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Bob Sherunkle (London, UK)
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Inflicted
Inflicted
by Ria Frances
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong, heartfelt debut, but some room for improvement, 3 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Inflicted (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a very good debut novel (Ria Frances’ previous book was for the young adult market).
It is set in present-day England. The teenaged Theo’s world is turned upside down by the death of his baby half-sister (which he believes he caused) and his mother’s resulting nervous breakdown. Following a botched suicide attempt, he is befriended by Anna, an aged survivor of the Holocaust. As the action progresses, they open up to each other about their respective demons as they have never before been able to, with Anna using her wisdom and bitter experience to help Theo confront his problems realistically.
The dramatic tension is focussed on whether Theo really killed his sister (and, if so, what his fate will be) and the much wider issue of what catharsis, if any, Anna can achieve so near the end of a long life. The inspiration for this summarised by Ria Frances in a brief postscript, but her website gives a fuller explanation. After her twin boys, born prematurely, initially made poor progress, she was racked with “corrosive guilt”; “instead of asking for help, I began to write. I poured my thoughts into my characters, into the terrors of the past, into the mind of a sixteen year old boy grappling with some of the feelings that I had.” Evidently the book is written very much from the heart.
The book held my attention throughout, but I have two significant reservations about its technical qualities.
Firstly, in the middle of the novel, something happens to the style. There are two very obscure words: I managed to work out “minacious”, but “banausic” defeated me. Then Anna speaks of women as becoming “emasculated” (physiologically impossible) and refers to two Nazi officers as dressed in “refinery (should be ‘finery’) ..with boots that almost reveal their deleterious reflections” (a transferred epithet which I suspect is unintentional). As the rest of the book shows, Ria Frances usually writes much better than this.
The other shortcoming is the role of coincidence. In his stepfather’s antiques shop, Theo finds in a desk a letter from a girl whom Anna knew in the ghetto. This is not central to the plot, but – more importantly - the denouement relies upon an equally unlikely coincidence.
Ria Frances is an evocative writer, with a real feeling for her characters, and I hope that she improves her technique in her next novel. I really hate to make such negative comments about such a compelling author, but her execution needs to achieve the same level as her creativity.


Lake District: Low Level and Lake Walks (British Walking)
Lake District: Low Level and Lake Walks (British Walking)
by Vivienne Crow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent guide, but it's not all "low level", 2 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm one of those people, as Vivienne Crow mentions in her Introduction, who tend to head for the tops and thus miss out on the views at lower levels. Like many people, I don't go to the Lakes as often as I like, so when I do I try to do as much high-level walking as possible. That said, out of the thirty walks in this book there are ten which I've done in whole or in part, and they're all excellent.
The book starts with the usual introductory stuff about the area, where to stay, transport etc, and then launches into the walk descriptions. Each one gives directions, a route superimposed on an OS map (scale about 1:37,500) and some very tempting photographs.
Some of the walks are very easy, e.g. the circuit of Buttermere, but the "low level" in the title is not altogether true. Several of the tougher walks go well above 1,000 feet, and the Harter Fell walk is the highest at over 2,000 feet. However, these harder walks would be very good tasters if you want to get a feel for fellwalking before tackling the most challenging peaks.
The book is handy pocket size (with a strong laminated cover). A downside of this is that the perimeter of each map is very close around the route, which could be a problem with the tougher walks if you accidentally go off-piste. For example, walk 24 (Outerside and Barrow), which I've done (in pouring rain!) is not too wild and woolly in itself, but has the potential for you to stray into remote territory. The answer, of course, is to take an OS map as well, preferably 1:25,000.
Vivienne Crow has put a lot of thought into the book. One touch I liked was showing alternative routes on maps where appropriate, e.g. a diversion at the south end of Derwentwater to avoid a frequently flooded area.
The walk directions look pretty good to me. (I would love to go straight out to check all of them, but it's a wet November day in South London, so I'll have to wait.) As this is a brand new book (2014), the directions should be up to date. For any newish walkers who don't understand this, I would point out that the whole of Wainwright has recently been edited and re-issued to take account of half a century of change; the hills may stay much the same, but the footpaths and landmarks don't.
In a few years, my legs will probably no longer take me up to the high places, and this book will then become very useful.


AmazonBasics On-Ear Headphones (supra-aural) - Black
AmazonBasics On-Ear Headphones (supra-aural) - Black
Price: £10.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheerful, but incredibly cheap, 27 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I’ve tested these only on my PC, so I don’t know how they perform with other devices. The volume is high, and the signal is very clear across the whole range. The quoted frequency is 12 Hz-22,000 Hz; using an HD test, I could hear 25 Hz (a slight improvement on my old pair, which explains the excellent bass reproduction), but my old ears cut out well before the top end, so I can’t comment on that.
I did not expect this quality of reproduction from such a cheap pair of headphones. Both AC/DC and Elgar came over well! The only drawback in terms of listening is a somewhat harsh top end – not always, but if the recording is at all trebly these phones tend to exaggerate it. I suspect this could be a disadvantage to someone with younger ears able to hear higher frequencies than me.
The headband padding is rudimentary, just a sponge pad stuck inside the headband, but for a very lightweight item this doesn’t matter.
This is the first time I’ve seriously tried modern on-ear headphones, as opposed to my old circumaural pair, and I was impressed by both the comfort and the exclusion of outside noise.
I don’t do music on the move (other than old-fashioned car stereo), so I don't need to carry headphones around, but I can see the storage advantage of ear cushions which fold flat.
I don’t think the headphones would last forever, as they don’t feel very robust, but for £11 you could easily replace them.
I doubt you could do much better in this price range.


Zyliss Digital Multi Timer
Zyliss Digital Multi Timer
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do better - B+, 17 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My wife has been very happy with her existing Hygiplas timer, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a strong enough magnet; this means it has fallen off the fridge a few times, and suffered as a result.
She was therefore keen to try this Zyliss timer, but was only moderately satisfied with it. Her verdict was as follows:

“This is a very stylish timer, and as it is red there is no way that you could lose this in your kitchen, unlike white timers I have had in the past; they blend in with other kitchen appliances, but this isn’t much use when you mislay them. Unfortunately, this conspicuousness is its only major selling point.

It is easy to programme. You can time four different things at once, which makes it very useful if you have a loaded oven/hob. It is smallish and compact, with a powerful magnet on the back to help it stay on metal surfaces (I wish my old Hygiplas had a magnet this good) and a handy little A frame device on the back to help it stand or be attached to your clothes. It also has a clock function which I have not seen on any other timers, but then again I have not been looking.

The most important thing I have found is that it is too quiet. I have no hearing problems, but I cannot hear it in the next room with the doors opened and this to me is a worry. I don't want to remember to carry it from room to room to make sure I can hear it if baking a cake, and I do not want to attach it to my clothing; small as it is, it is still cumbersome to attach to yourself in order to hear it. This compares poorly with the Hygiplas, which has a really loud beep.

It is a shame, as I really like the look of it with the little black buttons and red case, but not ideal for me, as I don't want to have to remember to have it close to me when timing something.

Sorry Zyliss, this one is not one of your best ideas.”


Under the Dome - Season 2 [DVD]
Under the Dome - Season 2 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mike Vogel
Price: £21.50

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pants, 13 Oct. 2014
I enjoyed reading Under the Dome, though it’s not one of Stephen King’s very best, and more than a tad reminiscent of The Tommyknockers, and I looked forward to the TV mini-series. I say “mini-series”, but last year, as we neared episode 13, I wondered how they would reach an ending, let alone the ending as in the book. Then we were informed that there would be another series in 2014. Now, just over halfway through the second series, I have given up. Why is this?

I have found to my horror that Neal Baer, one of the executive producers, said “Five seasons of thirteen episodes would be an ideal length.” I can’t face up to three more series of this to find out how they end it.

You may object that I have read the book, and therefore know the ending. However, this adaptation has taken the basic concept and the main characters, and then rushed off madly in all directions. I can’t see the rationale for this, so I have to defer to higher authority (the views of a certain Mr S King):
“Many of the changes have been of necessity, and I approved of them wholeheartedly. Some have been occasioned by their plan to keep the Dome in place over Chester's Mill for months instead of little more than a week, as is the case in the book. Other story modifications are slotting into place because the writers have completely re-imagined the source of the Dome.
If the solution to the mystery were the same on TV as in the book, everyone would know it in short order, which would spoil a lot of the fun (besides, plenty of readers didn’t like my solution, anyway).”

I had already read The Stand before I saw the TV adaptation (a mere 6 hours covering most of the book’s plot, as contrasted with Under the Dome taking 20 hours to the end of Series 2 alone), and knowing the ending didn’t spoil my enjoyment. Take SK’s argument to its logical conclusion, and no adaptation would have more than a passing resemblance to the book on which it’s based.
To crown it all, in Series 2 each week a new character comes out of the woodwork, only to die a quick death; their average life expectation is that of a security guard on Captain Kirk’s Enterprise.

Usually active involvement by SK guarantees a good, or at least watchable, film/TV adaptation, but this one is very wide of the mark. If you haven’t read the book, do yourself a favour – read it rather than watch this endless, rambling saga. Otherwise, if you can’t be bothered to read it, at least watch an SK adaptation which is faithful to its origin – for example, The Langoliers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 18, 2014 1:34 PM GMT


The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters (Penguin Classics)
The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters (Penguin Classics)
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Hardy’s very best, 7 Oct. 2014
Hardy divided his novels into these categories: “character and environment”, “romances and fantasies” and “ingenuity”. The best-known, most powerful novels are all in the first group, and judging by the two I’ve read from the other two groups – The Well-Beloved (“romances and fantasies”) and recently The Hand of Ethelberta (“ingenuity”) – they are rather a mixed bag. Hardy said he wrote “Ethelberta” as “an interlude between stories of a more sober design”, and it shows.
The scenario is promising. Ethelberta, a beautiful young woman of humble origin, is the widow of a very brief marriage to a rich young man. Having thus acquired a tenuous respectability, she strives to achieve a permanent place in society while secretly maintaining her numerous siblings, and the plot is centred on the success or otherwise of her stratagems to manage these two lives. Not surprisingly, she is torn between romance and security; to make things worse, her rather hopeless suitor Christopher is the love object of her timid younger sister, Picotee.
The editor of the Wessex Edition argues that this plot is a vehicle for Hardy to counterpoint the below-stairs world he grew up in with the London society he newly encountered in the 1870s, to the extent that one of the characters is modelled on Leslie Stephen.
So far, so good, but the plot tends to eclipse the characters; as the Wessex editor observes, “Ethelberta is no Bathsheba Everdene”, however much she ties men in knots, and many of the other characters are not wholly convincing. Another shortcomjng is the use of landscape. I have just started Return of the Native, in which the opening chapters major on the grand immutability of Egdon Heath before leading into the transient lives of mortals; but in “Ethelberta”, apart from one episode, the landscape is merely a two-dimensional background. Indeed, the final chapters consist of several characters chasing each other in ever-decreasing circles round the Isle of Purbeck, for all the world like an al fresco Whitehall farce.
As this is a comedy, all, of course, ends well – though not quite as I expected. I’m glad I read it, but I got a bit bored towards the end. If you haven’t already read any of the “great” novels – “Jude”, “Tess”, etc – I suggest you read some of them before “Ethelberta” and the other lesser-known novels. I think it’s no accident that his tragic novels were his greatest achievement.


The Hand of Ethelberta
The Hand of Ethelberta
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Hardy’s very best, 7 Oct. 2014
Hardy divided his novels into these categories: “character and environment”, “romances and fantasies” and “ingenuity”. The best-known, most powerful novels are all in the first group, and judging by the two I’ve read from the other two groups – The Well-Beloved (“romances and fantasies”) and recently The Hand of Ethelberta (“ingenuity”) – they are rather a mixed bag. Hardy said he wrote “Ethelberta” as “an interlude between stories of a more sober design”, and it shows.
The scenario is promising. Ethelberta, a beautiful young woman of humble origin, is the widow of a very brief marriage to a rich young man. Having thus acquired a tenuous respectability, she strives to achieve a permanent place in society while secretly maintaining her numerous siblings, and the plot is centred on the success or otherwise of her stratagems to manage these two lives. Not surprisingly, she is torn between romance and security; to make things worse, her rather hopeless suitor Christopher is the love object of her timid younger sister, Picotee.
The editor of the Wessex Edition argues that this plot is a vehicle for Hardy to counterpoint the below-stairs world he grew up in with the London society he newly encountered in the 1870s, to the extent that one of the characters is modelled on Leslie Stephen.
So far, so good, but the plot tends to eclipse the characters; as the Wessex editor observes, “Ethelberta is no Bathsheba Everdene”, however much she ties men in knots, and many of the other characters are not wholly convincing. Another shortcomjng is the use of landscape. I have just started Return of the Native, in which the opening chapters major on the grand immutability of Egdon Heath before leading into the transient lives of mortals; but in “Ethelberta”, apart from one episode, the landscape is merely a two-dimensional background. Indeed, the final chapters consist of several characters chasing each other in ever-decreasing circles round the Isle of Purbeck, for all the world like an al fresco Whitehall farce.
As this is a comedy, all, of course, ends well – though not quite as I expected. I’m glad I read it, but I got a bit bored towards the end. If you haven’t already read any of the “great” novels – “Jude”, “Tess”, etc – I suggest you read some of them before “Ethelberta” and the other lesser-known novels. I think it’s no accident that his tragic novels were his greatest achievement.


Dragon Naturally Speaking Home 13.0 (PC)
Dragon Naturally Speaking Home 13.0 (PC)
Price: £74.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Boldly going where I haven’t been before – an impressive product, 6 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had never used any voice recognition software before, so this was the ideal opportunity to try. FYI I’ve worked in IT for 40 years, but rather more in terms of business use than as a techy, and I’m a notorious non-adopter, so a product has to be pretty idiot-proof to impress me. This did. (This review is work-in-progress , as I’ve only done a brief trial so far.)

Before starting, I checked two points on the tech spec with the Nuance helpline. This was a very positive experience – an ordinary landline number, answered very quickly, and the agent knew his stuff but didn’t talk down to me. My queries , with his answers and my results in practice, were:
-The spec said 2.2 Gb processor, whereas my laptop is only 2.1. He said it should work OK, but might be a bit slow – especially as I’ve got 64 bit Windows, which uses more processor power. I have no basis of comparison, but in use it didn’t seem that slow to me.
-I asked if my existing sound card (part of the basic laptop) would be OK; he said it should be, but if in doubt he recommended buying a USB soundcard. As it turned out, not necessary – my soundcard worked fine.

Installation took about 90 minutes(!), but worked first time; although I ignored the instruction to disable the anti-virus software, this didn’t cause the problems as by some other reviewers have reported. I tend to grin and bear it with installation, as once it’s done properly, it’s done.

I then read out the sample text to check sound and I set my language preferences. Then I did the interactive tutorial. This was very clear and simple, but somewhat cheap and cheerful. It seems to understand only US English – e.g. I tried saying “period” as instructed, but as I had set my preference to UK English nothing happened until I said “full stop”. A minor gripe, but it would help a novice user if the tutorials were tailored to the language preference. There are bigger issues with the tutorial; it expects instant speech (and tells you off if it doesn’t get it), and it keeps switching the mic on and off. This is not representative of the real thing, but it could be off-putting.

Then I started the real trial, giving it a dictation challenge – the first verse of Jabberwocky. Obviously it failed, but it made a valiant attempt – “was brilliant and the slightly toes”! Seriously, I did try out the “correct” function on some more appropriate text, and it offered reasonable alternatives. I then managed to save the file by voice command, though I need to practice command mode a bit more.

The headset/mic are fine, but the laptop mic seems to work just as well. In terms of VFM, it could be a minus that the package includes a headset when many people already own one, and when you don’t really need it anyway. However, as the headset is entry level and a branded Nuance item (though not commercially available, as far as I could see), the cost of including it is probably marginal.

The real issue is whether you actually want software like this. Like many people, I’ve got used to thinking through typing, but that’s not a comment against the product; it’s a matter of choice.


Waterman Blue Obsession Perspective Fountain Pen M with Gift Box
Waterman Blue Obsession Perspective Fountain Pen M with Gift Box
Price: £78.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pen for the long haul, or a special present, 18 Sept. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a beautiful looking pen. I wish I’d had one like this at school, in the days when you had to use fountain pens all the time (I know younger readers won’t believe this), but even allowing for several decades of inflation this is more expensive than any I ever owned.

During the brief opportunity I had to try it out, my first impressions were good – but then my wife and daughter grabbed it ...

My wife thought it was a solid, chunky pen, so she found it had good balance and was very easy to hold. She found it a pleasure to write with. Her tagline was: “If you already use a fountain pen, you will love this; if not, it would be a good start.”

My daughter grabbed it for longer, so I forced her to provide more comments. Her verdict was as follows:
“It sits well in the hand, despite the weight, and is very easy to write with; it can be used at several different angles, so this would be useful if you were writing notes rather than a large piece of text. It’s quite heavy, so, if you’re not used to a heavy pen, it may take some getting used to. I found it better to write with the cap not left on the blunt end, so as to reduce the weight.”
[Interesting that my wife saw the weight as a plus and my daughter saw it as a minus! My wife suggested this is simply because younger people write less, and rarely use a fountain pen to do so, so they may just not be used to the weight of a pen in the hand.]
“The cap doesn’t feel loose at all, unlike some pens. I still wouldn't feel comfortable carrying it on its own in my handbag, but I am quite confident that the cap wouldn't come off too easily.
The pen doesn’t leak ink over your hands like some previous pens I've used. The ink consumption is reasonable; I haven't written any essays recently but it seems to be quite good for ink consumption.
It feels like a quality item that will last for a long time, so this could justify the expense.
A couple of negatives:
The nib is quite wide, and the ink spreads quite a bit, so the pen may not be such a good option if you have small handwriting.” [My daughter’s writing is medium to large, so it was fine for her.]
“It can take a couple of millimetres for the ink to start running, so you need to sometimes go over the start of your writing again to ensure a complete letter.”

All three of us thought it was a beautiful item to own, and (as it has an impressive presentation box) it would make a great present for the right person.
On the topic of refills, always an important issue for a fountain pen: the cartridges are easy to insert (there is one supplied in the pack, so you can start using it straight away). The pen will take long or short cartridges; you can buy get generic short cartridges, which would be cheaper than branded Waterman items, though if you’re a frequent user you would probably prefer the long ones.)


Ultrasport Infant Swing Little-Muck TÜV/GS tested
Ultrasport Infant Swing Little-Muck TÜV/GS tested
Price: £68.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A bit pricey, but good value, 17 Sept. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I liked the look of this when I unpacked it; as described, the seat is well made and well-moulded, and looks really durable. To get a practical test I asked my son to assemble it and try it out on my grandson (14 months old).

My son thought it was very easy to assemble - quicker than he expected, as (for once) the instructions were clear and actually matched the parts. He also found that it could be collapsed reasonably easily for travel, which is very handy – sometime disassembling items like this is a nightmare. In use, it has a much smaller footprint than most swings like this, which means you can fit it into a small garden; however, although the frame is small, the seat is so well positioned that the child can still get maximum enjoyment.

My son said he has seen cheaper models in the high street, but suspects they aren’t the same quality of build. Thus, if you are likely to want a swing to re-use for another child, or to pass on to family or friends, this one would be a worthwhile investment.
Because of the short frame, you won’t be able to use the swing for a child much beyond their second birthday. (Incidentally, this makes a bit of a mockery of the product claim “up to 25 kg”, as this is the average weight of a seven year old! I suggest buyers just treat this as an indication of the solidity of the swing, compared to some of the cheap and cheerful ones on the market.)


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