, they will, even if the claim has dubious merit. Sometimes the conclusions of research are later discovered to be plain wrong, but that doesn’t shift the received wisdom from its entrenched position. Indeed, some scientists are guilty of remaining entrenched in their conclusions. This confusion is likely to be compounded by the Internet, where rumours abound and wild health claims or horror stories go viral without the brake of peer review and proper scientific reasoning. So where does this leave the layman who just wishes to make the best of their diet? Confused, that’s where, and it’s hardly surprising.

Maria Cross’s very well written, easy to read discussion of what to eat and when will go a long way to cutting through the hype and misinformation, allowing us to make more informed food choices. When reading this I found myself agreeing with so much of what Maria Cross is saying, including points I’d forgotten I knew, and she confirmed suspicions I hold about things like bottled water and farmed fish. I also learned new facts – for example, I’m horrified about the acrylamide on bread crusts.

I think everyone should read this book. I don’t think people will be able to make all the changes they might like to, just from the point of view of convenience, but even if they just make a couple of changes to their diet and the way they eat, they will benefit.


Tender: Volume II, A cook's guide to the fruit garden
Tender: Volume II, A cook's guide to the fruit garden
by Nigel Slater
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yummy, 6 Feb 2014
“Tender” Volumes 1 & 2 by Nigel Slater
I received these sister books for Charismas this year and spent some pleasant hours reading through both of them. Because the general comments I have to make pertain to both volumes I will post this review twice, under each volume.

“Tender” deals with the use of vegetables and fruit in the kitchen, some of which Nigel has grown in his own garden. They’re not really gardening books, though Nigel discusses his garden, but most definitely are cookery books with some very luscious recipes to inspire one to both grow food, and to use that food in the kitchen. They are “coffee table books” rather than “kitchen table books” in that they inspire and engage enthusiasm rather than being straight “How To” recipe books. They also seem too “posh” to risk making mucky in the kitchen. They are the sorts of books which provoke garden-longings and culinary adventures where the cook will find his or her own way based on the inspiration between the pages. I rarely follow recipes slavishly, being somewhat maverick in the kitchen, so this sort of approach suits my psyche. I will try some of the recipes, but I will probably adjust them to suit the produce I have available at the time. The recipes in these books strike me as lending themselves to this sort of cavalier treatment.

Volume 1 deals with a short introduction to Nigel Slater’s garden and an A to Z of vegetables, Volume 2 deals with an introduction to the fruit in his garden, and then an A to Z of fruit. Both books are weighty two inch thick tomes and appear to cover the majority of fruit and vegetables which can be grown in the UK climate and which have been either home grown, purchased from farm shops, foraged, or from friends. Every entry seems to be based on Nigel’s own wisdom and this, to me, is important in such a book. I want that personal experience, not some reiterated conglomeration of information gleaned from the work of others or “common knowledge”.

Each A to Z entry has an introduction to the fruit or the vegetable, some remarks about their garden-worthiness, then some remarks about their use in the kitchen, and recipes.

The photographs leave me in two minds. Not all the recipes are illustrated, but those which are, are accompanied by well composed and luscious photographs. Those images alone are enough to inspire and make me want to cook the dishes. Something as simple as a photograph of elderflower fritters looks yummy. But some of the photographs seem to be self-indulgent “mood” photographs. And this mood seems gloomy, earthy, almost furtive and frankly under-exposed. Now I ought to like this, tending towards the same myself, disliking over-brightened garish photos, but I’m not sure that I do. For example, p 24 Vol 1, there is a photo of pots of courgette plans, and that seems underexposed, lacking in sunshine and uninspiring. P 30, in the asparagus section, there is a photo of backlit sweet peas. The flowers are the main focus of this photograph, the rest of it fading to dark colours, so the photo is really “about” the sweet peas, an arty-f**ty style of photograph which bears no relation to the topic in hand. Sometimes the depth of field annoys me, because there are out-of-focus blurs to the front pulling my eye away from the subject, for example, a courgette flower p 266. I gather from the text that Nigel Slater is an earthy-mood sort of man, and so these photos do convey that emotion quite well, but some of the photos just didn’t inspire me. But that’s just personal taste, not a matter of quality.

Another bugbear I have with the photos is that there is a thumbnail at the start of each subject – a great idea, except that the thumbnail often bears no relation to the subject. For example, the thumbnail for Peppers is nasturtium flowers. The colour tones quite well with the facing rather good full page photo of peppers in varying degrees of ripeness, but what’s wrong with having a photo of peppers growing on the plant itself as a thumbnail? Another example is a viola thumbnail for spinach, yet for Jerusalem artichoke, the thumbnail is the Jerusalem artichoke flower, and for onions, there’s an onion flower. There’s a rose thumbnail for plums and for redcurrants, yet quince blossom for quince flowers. It seems to lack logic, could be misleading, and it’s almost as if Mr Slater lacked a suitable photo for some thumbnails and shoved any old photo in instead, so long as it looked good.

Niggles. I found the peculiar font for “ct” rather distracting. The other major niggle is the indices. There is an index at the end of each volume, but the one at the end of volume one is scant and confusing. I used it to try to look up artichoke soup, but failed to find it. However, artichoke soup was listed in the Volume 2 (Fruit volume) index, which looks like the main index to me. I feel the main index would have been better divided between each volume appropriately, perhaps losing a couple of the irrelevant mood photos, such as the sweet peas, the dahlia and one or two of the frozen brassica photos, to accommodate them, if pages were short.

None of the niggles were enough to lose a star over, so I give this five stars and I’m delighted to have received both volumes for Xmas.


Tender: Volume I, A cook and his vegetable patch
Tender: Volume I, A cook and his vegetable patch
by Nigel Slater
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lush, 6 Feb 2014
“Tender” Volumes 1 & 2 by Nigel Slater
I received these sister books for Charismas this year and spent some pleasant hours reading through both of them. Because the general comments I have to make pertain to both volumes I will post this review twice, under each volume.

“Tender” deals with the use of vegetables and fruit in the kitchen, some of which Nigel has grown in his own garden. They’re not really gardening books, though Nigel discusses his garden, but most definitely are cookery books with some very luscious recipes to inspire one to both grow food, and to use that food in the kitchen. They are “coffee table books” rather than “kitchen table books” in that they inspire and engage enthusiasm rather than being straight “How To” recipe books. They also seem too “posh” to risk making mucky in the kitchen. They are the sorts of books which provoke garden-longings and culinary adventures where the cook will find his or her own way based on the inspiration between the pages. I rarely follow recipes slavishly, being somewhat maverick in the kitchen, so this sort of approach suits my psyche. I will try some of the recipes, but I will probably adjust them to suit the produce I have available at the time. The recipes in these books strike me as lending themselves to this sort of cavalier treatment.

Volume 1 deals with a short introduction to Nigel Slater’s garden and an A to Z of vegetables, Volume 2 deals with an introduction to the fruit in his garden, and then an A to Z of fruit. Both books are weighty two inch thick tomes and appear to cover the majority of fruit and vegetables which can be grown in the UK climate and which have been either home grown, purchased from farm shops, foraged, or from friends. Every entry seems to be based on Nigel’s own wisdom and this, to me, is important in such a book. I want that personal experience, not some reiterated conglomeration of information gleaned from the work of others or “common knowledge”.

Each A to Z entry has an introduction to the fruit or the vegetable, some remarks about their garden-worthiness, then some remarks about their use in the kitchen, and recipes.

The photographs leave me in two minds. Not all the recipes are illustrated, but those which are, are accompanied by well composed and luscious photographs. Those images alone are enough to inspire and make me want to cook the dishes. Something as simple as a photograph of elderflower fritters looks yummy. But some of the photographs seem to be self-indulgent “mood” photographs. And this mood seems gloomy, earthy, almost furtive and frankly under-exposed. Now I ought to like this, tending towards the same myself, disliking over-brightened garish photos, but I’m not sure that I do. For example, p 24 Vol 1, there is a photo of pots of courgette plans, and that seems underexposed, lacking in sunshine and uninspiring. P 30, in the asparagus section, there is a photo of backlit sweet peas. The flowers are the main focus of this photograph, the rest of it fading to dark colours, so the photo is really “about” the sweet peas, an arty-f**ty style of photograph which bears no relation to the topic in hand. Sometimes the depth of field annoys me, because there are out-of-focus blurs to the front pulling my eye away from the subject, for example, a courgette flower p 266. I gather from the text that Nigel Slater is an earthy-mood sort of man, and so these photos do convey that emotion quite well, but some of the photos just didn’t inspire me. But that’s just personal taste, not a matter of quality.

Another bugbear I have with the photos is that there is a thumbnail at the start of each subject – a great idea, except that the thumbnail often bears no relation to the subject. For example, the thumbnail for Peppers is nasturtium flowers. The colour tones quite well with the facing rather good full page photo of peppers in varying degrees of ripeness, but what’s wrong with having a photo of peppers growing on the plant itself as a thumbnail? Another example is a viola thumbnail for spinach, yet for Jerusalem artichoke, the thumbnail is the Jerusalem artichoke flower, and for onions, there’s an onion flower. There’s a rose thumbnail for plums and for redcurrants, yet quince blossom for quince flowers. It seems to lack logic, could be misleading, and it’s almost as if Mr Slater lacked a suitable photo for some thumbnails and shoved any old photo in instead, so long as it looked good.

Niggles. I found the peculiar font for “ct” rather distracting. The other major niggle is the indices. There is an index at the end of each volume, but the one at the end of volume one is scant and confusing. I used it to try to look up artichoke soup, but failed to find it. However, artichoke soup was listed in the Volume 2 (Fruit volume) index, which looks like the main index to me. I feel the main index would have been better divided between each volume appropriately, perhaps losing a couple of the irrelevant mood photos, such as the sweet peas, the dahlia and one or two of the frozen brassica photos, to accommodate them, if pages were short.

None of the niggles were enough to lose a star over, so I give this five stars and I’m delighted to have received it for Xmas.


Short Stories and How to Write Them
Short Stories and How to Write Them
Price: £1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Useful, 6 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a "must read" book for anyone writing fiction for women's magazines. Kathleen McGurl takes us through the structure and characteristics of the short story for women's magazine, and uses published examples of her own stories to illustrate the particular points she is making. She doesn't overwhelm the reader with too much information at once, instead going over one aspect of short story writing, illustrating it with a pertinent short story, then discussing that story in the light of the point she is making - she shows us how to write womag rather than tells us, and I think this is a great strength of her book.

I liked her stance on "rules", particularly regarding "show & tell", and ironing.

I will refer to it often.


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