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Sealy Posturepedic 400 g Zonal Support Pillow
Sealy Posturepedic 400 g Zonal Support Pillow
Price: £31.02

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: £7.97

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

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: £64.07

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.


The Painted Man (The Demon Cycle, Book 1)
The Painted Man (The Demon Cycle, Book 1)
by Peter V. Brett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Farm boy wants to save the world from demons, 28 Mar. 2015
Arlen, Rojer and Leesha live in a world where demons are real and control the night. They rise at sunset and feast on anyone not protected by wards - magical symbols that can repel a demon's attack if drawn correctly. Arlen and Rojer have each suffered loss at the hands of the demons and that loss has transformed each of their lives.

Arlen, who is gifted with drawing wards, is determined to become a Messenger - one of the few brave enough to risk the open road, carrying messages and goods between the various city states and villages. Rojer is apprenticed to be a Jongleur - an entertainer who usually accompanies the Messengers to spread what happiness they can. Leesha is training to be a healer and dreaming of a life outside the small village where she lives. The lives of all three will converge as they each stumble on a way to battle the demons and potentially save all of humanity ...

Peter V. Brett's fantasy novel - the first in a trilogy - takes the hoary old cliché of the farmboy saving the world and plunges him into a world filled with demons while teaming him up with a small town boy and a smaller town girl. I enjoyed the depiction of the demons, who fall into different types (each with their own abilities and vulnerabilities) and a lot of thought has been put into the history of this world (which is a vaguely post-apocalyptic Earth). However much of the book falls into stock territory with Arlen, Rojer and Leesha all having predictable storylines within the book while the cod-medieval setting gives plenty of scope to trot out taverns and horse riding. Brett does have a stab at subverting the patriarchal sexism common to this type of book through the establishment of a Council of Mothers that supposedly advises one of the Dukes (although we never really see that) but otherwise women are confined to the crone/virgin/wife/whore stereotypes and we get bonus rape as a means of driving two characters into each other's arms. There's also a thinly disguised Arab-style world filled with sexist, racist and double-crossing thugs, which I found distasteful. Ultimately the writing is fine and I kept turning the pages but there wasn't enough here that was new for me and I found the sexism and racism depressing, so ultimately I won't rush to check out the remaining books.

Review copy from publisher.


NOS4R2
NOS4R2
by Joe Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Charlie Manx is coming to take you to Christmasland ..., 27 Mar. 2015
This review is from: NOS4R2 (Paperback)
When Vic McQueen gets on her Tuff Burner bike, she can find things. The bike allows her to access the Shorter Way Bridge, a gateway that takes her wherever she needs to go. But using the bridge means paying a toll – a physical one that threatens Vic’s health and sanity – and she’s not the only person with a gift. There are others who can access this mysterious inscape, including the notorious child killer Charlie Manx, who kidnapped children in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and took them to Christmasland.

Vic first encountered Charlie in 1996 when she was 17 years old and only just managed to escape with her life. It’s now 2012 and Charlie’s intent on revenge. He’s kidnapped Vic’s 12 year-old son, Wayne, and is determined to take him to Christmasland, but Vic’s equally determined to get him back, whatever the cost …

Joe Hill’s festive-themed horror is a blood-chilling take on vampires, family and love that will ensure you never look at Christmas in the same way again. Vic McQueen is a great character – flawed and broken – I loved the contrast between her relationships with her father and her son, Wayne. I also loved her relationship with Lou, an overweight man with a good heart whose love for Vic prevents him from asking questions he needs to. Charlie Manx is also a great villain who’s convinced that he is the hero of his own story, although I would have liked a little more on the psychological effect that the Wraith has on him because for me it was slightly underdeveloped, but what is on the page makes up for that, notably his relationship with the creepy and pathetic Bing who serves as his Renfeld. The star of the book though is Christmasland and specifically what it does to its child inhabitants, which both chilled me and creeped me out and left me unable to listen to Christmas songs. The slow change that comes over Wayne as he’s taken to Christmasland and his attempts to fight it was real eebie jeebie stuff and the final battle was filled with enough thrills and ick to keep horror fans entertained. Ultimately, I thought this was a fun, creepy and effective horror novel with great illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez that kept me entertained from beginning to end and I’m really looking forward to reading Hill’s next novel.


Bitterblue
Bitterblue
by Kristin Cashore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing conclusion to a trilogy, 25 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Bitterblue (Paperback)
It’s 8 years after Graceling. Monsea is free of Leck’s monstrous rule and is trying to move forward. Bitterblue now sits on the throne and her advisers are instigating policies aimed at pretending that Leck’s reign never happened but Bitterblue isn’t convinced that the policies are working. Concerned by what’s happening to her kingdom, as much as by the gaps in her own memory, she decides to disguise herself to see the city for herself. While attending the story-telling sessions in a bar, she meets Saf and Teddy – two young men who can tell her more about Monsea than any of her advisers. Bitterblue wants her kingdom to heal, but how can that happen when no one is quite sure what happened during Leck’s rule?

The conclusion to Kirstin Cashore’s GRACELING TRILOGY is intended to be a story about reconciliation with the past and healing a nation but the plot is muddled and filled with dead ends while Bitterblue as a protagonist lacks agency and spends much of her time waiting for people to tell her answers. While I had been looking forward to the return of Katsa and Po, their arrival simply created more unresolved storylines as their Council continues its work in deposing cruel tyrants and reforming their kingdoms. There’s a lot of repetition within the story with Bitterblue constantly asking her advisers what happened during Leck’s rule and them constantly avoiding providing answers, which would be fine if Saf and Teddy provided answers instead but unfortunately they get caught up in the obligatory love plot with Saf in particular behaving like an absolute jerk. I did like nod to FIRE and the sense of continuity and the use of cyphers in the story is interesting and well handled but ultimately this tiptoes around its subject matter in a way that really doesn’t do it justice. As a result, this wasn’t the conclusion I’d hoped for to this trilogy, although I would check out Cashore’s next book.

The biggest problem for me is actually Bitterblue. She knows something is wrong but never really confronts anyone (and when she does she backs off easily) and the love story with Saf plays out like every YA love story ever and Saf’s petty and sulky behaviour made me wonder what she sees in him. I just wanted some agency and determination on her part to drive the plot forward.


Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy)
Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy)
by Laini Taylor
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overblown and crowded conclusion to this fantasy trilogy, 23 Mar. 2015
It’s immediately after DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT. Jael has led his Dominion troops into the human world where he hopes to get hold of their weaponary to crush the chimaera once and for all and start a new war against the Stelians. The only hope is for Karou and Akiva to find a way for the remaining chimaera and Misbegotten to work together but given the millennia of enmity between the two that’s no easy task.

The conclusion to the SMOKE & BONE TRILOGY is an overblown, crowded affair left bloated by the romance elements. If you’re a fan of epic romances filled with a lot of blockages before an eventual happy resolution, then you’ll enjoy this as there are a lot of breathless descriptions of how Akiva and Karou feel about each other coupled with a whole lot of roadblocks to them being together, which really irritated me. Coupled with this is that there are so many strings to the overall story that at times the book felt overcrowded, especially when Taylor introduces a new plot around human scientist Eliza who has secrets that will impact on Karou and Arkiva’s struggle. For me Eliza’s introduction simply came too late in the trilogy for me to care about her situation. I was also disappointed with the resolution to the Jael plot line, which felt very anti-climatic, mainly because so little time was devoted to it, even though the whole book is structured around it. I did enjoy the scenes with Mik and Zuzana, which brought some much-needed levity and a less complicated love story and I admire the scope of Taylor’s imagination and the vividness of her descriptions. Ultimately, although this book wasn’t the conclusion I’d been hoping for, I would definitely check out Taylor’s other books.

I think that the main reason this book didn’t work for me is because the love story between Akiva and Karou is so samey – the whole will they/won’t they, misunderstandings and obstacles to true love become repetitive (especially given the events in the previous books) and the breathy descriptions of how they feel about each other really began to irritate me. I’m not a romance fan anyway, which is probably why I reacted so strongly to it, but when it came at the expense of the wider plot, it did annoy me.


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