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The Maker of Swans
The Maker of Swans
by Paraic O'Donnell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of roses, swans and the ordering of fine things in great rooms………., 9 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Maker of Swans (Hardcover)
Paraic O’Donnell’s strange, seductive, immersive Gothic literary creation had me pretty well hooked from the off.

Set in a time which is not immediately clear, it has an eerie, crumbling quality which feels almost Gothic Victorian – except that the dramatic opening involves the arrival of cars to the crumbling mansion which is the main setting. However, at a later point in the novel, where some back story of one of the central characters will be revealed, the mode of personal transport appears to be horses, with the theft of ‘a good horse from a coaching inn’ . As some of what is going on in the book is tied in with a secret society, mysterious powers, and some indication that those connected with the society seem to age more slowly than the rest of us, it’s perfectly possible some kind of Rip Van Winkle effect is happening………………

This is a difficult book to categorise in some ways. It inhabits some kind of nether world which is not exactly magic realism, not at all faery, somewhat fantastical, whilst at the same time much involved with reality, and, even more so with the power, mystery and magic of artistic creation itself. Particularly writing. It’s also a mystery, a thriller. And beautifully written.

Where Paraic O’Donnell has particularly scored is in his creation of character and relationship. Clara is an unusual young girl, an astonishingly gifted artist, and someone with an imagination of great intensity. The true potency of that imagination and artistry will become clear as the story progresses.

“ ‘What art must do is attempt, as nature has, to assemble the tissues of beauty for itself. It must construct its own rose from the raw air, endow it with its colour, its small weight, its tender volutes – even its scent. Art must set this thing before us, must assert its reality in the void of our disbelief. It must make it live’

Clara strains against the impulse to yawn, She is thankful that she has never been made to go to school. It is this sort of thing, she supposes, that children must endure in classrooms all the time ”

Clara is also mute, and in some ways self-sufficient. She is not emotionally withdrawn, though, and her strongest connection is Eustace, who is a kind of minder, retainer, butler, major domo, possessed of both brains and muscle, and employed by the owner of the crumbling mansion, Crowe. Crowe is dissolute and louche, a genius of a writer, though exactly what he is writing is again, something to discover. He might almost be the writer of everything which ever was. Crowe, Eustace and Clara exist in some kind of equable state. Unfortunately this is shattered at the start of the novel. Definitely the worse for drink, and in a squabble over his latest woman, Crowe kills a would be rival, unleashing the forces of retribution. Those forces will be implemented by shadowy members of the strange secret order Crowe belongs to. Eustace, who is the central character, the central point of view, for most of the novel, is the one who will try to salvage things, to prevent the un-spelt out punishment which Crowe must suffer, as the murder has broken an immutable law of the strange society. Eustace is deeply loyal, there is some strange history to be discovered between him and Crowe, but most of all, he wishes to protect Clara, the mysterious child, and keep her from harm.

The agents of harm are also a little strange. Chastern is a dying academic, deeply envious of Crowe’s creativity, deeply disdaining his crudity and indulgence in fleshly pursuits. Chastern has his own ‘minder, major-domo, retainer and all the rest, - a sinister, watchful, highly intelligent, dangerous and deadly one.

There are definitely god-games being played, and things get remarkably dark and messy

O’ Donnell creates his immersive story wonderfully well. The book is not presented in linear fashion, there is a lot of cutting back and forth, in time and place, but for the most part this is managed really well, and I enjoyed the gradual unpicking of the past as the story progressed insistently towards ‘what happens next’ page turning suspense

I must confess to a sense of disappointment in the ending of the book, the two final confrontations. The games played with the reader (well, this one) the hints and allusions had been most enjoyable and atmospheric, but I fell out of surrender at the end

Nonetheless, a very impressive first novel. If you were intrigued by, for example, The Night Circus, or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, for both quality of writing and the strangeness of the created world, I think this will appeal. Like those two novels, it is much more literary than fantasy fiction.

I received this as a review copy from the publishers via NetGalley


I am No One
I am No One
by Patrick Flanery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Through the looking glass, and down the rabbit hole : the world of the watcher and the watched, 4 Feb. 2016
This review is from: I am No One (Hardcover)
Patrick Flanery’s third novel takes the reader almost immediately into a shifting sands world.

We are never quite sure, for example, where the narrator, a middle-aged History Professor, now teaching film studies, back in New York after 10 years in Oxford, is, in time. He appears to move between a something-has-happened future, a present when something is about to happen, and his earlier, settled Oxford past. Except that he begins to take the lid off that past, and there are further shifts, Not least of which is identity and origin. Jeremy O’Keefe is not allowed to be American in America – influenced by his 10 years in England, his fellow Americans are convinced he is a Brit, but, despite his attempts to ‘acculturate’ himself in England, he was firmly not allowed to forget he was American.

At the start of this book, O’Keefe’s voice is measured, precise, almost pedantic, a correct, dry, considered and intelligent academic voice. O’Keefe (in the voice which Flanery gives him) is very much the didact, donnish, instructing the reader at all times. It’s a little like sitting in on a lecture, with cultural references offered, and you, as reader, are expected to engage and get the references. But this voice begins, subtly, but inexorably to shift, becoming a little waspish, sharp, sarcastic, full of asides that indicate that all is not quite as we, the readers, might assume about O’Keefe. Is this a narrator to be trusted? Is he an unreliable narrator? Might he be disordered, even deranged?

I was very quickly floundering, anxious, confused – and Flanery was deliberately taking me to that place, because this uneasy, doubting world, so different below its surface, is the world the narrator inhabits. A world where nothing is quite as it seems. Jeremy O’Keefe appears to be under surveillance. And may have been so, for quite some time

This is the theme of the book: the increasingly ubiquitous surveillance society, particularly in democracies. Surveillance is not only something confined to totalitarian societies. Developed democracies and advanced technology allowing advanced surveillance coexist. Watching, being watched.

Flanery is a wonderfully crafted writer who writes ‘about stuff – big stuff’, but, at least in his first two novels, without polemic. Character, place, narrative, relationship, authenticity in character voice and action are the authentic containers for the philosophical ideas Flanery wishes to explore.

Unfortunately, with this, his third book, I began to feel, from about half way through the book, that the ‘about’ had become more central than the fictional framework.

Something Flanery has done brilliantly in his previous novels, is to offer complexity through having more than one narrator, more than one point of view, each of which is fully engaged in, so that a depth and range of arguments can be explored. In I Am No One, we really are only taken into Jeremy’s point of view. Initially, whilst Jeremy is unsure what it going on, and it seems as if he could be having some problems with his memory – at least, this is his initial, quite rational conclusion – the reader is satisfyingly presented with a few choices: Is Jeremy a reliable narrator? Are the things which are happening really happening? Is Jeremy suffering from paranoia? Does he have some neurological physiological or psychological trauma? Is he perhaps suffering from paranoia and right to be paranoid, because the things that are happening are real?

So far, so good. We learn, fairly early on, that Jeremy is writing the sequence of events which are happening, for some reason. There comes a point as he begins to reveal more of his past to the reader, (and whoever, in the novel might be the recipient of his writing) what the answers to all the above questions might be. And most importantly, some of the revelations the reader is given not only answer our questions about what is going on, but, surely (as Jeremy knows his own history) would have answered his own questions, too, at an earlier stage. Without plot spoilers, which I don’t want to indulge in, it is difficult to explain. But the result is the wonderful unsureness which the reader experienced before Jeremy comes clean about what is happening retrospectively then has to seem authorial contrivance (Flanery’s). And as a history professor with a particular interest in surveillance society – O’Keefe specialised in the Stasi – he knows what might alarm States. I felt as if the ‘ambiguities’ about what was going on, as far as the reader is concerned, were being artificially maintained for us, by Flanery, and I couldn’t then quite believe any questioning of the ambiguousness of what was going on, by Jeremy himself

It’s been a real struggle to review this. Patrick Flanery is a wonderful writer, and I Am No One is still a good and important book. Unlike his earlier books, however, I think this one is more of a cerebral book, challenging to the intellect alone. One of Flanery’s strengths as a writer is to take the reader into the mind, heart, gut of his central characters, to come inside their idea of the world, to understand and believe their authenticity. It was accepting O’Keefe’s authenticity which I began to struggle with after the ’I-won’t-reveal-the-spoiler’.

Part of the problem is that Jeremy, being the man he is, rather stands outside his own emotional and visceral experience. There is a kind of aloofness in his voice. He observes himself, and doesn’t quite come close inside himself. He is more of a watcher, and we don’t have anyone else presented from their ‘inside’ – we only have Jeremy’s view of how they are viewing him.

I suspect, had I never read any Patrick Flanery before, I may have liked this more than I do. I don’t think I would have surrendered to it, I don’t think I would have loved it, but I would have liked it more warmly, more enthusiastically – because I would not have those two extraordinary novels to make comparisons with, and would not have seen what I am missing, with this.

Do read it – even in my disappointment I can see how good a writer Flanery always is. But then, if you don’t know them already, do read Absolution, and do read Fallen Land.

I wait, eagerly, for Flanery’s next novel

I received this, gratefully, as an ARC from the publisher, Atlantic Books


My Name is Lucy Barton
My Name is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Happens; Everything Happens, 4 Feb. 2016
This review is from: My Name is Lucy Barton (Hardcover)
Lucy Barton, a woman whose background was one of deprivation, though that is ostensibly now behind her, is a writer.

In Elizabeth Strout’s short, powerful, beautifully written novel, Barton is primarily looking back on a time, some decades earlier, when she was hospitalised as a young mother, for some weeks, after an operation to remove her appendix went wrong.

Inevitably, the look-back – which spools Barton into both earlier memories and also flash forwards, reminds me of Wordsworth’s dictum: ‘poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity’

What that implies is that the place for creativity comes not from the unthinking splurge of violent, reactive emotion, but when a certain observation, a certain ability to stand outside oneself, observing what is arising, gives rise to a stripping away of self-indulgence, of mere confessional venting.

Readers who prefer the action-packed, the hyper-aroused emotion as a writer ratchets up the tension for the big reveal, may find that Strout’s lightly, tightly, almost thrown-away reveals disappoint. She is not a writer who is writing in the literary equivalent of high volume, flashing light shouting.

Much happens of huge import in Lucy’s story, but what is important, for Lucy, as a person, as a writer, is the ability to transform, how to use her life in order to fully be herself. Not in some huge cathartic revelation of being either the victim or the survivor, but in some kind of daily assimilation and growing.

I must say that Strout’s approach, Barton’s approach, to offer these sideways, unexpected, yet totally truthful seeming reveals shocked and resonated far more intensely, far more authentically, than the more obvious, gothic, dramatic arc would have done. Lucy is soft, malleable, empathetic. Lucy is also self-tempered steel.

The bulk of her recollection is the difficult relationship between mother and daughter. This, is seems is the story which the writer Lucy Barton must tell in order to be authentic. Or, as another writer, whom she meets and is influenced by, Sarah Payne, tells her, each writer has ‘one story’, and that is the one that must be told.

Lucy’s story is this:

“This is a story about a mother who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly”

So, perhaps a story about the imperfection of all our loving. Lucy tells us, time and again, that this is not a story about a marriage, her marriage. But what Strout is repeatedly doing, brilliantly, is offering little hooks for the reader to get caught on, little snagging burrs that make the reader pause, and think, feel, what is going on here, what is going on beneath what is being said?

I adore writing like this; I have gratitude for writers who allow their readers to form a relationship within the written material. A writer who does not tell me what I must be thinking and feeling, but can delicately strew my reading path with carefully wrapped treasures, making me pause, engage, reflect.

This is not just a book about Lucy. The net goes wider. It is a book about how our lives shape us, wound us, offer the opportunity to strangely mend us. It’s a book about the shaping of memory. It’s a book about gender and sexuality, and it’s a book about how we search in our relationships as a reflection back, a reaction to and from those first relationships: how we were mothered; how we were fathered.

And it’s also a book, most powerfully fierce about creativity, why write?: Or, as Lucy’s shaping literary guide and tutor, Sarah Payne, says:

“She said that her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do”

This is a story in many ways of small lives, not the lives of the famed and powerful. It is written with great compassion

“I thought, Pity us. We don’t mean to be so small. Pity us-it goes through my head a lot-Pity us all”

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publishers.


Ice
Ice
by Ulla-Lena Lundberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fishing, Farming, Faith and Community: Finnish Island Life, in spacious Fin-Lit-Fic, 3 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Ice (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Forget the gloomy darkness of Scandi-Noir, what we have in Ulla-Lena Lundberg’s Ice is a carefully crafted, slowly unfolding sense of reading relationship, where characters are met, the reader can both quickly gain an instant, workable impression and find themselves deepening into understanding and friendship with them. There is, for sure, narrative, but the narrative is less driven by the over-blown, operatic demands of fast pounding scene building two-hours or less block-buster film making or airport reading suspense, and more the narrative imposed by the normal events of daily lives, carried out in particular times and places.

In this case, the time is the tail end of the 1940s, after the war; the place the Örland (Älund) islands, off the Finnish and Swedish coast. My sense of Finland’s geography and history, before reading Lundberg’s novel, originally written in Swedish, and wonderfully translated by Thomas Teal, was far less than could have been written on the proverbial postage stamp. Now, it is considerably more, Lundberg painlessly, not to mention fascinatingly instructed me through the story of characters.

What the reader is instantly drawn into is how a small community, with the normal alliances and enmities which any small community might have, lives out its lives. If you welcome a book which describes a much more visceral life than one lived in cities, this should fascinate, because the detail of the seasons, the food, the culture of lives lived by engaging with the land itself is wonderfully done

The main storyline concerns a novice Lutheran priest, Petter Kummel,his wife Mona, and their young daughter, Sanna, who arrive on Älund. Petter is there to be the new pastor. It is of course a brilliant way to introduce the reader to Älund life, as the central characters also are in the process of learning! Much happens, trials, tribulations, celebrations, friendships, rivalries, complex family and community dynamics. And, arching over all, a deep love of, and relationship with landscape, from the author, and from her characters.

“Their third winter, Petter has lived through every kind of weather out here on the Örlands and moves easily on land and water across his parish. The darkness is not completely dark. Because the islands are not covered with forest, the land lies open to the sky. Starlight and moonlight can reach it, or the gliding streak of light between sky and sea. “out here we’re always in touch with heaven!” he says to people who ask if he’s not afraid of getting lost in the dark"

Petter himself is warm, energetic, compassionate, though there will be some history for the reader to discover; he is far more than a saintly cipher. He is the kind of man who sees the best in others, and so calls that forth. Mona is irascible, energetic, no-nonsense, intensely practical. The two are both foils for each other and excellent partners. Their relationship is deeply loving and supportive, though their natures conflict as much as support each other. They, like the reader, will get deeply involved into caring about the community, and the land they live by, with, on, from.

“For much of her adult life, the resources have been so meagre and the need in some cases so pressing that it seemed to her more and more that there was a fixed, inadequate quantity of things in the world. If someone comes up in the world and basks in the sun a bit, then that well-being and sunshine are denied someone else. It’s the same way with things like joy and success. The sum total is paltry. If a little love and happiness come our way, someone else is deprived of them. Envy, which is such a stone in our path, derives from this insight, as does our reluctance to reveal our good fortune to others.”

The structure of the book is a mite curious, we drift into third person, first person, changing points of view, but it works rather wonderfully. There is a bookend voice, and one which marks major changes, that of the post-boat pilot, Anton, who ferries change and provisions and contact between the Örlands and the wider world, to-and-fro. Anton is like some mythical boatman between worlds. What he does is absolutely real, but there is an undercurrent of messengers from classical mythology, who travel between realms. The nature of his work, in these sometimes frozen, isolated seas, makes him introspective and open to intuitive sensings.

I warmly recommend this.


Seneo 2.4Ghz Mini Touchpad Keyboard with USB Interface Adapter, Backlit LED for Windows,Linux,Android,Xbox360/ps3,Mac OS.
Seneo 2.4Ghz Mini Touchpad Keyboard with USB Interface Adapter, Backlit LED for Windows,Linux,Android,Xbox360/ps3,Mac OS.
Offered by GoldenSwing
Price: £45.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful TV remote control with a keyboard, 29 Jan. 2016
Firstly, I was sent this as an item in return for an honest review. There has been no attempt to force that honest review into being a positive one.

I was interested in this as though my TV is of only average intelligence, I do, in theory have a smart Blu-Ray player, which has all sorts of things enabled such as internet access, iPlayer etc etc. Trying to access specific websites such as Channel 4od though is a painfully slow experience via the Blu-ray’s controller, which laboriously has an advance one letter at a time experience via directional arrows. So this little keyboard seemed as if it would speed things up. Unfortunately, after charging the mini and inserting the dongle into the Blu-ray’s USB port, I discovered the Blu-Ray only wanted to read media content and kept telling me there was no content on the USB. Having already tried out the mini on controlling a tablet, I knew the mini was working. In this case though, nation Blu-Ray would not speak unto nation Mini. Presumablu Blu speaks some sort of unrelated-to-others language. The equivalent of Basque, no doubt, rather than Indo-European.

Time to think again and go backwards to HDMI/HDMI connection between PC and TV, and use TV as display monitor and dongle in a PC USB

Now it works. So, I will be able to control ITV and Channel 4 catch-up content quite quickly, using the Mini, which I do like, but have some minor irritation with.

The letters and symbols on the 92 key keyboard are in an impossible to read charcoal on black. Never mind the hook of saying ‘backlight LED display to read in the dark’ you will need that backlit display on at all times. And you will need to turn it on.

The display is turned on by Fn and F6. It is programmed to turn off backlighting after a short space of time (to save battery usage) but you can turn it on again by pressing any key once it is in 'sleep' mode

Had they marked ALL the keys with the perfectly visible light green text which is on 10 of the 92 keys, I would have given this 5 stars, as 'backlit' would only need to be turned on FOR in the dark viewing.

I have been impressed by customer service, also, as they contacted me very quickly over a problem I was having with the display (to explain about the automatic shutoff and reactivation)


Belle Azul Siesta Body Oil - Toning and Moisturising Luxurious Body Oil. With Argan and Sweet Almond oil to Firm and Hydrate the Skin, and Calming, Relaxing Essential Oils. 100ml
Belle Azul Siesta Body Oil - Toning and Moisturising Luxurious Body Oil. With Argan and Sweet Almond oil to Firm and Hydrate the Skin, and Calming, Relaxing Essential Oils. 100ml
Offered by Beauty Solutions Ltd
Price: £39.90

4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully scented, luscious oil, skin kind, absorbs well, 28 Jan. 2016
Firstly, I received this free from the supplier in return for an honest review. I have not had any pressure placed on me, or any bribing to make my review positive, but I am very happy with the product, with a few criticisms, to do with missing information and packaging.

The mainly plant ingredients – the carrier oils Argan and Sweet Almond, and the essential oils of Rosemary, Peppermint, Jasmine and Geranium are all lovely and well known. Geranium is a brilliant and balancing skin care essential oil, and Rosemary, Peppermint and Jasmine are uplifting and tonifying. Argan is ‘the new Jojoba’ and making its way into many skin products as it absorbs very quickly and doesn’t leave you like an oil slick – unless you use too much. Sweet Almond is the oil of choice for most massage practitioners.

There are 3 additional constituents, Isomalt and Lecithin.Isomalt is a plant based sugar Lecithin is most usually derived from eggs or soya, though it can be derived from animal sources. Sodium benzoate is not from a plant. To be honest, I’m not quite certain why it is in here – it’s used as a preservative, but as essential oils have antimicrobial properties, I’m a little surprised at its inclusion. Packaging in the amber glass bottle is going to prevent degradation through UV light as well

Part of my loss of star is because there is no indication that this has not been tested on animals. I am assuming it hasn’t been, because of the simplicity of the well-known ingredients, without safety concerns. I didn’t check on this before accepted the free for review. It is an issue which matters to me. And, it would have been useful to be assured of the lecithin source. If these are eggs, this would be a product vegans would not want to use.

I also think that the supplier is missing an important point of reassurance for those who want to use natural products, as far as possible.

Some of the chemical constituents naturally occurring in essential oils have been shown to have skin irritant/sensitising actions above certain levels when those isolated constituents, synthesised, are tested. Because of this, all products using essential oils must state if any of these constituents are in their products – in this case, limonene, citronellol, linalool, geraniol. HOWEVER I’m sure these are not added isolates, in this case. As they are naturally occurring in the chemistry of the essential oils there would be no need to add them, for fragrance reasons. It would have been reassuring for this to be indicated. It’s far more likely that the irritant response happens when synthetic isolates are used than the use of the whole essential oils (at the appropriate concentrations).

Finally though I really appreciate the amber glass bottling (to prevent degradation by light) I could wish for some more secure dispensing. Picking up the bottle to get a little more oil out with already oiled hands may be a little disaster waiting to happen

You only need a tiny amount of this – use too much and you will feel oily, that small amount will absorb well and leave you silky and delectably fragranced. I estimate I use about 5-7ml for moisturising my whole body.

I’m ASSUMING that the ‘special offer price’ currently showing (below £10) is the real price, and the ‘normal’ £40 price tag is just marketer speak to try and convince people they are getting a great bargain.


Pack of Six Flexible Silicone Muffin Cases
Pack of Six Flexible Silicone Muffin Cases
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous muffin cases, inaccurately sized!, 28 Jan. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm delighted with these properly muffin sized cases. A lot of the silicone cases out there advertise themselves as muffin/cup cases. Muffins, in my kitchen are a deal larger (or should be) than cupcakes.

However, do be aware that the claimed sizing on these is wrong! A 12 cm diameter case would be a mammoth muffin indeed. These are, as the more detailed product listing indicates elsewhere in the listing, 9cm in diameter, properly sized (not quite sure where they get their variable, slightly larger diameter sizings from in that lower listing, either). And as for a height of 7cm, don't believe a word of it - again, that would be megamuff! These are 5cm. And you can hope that your risen muffin will produce the missing 2 cm or more.

What i particularly like about these is that the cases are THICK silicone - that means, these sturdily keep their shape, and so could be used either within an existing metal muffin mould case, or, on a metal baking sheet. I find thinner silicone cases need to be cooked in a metal small cakes/muffin mould cake tin if they aren't to slightly open out and lose the required shape.

And I love the ice-cream colours!


Exposure
Exposure
by Helen Dunmore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Trust, love, loyalty and betrayal in a very Cold War indeed, 28 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Exposure (Hardcover)
Helen Dunmore’s magnificent novel of espionage, set in England in the early 60s, deep in the Cold War, captivated from its first sombre, reflective sentences in the prologue, right up to the final arresting image.

Simon Callington is a very ordinary man, bright, but never brilliant, he went to Cambridge, and ended up working in an administrative capacity at the Admiralty. However, he does have some secrets and inconsistencies in his past. Firstly, he does not reflect the arrogance of his elitist background. He does his work conscientiously, but work is not what matters most – that space is occupied by his German born wife, Lily and his three young children Paul, Sally and Bridget

Callington, with no malice aforethought, becomes embroiled within an espionage ring, purely out of a misplaced loyalty to an old friend, and an accident. Callington, as the reader knows, is not a spy, and the kind of subterfuge needed for espionage is alien to him. Nevertheless, as he gets caught up in events, he, his wife, and even his children, are forced to learn to dissemble. The hunted has to learn to think as the hunter does.

The central character of this book is Simon’s wife, Lily. Lily and her mother Elsa came to England shortly before the war, and, as German Jews, needed to learn to remake themselves in order to blend in. Both Lily and Simon have a certain reserve about them, through circumstance; their loyalty to each other, even though each has secrets from the other, is unshakeable.

There are some definite parallels in this story with a well-loved children’s book – E.E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children – 3 children, two girls and one boy, a disappeared father, a relocation from London to an out of the way place, a mystery, and, of course, the role of the railway itself. For me, one of the most poignant themes in the book concerns the loss of childish innocence, and the need to begin thinking, early, with an adult awareness, in order to protect your family. This was the inheritance Lily had had to learn in her own childhood, because of politics, and war, and this is learned again, because of politics, and a different kind of war, by Paul, Sally and Bridget.

Dunmore’s novel has a fine feel for period; this is the very early 60s, and a few short years before the explosion of ‘the sixties’ which began to shake up a society and usher in radical change. Although one could say that on the surface characters correspond to some broad types, Dunmore’s characters are far from cliché – nuanced and individual they can surprise themselves as much as they surprise the reader.

As the end of the novel neared, remembering the prologue did predict the outcome, and I think this was an excellent choice, in structuring the novel. There were certain questions which were left for the reader, the right ones, but this story also absolutely needed the ending it got.

Every character in this book was well drawn and all were more or less like icebergs – whatever you saw, there were hidden depths and surprising delicacies, nuances and understandings going on. There were also odd little throwaways which sent the reader away with some questions (good ones) without firmly spelling things out. An excellent read – and also, I think, with a lot of potential for discussion by book groups

“It isn’t what you know or don’t know: it’s what you allow yourself to know….It turns out that I knew everything. All the facts were in my head and always had been. I ignored them, because it was easier. I didn’t want to make connections. I’ve begun to understand that I’ve been half-asleep all my life, and now I’m waking up”

I received this as an ARC from the publishers, Hutchinson/Cornerstone Digital, via NetGalley, and recommend it, without any reservations


Time Travelling with a Hamster
Time Travelling with a Hamster
by Ross Welford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Beware of tin baths containing electronic equipment, 26 Jan. 2016
I am not the target audience for this one, but, like I think many really excellent books for children, it certainly appeals to the inner child of this adult. And I suspect it also appeals to the inner adult of a child!

Albert Einstein Chaudhury (Al) our twelve year old narrator lives in Northumberland, with his mum, his stepdad Steve, and his stepsister from hell, Carly, who is definitely not emo, but is a goth. Nearby lives Al’s wonderfully eccentric grandpa, Grandpa Byron.

When Al was 8, his father (Byron’s son Pythagoras, Pye) died suddenly, aged 39. We don’t get to find out exactly how and why, initially. Some time later Al's mum got together with Steve (whose wife had died from cancer). Steve is a good man, though rather dull, and tries really hard to be a replacement dad for Al. But he can’t really come close, because Pye was a wonderfully eccentric and interesting man. For a start, it turned out that he built a time machine, and wrote a letter before he died, to be delivered to Al on his twelfth birthday. And what he wants Al to do is to find the hidden time machine, travel back in time and prevent Pye from dying. Full instructions will be given.

Meanwhile, apart from the unexpected birthday present of a letter written by his dead father, Al has a more conventional present of a football shirt for Newcastle United from Steve (Al hates football) and a more appreciated present of a hamster from his mum (the one in the book’s title) At least Steve suggests a name for the hamster which Al thinks is actually better than what HE would have thought of (Hammy or Fluffy) Al has no idea who Alan Shearer is, but it seems a mite more hamster original than Hammy or Fluffy.

A lot of the book is involved in explaining Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and his Special Theory of Relativity, and how time travel might or might not work. This is done in an amusing and interesting way so that not only eight to twelve year olds, but even adults without advanced qualifications in physics and maths might become a little the wiser.

This most enjoyable, page-turning, warm-hearted and funny book is about a lot more than time travel however. There’s a lot of emotional learning happens in the story, about love, loss, death, adventure, how to deal with bullies, friendships, not to mention the surprising relationships which become possible if you can time travel backwards and get to meet your relatives when they were younger.

Al, Grandpa Byron, Pye, and even Carly the Stepsister From Hell, not to mention Alan Shearer, are delightful companions for this journey, and I recommend this book most highly, not just to the target audience (probably 8-12 yrs +, and especially boys as Al will be a wonderful peer to identify with) but also to those well past that age and of female gender. And, of course, to hamsters. Hamsters are heroes!

I was lucky enough to request and receive this as a digital copy for review purposes from the Publisher. It is author Ross Welford’s first book. I look forward to more!


DAOTS Trekking Poles Walking Hiking Sticks (Black  2 pack)
DAOTS Trekking Poles Walking Hiking Sticks (Black 2 pack)

5.0 out of 5 stars Walking the Walk, 25 Jan. 2016
Firstly, I received a pair of these trekking poles in return for an honest review, . The supplier was made aware that an honest review might well be a very critical review, and accepted the risk.

I'm delighted to report that my honest review is honestly admiring of these poles.

I will start with two 'developmental' ideas. One is that the nice touch of the storage/carrying bag, for when these are not in use is a small fraction short to completely enclose the poles - the handles are not completely covered. The second is the absence of any springier shock absorption. Some people like/require these. Not too much of a problem for me as over recent years I've used 'found sticks' as walking poles!

I was interested trying a pair of sticks for Nordic walking, which I'm quite keen to try for a more vigorous full body exercise on short distance walking.

So - there are excellent features on this pair (including the clips to clip them together for easy storage)

The height adjusting mechanism is excellent. The poles are adjustable in two sections, for each pole, which gives more stability I think, particularly if they are to be adjusted to their maximum, for a tall person. Flick the white clip open, one at a time, extend, close clip - and the clip itself can also be easily rotated when open to loosen/tighten the grip of it to your personal satisfaction.

The handles are remarkably comfortable, and the wrist tightening straps enable grip to be secure.

The ground end has rubber covers (giving a little shock absorption) if you are using these on surfaced paths. These can be removed if you are walking on soggy, uneven, unmade surfaces where you need the sticks (the spike under the rubber cover) to get a grip into the surface - shingle, for example. Finally, there are also 'snow cover' attachments which you can fix above the 'spike' - useful too for muddy ground.

The sticks are very lightweight, and also feel sturdy and secure

There is currently no price showing, so one thing I can't comment on is whether these seem to be competitively priced/value for money

Later edit : do be aware that if you are getting these specifically to walk Nordic that the rubber ends of these are not optimal for the Nordic style. However, those tips can easily be bought, I found a reasonable source, containing the Nordic tips suitable for a range of paving surfaces 12 Items / 6 Pairs of Nordic Walking Pads Rubber Buffer for Tarmac / Tarmac and Stone . They fit these lovely Daots perfectly


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