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Elaine Simpson-long (Colchester, UK)

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The Golden Age of Murder
The Golden Age of Murder
by Martin Edwards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Brillian - a must have for all lovers of crime fiction, 20 May 2015
I knew this book was up and coming and I awaited it with eager anticipation and when it arrived started reading immediately. I read it solidly over two days, surfacing now and then for sustenance and chocolate before diving back into it. The Golden Age of Murder is unputdownable and as exciting and intriguing as any of the books of this age. This is not a book about the books written at that time, though of course there are descriptions etc, but it is a book about the AUTHORS and, goodness me, what an intriguing bunch they are.

I, of course, knew all about Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie and a few others of this time but the amount of detective fiction produced alongside these luminaries is enormous. Margery Allingham I have still to come to terms with, I have tried but not sure I ever will, Gladys Mitchell leaves me cold but but there are so many others that if I read all the books I have flagged up (my copy of this book is bristling with post it stickers) I will beon my death bed before I read a fraction of them.

All the writers featured in this book are members of the Detection Club and what a marvelous mixture they all are. In 2015 we view these writers and their books as 'cosy' murders and many of them are marketed as such. We could not be more wrong. Members were gay and lesbian writers, Socialists and Marxists and the content of many of their books were pretty graphic by the standards of the day. On the whole not a harmonious collection of personalities, all having their own quirks and prone to jealousy and nastiness just like anybody else. But, oh my goodness, such a huge output, such a rich vein of writing for us all to explore.

Stories about the authors tantalise and interest us all the way through, page after page. Martin tells us of an odd connection between Agatha Christie and fellow club member, Anthony Berkely when in 1926, he serialised the Wintringham Mystery in the Daily Mirror. The news paper offered a prize of £500 to the winner. One of the runners up turned out to be Archie Christie and one assumes that Agatha solved the puzzle but may have felt it better that the entry was under another name. This gave Agatha Christie an idea for one of her novels in which the plot depends upon one character winning a competition under someone else's name (Pretty sure this is the Sittaford Mystery, one of Christie's stand alone books).

For me the most fascinating part of this book was the relationship between Berkeley and E M Delafield for whom he formed a passion. From the Diary of a Provincial Library I think we can understand the author's boredom with her marriage and her life. In The Way things Are the heroine, Laura, a self portrait, becomes obsessed with a male admirer, Duke Ayland but will not abandon her marriage. Ayland writers music, as Berkeley did while another character is a novelist who has the same initials as Berkeley.

I shall be re-reading Diary of a Provincial Lady again I think and when I read the line 'writers are too egoistical to make ideal husbands for anybody' I will now nod and think Ah Yes....

It is impossible to write about all the joys and delights of this book. If you are a crime lover as I am, then it is a must buy and a must keep. As well as a pen portrait of each author, their writings are taken out, read, reviewed and information given for us the reader so that we an make our minds up if we wish to explore further. And oh how I do! Martin is the Series Consultant to the British Library's Crime Classic Books, which are now finding their way back into the public eye and selling extremely well, and his love of this genre is evident in all his writing.

A quite wonderful book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance
Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance
by Patricia Duncker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 12 May 2015
It is 1872, and Wolfgang Duncker (yes, Eliot's German publishers really did share their name with the author) introduces his 23-year-old brother Max, in the hope that it will stop him drinking and wenching, to one of their house's most lucrative writers. The woman in front of him may be old, liver-spotted, and ugly, but she is the toast, and the talk, of Europe, scandalous and rejected from English society and fascinating. Her intellectualism and knowledge is frightening but by chance the Sibyl, aka George Eliot, fixes on a Fragment by Lucian of which Max has a vague memory, but enough to reply ".......For if Lucian is right and Christianity evolved out of a peculiar set of historical circumstances, then it will find its end in history as he hoped he would" Max had never made such a long speech while still suffering from a hangover. They Sibyl's magnificent eyes widened in sympathy and surprise...."

Note: a touch of the Flashman about Max I think...he has the knack of sounding cleverer than he actually is

The Sibyl takes an immediate liking to Max, so, thinking to kill two birds with one stone – to tear his brother away from the brothels and gambling tables of the city; and to keep in with their most valued client – Wolfgang sends Max to the spa town of Homburg to entertain Mrs Lewes.

We have met the Sibyl and now we must meet Sophie who Max has been lined up to marry. Young, beautiful and headstrong she fascinates and outrages Max in equal measure. She also adores George Eliot and has read all her books and would love to meet her but of course, cannot because of the Sibyl's irregular living arrangements. The Sibyl interferes with the relationship between these two and one wonders why. The simple answer would be jealousy but I feel that she likes to manipulate. She has Max in thrall and is devoted to Lewes but it seems she cannot resist meddling and comes close to wrecking the projected marriage.

This is a wonderfully intricate dance of a novel with Patricia Duncker mischievously intertwining the characters from Daniel Deronda with Max and Sophie and the Sibyl herself featuring as Lydia Glasher, the betrayed mistress in that novel. Certainly the Sibyl's behaviour in her relationship with Max seems to reflect the bitterness Lydia/Sibyl feels against Gwendolen/Sophie. It all gets rather convoluted and I know I am not making it terribly clear and I cannot decide if a knowledge of Daniel Deronda helps in the reading of this title or, if you read it after reading this book, that it might be even more confusing!

It is wittily and brilliantly done and I cannot recommend it enough. One of my favourite passages in the whole book is when Sophie, who I like tremendously, faces the Sibyl down:

"I don't judge you for what you've done or who you are. And, frankly, I don't care what you have suffered. Why should I care whether you are, or are not, legally married to Mr Lewes?.......I wasn't brought up to think about other people in such an ungenerous way. But you, you are not generous. If I had been you and had your choices before me, I would not have written your books in the way that you have done. I would not have told women to be satisfied with self-sacrifice, convention and subservience. I would not have lived one life and believed in another"

And with that Sophie turned on her heel, flung open the drawing room door and slammed it behind her.........The Sibyl sat rigid in the half light, clutching Max's card, her scorned and loving letter fluttered to her feet, her eyes dimmed.

One way and another the Furies had crossed her threshold"

At this point I cheered. Good for Sophie.

cannot recommend this enough

Philips GC8650/80 PerfectCare Aqua Silence Steam Generator Iron with OptimalTemp - 330 g Silent Steam Boost, 2.5 L, 2400 W, Black/Purple
Philips GC8650/80 PerfectCare Aqua Silence Steam Generator Iron with OptimalTemp - 330 g Silent Steam Boost, 2.5 L, 2400 W, Black/Purple
Price: £159.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok but not worth the money, 6 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Surprised at how bulky the whole unit was and though I see from a pic on the product page that it sits on the end of the ironing board, it does not on mine and when I tried it, it fell off. So I ended up putting it on a small side table next to my board. Not a good start I felt.

Instructions were concise and quick start up was fine. Easy to get up and running.

I had a pile of shirts to do and plenty of other stuff to test out the product and have to say that I cannot work out why this iron is so expensive when another Phillips iron I possess, at half the price does the job so much better.

It looks cool and looks super and looks as if it would make you a cup of tea while you are ironing, but I do not think it is worth the money. Spend half and get an iron just as good.

The Gauntlet
The Gauntlet
by Ronald Welch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful to see this book available again, 8 April 2015
This review is from: The Gauntlet (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I loved reading the Ronald Welch books when I was a child/teenager and great to see them being reprinted as they have been hard to track down second hand and were very expensive. Slightly Foxed are reprinting all the Carey family novels much to my delight and am collecting them all, and now OUP have come up with the Gauntlet, another of my favourites by this author.

Peter is on holiday in Wales and immersed in local history and fascinated by the castle ruins of Carreg Cennen. He finds an old gauntlet and when he slips it on finds he is back in the 14th century, to a time when his Norman ancestors held the castle. It turns out that he is the son of the Lord of the Castle and the reader is plunged into the daily life of a boy of that age. Wonderful descriptions of hawking, learning the different parts of armour, being taught how to manage the longbow, coping with the fact he has to eat with his fingers and watching his mother genteelly spit any excess onto the straw at her feet, wearing strange clothes. All totally fascinating and it is clear that Ronald Welch loves his subject and is keen that we do too.

The castle is besieged and Peter discovers first hand the way that wars were fought and sees a trebuchet in action. The entire book is a history lesson but so engagingly written that the reader is never bored. I loved reading this all over again and delighted to see that the original illustrations have been used.

Looking forward to more of this author being reprinted

LEGO Friends 41085: Vet Clinic
LEGO Friends 41085: Vet Clinic
Price: £16.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Should be marketed for older children, 3 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As always with Lego the attention to detail and the product itself is always spot on. However, this Friends set, and similar, are categorised as being for 5-12 year olds. I disagree with this as I think the difficulty level of putting this together needs more skill and dexterity than that possessed by a five year old. I am obviously biased in thinking that my five year old granddaughter is a genius but she had no chance of putting this together without adult help, ie me. I took nearly an hour, following the instructions, to get this all together and though I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it absorbing and fun, this toy is not aimed at me! My daughter told me that she found the same thing when putting together another Lego friends given to my granddaughter for her birthday.

I am giving this five stars because of its high production standards and, as I have already said, you cannot fault Lego for interest and creativity but please note that I think this should be aimed at the 7-12 bracket. Also some of the pieces are incredibly tiny so do keep out of reach of smaller siblings

Braun Face 810 Facial Epilator and Facial Cleansing Brush
Braun Face 810 Facial Epilator and Facial Cleansing Brush
Price: £49.69

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle wash, 26 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am only using this for the facial cleansing as I do not need the Epilator but so far am very pleased with the cleansing brush. Moisten before use, add a touch of your facial wash or soap or what you use and switch on. I clean my face first with a wipe and then use the brush to deep clean and it is clear that no matter if you think you have all the make up off, you have not. It leaves my skin feeling soft and clean. I have a dry and sensitive skin so was a little worried about using it but so far in its daily use for two weeks I have not had any problem at all with it and can recommend it.

As I said I cannot review the epilator hence just four stars

Oral-B Pro CrossAction 600 Power Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush - Pink
Oral-B Pro CrossAction 600 Power Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush - Pink
Price: £25.00

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Non usable plug, 9 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You may wonder why I am reviewing this when I cannot use it and therefore cannot review it.
Simple. The two pin plug attached to this toothbrush does not fit any electrical point in my flat, even the shaver point. I have many travel adapters so checked if I could use one of them and I cannot. So I will now have to go out and see if I can find an adapter that I can use and then I will be back with my thoughts on this toothbrush which certainly sounds from other reviews as if it is a goodie

Watch this space.....
And yes I know this is not a helpful review as such!

The Olive Branch
The Olive Branch
by Jo Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me, 8 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Olive Branch (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I see that my review is going to be the odd one out from those already posted as of today's date and I am sorry about that but I really found this book pretty uninteresting and I simply could not get into it at all. On paper it sounded a delightful read, a heroine who buys a crumbling Italian farmhouse and an olive farm. You just know that through all hardships and drawbacks she will succeed and meet a handsome man on the way and they will fall in love and all end happily ever after.

Now I have absolutely no problem with this at all. I love happy endings and I love stories set in rural Italy/France etc etc but I am afraid it is written in the present tense and this is my absolute bugbear. I know this is a personal thing but I really find reading books written in this way very difficult to get into. When we talk, we automatically talk in the past tense so writing in the present feels awkward (to me anyway). I also found the style very jerky and disjointed and I found it uncomfortable reading so in the end I gave up.

As I said, this is very much a personal foible so read the other reviews before making up your mind whether you want to read it or not.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 1, 2015 9:51 AM BST

Russell Hobbs 20682 Legacy Coffee Maker - Metallic Red
Russell Hobbs 20682 Legacy Coffee Maker - Metallic Red
Offered by Ukdapper
Price: £40.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Cup of Coffee....., 10 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Simply delighted with this. I have been using a cafetiere for some time but have never been particularly enamored of this method. I will not drink instant coffee as I think it is awful and so have kept my coffee drinking for when I am out and can nip into a coffee shop. I can say straight away that I am now drinking coffee every day thanks to this coffee maker and what is more, it stays hot as the hotplate remains on.

Instructions book very clear and straightforward. Had it up and running in five minutes. Coffee scoop clicks into the side of the machine, clever touch, so you need never lose it, you can brew as much coffee as you want, be it one cup or four and the result in each case is excellent.

My cafatiere is now heading for the tip.....

The Lovers of Amherst
The Lovers of Amherst
by William Nicholson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelmed, 6 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Lovers of Amherst (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My knowledge of Emily Dickinson is nil so I came to this book with no prejudices or ideas and found, initially, that I was enjoying it. The story of Emily's brother, Austin, an upstanding member of his community falling madly in love with a young professor's wife, lends itself to fiction though this book is based on fact. It has two strands, Alice writing a screenplay about this affair, travels to Amherst to research the background and finds herself having an affair with an older man, thus mirroring the love affair of a hundred years earlier.

Well written and kept me engaged to start with but after a while it became predictable and I found myself skimming at the end, always a bad sign. It was OK but no more in my opinion.

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