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In Search of Solace
In Search of Solace
by Emily Mackie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Did he fall, or did he fly...?, 24 Oct. 2014
This review is from: In Search of Solace (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
`I don't want to know your name. Not your real name. You can be anyone with me. Anyone at all. Just make it up. Names can be so binding, so limiting.'
So. Who are we, really? Do we know? Are we all just a confection of untrustworthy memory, smoke, mirrors and lies? Does anyone really know anyone? Is anyone, anyone? Is there such a thing as an individual, a personality? Or do we all just make it up as we go along?
So who is Jacob Little? Is he a tragic, lost young man in search of life's purpose, who regularly adopts new identities, new obsessions - 17 of them, as the story opens - or is that someone else entirely? Does anyone know who Jacob Little really is or was, ever? Even his own diaries, carried from one life to the next in piles of green notebooks, don't really tell us. 'If it weren't for the existence of others', I wouldn't exist at all', Jacob writes - which is of course true for us all, in the physical sense, the existential, the spiritual, even the quantum. But it has particular relevance to Jacob Little, the man who never was.
There's a firm twist of quantum seasoning here, with a self-made - in the truest, purest sense - protagonist, who fervently believes in his 'Theory of Obsession' and his 'Theory of Others': that none of us has any identity outside that 'gifted to us' by those who observe us; that consciousness is just an illusion, a mutation, 'the parasite self feeding off the rest of him' but not real. A clever trick of the mind'. And the 'self', the so-called personality, a mere construct of invented peculiarities that mark us out from the herd.
We know all this because the narrator tells us. But who is the narrator, the omniscient voice, the ghost? Is it Jacob - the real Jacob? Or maybe his mother? Maybe nobody at all. We are never told; there are no absolutes in this tale of twisted identity and time.

This is, to say the least, an unusual novel. I was irritated at the start, impatient with the bizarre narration, the experimental style. But the annoying narrative voice evaporates in subsequent chapters, and the style settles to focus on Jacob and the people around him; those who think they know him now; those who think they knew him in the past. Jacob exists in the memories of those who thought they knew him, but each individual's memory of Jacob is so distinct in every detail, they might be remembering entirely different men. Jacob says he imagined jumping from the Clifton suspension bridge; Solace says he actually did, but Jacob says he didn't tell her what happened, so how does she know what she thinks she knows? Mr Benson thinks that travelling back in time on a quantum level could be possible. Not in our 'big, clumsy bodies, but elements of our consciousness could, thoughts like sound and light, creating waves in spacetime.' But is any of it true?
These characters - those who knew Jacob; whose observations, encounters, memories, make up what we know of the man who calls himself Jacob - are a fascinating and engaging cast. There's Lizzie/Max, a 9 year old girl who wants to be a boy, a child of firm faith who obsessively reads her Bible. There's Fat Sal, landlady of the pub where Jacob makes his final home. There's Mr Benson, landlord and watchmaker, who believed he could make 'a clock that proved time doesn't exist at all. A quantum clock that held everything past, present and future in one dimensionless point'; who knew Jacob and his mother and befriended Jacob as a boy; his surrogate son. There's Lucy - later Dr Lucy - daughter of two lesbian mothers, who uses her obsession with Jacob to build a new life, a successful career. 'Without Jacob, would she exist? Certainly not as she is now. So who would she have become? What would her life look like?' There's Solace herself (not her real name, of course), who tells Lucy not to 'believe a word I tell you with regard to Jacob Little. Because together we make a fiction. Solace is his creation. And Jacob is mine'. Or does she; does she say that? Or does Lucy simply want her to, and is there any difference?

This is a tale of dramatic twists, all gently done; there are no explosions, no screaming, no shouting; everything simply happens. It's a deeply complex, twisted tangle of a book. A narrative of short chapters, divided into sections called beginning, middle and end. The end, the key event, takes place on a Good Friday; in a book redolent with Biblical references, this can hardly be insignificant.

I'm aware this is an odd and confusing review; well, it's an odd and confusing book, and hellishly hard to write about. I can tell you, that if you can get past some irritating early chapters; if you have the patience to let the story unfold without pre-empting or imagining you know what is happening, happened or about to happen; if you don't mind an unreliable narrator, narrative and complete uncertainty at all times and in all spaces, then you are in for an extraordinary ride, because this novel - which starts out so mundanely - ends up going nowhere you expect and builds into something truly extraordinary. Intricate and finely wrought, it will surely reward repeat readings.
To paraphrase Jacob's teacher, Mr Forbes: Imagine yourself, alone in space, no sound, no light. Would you still be able to think? Would you still hear the voice in your head? Who is that voice? What is consciousness? Is it the same thing as the soul?
Well, is it?
What do you think?


Cole & Mason 145 mm Brushed Chrome Oxley One Handed Pepper and Salt Mill Set, Set of 2, Silver
Cole & Mason 145 mm Brushed Chrome Oxley One Handed Pepper and Salt Mill Set, Set of 2, Silver
Price: £34.88

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Salt grinders of the world unite!, 21 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The minute there arrived, I couldn't wait to get them out of the box and start using them.They're as good as they look - and they look lovely, with a beautiful, brushed aluminium finish, nicely packaged in a Christmas-scarlet box. Solidly built, and not as heavy as some other Cole and Mason salt and pepper pots I own, these would be a better choice for anyone who suffers with arthritic hands. The one-handed mechanism - a black lever you press down to grind - works smoothly and well - a distinct advantage when cooking, when you're making tricky sauces and want to salt and pepper but need to keep on stirring. They have the usual Cole and Mason gadget on the bas to adjust the fineness of the grind - though the salt grinder never gets as truly fine as ready-ground sea salt; there's always a certain coarseness, even on the finest setting. I use a salt grinder precisely for that crunchy coarseness, as, I suspect, do most of we salt-grinders (never shakers!) of the world - not a problem for me, but something to bear in mind before you buy. The pepper grinder is as good as all the other Cole and Mason pepper pots I've used, which is to say, very good indeed.


Cole & Mason 165 mm Dark Wood Morley Crank Pepper Mill, Brown
Cole & Mason 165 mm Dark Wood Morley Crank Pepper Mill, Brown
Price: £24.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and handsome too., 21 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A fine, handsome, solid - it's satisfyingly heavy; you could kill with this thing! - beautiful piece of kitchen kit. It's steel grinders - built to last - mill your pepper calmly, without fuss; a small widget on the base of the unit easily adjusts the grind from coarse - practically cracked pepper in size - to a true fine grind. It is just such a pleasure to use.The handle mechanism makes it fun to use. The build-quality is exceptional. With it's beechwood and chrome finish, it just looks, feels, IS a quality item. I can't praise it enough; I love it.


Mr Mac and Me
Mr Mac and Me
by Esther Freud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slowly unfolding tale of loss and loneliness, 21 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Mr Mac and Me (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's 1914, and twelve year old Thomas Maggs, lame since birth, lives with his parents in The Blue Anchor, an old inn in Walberswick, on the Suffolk coast. Tom's life is a lonely one: his father is a drunk, his mother grieves for her lost babies, his sisters are older - Mary is away in service and Ann thinks mostly of boys and marriage. Tom's days are dominated by his rambles through the countryside, and to the sea he adores - Tom dreams of a life at sea, a dangerous calling his parents seem determined to keep him from. There's little excitement in Tom's life, until the arrival of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret MacDonald; exotic flowers in tiny, parochial Walberswick.
Charles Rennie is as lonely as Tom: his wife is frequently away in Glasgow, dealing with family troubles and Charles fits uneasily into village life as the mistrusted 'foreigner' with his binoculars, always watching out to sea - a risky pursuit in wartime, when all the eastern coast is on alert for German spies and even small, sleepy fishing villages are under threat of invasion and attacked by Zeppelins. Tom and Mackintosh strike up a strange, shy, stilted friendship based on art and nature: Mac paints his flowers, Tom obsessively sketches boats and dreams of the sea. The main character in this novel is not Tom, or Mackintosh, or any of the human players, but the Suffolk countryside itself - the woods and meadows; the beach and the sea; the rolling waves of weather that bathe and batter the land; the murmurating starlings, which Tom names and takes for the spirits of his dead brothers; the flowers that Mackintosh paints and which Tom's mother places on the graves of her lost sons - which is eulogised above all else, the constant, unchanging background on which all else is played.
Despite the tension and tragedy, the constant threats from the not-so distant war, Mr Mac and Me is a very gentle book. Pain and tragedy abound in every life, but the characters are stoical; they accept what life brings, pick themselves up and get on with it - or not. Life is sometimes too tragic for some; those who never recover from life's blows. There are no dramatic highs and lows. Joys come, tragedy strikes: all is woven into the tapestry of a life that has has barely changed in a thousand years.
The characters are well drawn individuals; Mackintosh and Margaret stand out, of course; the discordant notes in this unchanging world. The rest are background, for the most part; highlights in a colour-washed, watercolour scene; they play on a low volume, but all are nicely done. Keep an eye on Tom's father; I thought I had his number, a bit of a cliché, I thought, but I was wrong. Tom's father was the only one who surprised me. I feel I need to re-read the novel now, watch out for the clues.
The ending bothered me badly. The pace suddenly changes and we whisk through the years and Tom's father's fears come to pass despite it all. But there was nothing of letters home, of his poor mother, left grieving and - without spoiling, it's hard to say what upset me, but it did, quite a lot. I thought it a poor ending to such a marvellously slow unfolding of a tale.


The Spring of Kasper Meier
The Spring of Kasper Meier
by Ben Fergusson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read this year, 20 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Berlin, 1946: a devastated city crawling with half-starved inhabitants, struggling to live on meagre rations and the black market; where everyone is trying to achieve normality amidst total destruction, total brutality. Everyone has needs and most have something to sell. The young and attractive have their bodies, of course. Others barter what little they have; mostly grave goods - a watch, a ring, a pair of shoes, a tin of ham, some old boot polish. A lucky few have the most valuable commodity of all: information.

When we first meet him, Kasper Meier seems a ruthless black market dealer with all manner of desirable commodities squirrelled away in his one-room home. Who knows how he came by them, he never tells; in Kasper's world, information is too valuable to give away for free. Unfortunately for Kasper, he knows things that are very valuable to other black marketeers - and a dangerous, blackmailable past that catches up with him in the form of Frau Beckmann and her poisonous children; black market dealers far more ruthless than Kasper, and much more dangerous. For Kasper is not at all the cold, hard, pitiless creature he plays for his trader audience; that's just a mask he puts on, armour against the everyday terrors of life in occupied, hungry, desperate Berlin. Inside, he is a sentimental, decent soul; kinder than he wants to believe, better than he thinks; tormented with guilt about his actions, regrets about his past. Kasper is quietly extraordinary: a brave and noble soul who has somehow held on to his humanity through two wars, disability, the Nazis, the death of his wife and child and the murder of his one true love.

On the surface, The Spring of Kasper Meier is a clever, well-schemed thriller about blackmail, murder and revenge, with a clever twist. Underneath the suspenseful veneer is the deeply touching story of a soft-hearted, half-broken man who wants to do good: care for his elderly father, defend old friends who escaped, or survived, the death camps; protect a vulnerable, damaged young girl from Frau Beckmann - and herself. A story of relationships: war-damaged friendships; family bonds mutilated by politics, war and the fight to survive; the grief of survivors who felt they could have done more to save their lost loved ones. Love lies over all, like the dust that coats the women who work the rubble: tainted love bought by lonely soldiers from desperate German girls; unwanted love; unrequited love; lost love; gay love - a dangerous pursuit in Nazi Germany, and still illegal under the Occupation.

This is a gripping, twisting thriller, an atmospheric mystery built from wonderfully real characters and about the best crafted, living, breathing world I've read in a historical novel. A tender, beautiful story: poignant, heart-warming, heartbreaking. I cried more than once, and I'm a hard-hearted reader; it takes a lot for a book to do that to me.


Philips E27 6 Watt LED Edison Screw, Warm White
Philips E27 6 Watt LED Edison Screw, Warm White
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ditch your energy saving bulbs: go LED, 19 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have been a convert to LED light for some time now: I have LEDs all around the house now, and have long-since ditched (i.e. responsibly re-cycled - because those things are nasty) the dim, polluting, poisonous, energy-saving jobbies we were all encouraged to buy at one time. LEDs use even less energy than the old mercury-filled incandescents; they give a good bright light and their light is immediate (no waiting half an hour for your bulb to 'warm up' to a ghastly dimness little better than gaslight). They run cool, too, so no scorched lampshades or burnt fingers either; another advantage to their energy saving virtue and charm. My main problem up to now has been finding an LED that fits into my regular old lamps without a rickety, dodgy-feeling adaptor. But here's one that does, and mimicking an old light bulb to boot! I could practically warm my hands on the soft, yellowy, 40 watt glow of nostalgia this bulb gave me even before I fitted it in the lamp. And it does have a unique quality of light for an LED; softer, whiter, less blue/yellow/pink than the LEDs I currently use. It's a nice light, a warm light. It's purported to last up to 20,000 hours (bearing in mind that the caveat 'up to' includes all numbers including zero) - but this is bulb is made by Philips; I like Philips; I trust Philips; I'm quite prepared to believe them when they say it will last a good long time. All they have to do now is make an LED bulb with a bayonet fitting and I'll be the happiest camper who ever pitched a tent.


ANF Canine Lamb & Rice Adult, 3kg
ANF Canine Lamb & Rice Adult, 3kg
Price: £5.12

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good quality and apparently delicious, 19 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
From the Czech republic. A complete food for active adult dogs with potential stomach or allergic problems - no corn or wheat, though please be aware it does contain egg. Our spaniel Mavis has a skin condition caused by certain allergies so we were keen to try this hypo-allergenic formula. It has an impressive formulation, with 30% lamb meat content, brown rice the principle cereal component (36%) also chicken, and an extensive list of vitamins and minerals dogs need for good health. These are nice sized pieces with a clean, fresh smell which Mavis enjoyed, sniffing the air appreciatively when the pack was opened. Needless to say, she woofed it down and asked for more. I've also been using this kibble as a biscuit treat when we're out and about and she's gobbled them down with apparent relish. I can't really attest to how tasty it is, not having tried it myself but Mavis seems to find it delicious. She likes it; she seems to be thriving on it; it's good quality stuff.


Rooms
Rooms
by Lauren Oliver
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Gothic-lite ghost story, beautifully written, 13 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Rooms (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A haunted house. A ghost story told in seven voices: three of them dead, four still alive.

Richard Walker has recently died. His estranged family gather at what was once their home, to organise a funeral and hear his will read. There's Caroline, the mother, Richard's ex-wife, who still secretly loves her husband and has spent the years since their divorce, salving her grief with epic quantities of Vodka. Her twenty-eight year old daughter Minna is almost as damaged: a single mother to six year old Amy, she deadens her misery and disappointment with prescription pills and endless sex; a seamless string of zipless encounters. Minna's sixteen year old brother Trenton is but barely recovered from a near-fatal car crash. Trenton is a shy and terrified psychological mess who cannot help but wonder if he'd be happier if he hadn't survived the accident that came so close to killing him.
Three ghosts also live in the Walker house; squabbling and fighting, no love lost between them. There's Alice, her life marred by her abusive husband, married lover, dead baby. And Sandra, another alcoholic; her short life a car crash from miserable beginning to violent end with a bullet in the head and her brains - mythically: everyone in town has a version of the story - spattered across the walls. And now a new ghost has joined their ranks; too new, too traumatised to know who she was and why she's here. And now the police are out looking for a missing girl...

Rooms is not really a ghost story: the ghosts don't scare, they're not malevolent and only one of the family can sense them at all. This story is more about the living than the dead: about failure and sadness and regret. Memories are the real ghosts haunting this family. There's no real horror; it's a fast and easy read. Gothic-lite.

And four stars, not five. I can't quite bring myself to give it five and trying to put my finger on why. I enjoyed Rooms hugely; the writing is beyond good, but there's something not quite right with the way the story flows. Seven voices is a lot to juggle; Lauren Oliver comes close to pulling it off, but it doesn't quite work. Each time a new character steps forward to tell the tale, the story stops; you need to take a breath, fit yourself into a new skin. Sometimes the change of gear works really well, but often it does not. It's not a make or break point, and for the most part, this novel is really good. The characters feel real, the story is fascinating, but the writing is the best of it, the writing is sublime -

...The house falls into quiet. It is ours again, mine and Sandra's. Its corners are elbows, its stairways our skeleton pieces, splinters of bone and spine.
In the quietness, we drift. We reclaim the spaces that Richard colonized. We must regrow into ourselves - clumsily, the way that a body, after a long illness, still moves in fits and shivers.
We expand into all five bedrooms. We hover in the light coming through the windows, with the dust; we spin dizzily in the silence. We slide across empty dining room chairs, skate across the well-polished table, rub ourselves against the oriental carpets, curl p in the impressions of old footprints..
It is both a relief and a loss to have our body returned to us, intact. We have, once again, successfully expelled the Other.
We are free. We are alone...

- That's just page 4 and it just gets better and better. The writing is superb throughout, and the story is riveting too.


Ultrasport UmovE HD 60 Sport and Action Camera - Silver, READY-Edition
Ultrasport UmovE HD 60 Sport and Action Camera - Silver, READY-Edition
Price: £89.15

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well priced, 13 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The market for heavy duty, hi-def, action cameras seems to be very much on the up. The market leader is Go Pro with such cameras as the Garmin Virb Elite HD Action Camera with GPS and Wi-Fi - White/Black (16MP) 1.4 inch LCD or more recently the Garmin Virb Elite HD Action Camera with GPS and Wi-Fi - White/Black (16MP) 1.4 inch LCD from Garmin. So it was interesting indeed to be given a look at the latest action camera to enter the market. The picture quality for both video and still is excellent but higher quality video does impact on battery life and I suspect for most users a lower resolution may be better/preferred. The lens has an extreme wide angle of view, essential for extreme sports use, and it does have a marked rectilinear distortion as a result.

There's a wide range of accessories are supplied, as well as a 16gb SD memory card. It comes with printed documentation but this is sparse, confusing and hard to follow, but with a little time, patience and the internet I expect even I, with my absurdity low (dark-age low), technical abilities, will -eventually - get it all worked out.

The camera and all its accessories come in a surprisingly compact box and once taken from it the contents are impossible to get back in. This is a good sports camera with a few minor drawbacks and since it seems significantly less costly than the more prestigious rivals why not give it a go.


Café Kiss Chocolate Flavoured Coffee Syrup 250ml (Pack of 3)
Café Kiss Chocolate Flavoured Coffee Syrup 250ml (Pack of 3)
Price: £7.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Yum!, 11 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Good chocolatey syrup which has a variety of potential uses, but I mainly use in coffee. Not as thick and rich as some I've tried, and definitely for the sweeter tooth, but very nice indeed and at a very good price. Delivery was speedy too.


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