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Helen Hancox "Auntie Helen" (Essex, England)

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Tefal BR306845 Quick Cup Deluxe Black
Tefal BR306845 Quick Cup Deluxe Black

4.0 out of 5 stars Really useful - but not for tea, 9 April 2011
I drink loads of tea. Probably 8-10 cups per day, and as I work from home I'm continually boiling the kettle.

I saw this kettle (if that's how it's described) advertised on The Gadget Show and thought it looked brill. The idea that you just heat the water going into your mug, rather than the entire reservoir, was an excellent one. It was pricey but I thought it worth it - and of course it's a chance to do your bit for the environment and for lower electricity bills.

First thing to say is that it's a really good gadget. It seems well built, it fits a fair amount of water in its reservoir, it starts producing hot water within a couple of seconds and you can set it to supply a particular amount of water (for your favourite mug's size!). It also produces filtered water at the ambient temperature - which was great in winter when the water from the taps was too cold.

BUT there is a big `but' with this kettle. I don't use it for tea. Why? Well, it doesn't produce absolutely boiling water, merely very very hot. I don't drink coffee but apparently it's great for this. However, the tea made using this gadget's water was horrible - it just didn't taste right. So I'm back to a normal kettle (although I've bought a really small one) for my tea. The Quick Cup Deluxe sits next to the hob where I can use it for pre-heated water for cooking - soups, vegetable water, gravy etc, it's very useful for that.

If you're a coffee drinker then this is a great gadget. If you're a tea drinker then you need to think a bit more about how else you'd use it before spending your money.

It Happened One Season
It Happened One Season
by Candice Hern
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 6.26

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable anthology, 9 April 2011
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This book is the result of a competition whereby fans of the four authors (Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro and Candice Hern) were encouraged to submit ideas for a storyline which each author would use for a short story. The winning storyline was: the hero, a younger brother of a titled lord, had a career in the army but has lived as a recluse since returning from the war with France. The heroine is shy or unattractive and, after many Seasons, has never had a suitor. The hero's brother has only daughters and asks his brother to marry to try to ensure the succession."

This plot summary is developed by all four authors into different stories, all ending happily of course.

Stephanie Laurens' "The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor" used the familiar theme of a `fake engagement' to divert attention from a potentially scandalous scene. Mary Balogh's "Only Love" felt rather familiar - with elements of her books `Irresistible' and `More than a Mistress' woven together in a story of a widow receiving a second chance at love (although apparently doing her utmost to scupper the opportunity!). Jacquie D'Alessandro's `Hope Springs Eternal' has a young lady whose rather racy artwork has caused her to be cut by polite society finding love with her deceased brother's commanding officer - a man with secrets. Candice Hern's story, `Fate strikes a bargain', featured a disabled young lady who hasn't ever found a suitor but who may be just the thing for a retired soldier suffering mental traumas from Waterloo.

All four stories were enjoyable but I particularly liked Candice Hern's story. Her heroine, the disabled Philippa Reynolds, was extremely well written and the way in which she deals with her disability was impressive. Perhaps the story glossed over some of the hero's mental problems - he says he can be incredibly ratty and grumpy, but we don't really see that - but I felt this story rounded off the book very well. As usual with modern Regencies there are some errors of dialogue but nothing too appalling for this picky reader. This is a book worth picking up for light and enjoyable reads.

Hell Island (The Scarecrow Series)
Hell Island (The Scarecrow Series)
by Matthew Reilly
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short and not-so-sweet, 6 April 2011
This is a very short (120 page) action story which was originally written as a free giveaway in Australia as part of a book initiative. It is pretty much non-stop activity as a group of marines land on an aircraft carrier docked at a secret island - and discover they are battling for their lives against unusual opponents.

In such a short book there's little time to develop characters or complex plots. However it should be possible to suck the reader into the story, particularly one so fast-paced. Unfortunately, for this reader at least, the story never really grabbed me, it didn't convince me, and the action sequences felt a bit too unrealistic. It had the feeling of a video game, where people seem able to survive seeming certain death and where they always have the right knowledge and equipment to deal with whatever hazard they face. There is blood and gore and death everywhere, as well as some surprising plot lines where the usual American idea of honour and patriotism are conspicuously absent.

The author also had a very strange tendency to put short phrases in italics which I found a bit odd. I did like the maps, charts, diagrams and drawings of the principal characters scattered throughout the text.

As an introduction to this author's work I suppose this book is good, although it didn't inspire me to read any of his full-length novels. However as a book to encourage people to read who are perhaps put off by longer stories and who like this kind of writing I think it's a great option.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011

High-Quality Protective Case for Apple iPad with Integrated Silicone Bluetooth Keyboard (black)
High-Quality Protective Case for Apple iPad with Integrated Silicone Bluetooth Keyboard (black)

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent case and keyboard for iPad, 3 April 2011
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I love my iPad and use it all the time. Generally I find its on-screen keyboard fine for typing short emails and stuff like that, so didn't feel the need for a keyboard.

Then I needed to take minutes of a meeting away from my home office. I realised I wouldn't be able to type fast and accurately enough on the iPad so searched under my desk until I found a functioning laptop and took it to the meeting. The thing was enormous and weighed a ton. Being a PC it took ten minutes to boot up, was noisy and ran hot, my thumb kept interfering with the trackpad when typing the minutes, and overall the whole laptop experience was a pain.

When I got home I resolved to use my iPad next time and that I'd buy a bluetooth keyboard.

Do you know how much those things are? The Apple keyboard, although a thing of beauty, seemed a bit too expensive so I did a bit more searching and came across various slightly-smaller-than-normal-size keyboards. But would they be any good for me, a touch-typist? Then I stumbled upon this keyboard-in-a-case and its bargain price, less than half that of an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, was the decisive point.

So I ordered it, it arrived the next day (thanks, Amazon Prime!) and I set to work. I tried to use it without using the short instruction sheet - and failed. The instruction sheet, which I then turned to, pointed out that what I thought was just a bit of writing on the gadget was a button. Once I had obeyed the instructions and paired the two devices, off I went.

The keyboard is a little smaller than a normal keyboard and I make a few more mistakes than I would otherwise do, but this is a small price to pay for the convenience of having this handy gadget. The case is barely wider than the other case I had and the whole package is still smaller-even than the laptop (without its huge case, power cables, mouse, wireless card and other gubbins). It works best on a desk - the ipad doesn't balance brilliantly on one's knees in the case - but overall it does exactly what I wanted it to, and for very little money. And, hurrah, there are cursor keys which mean you can edit previously-typed text easily - the one area on the iPad that really frustrates me with its inbuilt keyboard.

I recommend this case.

Price: 10.63

5.0 out of 5 stars Great music, 3 April 2011
This review is from: Go (Audio CD)
I love Sigur Rós, finding their music (particularly Takk) excellent music to work to. When I heard that the lead singer of Sigur Rós had brought out a solo album I thought I'd give it a go.

I'm glad I did. Although I don't like the first two seconds of the CD (the track `Go Do'), after the annoying first few notes it turns into an excellent, bouncy, cheerful song. I like the way I can't really understand what Jónsi's singing, even if it is (apparently) in English.

Standout tracks for me are `Tornado' (which I heard before buying the album as background music for some amazing photography of the erupting volcano in Iceland, of all things); `Kolnidur' (an excellent anthemic song); Grow Till Tall (which reminds me of Andvari on Takk by Sigur Rós, a real masterpiece of sound and voice) and Hengilas (somehow this song inspires me to sing along although I haven't got the faintest what he's saying).

The usual traits of beautiful falsetto/countertenor singing, interesting musical accompaniment and otherworldly, ethereal overall feel are in this album. I can heartily recommend it to all lovers of Sigur Rós and to those who want music a little out of the ordinary. And it's great to work to! Oh, and if you like Sigur Rós or Jónsi, you should try fellow Icelanders Leaves (their album The Angela Test is wonderful).

Then Came Heaven
Then Came Heaven
by Lavyrle Spencer
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and touching love story, 3 April 2011
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This review is from: Then Came Heaven (Hardcover)
Before I read this story I read the foreword from the author about the setting of the story - a town just like the one she grew up in. This was her last book as she retired from writing after it and it shows an author at the top of her game - I wish she had continued.

This book is full of evocative details of a life entirely unlike that of mine, growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in England. The life described in the American town of Browerville, where the Catholic Church is the centre of village life, seems very alien to me. It was also an interesting read knowing the recent history of the Catholic church and its problems with abusing priests. Yet in this story the church is, by and large, a force for good and the glue that holds the town together.

The book starts with a shattering event - the death of mother-of-two Krystyna. Her widower, Eddie Olczak, has to continue his job as a handyman for St Joseph's Catholic Church whilst caring for his bereaved daughters. The initial chapters are difficult reading as the author skilfully portrays the devastation of this untimely death.

The story focuses then on one of the nuns, a teacher at the school to which Eddie's daughters go. Sister Regina has been in the convent for all her adult life but is beginning to find she doesn't quite feel she fits any longer. With all the emotion over Krystyna's death, and the difficulty of being reconciled to this event, Regina struggles further. As a nun she has to obey Holy Rule and yet, for her, it doesn't always seem right.

Regina and Eddie discover a connection between them that is more than a shared love for Eddie's children. But what can a nun do about an attraction to a man? It is this part of the book which is so wonderfully written, as we follow Regina's thoughts and decisions about her future and whether it involves life with Eddie; indeed, whether this is possible.

This is a real feel-good book with characters about whom we care and who we know are good and kind. I found the whole children's schooling in catechisms and other stuff rather mind-boggling from an English Protestant point of view, but it opened a window into a different world, that when everyone knows everyone else and the community that creates, and I know this is a book which I will read many more times.

Family Blessings
Family Blessings
by Lavyrle Spencer
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, 3 April 2011
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Since I discovered LaVyrle Spencer I've bought almost all her books and loved reading them. Some are books that I think I probably won't read again but Family Blessings is definitely one for my keeper shelf.

Some of Spencer's books are set some time back (such as World War 1 or before) but this is a more modern book, published in the early 1990s and presumably set in contemporary America. She also tackles a subject which might not appear ideal for a romance - that of a relationship of an older woman with a younger man. And yet she writes this story with skill and you, the reader, are utterly convinced.

Lee Reston is a widow in her mid-forties. When her eldest son Greg is killed in a motorcycle accident her world falls apart - she's lost her husband, she lost a baby, now she's lost an adult child. Greg's flatmate Chris Lallek, also a policeman, helps Lee and her family to adjust to life without Greg. But as Lee and Chris console one another, it appears a romance is beginning - but how can a mother of two other children, and a woman nearly twenty years older than Chris, and a woman grieving after yet another bereavement, believe that this can be a real relationship?

LaVyrle Spencer's gift is in making you fully enter into the lives of her characters and believe absolutely in what is taking place. Her characters consider the issues around their relationships but you, like them, find answers in the story. She doesn't shy away from difficult issues in her books and yet you find them an immensely satisfying read. As always her hero and heroine are worthy characters, ones that you want the best for, but that only serves to make the book more enjoyable. I heartily recommend it.

Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages
Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages
by Guy Deutscher
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating study of how our language shapes how we see the world, 3 April 2011
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This isn't the usual sort of book that I review - Language & Linguistics is a bit more upmarket than the usual romance or vampire novels that I tend to read. However, I was browsing in a bookshop in Berlin and among the `Englische Bücher' I saw this book featured. It had an endorsement on the front by Stephen Fry so I thought I'd give it a go.

I'm really glad I did as reading this book opened up a whole new way of looking at things. Guy Deutscher looks in detail at how the language we speak may colour our view of the world - focusing on colour and how we name/see it (from the Greek Iliad and the wine-dark sea to how Russians react to different shades of blue) and how position of objects can be described in different ways depending on how your culture marks out place. There was so much packed into this book that I found myself hooked, reading it until late in the night and going back to read some sections again.

The language examples are from a vast array of languages - modern European ones with which we may be familiar to some of the much less well-known tongues from the antipodes and further. Although the author is an academic this book was fun, engaging, warm and in no way dry and dusty.

I also think it worth mentioning that the quality of the writing was absolutely excellent. Deutscher's English is lovely, with a great turn of phrase. All the more amazing when you discover that his mother tongue is Hebrew and so English is a second language to him. I was really impressed by the way that he could express himself in English whilst explaining how something may seem to him as someone who sees the world through a Hebrew mind.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone with the faintest of interest in language, linguistics, colours and more.

Death's Mistress
Death's Mistress
by Karen Chance
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.96

4.0 out of 5 stars Buckle up for the ride, 3 April 2011
This review is from: Death's Mistress (Paperback)
Phew! This is an exhausting book. It seems to be non-stop action with relentless, page-turning plot lines and an enormous cast of characters of various preternatural types.

I enjoyed reading `Death's Mistress', although there were parts of it that dragged and I have some reservations about the overall book. However, there's much to like about our heroine Dorina Basarab and her action-packed life; she's a dhampir who is a vampire slayer. She also keeps running into vampire Louis-Cesare who seems to be the only one not afraid of her.

There's a romantic subplot between Dory and Louis-Cesare which helped slow down the book occasionally so the reader could catch their breath. And then off it went again on a rush through the world of vampires, fey and more.

Although I enjoyed the book and felt that Karen Chance has a good writing style, I also found that the plot was just a bit too complex and the cast of characters rather too wide for my comfort. I finished the book but wasn't entirely sure how everything had hung together, not helped by putting it down for a month after reading the first hundred pages (which wasn't as exciting and rather lost my interest), and so I'd forgotten about the initial plot threads which then reappeared later.

I think this is the second book in a series which may account for the large number of characters and perhaps I would have found it easier to keep track of them all if I'd read that book. However this was still an exciting read and reached a reasonable resolution although there were hints of another book to come.

Where Karen Chance excels is in the action, the swiftly-changing scenery and the relentless pace, which made it almost seem like one of the modern action films with one explosion after another. Perhaps she's less successful with characterisation and helping her readers to feel they know what's going on. Still worth a read, though.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book Helen Hancox 2011

by Joseph P. Chinnici
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.03

4.0 out of 5 stars Church leadership and the sexual abuse scandals., 26 Mar 2011
This review is from: WHEN VALUES COLLIDE (Paperback)
This was a very well-written and thoughtful book about the sexual abuse scandal in the American catholic church and specifically the Franciscan Friars in California. The specific events that took place and those who perpetrated them are not the main subject of this book; instead it looks at the conflicting requirements of pastoral care for families against legal requirements of no contact between parties, at the need to financially recompense victims against the Franciscans' vow of poverty and lack of ownership of personal property. As such I wasn't sure for whom this book was aimed (church leaders?) but felt, after reading it, perhaps it wasn't that suitable for the average person in the pew.

The first few chapters of the book gave an overview of the historical situation as tales of abuse came to light in particular locations, then more widely. The ways in which the Franciscans dealt with the problems, setting up a board of Inquiry and more, are also explained, as are the issues that hit the local newspapers and how that changed the course of events. The author of the book happened to be Provincial Supervisor at that time and the stresses of the situation on him and other Friars, most of whom were blameless of any abuse, were notable.

Subsequent chapters focus on how the Friars and the wider Catholic church deal with the collision between values and behaviour, the change in public view of the hierarchies and the far-reaching scandal, the legal compensation and settlements, all intertwined with lessons to be learned from the life and writings of St Francis of Assissi and Bonaventure.

This is a useful book on a difficult subject, although I felt it had some omissions. For example, we learn almost nothing about priests and friars who have carried out the abuse and how they were dealt with, which left me with a slightly one-sided feeling about the book (all about the healing of church structures, not about abuse victims or even abusers). The book is more of a theological overview of how the Church's former position as the repository of holiness had to adapt to the new situation of acknowledging evil within. It is well written and sobering.

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