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Brian R. Martin (London, UK)
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The Liar's Chair
The Liar's Chair
by Rebecca Whitney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine psychological thriller, 22 Nov 2014
This review is from: The Liar's Chair (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Rachel Teller and her husband David are apparently a happily married couple. They met at university and now, after a lot of hard work, together they run a successful media production company. Outwardly their life seems almost perfect; only Rachel sees the darker side of her husband. David is a cold control freak, not only at work, but also in his relations with Rachel. She is under no illusions about the limits to her freedom. In desperation, Rachel starts to drink heavily and, yearning for affection, has a relationship with a rootless young man call Will, who also supplies heroin to Rachel for David's use.

Rachel's problems become serious when driving home too fast from Will's house one night, and somewhat the worse for drink, she hits and kills a tramp who wandered into the road. In a panic Rachel drags the body off the road and hides it in the undergrowth. When she gets home, David insists that she tells nobody, and arranges for the car to `disappear'. But Rachel is raked with guilt and begins to crack up under the strain, engaging in sordid self-destructive actions. The events also trigger long-suppressed shameful memories of Rachel's childhood, which are explained in several flashback chapters. Even her relationship with Will falls apart and she is left alone.

David eventually discovers the true extent of Rachel's indiscretions, and fearful that new police investigations about the death of the tramp may lead back to Rachel, arranges for her murder and disappearance. But things do not go to plan and, unknown to David, Rachel lives and starts to accumulate evidence about his illegal land deals, his increasing reliance on heroin and his probable involvement in an earlier murder, with the intention of exposing him some time in the future. It is not a happy ending; Rachel has lost everything, and is left with just the dream of revenge and justice.

This is a cleverly constructed, well written novel, which exposes the dilemma of a rather weak woman in an abusive, destructive relationship, but unable to break free. Her increasing anguish about the road accident when she finds out more about the victim is very well described and steadily increases the tension right to the end. The only weak part is the lack of any explanation of how Will comes to play the role he does at the end of the book. But leaving this aside, this is an impressive psychological thriller, particularly as I assume it's a first novel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2014 10:32 PM GMT


BT8500 Advanced Call Blocker Cordless Home Phone (Quad Handset Pack)
BT8500 Advanced Call Blocker Cordless Home Phone (Quad Handset Pack)
Price: £119.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good call blocking phone with answerphone - a few minor niggles, 13 Nov 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought a quad set to operate with a Virgin phone line and I have no serious regrets. The hardware is well made and fits nicely in the hand with the buttons slightly recessed to avoid mistakes when keying in. The screen is clear, a reasonable size, and its colour during calls can be set by the user. Brightness and loudness are two other features than be changed. There are also a wide range of volume-adjustable ring tones that can be chosen for different purposes. The call screening/blocking software (Call Guardian) has an extensive number of options that seem to cover most eventualities, and works well provided you have some form of Caller Display enabled (for which providers usually charge). If you don't want to block a class of `suspicious' calls, for example Withheld Number, or International, then they can be diverting automatically to the answer phone. This is very useful because you then can examine them at your leisure. Alternatively you can initially accept all calls and by the press of a button block those you don't want to accept in future, thus building up a directory of permanently blocked nuisance calls. The useful one-button Rapid Call, or its equivalent, is also enabled if your provider has this option. Setting up a directory of Contacts who bypass Call Guardian is, as usual, tedious, although once done on the base set they are automatically copied to all phones. Some way of inputting the data from another phone would have saved a lot of time.

I found two unsatisfactory features. One is that although the sound quality when making calls is good, the quality of the sound from Call Guardian when announcing a caller is very poor and I have several times been unable to decipher it and so had no option but to accept the call. The other criticism is the documentation supplied. This is a 70-page booklet, but no Index, just a useless Menu, but without page numbers. The equivalent documentation for the BT6500 and the BT7600 both have comprehensive indices. Why not this one? Fortunately, setting up the various features is fairly intuitive and there is a `wizard' to get you started, but it would have been made easier with a better manual.


The Faber Book of Reportage
The Faber Book of Reportage
by John Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A totally absorbing book - real-life history, 12 Nov 2014
This is collection of short descriptive pieces, some no more than a page and seldom more than half a dozen, mostly written by eyewitnesses to the events described. They range in time from 430 BC to 1986 AD.

The dominant theme is conflict and its accompanying horrors, with atrocity stories to the fore. These have always accompanied war. Examples included in the book are: the massacre of prisoners by Richard I after Richard I after taking Acre in 1191; Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria in 1871; the murders of English women and children by Indians at Cawnpore in 1857; the horrors of the German concentration camps in WW2, with their sadistic medical `experiments'; and many, many others. There are also grim descriptions from civilian life, such as: the Black Death of 1348; the burning of Archbishop Cramer at the stake in 1556; and the barbaric behaviour meted out to slaves in the West Indies.

Horrific as these accounts are, they are often also very moving, such as the description of the death of Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and Fanny Burney's account of her mastectomy without anesthetics in 1811. There are also lighter, more cheerful, pieces such as Marconi's account of sending the first radio signal across the Atlantic in 1901, and Jan Morris' account of the first ascent of Everest in 1953.

These examples give some account of the impressively wide range of topics in the book, which are the result of much reading by the editor and, as he admits, much badgering of friends and acquaintances for suggestions. The result is a superb volume. Opening it at any page one can find an engrossing account of some event that almost invariably gives one a new insight, even if the subject described is well known. However, because of the unremitting horror of much that is reported, it is best sampled in small doses.


The Faber Book of Science
The Faber Book of Science
by John Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A fine selection of scientific writing, 30 Oct 2014
This is a collection of scientific writings spanning several hundred years from the Renaissance to modern times. John Carey has obviously read very widely to compile the entries, which range over many topics in the physical and biological sciences, and, as befitting a professor of English, he has made his choice not only on the importance of the topic, but also on the quality of the writing. The contributions vary from a single page to several pages; some have extensive commentaries from the editor, others just a note on the source reference. They also vary in style. There are classic pieces of writing about seminal discoveries such as radioactivity, X-rays, and the atomic nucleus, by the discoverers themselves; commentaries by eyewitnesses or later interpreters and biographers; and personal accounts by eminent scientists about how their ideas evolved with time. One of the longest entries of the latter type is Darwin on evolution. There are also occasional lighter pieces, such as the story of how Bird's Custard Powder came to be invented, and even a few contributions, including poems, from well-known literary names who were also amateur observers of nature. I enjoyed reading this collection. It is of course a personal selection and one can think of many other possible entries, but most are well written and informative and their length means that one can dip into the book and read some of them when one has a few minutes to spare.


Rapesco 2200 Punch Heavy-duty 2-Hole Capacity 150x 80gsm Black Ref PF220AP1
Rapesco 2200 Punch Heavy-duty 2-Hole Capacity 150x 80gsm Black Ref PF220AP1
Price: £71.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent heavy-duty paper punch, 25 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you have ever had to compile collections of paper files of some sort, the obvious thing is to store them in a ring binder, which usually means punching a few sheets at a time, which is tedious, and the final result is often a rather untidy badly aligned bundle. Not if you use this machine. It is a very sturdy, well-made device that effortlessly punches neat holes through a large stack of up to 150 sheets of 80gsm paper. There is no spring mechanism; the smooth action is due to its long handle and the quality of the steel cutters. It has an excellent paper guide and can be set up for 2-hole and 4-hole operation (the latter in two stages). It is supplied with one set of cutters and cutting boards (small discs which the cutters hit after punching the holes) and it is recommended that the latter are rotated regularly by a small interval (a trivial task) and replaced when they have been rotated a full turn. Spares are available on Amazon, from example, at £5 for a pack of four and the machine has a storage area where they can be kept. Cutters are more expensive, but should last much longer. Given the price and the desk space it requires, you would have to use it regularly to justify buying one for home use, but for a small office, siting one for general use, near a copier perhaps, would improve efficiency for all users. Finally, although its use is mostly self-explanatory, it has a small but well illustrated manual.


The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books
The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books
by John Carey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

3.0 out of 5 stars A Life in Books, 25 Oct 2014
John Carey is a respected writer and literary critic and some of the books he has edited (for example, on reportage and science) are a joy to read, but this one I found disappointing. It's a mixture of autobiography, literary criticism and a description of life as an Oxford academic in an earlier time before the harsh winds of reality swept through that university. For me, this mix simply doesn't work. The description of his early family life at the beginning of the book, with lists of uninteresting relatives who played little part in forming Carey's character, is dull. The bulk of the book is a series of commentaries on the writers, particularly poets that he has studied and admires. These are often far too detailed, technical, tedious, and out of place for a relatively short book such as this. They also add little to understanding Carey himself. The most revealing sections are his descriptions of his academic life at Oxford. They are not very flattering. All too often he boasts about his achievements: in being the driver for modernising the English Faculty, in getting excellent reviews for his books and articles, and some minor discovery in the arcane world of English scholarship. Although he likes to portray himself as left-wing and on the side of the common man, he also likes to drop the names of the great and the good, and let the reader know they are in his circle of friend. I suspect he always felt a bit of an outsider at Oxford and still harbours resentment to those who held their positions almost `by right'. Carey's life has the material for a good biography, but it needs to be presented more objectively, not as an autobiography.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 3, 2014 1:36 PM GMT


Kid Galaxy Morphibians Terrapin
Kid Galaxy Morphibians Terrapin
Price: £20.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Sturdy, great fun toy, 23 Oct 2014
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This was a great hit with my 5 year-old grandson and his 3 year-old sister. It is a robust machine made of strong rigid plastic, with large deep-tread tyres that grip very well on rough surfaces such as carpets and grass, but not so well on woodern floors, where they tend to spin. It also works well in still water, but is less successful at climbing ramps. It needs three AA batteries for the machine and one 9V (neither supplied) for its wireless controller. I suspect they may well need to be replaced regularly because the performance of the machine, speed etc, is very impressive. The boy greatly enjoyed getting the knack of steering it (not so easy because of its rapid acceleration) and operating the two-lever joystick controller (a useful skill in today's world!). The latter is light, compact and well-suited to small hands. The only (minor) criticism it that the two aerials would have been better made of flexible plastic rod, rather than the flimsy wires that have been used, and which look as if they could break easily.


Tacwise Z3 Stapler 4-in-1 Nailer Kit
Tacwise Z3 Stapler 4-in-1 Nailer Kit
Price: £21.61

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Looks good, but ...., 23 Oct 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Multi-purpose tools all too often fail to live up to expectations, and so I was interested to see if this device, from a well-known manufacturer, would be any different. It comes in a useful box which can be used to store the tool, and is supplied with a range of small nails, staples and cable clips. It also appears to be sturdily made. But whether it 'does the jobs' is difficult to say.

The only instructions, such as they are, are two miniscule pictures on the side of the tool, but even these are almost useless because to load the tacker you have to invert it, and of course then the 'instructions' are upside down - poor design. The 'instructions' only address loading the device, and this inadequately. There is a lever on it that is not even mentioned. Although I have quite a lot of DIY experience, I have never used a tacker, and given that this one is clearly aimed at the DIY market, it is inexcusable to supply it without any instruction leafet. (The manufacturers have responded to this criticism by hastily posting some 'instructions' on the web, but they are merely enlarged prints of the 'instructions' on the side of the tool.) I did eventually work out how to load it with nails, but its performance was diasappointing: they failed to penetrate more than a few millimetres into softwood, and the device misfired several times (appeared to be trying to fire more than one nail). The spring lever is also understandably quite strong and I couldn't see myself using it for extensive jobs.

Overall, this is a disappointing tool. Perhaps I was loading it incorrectly, but why should I have to waste my time trying to find how to use what is a potentially dangerous tool, just because the manufacturers can't be bothered to supply it with instructions?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 24, 2014 4:02 PM BST


Suite Francaise
Suite Francaise
by Irène Némirovsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A snapshot of the German invasion and occupation of France, 5 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Suite Francaise (Paperback)
This volume contains the first two parts of a projected four-part novel, unfinished because of the untimely death of the Russian Jewish author in the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is clearly based on her own experiences in moving to a small village in the south of France as she was forced to leave Paris in the face of the rapid German advance.

The initial sections detail the chaotic scenes as Parisians flee in great haste: the middle classes in their cars, sometimes with their servants or employees, and attempting to take with them all their valuables, even bedding; the lower classes fighting to find a seat on a train and taking only what they could carry; many forced to walk. I have no personal experience of such a situation, but the descriptions and the many characters involved certainly seem real. Many behave disgracefully in their desperation to get away, but who can say what each of us would have done in similar circumstances. The move south is fraught with danger as German planes attack trains, cars and even columns of people. The fear of the refugees is well described. Fortunately it did not last long because the Germans quickly occupied Paris and a ceasefire was called. Many people return to their homes and are surprised to find them un-vandalised and just as they had left them.

The second part is about life in a village and the surrounding countryside after the Germans base a company of soldiers there. The locals find that by no means do all the Germans conform to their stereotypes as vicious brutes. The villagers have to struggle to reconcile their understandable prejudices with the reality of the situation and although a few are implacable in their hatred of the enemy, most quickly adapt. Soon a degree of fraternisation inevitably occurs as the locals get to know the soldiers as individuals (some officers are billeted in local houses) and are forced to deal with them on a day-to-day basis. A few close romantic relationships are even formed, but doomed to have no real future, because both sides know that sooner or later the Germans will be moved elsewhere. This does indeed happen towards the end of the book, when Germany invades the Soviet Union and the troops are quickly dispatched to the Russian front.

The writing is beautiful, frequently moving, and this is maintained in the excellent translation. Although a novel, it gave me a new insight on the initial period of the German occupation of France, although of course it is just a small snapshot of the whole picture and others could give a far worse picture. The descriptions of the effects on a population and its individual constituents under the occupation of an enemy do however again force us to think about how we might have behaved in similar circumstances.


The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting complex thriller, 22 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Girl on the Train (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a complex story written in the form of a series of first-person narratives given by three women. The first of these is Rachel, living in a single room in the flat of a friend after a messy divorce from her husband Tom. Rachel has a serious drink problem that has resulted in her losing her job, although she still takes the commuter train to London each day, partly to give her life some sense of normality, but also so her landlady friend doesn't discover she has no job. The second woman is Anna, the wife of Rachel's' ex-husband, who rather bizarrely now lives in the house Rachel once lived in with Tom, and which backs onto the railway Rachel uses. Finally there is Megan, the wife of Scott, who live a few doors along from Anna and Tom, and who used to baby-sit for them. The back-stories of these characters are slowly built up by a series of sections interweaving events in the past with events in the present. At first this is a little confusing, and one has to keep careful track of the dates at the head of each section, but it works and is essential to understand what follows.

On her daily train journeys, Rachel looks at the backs of the houses they pass, something many travellers do. But she goes further and phantasies about the lives of a couple she sees in the back gardens of a house where the train invariably stops at a signal. The couple is Megan and Scott. Then Megan disappears on a day when Rachel was blind drunk and had had a violent argument with Anna and Tom. She wakes up the next day bruised and bloody and worries that she had something to do with Megan's disappearance, but cannot remember how she came to be in this state. Her anxiety increases when Megan, who is pregnant, is found murdered and Scott inevitably is a suspect. There follows a complicated series of increasingly ill-tempered encounters between the various characters, during which we find out that they are all flawed in some way, with unpleasant secrets to hide. Rachel eventually recalls what happened to her on the fatal night and this results in a violent confrontation at the end of the book, where the murderer is revealed and justice, of a sort, is achieved.

Although the plot of the story is not entirely original (`Rear Window' and others), it is sufficiently different to hold one's attention. It is also helped by good writing, with sufficient, but not too detailed, information about the main characters, although towards the end it did seem a bit too long and over ingenious. Nevertheless, it is good unusual first novel.


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