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Murder Most Unladylike: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
Murder Most Unladylike: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
by Robin Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Agatha Christie meets Enid Blyton in a cosy crime thriller for children aged 9+, 2 July 2015
It’s 1934. Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are pupils at Deepdeen School for Girls, a boarding school where they have established their own secret detective society. Unfortunately cases are a little thin on the ground and to date, their only success has been in searching for Lavinia’s missing tie. But everything changes when Hazel finds the body of Miss Bell, the science mistress, lying in the gym, only for the corpse to go missing when she runs to get help.

Daisy is the only person who believes Hazel and both girls are determined to prove that the murder happened and find who dun it. However, conducting a secret investigation is a stressful matter as the girls bicker over suspects and motives and Deepdeen’s darkest secrets are revealed, threatening the lives of both would-be detectives …

Robin Stevens’ debut novel (the first in a series) is a delightful crime thriller for children aged 9+ that reads like Agatha Christie meets Enid Blyton. Stevens clearly loves the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and it shines through this book with the neat puzzle of the central murder and a full cast of potential suspects, each with their own motives and suspicious behaviours. Daisy and Hazel are an interesting duo – both come from a life of moneyed privilege but while Daisy is very much part of the English establishment, Hazel (with her Chinese parentage) will always be an outsider. I particularly liked how Stevens shows the casual racism at play in 1930s society and how that hurts Hazel, who tries so hard to fit in. I also liked how the tensions that develop between the girls magnifies their own insecurities and forces them to examine themselves and their own actions. Daisy and Hazel are given a fun array of classmates - my favourite being the hapless Beanie and also the younger girls who hero-worship Daisy and serve as her willing minions – but the teachers are equally entertaining and there’s a lot of truth in the depiction of the girls’ collective crush on their art teacher, The One. For all that this is a murder mystery, there really isn’t a lot of violence - beyond the murder anyway - although Stevens does ratchet up the tension and suspense in the final quarter as she brings events to a head. Ultimately, this is a really fun read and I can’t wait for the next book.


Foreign Gods, Inc.
Foreign Gods, Inc.
by Okey Ndibe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.17

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine debut on culture, corruption and a touch of magical realism, 25 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Foreign Gods, Inc. (Paperback)
Originally from Nigeria, Ikechukwu “Ike” Uzondu has lived in America for the last 10 years. A cum laude graduate in economics from Amherst College, he dreamed of finding his fortune and a green card by working for a big western bank. Rebuffed for his accent, he instead found himself driving cabs and marrying the demanding Bernita who wanted shopping and sex and belittled his aspirations. Now divorced and bitter at how his dreams have been dashed, he seeks salvation through the art gallery, Foreign Gods, Inc, which sells indigenous god statues from around the world to those with wealth to burn.

Ike is sure that the gallery will pay big money for the statue of his Nigerian village’s war god, Ngene. All he has to do is return home to steal it. But that’s easier said than done for Ike’s uncle is Ngene’s high priest and he’s estranged from Ike’s born-again Christian mother and sister who are in thrall to a charismatic pastor and convinced that there’s a plot to kill them ...

Okey Ndibe’s debut literary novel is an interesting tale of crushed dreams, corruption and the way in which capitalism destroys those it comes in contact with, all underpinned by a magical realist vibe. It took a while for me to warm to Ike, partly because his alcoholism and gambling come across as plot necessities rather than intrinsic parts of his character and also because he’s naïve for a supposedly highly educated man and makes some stupid decisions, most notably in his scenes attempting to negotiate with the gallery owner. However the chapters set in Nigeria really held my attention. I loved the dialogue between his various Nigerian characters and whilst the depiction of Nigeria’s endemic corruption follows a well trodden literary path, I believed in the relationships Ndibe creates and particularly those between him and his mother and uncle and the tensions that exist between them. Ndibe weaves in the magical realist elements with an assured hand and I enjoyed Ike’s uneasy reaction to the idol he has come to steal and the way Ndibe keeps it open as to whether this is truly a god at work or the product of Ike’s own guilt at his actions. Ultimately there was enough here to hold my attention from beginning to end and I would definitely check out Ndibe’s other work.


Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband
Season to Taste or How to Eat Your Husband
by Natalie Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Great hook, shame about the execution, 21 Jun. 2015
Lizzie Prain never set out to kill her husband Jacob. Sure, she bashed his head in with a spade but she didn’t plan it. It just happened. Now that he’s dead though, she’s got to do something with the body and eating him seems a fitting tribute – at least it means he’s not going to waste and no one will have to stumble over the gruesome remains of his body. It’s not easy to eat a human being, however, and Lizzie has to find a way to make herself go through with the plan while simultaneously convincing her friends and neighbours that Jacob has left her ...

Natalie Young’s literary novel has a great hook - the idea of killing and eating your spouse has such smashing allegorical potential – but despite some good lines, the execution left me colder than a corpse. The main problem for me is that Lizzie is, for the most part, such a dull and lifeless character. Young alludes to her deprived childhood and inability to commit to a career but there’s little depth brought out in her marriage with Jacob (who at best, is distant and at worst, woefully underdrawn). She’s a character who’s constantly running and who has an inability to confront anyone or anything but that by itself doesn’t explain why she takes such a drastic step and the act of eating Jacob brings little insight to either him or her. There’s a flirtation with Tom, a young man who works at the local garden centre, and in theory the suspicions of an elderly neighbour should add tension (but doesn’t). Perhaps the one thing that annoyed me most about the book though was the way in which almost everyone takes Lizzie’s word for the reason behind Jacob’s disappearance. It simply didn’t ring true to me – most notably in the case of Jacob’s sometime art dealer (and maybe mistress) Joanna, who engages in a bizarre exchange of correspondence with Lizzie that doesn’t appear to make her the slightest bit suspicious as to Lizzie’s mental state. I did like the motivational notes that Lizzie writes to herself and there’s a grim humour in the clinical way she works out how to hack up and best cook her late husband’s various parts but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention and as such, I’m not sure I’d check out Young’s other work.


Shanghai Sparrow
Shanghai Sparrow
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative steampunk adventure with a lot of promise, 8 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Shanghai Sparrow (Kindle Edition)
15-year-old Evvie Duchen is a survivor. She has to be. An orphan who escaped the house of an uncaring uncle who wished to marry her off to a paedophile, she’s been forced to fend for herself. Fortunately, her pick-pocketing and con skills drew the attention and protection of Ma Pether, who sets her to work scouting out houses for burglary. But Evvie’s luck runs out when she meets Mr Holmforth, a dedicated servant of Her Majesty’s Empire who thinks that Evvie has what it takes to preserve the Empire and, coincidentally, further his own career aspirations.

Evvie’s sent to a school for spies run by the cold and unforgiving Miss Caingrim. Competition is stiff and Evvie’s low status makes it difficult to make friends but Holmforth has prescribed a vigorous curriculum for her, including Cantonese lessons and scientific research that will take Evvie to the darkest corners of Shanghai where her actions will change the world and beyond …

Gaie Sebold’s third novel is a delightful steampunk adventure (the first of a new series) that explores the Empire’s dark underbelly both in London and through its territories in China. What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it’s a romance free zone – Evvie has a tough life and while it touches at times on melodrama, Sebold leaves you in no doubt as to the emotional impact it has on her. Holmforth is also an interesting antagonist – acting in what he sees as the best interests of the Empire and yet also torn by the fact that as a bi-racial man he will never be accepted by those he serves. Sebold marries her industrial steampunk world with a parallel tale of faerie that has a lot of potential and which I would have enjoyed seeing more of here. My main criticism though goes to pacing – the book is very uneven in places with some events being rushed and others happening off-page. This is actually one of those books that could easily be twice as long without losing any quality or dragging and it would have made the world even more absorbing than it is. I would have particularly liked to have had more scenes set in Shanghai and more showing Holmforth’s character (especially his family background which is skated over in broad terms). That said, there’s a lot of promise here and I really look forward to reading the sequel.


Sealy Posturepedic Zonal Support Pillow - Firm
Sealy Posturepedic Zonal Support Pillow - Firm
Price: £35.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Firm pillow that's too firm for me, 27 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I picked this item because I sleep on my side and had been looking for a good firm pillow that would retain its firmness after a reasonable period of continued use. I've used it for almost a month now and can attest to the fact that it retains its firmness but, ironically, for me it's actually a little too hard, such that I actually find myself with neck pain when I wake up in the morning.

If you're looking for a high, firm pillow then it's definitely worth trying but I think I'm going to have to keep looking for the right pillow for me.


I'm Travelling Alone
I'm Travelling Alone
by Samuel Bjork
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Nordic Noir by numbers ..., 10 May 2015
This review is from: I'm Travelling Alone (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Mia Kruger plans to commit suicide in 12 days. She let personal feelings interfere with an investigation and has been drummed out of the police force. There’s nothing now to stop her from joining her beloved sister. Nothing, except her former partner, Holger Munch, who needs her help in a new investigation. A six-year-old girl has been murdered, her body left hanging from a tree. She was wearing a stylised school uniform and around her neck was an airline tag bearing the words “I’m travelling alone” and the killer isn’t done – other six-year-old girls will also die unless Holger and Mia can stop it ...

I’M TRAVELLING ALONE is the first in a new Nordic Noir crime thriller series from Samuel Bjork (the pseudonym of Norwegian novelist and playwright Frode Sander Oien). It has all the familiar Nordic Noir elements – troubled detectives with tangled personal lives, dark and twisted murders and an insane serial killer and that’s precisely the problem – it’s very formulaic. This is noir by rote, a checklist of elements that never spark into life and which is further hampered by too many plot lines and too many characters, which makes it difficult to empathise with the leads because they’re not on the page for long enough. This is particularly true in the case of a plot line following an abused boy who decides to investigate a Christian cult living deep in the woods – although potentially fascinating, the time jumps make it difficult to keep track of what’s happened and there simply isn’t enough on it on the page to maintain tension. Mia and Holger are both stock characters – particularly Mia who doesn’t convince as the genius investigator with a unique eye for detail and a fan following on Facebook and her guilt over her sister’s death left me yawning. Holger’s not a lot better – an overweight divorcee who’s emotionally estranged from his daughter but devoted to his young granddaughter. The serial killer’s motivation is contrived and for all the careful planning they display in the novel, they end up as a stock loony on a mission in the final pages. The translation from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund is fine, although there is a heavy reliance on fragmented sentences, which I found grating. Ultimately there just isn’t enough that’s new or original for me to continue reading this series, but fans of the genre may feel more charitable.


Vowed: The Blackhart Legacy: Book Two (Blackhart Legacy 2)
Vowed: The Blackhart Legacy: Book Two (Blackhart Legacy 2)
by Liz de Jager
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed YA fantasy sequel, 10 May 2015
It’s several months after BANISHED. Separated from Thorn, Kit Blackhart has thrown herself into her work and together with Aiden, is investigating the proliferation of a deadly fae drug called Glow among the London clubbing scene when Queen Suola of the Unseelie Court asks her to investigate the disappearance of a number of children from a south London council estate. But Suola’s request comes with a catch – if Kit takes the case she’ll have to work it with Dante Alexander, a member of HM Department of Supernatural Defence and Intervention (known to the Blackharts as Spooks). There’s no love lost between the Blackharts and the Spooks but when more kids go missing Kit and Dante have to put aside their differences to figure out what’s going on. Neither is prepared for what they’ll uncover and the implications it has for both the human and fae worlds …

The second in Liz de Jager’s YA trilogy is a mixed and, at times, slightly muddled affair that shares the breadth of ideas and fine use of folklore as BANISHED but lacks the structure and writing polish. The main problem for me lies in Kit herself. Although she’s supposed to be fiery and brave, her self-admitted brattish tendencies grated on me, especially her refusal to seek or accept help when she needs it. She also has a strange tick of identifying magical things or emotions as “weird” when, given her family history, she really shouldn’t be surprised or thrown by them. The obligatory hint at a YA love triangle with Dante didn’t excite me and I found the scattered Thorn scenes to be confusing – especially the end where his explanation of his actions made little sense. Similarly the story itself has an uneven pace – the missing children plot should be front and centre but there’s no urgency to Kit and Dante’s investigation and the Glow investigation sits uneasily alongside it while the resolution to both is ultimately unfulfilling (and I say that as someone who likes low beat endings). This is a shame because de Jager excels at incorporating folklore elements – I particularly loved the Pied Piper reference – and her depiction of the frigid, capricious but always dangerous fae is quite chilling at times. Ultimately, there’s just enough here to make me read the trilogy’s conclusion but I hope the plot hangs together more tightly.


OxCrimes: Introduced by Ian Rankin  (Ox Tales)
OxCrimes: Introduced by Ian Rankin (Ox Tales)
by Peter Florence
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good collection of crime stories in aid of a good cause, 6 April 2015
Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence invited 27 crime writers to submit an original short story to this collection. Ian Rankin provides the introduction, there’s an afterword by Oxfam’s CEO Mark Goldring and all royalties going in support of Oxfam. The collection is a good one without any really duff stories within it and I really enjoyed the variety of styles and stories on display.

THE DEAD THEIR EYES IMPLORE US by George Pelecanos is an emotionally satisfying tale that follows a Greek immigrant in 1930s New York who finds himself set on a path of revenge when a friend is killed.

THE CASE OF DEATH AND HONEY by Neil Gaiman is another of his riffs on Sherlock Holmes and sees him face his greatest case – against death itself. I enjoyed the tie ins here with Holmes mythology and it’s one that Holmes fans will particularly enjoy.

BUY AND BUST by Simon Lewis follows an undercover cop trying to make a bust only for everything to go wrong. This wasn’t one of my favourites because it felt like it needed a better finish, but it’s still an interesting tale.

I’VE SEEN THAT MOVIE TOO by Val McDermid is a delicious revenge tale revolving around a film script, a con woman and a lesbian affair gone wrong.

CAUGHT SHORT by Anthony Horowitz is a silly just deserts story that works better if you don’t think about the ways it wouldn’t work in reality.

THE SIN OF DREAMS by Walter Mosley is an interesting combination of SF and crime set in a future world where the soul can be downloaded and transferred to a new body. This was one of my favourites in the collection with the issues and consequences staying with me long after I finished the book.

FIVE FRANCS EACH by Fred Vargas (translated by Sian Williams) is the first English translation of a French story published in 2000 that follows a homeless witness to a crime who refuses to co-operate with the police and is a damning piece of social commentary.

AN AFTERNOON by Ian Rankin is a reprint of one of Rankin’s earliest stories about a police officer patrolling a football game. It’s a little lacking in depth but I liked the way he turns the coins thrown at the police officers from weapons to a prize.

JUROR 8 by Stuart Neville is a really nice twist on 12 ANGRY MEN and will guarantee you never look at Henry Fonda’s character in the same light again.

FACE VALUE by Stella Duffy is a neatly constructed tale of an author recounting the dark history behind his most famous work.

NOT TOMMY JOHNSON by John Harvey is a Resnick tale about the tragic and needless death of a teenage boy trying to do the right thing.

YOU’LL NEVER FORGET MY FACE by Peter James plays on the gypsy curse trope. I’ll confess that it isn’t my favourite form of story because of the inherent racism but it’s well executed.

THE CALM BEFORE by Denise Mina is a really creepy story about a released convict trying to start a new life but unable to leave his desires behind him.

THE LADDER by Adrian McKinty puts crime firmly in the world of the academic liberal classes and shows that even the humble game of squash can be motive to murder.

VENICE IS SINKING INTO THE SEA by James Sallis is a creepy story about a woman just looking for the right man to be with.

MY LIFE AS A KILLER by Maxim Jakubowski is a well-constructed story about a hitman for hire who finds it impossible to keep his work life separate from his personal life.

THE CATERPILLAR FLAG by Christophe Fowler is set against the Diamond Jubilee and follows ex pats living in Spain who find murder amongst their midst.

REFLECTIONS IN UNNA by Louise Welsh follows an Englishman in the Ruhr who finds that the opportunity of a lifetime carries a dark and frightening price.

PEOPLE JUST DON’T LISTEN by Peter Robinson is a beautifully executed short story about the danger of brief encounters in cocktail bars.

THE HONEY TRAP by Anne Zouradi contains some great depictions of the Greek islands but the story itself and in particular its denouement didn’t quite ring true for me.

THE SPINSTER by Anne Cleeves fits into her Shetland Isle series with Jimmy Perez speaking to a Shetland inhabitant and uncovering old crimes when a body is uncovered during construction of a home extension.

DIAGNOSIS: MURDER by Martyn Waites is a little clichéd, following a man whose diagnosis of terminal cancer gives him a new desire to right old wrongs and the ending was too predictable for me.

TROUBLE AT THE INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF FORGIVENESS by Alexander McCall Smith is a deliciously tongue in cheek tale of a private investigator who finds that no one in an Institute for Forgiveness Studies can find it within themselves to forgive each other.

THE HOUSE OF SUSAN LULHAM by Phil Rickman marries murder with a crime story but the genres never gelled for me and the idea of a church-sanctioned paranormal investigator didn’t ring true for me.

UNDERNEATH THE MISTLETOE LAST NIGHT by Mark Billingham sees the unforgiveable happen as Santa Clause is whacked besides the Chritmas tree and Tom Thorne has to find the culprit.

THE CHILDREN OF DR LYALL by John Connolly is a creepy mix of history, crime and SF set among looters and burglars intent on making money during the Blitz who get more than they bargained for when they target the house of an elderly woman. This chilled the hell out of me and also stayed with me long after I finished the book.

BLACK SKY by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a disturbing mix of SF and crime set in the far future where a mining mission on the moon is winding down and waiting for their ride home when they start to receive messages from an abandoned base.


Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective: Bk. 1 (Gollancz)
Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective: Bk. 1 (Gollancz)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fine collection of stories that showcase Martin's development as a writer, 5 April 2015
First published in 2006, DREAMSONGS is the first volume of an anthology of George R. R. Martin’s short fiction (including short stories and novellas). It’s divided into four sections, each prefaced by a short introduction from Martin who provides context to the selected work.

ONLY KIDS ARE AFRAID OF THE DARK is one of Martin’s earliest works – a Dr Weird story written for Star-Studded Comics in the mid-60s. It’s brave to include it here because the story itself is raw with a two-dimensional villain and enough purple prose to sink a battleship, but it does show Martin’s early love of comics and fantasy.

THE FORTRESS is a story that earned Martin his first rejection letter and was written for a class he took in Scandinavian history. Based on a real military surrender, it shows more promise although the dialogue is a little stilted.

AND DEATH HIS LEGACY was a story that Martin wrote as part of a university course in creative writing. It started out as an homage to James Bond but became a more political story about the problems in stopping an ideology. The story’s a little simplistic but the pay off is a nice twist.

THE HERO was Martin’s first pro sale, which that set him on a course to becoming a professional writer. It’s a SF story about a soldier nearing the end of his tour of duty and determined to retire to Earth where he can live the good life.

THE EXIT TO SAN BRETA was Martin’s second pro sale – a ghost story with an obvious twist but a creepy futuristic vibe to it and a real nostalgia for the motorcar.

THE SECOND KIND OF LONELINESS was a sale to Analog and the first of Martin’s work to get cover art. It’s another SF story and the first of the collection that I really enjoyed given the twist at the end (which is really tragic).

WITH MORNING COMES MISTFALL was Martin’s second sale to Analog and another SF story, albeit one that laments how scientific truth can rob the world of much needed romance and mystery.

A SONG FOR LYA was Martin’s first novella. Another SF, it looks at the need of people to be part of something more, although I wasn’t convinced by the depiction of the alien religion.

THIS TOWER OF ASHES spun out of a couple of disastrous love affairs and is a SF about a man who secludes himself on an island following the collapse of a love affair. I found the ending rather weak and the emotions a little trite.

AND SEVEN TIMES NEVER KILL A MAN was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novlette and is a sophisticated, creepy story about religious hatred and how it can be used against those who practice it. There’s a lot of skill in the depiction of the main characters and in the construction of the main religions within it.

THE STONE CITY was published in an anthology of John W Campbell award nominees edited by Martin. It’s another SF story set in a Kafkaesque world that the main character cannot escape. I really loved the character’s increasing desperation and how his reaction contrasts with those of his ship mates plus it has a thought-provoking pay off.

BITTERBLOOMS marries fantasy with SF to mixed effect – mainly because I didn’t really believe in the main characters or the rationale for their actions.

THE WAY OF CROSS AND DRAGON is a SF imagining of the future of the Catholic church as man advances across the stars. Nominated for the Nebula and Hugo, I found it a little too cynical for my taste, although I did enjoy the solution to a dissenting branch of the church.

THE LONELY SONGS OF LAREN DORR was Martin’s first pro sale fantasy story and was intended to be the first of a series featuring Laren. It’s elegantly written but thin and I found Laren to be underdeveloped – it’s a shame Martin didn’t continue with the series though because it had potential.

THE ICE DRAGON is a much more satisfying fantasy story and claims the distinction of being the first fantasy tale to feature a dragon made of ice. I enjoyed the friendship that lies at the heart of it and the main character endures a satisfying emotional arc.

IN THE LOST LANDS was one of my favourite stories in the collection and is a fantasy based on that old idea that the only thing worse than wanting something is getting it. It’s another elegantly constructed piece that’s precisely bookended and you can really see Martin’s craft shining through.

MEATHOUSE MAN is the last of Martin’s corpse handler horror tales and is a strangely emotional tale about a man looking for love in all the wrong emotional places.

REMEMBERING MELODY is a horror about the needy college friend who never really lets you go and was the first of Martin’s work to be adapted for television.

SANDKINGS is apparently one of Martin’s best known works (although I confess it was new to me) and won both the Hugo and the Nebula. A SF horror about the perils of tyranny, I really enjoyed the creepy vibe and the pay off is tremendously satisfying.

NIGHT FLYERS is another SF horror that won the Locus award and was the first of Martin’s works to be turned into a film. I personally found that this had dated quite a lot although the underlying ideas are creepy and effective, I didn’t believe in the cast of characters.

THE MONKEY TREATMENT was one of my favourite stories in the collection and got nominated for the Nebula and Hugo. It’s another work in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ vibe but the monkeys themselves are completely sinister.

THE PEAR-SHAPED MAN won a Bram Stoker Award and is a really sinister, nasty story about the creepy guy who lives in your apartment building that made me shudder long after I finished reading it.

As someone new to Martin’s work, I was surprised at the amount of SF in here but on the whole I enjoyed the stories offered up and think it’s very brave of him to include his earliest, least polished work because it shows how he progressed. I have to confess though that I found the short introductory sections written by Martin to be the most interesting part of the book because that’s where he talks about his background and his influences and the history behind the selected stories, which adds a lot more to the reading experience. On the basis of this book, I would definitely check out Martin’s other work and am kicking myself for having left it so long to do so.


Casio Women's Watch BABY-G BG-169R-1ER
Casio Women's Watch BABY-G BG-169R-1ER
Price: £56.78

4.0 out of 5 stars Decent watch, 30 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Bought this as a replacement for another Baby-G. The watch strap is glossier than in the picture and I was a little disappointed with the plastic buckle on it, which feels a little cheap but otherwise it's stylish enough. However, it seems a sturdy enough product and there are a lot of features on the watch (including data storage, stopwatch, count down timer and international time zones) and the blue back light makes it easy to tell the time at night. The watch display is clear and easy to read.


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