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More Than This
More Than This
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.43

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a hopeful and dystopian teenage quest ..., 27 Oct. 2013
This review is from: More Than This (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
More Than This (MTT) is my second novel by Patrick Ness in as many weeks, my first being The Crane Wife. Readers who enjoyed one might not necessarily enjoy the other, as the subject matters are quite different. MTT is darker and the novel opens with the death of our protagonist, whose drowning at sea is rendered stark with detail. When he "wakes" he finds himself in an empty world, a place at once familiar and unknown ... whether he is dead or alive, where this place is, and why he is here are questions that Seth seeks to find the answers to through the rest of the novel.

The novel is divided into 3 parts, and the first part is quite frightening in places; it's struck through with a sense of foreboding that comes both from the "world" he's in and from Seth's physical and emotional vulnerability. It's written in a way that is tense and absorbing and will keep you avidly reading in the hope that there will be "more than this". Interspersed with Seth's wondering about what has happened are italicised flashbacks to the past. These flashbacks serve to keep the narrative moving swiftly as we piece together the events leading up to his death.

A revelation at the end of the first part leads into the second part, and it's here that we learn the "truth" about the world that Seth finds himself in. I won't disclose how this truth is discovered, but I do want to mention that the plot's similarity (at this point) to the storyline of a well-known film did bother me. It's a film I know and love, so perhaps that's why. Part 3 opens on a minor revelation and leads to an open ending ... it could either be open for a sequel or simply left for the reader's imagination to complete. Time will tell.

Parts 2 and 3 are action-packed in comparison to the slowly unfolding suspense that defines the first part. The novel is graphic in quality, taking its cues from many a cinematic dystopian landscape; movies like Mad Max and Tron were often in my mind, and many others too. Ness, in my opinion, still excels when he writes about human life; he creates strong characters and through their interactions generates considerable pathos. The book excels as a serious and humane questioning of universal themes - life and death, guilt and tragedy, love and betrayal - through teenage eyes. I do think he's brilliant in these areas, and that all the rest, the action and science fiction/fantasy genre-blending, is surplus to requirement.

I find Ness an enigma. He's a good writer, but not a beautiful writer. He reminds me of David Arnold in that he champions teenagers who are often a much maligned age-group; unlike Arnold though, I find Ness's forays into fantastical realms detract from rather than enhance the overall effect of his works. Nevertheless, the characters met within these pages will excite sympathy and compassion to the extent that they will have you turning the pages in quick succession to find out about their pasts and possible futures ... and what story (or reader) could ask for anything more?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2017 5:59 AM BST


The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an interesting fable on love ..., 14 Oct. 2013
This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"Let it be enough that I have lived and changed and been changed. Just like everyone else."

This is my first Patrick Ness novel, and it seems it is atypical of his work to date which is generally for a young adult audience and of a darker persuasion in terms of subject matter. The Crane Wife takes a Japanese folk tale as its central theme, extrapolating it into a novel of just over 300 pages, with the strapline: "the extraordinary happens every day". It is a love story that may or may not be magical depending upon how you read it ...

George Duncan is a print shop owner and all round regular "nice" guy who hears strange noises one night and discovers an injured crane in his garden. Not long after, the enigmatic Kumiko comes into his life, and together they start creating beautiful works of art (tiles) that are capable of bewitching everyone who looks at them into parting with vast sums of money for the honour of owning one. Meanwhile the best character in the novel, Amanda Duncan (George's daughter), is struggling with anger, bad luck, and being misunderstood in a world that seems to be wilfully setting itself against her.

The story burns slowly for the first three quarters of the novel and then kicks off with flying colours towards the end when the "something big" that is on the horizon, "terrible" and "wonderful" at the same time, finally happens. I preferred the character development and human interaction throughout to the rather top-heavy drama of the grand finale, and think Ness did a fine job in creating Amanda Duncan with all her fury and humour and awkward humanity. I saw in an interview that Amanda's character draws heavily from his own way of being ... perhaps this is why?

The Crane Wife is well written but I remain on the fence in terms of its narrative devices. The multiple viewpoints work well, and it's interesting when we see the same incident through the eyes of others. There are sections which tell the tale of the 32 "tiles" that Kumiko is designing that worked less effectively in my mind; it's true that they tell a brilliant tale of a crane and a volcano, but I still felt they signalled their presence in the text too strongly and weighed the narrative down. Likewise, when the cause and effect of the ending are written several times in several different ways, I can appreciate that the writer is questioning one definitive view of events, but found this a rather heavy-handed way of doing that.

For me, Ness is at his best when writing about human interactions in the real world. I never got tired of the sections with Amanda, out picnicking with friends, or meeting her ex-husband; she's a brilliant creation. Equally, when Ness writes (what turns out to be another event based on his own life) of the car accident that George experienced as a child, it makes for compulsive reading. The infiltration of elements of magic realism and narrative experimentation are where I feel the novel stalls and as a reader I am snapped back into remembering that this is a work of fiction that I'm reading. This may be the point, but I didn't enjoy that aspect of it.

It's clear Ness is a good writer, though I didn't really see evidence of him being an "insanely beautiful writer" as the Time Magazine quote states. Ness excels by investing his (on paper) least likeable character, Amanda, with empathy and charm, and the rest of the novel and its characters don't really reach the same standard. The Crane Wife is an interesting fable on the meaning of love, greed and desire, but not really memorably so.


Zyliss Swivel Stainless Steel Peeler - Black and White
Zyliss Swivel Stainless Steel Peeler - Black and White
Price: £4.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality, effective peeler, 2 Oct. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Like other Zyliss products, this potato peeler is a nice-looking, ergonomic, and stylish addition to the kitchen. It has a strong rounded handle that makes it comfortable to hold and helps to keep a firm grip whilst using the peeler. The blade swivels, is sharp and cuts a clean and thin swathe of skin away from the fruit/vegetable that you happen to be peeling. Probably my favourite element is the pointed tip, which makes it very easy to nip out any deeper blemishes in potatoes, or other veg ... and if you grow your own you tend to have quite a lot of these little imperfections.

I've been using this peeler for a few weeks now, and have peeled potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and cooking apples with it. As you'd expect it handled them all with aplomb; it is good for getting into the knobbles of sweet potatoes especially.

Potato peelers are probably quite a subjective purchase. I was brought up with my parents' type which was a Lancashire Peeler. I've always liked the control these provide, with their fixed blades, but admit that they do tend to take off thicker peelings than I'd prefer. And my favourite type of peeler see here for example is actually the type where the blade runs perpendicular to the handle, as this allows me to hold the veg at a distance and then sweep the peeler down it. I've never thought of my peeling habits before this review!

Overall then, the Zyliss is a good, effective peeler, appears to be of a good build quality and looks and feels great to use; I'm happy to recommend it.


Gillette Venus Embrace Women's Razor Blades - 4 Pack
Gillette Venus Embrace Women's Razor Blades - 4 Pack
Price: £11.55

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No better than the cheaper Venus blades, 15 Sept. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am an impatient shaver; I don't like doing it for so many reasons. As such, I try and shave as infrequently as I can get away with, and I also get it over with as quickly as possible. I've used Gillette's ordinary Venus blades for ages, since they came out in fact, and have been very happy to do so. They've always provided a good shave, hardly any nicks, and last for quite a while before they need changing.

Venus Embrace cartridges have 5 blades on the head, rather than the 3 that are on mine, but still fit onto the same Venus handle. To be honest, in practice, I didn't notice any difference when using the Embrace blades, in terms of the quality of the shave. I still needed to go over a few patches where my speedy shaving had missed, and I didn't feel that my legs were any smoother than usual. Sure, they were nice and smooth, but no more so than when shaved with my usual Venus.

Venus Embrace blades might also be expected to last longer, but again I haven't found this to be the case. I find that one Embrace cartridge lasts about the same time as my usual Venus; no worse then, but not noticeably better. I also find that the moisture ribbon is no more effective and tends to be non-existent after the first shave; this is exactly like my current Venus blades, and as I use a shave gel this doesn't really bother me.

These 5-bladed heads are also about half the size again of the 3-bladed Venus heads, and when shaving under my arms I actually find them a bit too big, and less easy to manoeuvre.

Overall, I will not be swapping my usual Venus blades for these, and would recommend Gillette Venus as being better value for money. The Venus Embrace are more expensive, and don't provide a significantly cleaner or closer shave.


Zyliss Coarse Stainless Steel Grater Acid Etched
Zyliss Coarse Stainless Steel Grater Acid Etched
Price: £13.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Just not quite coarse enough, 25 Aug. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Zyliss grater really is a fine tool for the kitchen. It looks stylish and is robust yet light and easy to hold over bowls or plates whilst grating; you can also lean it upon its rubber tipped end too, and it grips the surface nicely. The plastic cover is a handy addition that will surely save many a finger from being sliced if you store the grater in a drawer, and although I hang mine up, I still like to keep it protected.

Zyliss state that they aim to create highly functional products that are about "continually delighting all who use them" and when I see this smart grater in my kitchen I do smile! I think it's partly because it feels professional, and looks so much cooler than my bog standard, non-acid etched box grater that I've had for far too long. Also, it's because when I grate hard cheese, or chocolate, the curly shavings produced are beautiful. The chocolate is perfect for a decorative topping on cakes or tarts, and the delightful cloud of cheese (almost too pretty to melt into a quiche, or as a pizza topping) really does dress up the likes of jacket potatoes, chillies or pasta dishes. I've even used this to grate the zest of a lemon (that was then blitzed into hummus) and grate nutmeg, though there is a Zyliss Fine Grater, Acid Etched available that's probably more suited to this purpose.

Before I get too carried away though, this product does have one limitation. I really like to make crunchy raw grated salads using apples, carrots, beetroot, and celeriac. Whilst I've not tried grating celeriac with this grater, I have used it for apples, carrots and beetroots, and must admit that I was a little disappointed in the results. The grater is actually not coarse enough, and grates such fine shavings that the salad ends up much too wet with quite a mushy consistency. For me this is a drawback, and emphasises where my low-tech box grater remains absolutely invaluable.

If you're looking to replace a box grater with this Zyliss, I would caution against that. This grater works well for offering a more refined, elegant shaving with things that are very hard, like chocolate and some cheeses. It also does ginger nicely, and can be used for coarse(ish) zesting. However, if you need a grated fruit or vegetable to have some crunch and body, such as for a salad or coleslaw, then this won't produce the desired result.


The Best of Rose Elliot: The Ultimate Vegetarian Collection
The Best of Rose Elliot: The Ultimate Vegetarian Collection
by Rose Elliot
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a satisfying selection, 17 Aug. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
For those who own either of Elliot's cookbooks, Veggie Chic, or Vegetarian Supercook, it's worth knowing that this book is a collection of recipes selected from those 2 books. My own staple cookbook is Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian, and it is not surpassed, except in the department of sumptuous photography, by this latest "Best of" offering. Having said that, there can never be a downside to having another Rose Elliot cookery book on the shelf!

The Best of Rose Elliot is divided into 9 food sections: Starters; Soups & salads; Classics with a twist; Midweek meals; Dinners to impress; Al fresco; Parties & celebrations; Side dishes; Desserts & cakes. There are also notes on some of the more unusual ingredients which are interesting to read through. Almost all the dishes are accompanied by full-page glossy photographs that add to the pleasure of flicking through and finding something tasty to serve up. As usual with Elliot, the recipes are simple step-by-step processes with a clear list of ingredients and a succinct one or two sentence introduction.

I've tried a few of the recipes. The sweet potato & coconut dhal was lovely, and as mentioned in the book, tastes much better the next day. It would also be great blitzed up as a soup. I was disappointed by the three-bean chilli which lacked the flavour of a personal favourite recipe because it lacked both herbs and spices (only chilli and garlic in Elliot's, compared with cumin, cayenne, allspice, parsley and oregano). I can create a combination of the two recipes but Elliot's should still be good enough to stand alone; here I felt it played safe to the point of being bland. There are plenty of recipes I am looking forward to trying, such as the banana curry, the lemon & almond drizzle cake and the green risotto.

I always find Elliot to be a very companionable presence in the kitchen when I'm cooking, and this book is presented in the same relaxed and accessible style. The finished results are usually on a par with what is expected, and can be obtained by even a novice cook. This book contains a wide range of dishes, from simple flavoured sides (parsnips in sage butter: yum!) to more complex mains (red pepper, ricotta & fennel tortellini with tarragon sauce) that make it easy to find something for almost any occasion. All in all, a lovely book with a satisfying selection of recipes that isn't quite as good as its title suggests.


Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore
Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Indiana Jones for the high-tech generation, 29 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"I'm building my model of the store ... all the shelves are there ... I've set them up with a coordinate system, so my program can find aisle 3, shelf 13 all by itself. Simulated light from the simulated windows casts sharp-edged shadows through the simulated store. If this sounds impressive to you, you're over thirty."

Embedded in that final sentence, to steal a phrase from the book, might just be the problem with this novel for me: I'm over 30. Whilst I engage in the worlds of Google, YouTube and computers, I do so with an almost total ignorance of how they work. I can appreciate technology, but I can't "believe" in it. I can appreciate that there is a beauty in coding or in Hadoop, but I can't see it. Yet, I believe in weirder things than technology, so when our geeky hero Clay Jannon muses on this feeling--"[w]alking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines--it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits"--I know exactly what he means because I love books.

Mr Penumbra is a novel that exists in the present moment more than any other novel I think I've ever read. Its energy and vitality come from the power struggle between the ancient technology of the book, and the newest high-tech pretenders to its throne. The books are represented by a secret society of individuals who "orbit the store like strange moons ... vibrating with need"; modern technology sends "Googlers" to do its bidding in the form of "brilliant programmers" who wear "snug jeans and T-shirts". United through the newly unemployed web-designer Clay Jannon, ancient and modern technology, Googlers, Silicon Valley whizz-kids, and members of a secret society, embark on a journey to de-code the answer to one of human kind's most enduring quests ...

... and our hero succeeds! It's interesting that whilst the book may revel in modern technology, the narrative is rather touchingly old-fashioned.

Though Sloan ties all his loose ends up rather too neatly for my liking, I still enjoyed many aspects of Mr Penumbra. The writing is pacy and packed with life; it's frequently funny and only slips occasionally into a cleverness that is just a bit too self-aware. There are some surprisingly tender moments to be found even in high-tech romantic digressions, and it's hard to be immune to the image of the light of a laptop being a beacon in the lonely dark of the night. This is also a novel full of heart and great passions; for technology obviously, but also for books, for typography, for puzzles, quests and adventures. This passion is infectious and will keep you turning the pages till the very end. There is just enough balance with the ancient too, to (probably) save this novel from dating as quickly and embarrassingly as all other things high-tech; for ancient read human themes of love and friendship, life and death that will never obsolesce.


Elizabeth David on Vegetables
Elizabeth David on Vegetables
by Elizabeth David
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars for the love of gastronomy, 21 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
How useful you're going to find this book probably depends a great deal on what kind of cook you are ... and possibly how good. I'm quite new to vegetarian cooking, and Rose Elliot has been my main guide (I love her straight-forward, and simple, New Complete Vegetarian), supplemented with River Cottage Veg Every Day (occasionally annoying though it may be in its condescension to those who choose not to eat meat). On Vegetables is quite different; an offering for the more refined cook, certainly for the foodie who loves to read a cookery book as much as create its recipes.

On Vegetables (OV) is a celebration of Elizabeth David published to coincide with the centenary of her birth. She was a woman who really did revolutionise British cooking, not only by her introduction of Mediterranean dishes with ingredients such as Parmesan cheese and pasta, but also through her engagement with cooking as an intellectual activity. There are sections in OV taken from some of her many works, where she displays her "fire and bite and [a] caustic wit when the topic demands." I especially love the "Garlic Presses are Utterly Useless" piece, and it may just be because I agree with her, but it's delicious the way she exposes the limitations of these "diabolical instruments". What comes through loud and clear is David's passion and intelligence, and her belief that food - and its accompanying gadgetry - is worthy of lively and vigorous debate.

This is a lovely book: a hardback with many glossy full-page photographs, and plenty of text too. The recipes are broken down into: soups; small dishes; salads; pasta, gnocchi & polenta; rice, beans & lentils; main dishes; breads; desserts. Many of the recipes are written in a narrative style, which isn't necessarily easy to follow for those of us used to step-by-step methodologies; they are fun to read though. Similarly, if ingredients are listed at all, it is in a single paragraph at the top of the recipe; in many cases though the ingredients appear only in the narrative as required, and so you need to read through and explore to find what will be going in your dish and in what quantities.

I admit this all takes quite a long time, and I suppose it should. The best dishes are never going to be created in haste, even if that's all that many of us have the chance to do. I really like this book for what it represents in terms of authentic food, and a pure love of gastronomy. The nature of the recipes is a testament to this; they are classic, using simple ingredients without any extraneous fuss. This book might be slightly disjointed and take a while to get into, but if the reader can overcome this, then it offers access to a much deeper understanding of food than the average cookbook and is worth its place on the shelf for that reason alone.


Fire Spell
Fire Spell
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, but not gripping., 10 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Fire Spell (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"The witch burned ..." opens the prologue, drawing the reader in, and ending enticingly: "The fire opal flashed like the eye of a phoenix."

Meanwhile, it's 1860, and in the Dickensian streets of London, Clara Wintermute is spellbound by the work of some puppeteers she watches in the park. The fantoccini trio, Grisini the boss, Parsefall and Lizzie Rose his two ragged child assistants, are invited to perform in Clara Wintermute's house for her 12th birthday, but soon after Clara disappears. It will be up to Parsefall and Lizzie Rose to discover her whereabouts, and pit their wits against evil and magic in order to free her.

The first half of the novel takes us deep into the worlds of Parsefall and Lizzie Rose; we learn about their lives gradually through their dreams, and confessions to each other: and will learn that death and violence has overshadowed their childhood. Clara may be rich, but death has similarly stalked her family's life. Grisini is sinister as a figure with power over the children in his care, but even he is held in terrible thrall by the witch, Cassandra, and her fire opal.

Fire Spell is an unexpected fantasy, in that the magical elements are few and far between, and when they do occur are of a macabre nature. "Good" magic, if it exists here, comes from the children; otherwise, it is an agent for pain, bloodshed and control. The atmosphere of the novel is gloomy, and grimy, perfectly in sync with the era in which it is set: the "gothic twist" comparison with Tim Burton certainly rings true.

Yet, I found the story for the first half at least, to be overly detailed and slow. I was impatient for something to happen. Once the two children made their way to Strachan's Ghyll, the domain of the witch, things became more interesting, although even then the novel was in no hurry to disclose its secrets. The oddness and complexity of the story should be more than enough to hold a reader's attention, and I don't really know why I found it such a chore to finish.

Schlitz is a good writer, able to create depth and subtlety with her prose; she also does something different with her fantasy, being daring enough to fill it with darkness, and creating light from the awkward relationship that develops between the 3 children. Hopefully the young readers this book is aimed at will connect with the characters, live with them through the story, and not experience any of the issues that I did. This is one of those novels I wish I'd liked more and is probably better than my rating suggests.


The Obsidian Mirror: Book 1 (Shakespeare Quartet)
The Obsidian Mirror: Book 1 (Shakespeare Quartet)
by Catherine Fisher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars nothing but the thrill, 12 May 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Obsidian Mirror (TOM) reads like the kind of novel I would imagine being written for young people in the 21st century assuming that 1) their attention spans have been diminished, and 2) their interest in edge-of-the-seat excitement beats that of character development every time. This may be true, and I am not (here's the caveat) the book's intended audience ... but still, I seem to have been reading a different book to everyone else. There's something about TOM that makes me feel like I've been reading a novel on Twitter ... a thousand fragments of stuff happening somehow merged into 393 pages of story.

At the centre of the tale is the Chronoptika, a dark mirror housed within the equally foreboding Wintercombe Abbey; a place that feels penned in by winter and which is presided over by the reclusive Oberon Venn. Angry schoolboy Jake Wilde (!) is convinced his guardian Venn has murdered his father and is determined to confront him, conniving to be sent back to the Abbey for a showdown. When he arrives, under the escort of his teacher Wharton, he discovers that the truth is far more complex and fantastical than he could ever have imagined. The mirror has drawn around it a web of characters--the girl Sarah who is being chased by a Replicant and a wolf; the scarred man; Venn's servant Piers; the enigmatic Shee; and others--whose motives and connections will be revealed along with the true extent of the mirror's power.

Fisher's imagination, and her ability to create a sense of place with so few words are amazing; Wintercombe Abbey is substantial and feels like a cross between Castle Gormenghast and Satis House, set in Narnia. There are some small evocative descriptions of the Shee, when marching to the aid of Sarah for example, or dissolving into a flock of starlings, that are full of atmosphere ... but overall, I'm left with the feeling that the scale of this novel is all wrong. The story in this first book of the series would have easily filled a trilogy, had it been allowed to slow down for just a moment. As it is, each chapter is loaded with cliff-hangers, as though Fisher is worried her readers won't last a few pages without SOMETHING happening, and for me this fragmentation is distracting. Ultimately, in trying to inject continual pace and excitement, the opposite scenario is achieved and the sheer volume of events renders them dull--after all, if there is nothing but the thrill itself, what is there to compare it with?

The biggest casualties from this approach though are the characters. I'm struggling to remember any of them as individual entities, certainly Sarah and Rebecca are interchangeable types. Moll is a stand-alone creation but only because she is representative of a time and place and her language creates a contrast. Venn, Jake and Wharton are never more than caricatures (guilty-obsessive; angst-ridden teenager; strong but kind respectively). All the characters are subjugated to pace; their revelations are all devices for moving on events, their changes of heart unconvincing, and it all just feels laboured. It's sad that we're never given the time to learn about them, to love or hate them as we should. I do concede that the Shee, Piers and the Replicant are more strongly realised, but feel this is because they are creations of fantasy, rather than humans, and therefore require more description. Oh how I wish the other characters could've merited that!

Deprived of connection with the characters and bombarded with action, I actually got bored reading this. I shouldn't have been able to stop reading as the novel reached its climactic final section and yet I stopped 2 chapters from the end without any compulsion to finish (I did read the end this morning); I certainly don't want to continue the series, and that's a huge shame. Movies may be able to beguile us with CGI action sequences whilst character and narrative flounder in obscurity, but a book shouldn't be able to get away with that, and TOM doesn't.


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