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J.K. Currie (Northern Ireland)
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A Meal in Winter
A Meal in Winter
Price: £4.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality, 5 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Meal in Winter (Kindle Edition)
This is a short novel and simply written, but the subject matter is anything but easy. Three German soldiers, members of a Jew killing death squad in Poland, are sick of the ‘shootings’ as they call them and gain permission to leave camp in search of Jews in hiding. In the depths of the winter cold they capture a young Jewish man and then take refuge in an abandoned hut where they set the stove and begin to prepare a meal. They are joined by a Pole who is clearly a Jew-hater and events develop from there.

Ultimately this is a novel of the humanity which is at the core of man; as the hut heats up so do the men’s emotions thaw and they begin to ask each other uncomfortable questions about what they are doing and what they might do to redeem themselves. There is no easy solution to the quandary in which they find themselves and this is what makes the book such a gripping read.

When I finished the thought struck me that this book was written by a Frenchman, as was the execrable novel, The Kindly Ones, which professes to deal with a similar theme, that of the motivation of Nazi Jew killers in the War. In 135 pages Hubert Mingarelli says so much more of value than Jonathan Littell can manage in a book ten times its length.


The Hide
The Hide
by Barry Unsworth
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The Odd and the Evil, 3 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Hide (Paperback)
Barry Unsworth's novels fall into two categories: the historical novels which start with Pascali's Island and include Sacred Hunger and the early novels which are shorter pieces, focusing on vulnerable individuals exploited by other amoral types. The Hide falls very much into this latter category. Set on a dilapidated and neglected country estate the story is told through the words of two flawed people, the reclusive voyeur Simon, sister of the house's owner and the simple gardener Josh, who hero worships the ruthlessly amoral Mortimer, whom he imagines is his friend.

The gardens of the state are a fecund wilderness, Eden after the Fall, whose plant and bird life are described in detail by the observant Simon. Simon lives with his dominant sister Audrey whose dead husband had owned the house and estate. Also resident as an unpaid servant is Marion, a young relative of Audrey's dead husband. The employment of Josh as a gardener sets in play a series of events culminating in disaster.

Manipulation and exploitation are major themes. All the characters are damaged in some way. Marion is abused by every character in the book. Josh's simple nature is abused by Mortimer. Audrey suffers bitterness and loss. Simon watches everything. This is a dark and sinister story, punctuated by wonderful dialogue, acutely observed characterisation and some very funny scenes - usually involving the disfunctional Simon.

As for the presentation of Mortimer Cade, evil, sinister and amoral, and what a resonant name! His name recalls the working class rebel Jack Cade, famous from Shakespeare's Henry IV, who renamed himself John Mortimer in his attempt to overthrow the nobility. Make of that what you will.


Philips Sonicare HX9331/04 DiamondClean Rechargeable Toothbrush White
Philips Sonicare HX9331/04 DiamondClean Rechargeable Toothbrush White
Price: £125.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 10 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Instructions are clear. The brush requires charging for 24 hours, either via the tooth-glass or the usb port on the travel case which can be attached to lap top or other device. The brush remains charged for a long period, at least two weeks. Brush, travel case and tooth-glass are all attractively designed. Performance is very good. I had not used a sonic tooth-brush before and it takes a bit of getting used to, especially the noise. You have five cleaning programmes to choose from, each is timed for maximum effect. Replacement brushes should be used every three months. This is an attractive, well-designed product which cleans teeth very impressively. My only gripe would be the price.


Cleopatra's Heir
Cleopatra's Heir
Price: £1.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Great story, convincingly done, 10 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Cleopatra's Heir (Kindle Edition)
What I like most about Gillian Bradshaw's novels is that she writes excellent stories which are realistically grounded in their historical contexts - no difference with this one, even though she posits a central plot device which is historically untrue - the survival of Caesarion, son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, after an attempted killing on the orders of Octavian, Caesar's heir and enemy of Cleopatra.

Bradshaw has a lot of fun with this idea and with Caesarion - brought up to be king with all the privilege that involves, but now thrown upon his own wits and a low- born but decent Egyptian family who help him. He must throw off all his prejudices against the common people and begin to appreciate their inherent goodness, as does Octavian himself at a late stage in the book.

There are some terrific scenes in this novel: Caesarion waking on his own funeral pyre and walking away from it; his discussion on the merits of Greek and Latin poetry with the cultured Roman general Gallus, friend of Vergil; his haughty dismissal of Aristodemus, Ani's Greek rival; his reconciliation with Rhodon, his betrayer and supposed killer; his constant battle with epilepsy; his growing love for the family of Ani, his saviour, and especially for his daughter, Melanthe.

One suspects Caesarion cannot survive, especially when he is arrested and brought before his 'second-cousin', the emperor Octavian. These scenes are among the most moving in the book and work through to a very satisfying conclusion.


Polti Vaporetto Airplus Steam Cleaner
Polti Vaporetto Airplus Steam Cleaner
Price: £129.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Effective and fun, 8 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have had a lot of fun with this machine today. Clear instructions allow quick and easy assembly - do not neglect all the safety warnings! I have used it effectively on tiled floor, grubby carpet, bathroom tiled walls. It can also be used on upholstery, curtains, clothes, even wall-paper. There are lots of accessories for poking into narrow spaces, which are kept tidied away beneath the boiler. Much steam was produced by a 1.6 litre load of tap water. A subtle pine deodorant can be added if desired in the hand unit. The boiler heated up in about five minutes and the area covered dried up quickly. Folds away neatly. Very good.


{ [ THE CONQUERED ] } By Mitchison, Naomi (Author) Aug-21-2009 [ Paperback ]
{ [ THE CONQUERED ] } By Mitchison, Naomi (Author) Aug-21-2009 [ Paperback ]
by Naomi Mitchison
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Pity the victim, 6 Feb. 2015
Naomi Mitchison's first novel, written five years after the end of the First World War and two years after the Irish war of independence, is deeply influenced implicitly and explicitly by both. The title perhaps gives an ironic nod to Julius Caesar's own statement, `veni, vidi, vici' - `I came, I saw, I conquered' or to Virgil's declaration of Roman duty in the Aeneid, `to spare the conquered'.
The novel focuses on Caesar's Gallic conquest, but largely from the point of view of the defeated, the victims and those who suffer. The novel opens with an almost light-hearted, optimistic view of the glory of war but becomes progressively darker as it proceeds, culminating in terror, mutilation and bitter savagery. Meromic, a noble of the Veneti, loses family, country, freedom and self-respect, but finds a sort of friendship with the honourable Roman officer Titus Barrus and an assortment of others who have suffered under the Romans. An impulsive and conflicted warrior throughout, the portrayal of Meromic is moving and as a symbol of the Gallic nation, poignant.

Caesar's Gallic Wars would have been a standard school text when the novel was published in 1923, but Mitchison's interpretation is revolutionary and for its time unique in its criticism of imperialism. Titus proposes the decent man's view of the benefits of Roman rule to Meromic in a key scene; Meromic's reply, `There's liberty in the other scale: it's heavy.'


The Conquered
The Conquered
by Naomi Mitchison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Sympathy for those who suffer, 6 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Conquered (Paperback)
Naomi Mitchison's first novel, written five years after the end of the First World War and two years after the Irish war of independence, is deeply influenced implicitly and explicitly by both. The title perhaps gives an ironic nod to Julius Caesar's own statement, `veni, vidi, vici' - `I came, I saw, I conquered' or to Virgil's declaration of Roman duty in the Aeneid, `to spare the conquered'.

The novel focuses on Caesar's Gallic conquest, but largely from the point of view of the defeated, the victims and those who suffer. The novel opens with an almost light-hearted, optimistic view of the glory of war but becomes progressively darker as it proceeds, culminating in terror, mutilation and bitter savagery. Meromic, a noble of the Veneti, loses family, country, freedom and self-respect, but finds a sort of friendship with the honourable Roman officer Titus Barrus and an assortment of others who have suffered under the Romans. An impulsive and conflicted warrior throughout, the portrayal of Meromic is moving and as a symbol of the Gallic nation, poignant.

Caesar's Gallic Wars would have been a standard school text when the novel was published in 1923, but Mitchison's interpretation is revolutionary and for its time unique in its criticism of imperialism. Titus proposes the decent man's view of the benefits of Roman rule to Meromic in a key scene; Meromic's reply, `There's liberty in the other scale: it's heavy.'


Seagate Wireless 500GB Mobile Storage - Black
Seagate Wireless 500GB Mobile Storage - Black
Offered by AV-ELECTRONIX GmbH
Price: £91.26

3.0 out of 5 stars Hard to get to know, but has potential, 5 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I thought this product might be the one solution to many problems – and it may be - but I am initially a little disappointed. The initial set-up sheet is very unhelpful. Unexpected things happen during and after set up, not least the apparent need to use a web interface for file transfer. (I worked out later how to transfer files more easily, but on-line documentation is not hugely helpful.) I found file transfer surprisingly slow. (I began with transferring files of photographs.) I found the wifi slow as well and there was a tendency for it to grind to a halt from time to time despite signal strength appearing to be ‘excellent’. Battery comes half charged and although it will improve through USB connection to device, to charge it fully it required connection to a power source; but no charger was supplied. Having said all that there is huge storage capacity; I feel I have come to terms with some of the unnecessary difficulties; the device is a nice size and there is no doubt that I will use it over the months and years to come.


The Other Alexander, Book I of The Bow of Heaven
The Other Alexander, Book I of The Bow of Heaven
Price: £2.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Slave and Master, 4 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Young Alexandros, a student of philosophy in Athens, has the great bad luck to be enslaved by the armies of Sulla during the wars against Mithradates. He is brought to Rome, given to Sulla's general Marcus Crassus and begins his rise to indispensability in Crassus' household.

We read how Alexandros for all the respect in which Crassus holds him cannot expect freedom; we read much of the typical aspects of a slave's life, for example his attendance while master and mistress make love, perform their toilet and so on... We read how Alexandros sacrifices the chance of personal happiness as a slave because of doing his job so well and neglecting to turn a blind eye when perhaps he should have.

There is also Marcus Crassus - with Pompey and Julius Caesar one of the three most powerful men in Rome. Crassus is portrayed as a just and enlightened master and a man who enjoys making money but who is otherwise generous and fair-minded. A theme of the novel asks the question why such a man at the age of 60 might suddenly decide to invade the great Parthian Empire to gain military glory. The author's answer is ingenious and involves the philandering Caesar, who is portrayed convincingly and odiously in some terrific scenes. In Crassus' case, he turns a blind eye when perhaps he shouldn't have.

On the one hand a sprawling, undisciplined mixture which has the potential to frustrate and infuriate, on the other hand an imaginative and entertaining treatment of a number of interesting and worthwhile themes, my mental scoring for this novel ranged at times as low as two stars and at times as high as five. There are implausible aspects; there are surprising omissions; a period of 30 years is covered in about 300 pages. But in the end I liked it rather a lot, to say that for all its faults, I am actively looking forward to reading the second volume in the trilogy.


The Leipzig Affair
The Leipzig Affair
by Fiona Rintoul
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I, you, us, 2 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Leipzig Affair (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Fiona Rintoul's novel is set in East Germany in the 1980s at the fag-end of the GDR and then again a decade or so after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. It is the story principally of a young German woman who wishes to escape to the west and of a Scottish student researching in Leipzig whom she meets and sees as her vehicle out. Subsequent events involve betrayals, interrogations, expulsions, imprisonments and deaths.

It comes as no surprise that the author spent time in Leipzig at the time the novel is set and that much of what occurs appears to come from a mixture of personal experience and anecdote. This aspect is very convincing and has a ring of real authenticity. Also, the years following reunification clearly portray the increasing disillusion of the East Germans as first they understand the depth of betrayal brought about by Stasi informants and then the realisation that the new Germany has its exploiters too. This aspect of the novel is very well done.

However, I did the find the central story less convincing, especially the romantic element, but also the behaviour of Marek, Magda's enigmatic friend. The narrative artifice of the voice of Magda alternating with that of Robert in each chapter worked well (Robert egocentrically "I", Magda more objectively "You"), and the story trundles along effectively to its conclusion. I did think Robert was far too self-obsessed and unsympathetic a character and Magda herself was selfish throughout; but maybe that is realistic, that people really are that way; it did however make the story more mundane than this reader thinks it should have been.


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